Today, Michael and Drew are discussing X-O Manowar 1, originally released March 22nd, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: One of the initial stages of Joseph Campbell’s eternal concept “The Hero’s Journey” is what is known as “Refusal of the Call.” The hero receives the “Call to Adventure” in the form of some inciting incident or another, but initially tries to ignore the call and continue to live a mundane or ordinary life. When push comes to shove, the hero will end up changing their mind and embark on their heroic journey. It’s a tried and true formula that extends all the way to the planet Gorin in X-O Manowar 1.
We open with our hero “Aric of Urth”: a one-armed beast of a man who is tilling the fields while the “gears of war grind” as a battalion of soldiers pass him by. Aric’s lover Schon believes that the war of her people against the Cadmium Empire is a just war, while Aric is content to leave the life of a warrior behind. Schon sees the revolt against the Cadmium Empire as a means towards positive change, that will allow her a future that is more than just being a tavern maid. Aric contends that dreams are burdens and that the highest aspiration is to simply be content.
Those are two very opposing philosophies and it’s hard to say that one is right and the other is wrong. Schon is right in wanting a better life for herself, to strive to become something more than what she is. However there’s merit in Aric’s viewpoint as well — learning to accept the hand you’ve been dealt and be okay with that. The biggest difference between the two philosophies is age. Schon is a young, bright-eyed idealist who looks towards a better tomorrow, whereas Aric is a worn, old pragmatist who knows that sometimes the price of a risk can be too high. I know I’ve found myself in both character’s places — moreso Aric — but the best course is to meet somewhere in between those two ideals. “Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst” I believe they say.
This exchange between Aric and Schon is the most explicit Refusal of the Call in X-O Manowar 1. Aric would rather keep his head down and live out the remainder of his days as a farmer. It’s clear that he has lived a violent and dogged life, and he prefers the predictability of his mundane life to the uncertainty and potential horrors that exist with willfully enacting change.
The second instance of Refusal comes a few pages later when Aric unearths his old X-O Manowar armor, Shanhara (Thanks Wikipedia!) Aric rips a piece of Shanhara off and forges it into a ring. Shanhara informs Aric that he could’ve just asked for assistance instead of resorting to “brute force.” In this way Aric is refusing the call by not completely working with Shanhara again but the fact that he takes a piece anyway confirms that he is blending his philosophy with Schon’s. He plans for the best — hoping that he will not need Shanhara, but prepares for the worst — forging an emergency ring, since war is a-brewing.
The following day Aric is inevitably drafted into the Azurian army. He and a couple dozen more Azurians have been selected to be front line cannon fodder in the first strike against the Cadmiums. The night before the battle, an old battle-torn dog of war warns the rest of the “meat” of the terrors that await them as soon as their ships land into enemy territory.
The old man’s words the night before play out as Tomas Giorello paints the epic battle. Aric’s brothers-in-arms fall all around him as the one-armed man harpoons his way up a cliff like he’s ’90s Aquaman. What I find most surprising about all of this is that Aric doesn’t enlist the aid of his X-O Manowar armor until after the first battle is won. The dude proves he’s a badder badass than any two-armed Azurian by neglecting to use his secret weapon. Maybe it’s because this was advertised as a suicide mission and he didn’t actually think he’d make it out alive. For his bravery he’s assigned the next mission to destroy the Cadmium Empire’s communication hub. If he succeeds, he’s free to “return to whatever farm we pulled you from. I guess when the stakes are that much more clear-cut, Aric wants all the help he can get for this “final mission.”
Drew what did you think? Are you familiar with X-O Manowar? I hadn’t read any previous iterations but I found Matt Kindt and Tomas Giorello’s first chapter to be very accessible — albeit with some brief research. I got so caught up in the Hero’s Journey and the battling philosophies that I forgot to address Aric as a reluctant hero. Why do you think reluctant heroes are so championed in fiction? There seems to be a rule in fictitious wars: the more humble you are, the likely you are to survive. Big braggadocious hothead soldiers tend to get dead real quick.
Drew: And I think that speaks to our own preference for reluctant heroes. Warmongering and egotism are not heroic qualities — indeed, we prefer to see those characters receive some kind of karmic penalty. It’s much easier to project ourselves onto characters who fear death and prefer a comfortable existence to war, which is why the refusal is so important.
