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CSBG Archive

Gimmick or Good? – X-O Manowar #0

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1993′s chromium cover for X-O Manowar #0…Manowar0_cover

X-O Manowar #0 (published August 1993) – script by Bob Layton and Jorge Gonzales, art by Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti

As fate would have it, Valiant’s X-O Manowar series was at its most successful thanks to two men who were some of the most controversial editor-in-chiefs in Marvel comics history. Valiant’s predecessor, Voyager Communications was co-founded by Jim Shooter, who’s probably best compared to Lord Voldemort (he who shall not be named) by anyone who worked in the Marvel bullpen in the early 80s. When Valiant started publishing original titles in 1992, X-O was one of its first series (with Shooter and former Marvel artist Bob Layton getting scripting credit). Due to the unexpected success of the title, in 1993, Valiant published a zero issue origin, which featured pencils and cover art from an up-and-coming artist named Joe Quesada. Quesada, of course, would later be credited for saving Marvel from bankruptcy in the late 90s – bankruptcy that was caused, in large part, to the collapse of the speculator market from an oversaturation of “gimmick” comics that were not the treasures collectors thought they were when these issues first flooded the marketplace.

With its chromium cover (and gold edition variant), X-O Manowar #0 sold more than 800,000 copies in the 1990s – not too shabby for an independent publisher. Speculators rushed out to buy this issue specifically due to the rising prices of back issues, which were in short-supply thanks to low print runs. I was able to grab my copy of the series out of the quarter bin at a local comic book shop. I guess my economics professor was on to something with that whole supply and demand thing.

But what about inside the comic?

Manowar #0 is unquestionably an origin issue as it tells the tale of Aric, the Visigoth warrior who swears vengeance on the Roman empire after his father is beheaded and ends up captive on an alien ship filled with bloodsucking spider creatures, and how he comes across the Manowar armor. In terms of introducing a character and his universe, this comic does a really solid job mixing story with some striking Quesada visuals, explaining a fair amount for readers unfamiliar with the series, while giving them enough of a taste to leave them wanting more. As for me personally, I’ve never been a huge fan of mixing ancient mythology/bastardized history with dystopian science fiction themes. But that’s just personal preference and not necessarily a knock against the execution of the story.

XOManowar0_04

Let’s talk about the art some more here as I think it’s the true selling point for the comic. I know at “Gimmick or Good” I’m supposed to focus on the interiors for my final verdict, but I don’t want to sell the chromium cover short. Unlike most Marvel and DC chromium covers, the effect on Manowar #0 isn’t just some gaudy embellishment done to add an extra dollar to the sale price of the comic. The chromium is well integrated into the comic’s cover in a way that almost feels organic. Palmiotti’s inks are fantastic as well, giving the cover an almost hand-painted look.

Inside, you can see why Quesada would go on to be such an industry superstar. The art is far from perfect – some spreads are a little more cartoony then others – but there’s a sensibility to a lot of these visuals that just exudes an “it” factor. The opening sequence, which shows the formation of the Manowar armor sports some stunning sci-fi imagery. There’s no disproportionately-drawn bodies or swiss-army bazooka cannons being lugged around by anyone. Just some trippy, fun cosmic visuals of guys getting consumed by mystical space armor.

XOManowar0_01

Attention must also be paid to Palmiotti’s inks. I love the artistic splash of red in the panel that shows the silhouette of a young Aric cutting into his first “Roman pig” soldier. I guess I’m a sucker for that whole “bright-color-contrasting-a-black-and-white-visual effect.”

XOManowar0_02

Later in the issue, Palmiotti also effectively uses red and blue hues in full page saturations. In this one splash page depicting Aric putting no the Manowar armor for the first time, Palmiotti goes full red, giving the visual a Kubricikan 2001 Space Odyssey effect. The illustration is also obviously helped by the level of detail in Quesada’s pencils.

XOManowar0_03

As I already mentioned, I do have a hard time with the story. Layton and Gonzales have this habit of making Aric sound like a caveman who speaks in monosyllabic sentences, rather than a mighty warrior and leader from 400 A.D. The tone of Aric’s dialogue is also grossly inconsistent as he speaks more coherently and intelligently on dry land when compared to his overuse of phrases like “hard skins” and “fire-light” after the spider aliens capture him.

Still, this is one of those cases where the art figures more into my final verdict than the actual writing as I really enjoyed this comic from a visual standpoint. It’s readily apparent that a lot of deliberation and care went into this comic from the pencils and inks department from the front and back cover all the way to the last interior page. And because I’m assuming I’m not the target audience for a Visigoths vs. aliens comic book story, I’m going to wager that some of you out there are bigger fans of the writing than I am.

Verdict: Good

17 Comments

Here’s the thing about Marvel’s bankruptcy that kind of bugs me when people just assume it was the gimmicks and what not that killed them – it was the ill-timed purchase of Heroes World that bankrupted them. They baught this big distributor that they then sunk a lot of money into, thinking that it would pay for itself soon enough based off the high speculator sales. Then the speculator market took a nosedive,sales on a lot of their books went through the floor, and Marvel was left holding the bag for this major purchase that they now had no way to pay for it. The gimmick covers and such may have driven enough old fans away so that when the speculators left there weren’t a lot of people buying their product, but if they hadn’t accumulated all of that debt, it wouldn’t have hurt them as much as it did.

(I’ve even heard people argue that Onslaught almost bankrupted Marvel – Onslaught and the following Heroes Reborn actually had high enough sales to keep them afloat, barely, until the Marvel Knights era. Without them, Marvel may not be around now)

From what I recall, since it’s been a while since I read this issue, it did actually have a pretty good story by Layton & Gonzales, with nice artwork by Quesada & Palmiotti. I actually have my copy autographed by Quesada, Palmiotti, Layton and colorist John Cebollero.

