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X-O Manowar: Retribution. Written by Bob Layton and Jim Shooter. Pencilled by Barry Windsor-Smith and others. Inked by Bob Layton and others. New York: VALIANT/Voyager Communications, 1993. 1v. (unpaged) $9.95. No ISBN.

Science fiction, superheroes

Adults, teens, older kids; violence

This book collects the first four issues of X-O Manowar. Aric, a Visigoth picked up by aliens some 2,000 years ago and kept in stasis until recently, battles spider-creatures inside a space ship. He finds an exoskeleton that gives him great power; he uses it to kill more creatures and blow up the space ship, after which he plummets to Earth, landing in Peru. Friendly villagers take him in, though he cannot speak their language. Mysterious people, kin to the spider-creatures, try to track him so they can retrieve the armor. They manage to do quite a bit of damage to the villagers and steal the armor, though Aric retains the ring that gives him control over the armor. Wounded, he is tended by Ken, an effeminate man who helps him leave Peru and reach the United States in quest of the armor. Ken ostensibly works for the humanoid aliens, but, conceiving an affection for Aric, he betrays his employers just as they are about to ambush Aric. Aric is now close enough to the armor to summon it to him, and he battles as Ken is wounded, losing part of his left arm.

The warrior takes Ken to a doctor's house, but while she tends him the aliens attack again, capturing Ken and making a mess of the house. Aric spends a night recuperating, then follows the suit's instructions and tracks Ken to the aliens' hideout. Attempting to trick Aric, the aliens pretend to be surrendering royalty so that he will be caught off guard, but he is not tricked and blows everyone away.

Ken now finds himself as head of the aliens' worldwide corporation and vows to use its resources to destroy the invaders. Meanwhile, Aric is slowly learning English and wants to go home, which is impossible. Then he is attacked by Sniper, an agent of Toyo Harada, a wealthy human who is also fighting the aliens but has a hidden agenda as well. Realizing that Aric is human, Harada rushes into the fight in time to prevent Aric from killing Sniper. Harada and Ken arrange a kind of summit meeting in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, where the two sides promise not to oppose one another. Meanwhile, a team of young superheroes target Aric and Ken because they appear to have ties to Harada.

Given the names associated with this title--Shooter and Layton--it's no surprise that I found it dull, cliched, and derivative. Plenty of battles and explosions but little genuine character development or even believable personality traits. One wonders if the writers felt terribly daring, making one of the main supporting characters gay. They didn't do a very credible job with him. And Aric is just awful, a one-dimensional idiot little better than the "savage" that the aliens consider him to be. One would assume, for example, that he knows what blood is, yet he constantly refers to both his and aliens' blood as "juice." Also, in a typical example of the shoddy research conducted by many comic writers, the Visigoth Aric swears by the god Lugh, a Celtic god. (I won't even go into how the Visigoths didn't exist until the 3rd century CE; I'll assume the aliens didn't keep precise records of when they picked Aric up.) The appearance of superheroes in the fourth chapter is jarring, as the world gives no indication that such beings exist. I guess old Marvel guys like Shooter and Layton can't write science fiction without tossing some superheroes into the mix.

Anyway, this absolutely mediocre title is out of print and hardly worth a search except by Shooter/Layton/Windsor-Smith fans. I've seen it for sale at one or two online comics stores, if you must get it.

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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