But Aric’s refusal is a specific type of refusal. He isn’t just an innocent country boy, like Luke Skywalker or Frodo Baggins — he’s all too familiar with war, he’s just sworn it off in old age, something closer to Clint Eastwood’s character in Unforgiven (or, if we want to insist on a comic as precedent, Old Man Logan, though the story is decidedly Unforgiven-esque). That is, he’s not some uninitiated kid we can project our own fears and values onto, he’s a battle-hardened pacifist, capable of things we can’t imagine, but committed to not doing those things. In this way, Aric taking up the sword (or his armor, to be specific) isn’t a rise to greatness, but a fall from his ideals. Our desire to see him cut loose and become X-O Manowar is at odds with his own wishes to leave that life behind. Kindt exploits that tension beautifully, holding back Aric’s choice to call upon his armor until the very final moments of the issue.
Which is to say: I loved the fact that Aric didn’t resort to the armor sooner. For me, the obvious reason is that he didn’t want to need it. I’m also totally new to this character, so I can only guess at the history Aric has with Shanhara, but their few interactions make it clear that he has very little patience for her. His first words to her are “do not speak,” and when she suggests that there was no need to use brute force, he insists “oh…there was need.”
I’m also intrigued by the other hints of Aric’s life on Earth. His insistence on his contentedness is just a hair too emphatic, belying a sense of loss that crops up early in the issue.
There are silent panels like these peppered throughout the issue, and Giorello imbues each of them with a nagging sense of wistfulness. Aric is trying desperately to be a peaceful farmer on Gorin, but he can’t forget his past so easily. Is he haunted by his lost love, or by the acts of war that disturbed him so? This issue doesn’t offer any simple answers, but the questions are prevalent enough that I’m sure they’re an active concern for Kindt. Aric will come to terms with his past, but that could take virtually any form.
And I guess that’s what’s so exciting about this series for me — it could go anywhere. In my heart of hearts, I suspect Aric is destined to return to Earth, but I’m loving the space-fantasy feel Kindt and Giorello have crafted in this issue. There certainly is enough here to sustain this story for quite a while before Aric would need to leave. Either way, I’m more than won over by Aric’s reluctance to return to whoever it is that he used to be; reluctant heroes are the best.
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I didn’t want to get into this in the piece, but as I was writing my response, I realized that one of my biggest problems with Logan was how severely they botched his reluctance. It wasn’t that he abhorred violence (he slices up the dudes trying to steal his wheels without a second thought), or that he wanted to help, but felt he couldn’t — they just made him not care. Sure, he ends up caring in the end, and maybe, deep down, he cared all along, but that’s exactly 100% the exact same arc he had in the first X-Men movie, right down to the (nearly) mortal sacrifice at the end. Why not give him something to stand for, something to lose by agreeing to help this girl? “I don’t wanna” is the least interesting motive for refusing the call I can think of, and as much as the film wanted to hint at a more personal reason, they never got specific enough to actually make one stick.
I think there was a personal reason for Logan refusing the call at the start. It was because he’d failed. Everything we see in the movie is the fault of Logan and the X-Men’s failure. Logan tried to be a hero, and had left a legacy only of murder and destruction, while everything positive he attempted collapsed. He didn’t even serve as an inspiration – the X-Men die in the most unsatisfying, least heroic way imaginable. The world is a hellhole, where every problem faced is built on top of the way the extermination of mutants were used to exploit the world. The only hope left comes from a bunch of inaccurate comics that pretend the X-Men were actually worth something*. He had failed, and all he wants to do is die before things get worse.
It is actually important. He’s completely killed the Wolverine, spending most of his time not as Logan, but as James Howlett. His only goal is to mitigate the damage Xavier can cause (by putting him on a boat), waiting for Xavier to die and then shooting himself with the admantine bullet.
The problem isn’t that he doesn’t care, but that he thinks he knows where the story ends. Being the Wolverine, being a family, being an X-Man, doesn’t lead anywhere good. It just destroys everything. I guess you could say he cares too much. He thinks he knows the end of the path, and refuses to start down that path again.
I do think that fight scene at the very start was a mistake, but mostly because it hurt the moment when the Reavers attack and Logan starts acting like Wolverine again. But he does have a strong reason for not helping at the start. Because the legacy of every other attempt to help has just helped make everything worse
*I do love how Logan is built on the idea that the X-Men movies, except First Class, have been uniformly bad. If Singer knew what he was doing, this movie would be weaker. Because both on a textual and a meta level, it is a story about trying to make something good, when you have a foundation of crap