In actuality, I kinda prefer Quesada’s older art from Valiant, DC, and his early Marvel work on Daredevil to his current stuff, which admittedly doesn’t appear too often. Nowadays his style is just too exaggerated for my tastes.

I don’t remember the story, but that cover is shiny. And well drawn, but mostly shiny.

But it’s a #$#%ing pain because it’s slick and glossy so just picking it up to read it gets filthy filthy fingerprints on it.

But shiny.

Actually, the bits shown here remind me that Valiant coloring was…let’s be polite and say “an acquired taste”. It’s this weird thing where it just looks bland, or something. I’m not even sure how to describe it, but it was across the board with their books. It really hurt some of them. I think Milestone might have had a similar strange look to the coloring that hurt some of the artwork.

Maybe it was the way the coloring printed on the paper they used?

I’ll probably get to reading this before long because I’ve been trying to get around to reading my old Valiant stuff along with the nuValiant stuff.

Shiny.

More people should give the early Valiant Universe a chance, and you can do so relatively cheaply. They were doing some real world building.

I love the coloring in the old Valiant books. They were definitely going for a european look with the coloring (I think I read recently that that was due to Barry Windsor-Smith’s influence as art director). I didn’t have a ton of old Valiant but X-O #0 was definitely a favorite, mostly because of the art, but the story was fun too.

Mark, it sounds like you’re giving credit to Palmiotti for coloring the book, which was hand painted by John Cebollero (beautiful work, too). I also don’t think he should be held against the book that Quesada shifts from realism to a more exaggerated execution here and there as long as it’s effective (which I believe it is). This was one of my favorite single issues from the early ’90′s and made sure to hang on to my copy to this day.

Original Valiant was really cool. They had a small and concise universe that held together well and the lead up to the Unity crossover was great. Post-Unity things began to go in the tank of overcrowding the universe and the art and stories suffered. Basically early Valiant was Jim Shooter’s attempt to do the New Universe right.

The coloring on their early books were pretty subtle; they looked almost hand painted. As the years went on the coloring got incredibly garish and murky. A Valiant book from 1991 looks very different from a Valiant book circa 1994.

If I remember right, this was touted as comics’ first full-cover chromium cover. Before that (like Bloodshot #1), they were chromium cards glued to the covers. Not a big deal now, but LANDMARK (acording to the ads) at the time :)

@ Saul
Marvel buying Heroes World isn’t the only thing almost killed Marvel, it was Marvel (Ron Perlman) buying everything they could in an effort to make everything in-house (Fleer, Skybox, Malibu, Panini). Marvel buying Heroes World was much, MUCH worse in that it not only added more debt to Marvel’s ledger, it almost killed the comic industry as a whole. It drove every other comic book distributor (other than Steve Geppi’s Diamond) out of business, which, in turn, killed a large portion of the independent market and hundreds of comic book stores unable to afford Diamond’s minimum orders and eventual monopoly on the market. Sure, the speculator market was a big part of “The Great Comics Collapse” of the ’90s, but as someone who managed 2 comic/game stores during this period, I can definitely look back to this purchase as THE major turning point for the industry.

The proof is indeed in the pudding when it comes to Jim Shooter.

Although John Byrne does provide a lot of circunstantial evidence as well – albeit most certainly against his own best efforts.

[...] Good blog I reach back to one of Marvel superstar Joe Quesada’s earliest works as an artist, Valiant Comics X-O Manowar #0, an immensely successful origin issue that sports a unique, hand-painted chromium cover. The story [...]

XO Manowar was the title that got me interested in the original Valiant Universe to begin with. Every title was well written and some of them had exceptional art. I think that the Valiant universe was riding high when this issue came out and, in my opinion, didn’t start coming unraveled the whole Chaos Effect crossover started. Of course, what really killed the company was when Acclaim bought them out and rebooted every title with totally different origins and story lines. Fun side note: I can’t remember if it’s #0 or in the Retribution TPB, but the “map giver” that Aric refers to in one of the panels above looks like Elvis Presley (they were on an alien ship and that was one of the popular urban legends was that Elvis was abducted by aliens)

@steve it was definitely issue #0. I noticed that myself and thought I was just being crazy. If knew about the urban legend I would have mentioned it in the write-up.

I loved this issue. At the time, when I was 12, I probably only bought it for the cover and because Wizard magazine was not so subtly telling everyone to buy Valiant. But after several other attempts to get into Valiant (Bloodshot and Turok first issues, Rai & the Future Force #9), this was the one that kinda sorta worked. Loved the story, loved the art, loved the cover. I think it holds up well not just as an individual comic, but also as a super-hero origin story. And man, when Quesada was on his A-Game, he was among the very best of his era.

I can understand the dislike for Aric’s simplistic speech patterns, but what Shooter and later writers were portraying was the fact that Aric didn’t speak English natively and his learning of it/transaltion of what he understood as a “man out of time” translated awkwardly.

Valiant up until ‘Chaos Effect’ was not bad. After that point, with the company transitioning from good story telling and simplistic art and the removal of Layton as EIC, things went bad very quick.

Valiant started to unravel when Shooter was ousted. The titles that lasted for a while afterwards were still using story ideas from when Shooter was in charge.

The early valiant titles were airbrushed giving them all a unique feel.

the other thing that hurt marvel in the 1990s was the founding of image. mcfarlane, lee, and liefeld in particular were THE hot names at the time. and marvel’s answer seemed to be to put out crap. there was no push to get good writers/artists to replace the ones that left, they relied too heavily on character loyalty

Quesada took over Marvel shortly after they emerged from bankruptcy. His regime had nothing to do with the emergence from bankruptcy. Toy Biz saved Marvel.

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