Today, Michael and Drew are discussing X-O Manowar 3, originally released May 24th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.
Michael: The inner monologue isn’t a narrative device exclusive to comic books, but it’s one that we don’t raise an eyebrow to in the comics’ medium. It’s a form of narration that gives insight into the protagonist’s thoughts — insight that they themselves might not admit to out loud. X-O Manowar 3 doesn’t use the inner monologue device outright, but thematically relies on it to show us a hidden layer of its protagonist Aric.
X-O Manowar 3 is the latest chapter of the Azure’s assault on the Cadmium Empire, led by Aric and his compatriots. For Aric, this began as a “one and done” deal to get back to his lover Schon, but of course is growing into a larger and more complicated ordeal. Despite Aric’s military stratagem, his squad proves to be nothing more than cannon fodder for their commanding officer — a fact they relearn several times. Aric & Co. come out on top in the end, and Aric himself is promoted, but it’s a bittersweet ending as Shanhara insists that Aric is nothing more than a warrior.
We’ve all had that voice deep down that we’ve listened to — one that we’ve convinced ourselves knows us better than we know ourselves. It’s the proverbial angel and devil on our shoulders who affirms or denies what we think we know about ourselves. “You’re better than this” or “You’re not good enough” are on the extreme ends of this. It’s that nagging voice deep down that tells us the very last thing that we want to hear.
Matt Kindt externalizes this voice in the form of Aric’s X-O Manowar suit Shanhara. Throughout these first three issues, Aric has kept Shanhara mostly silent. But every now and then Shanhara speaks up and nags Aric with things he doesn’t want to hear. In X-O Manowar 3 Shanhara suggests that Aric doesn’t actually want to return home to Schon; he’s a warrior through and through.
At first, I questioned why Aric wasn’t making use of the ring he forged out of Shanhara — surely it would aid in his assault on the Cadmium Empire. But the way Kindt frames it, it’s clear that Aric declines to utilize Shanhara as a way of denying to himself who he truly is. Shanhara wants Aric to embrace the fact that with it he can be the ultimate warrior but Aric doesn’t want to admit that until it’s absolutely necessary. Aric would rather risk being on the frontline of a war as a mere one-handed human than once again join with his X-O Manowar suit. In a way, it’s a kind of death wish isn’t it? Aric would rather die as a mortal man than survive as a super-powered soldier.
One of the most striking points of X-O Manowar 3 was what I would call the “expositional water colors” section of the book. Artists Tomas Giorello, David Mack, and Zu Orzu, along with colorist Diego Rodriguez, open the issue with a series of pages that establish the status quo of the Cadmium Empire. It’s a unique and distinct style that separates itself from the rest of the book with an aesthetic reminiscent to ancient Greek painting. Among these deftly beautiful water colors I kept seeing a familiar image: the wine glass stain.
The first time this is introduced is when Kindt is describing the Cadmium Empire’s “pleasure islands” — which only makes sense for something so pleasurable and indulgent as a glass of wine. In a literal manifestation of how the government uses its’ constituents, Kindt and the artistic team show how the Cadmium Empire makes use of its “lesser races.”
The Cadmium President (King) becomes a “veritable immortal” through the sacrifice of his people — taking and using the body parts of his subjects as he needs them. It’s even noted that the women (pleasure slave) have been genetically modified to be born without arms.
On the one hand, I applaud Aric for shrugging off this heavy bit of exposition, but on the other, it’s a great bit of fuel for the fire for us to hate the Cadmium Empire. This is the kind of thing that clearly shows that our heroes are indeed in the right and their antagonists are in the wrong. This preamble lays out the stakes without taking away from the battle at hand.
Drew, how did the issue treat you? Is Aric embracing his destiny by taking command following their Cadmium assault? Can a (fictitious) soldier ever just love someone without needing to feel the penance of war? Were you as surprised as I was at how increasingly astounded Aric’s team was at how expendable they were?
Drew: To me, it didn’t come across so much as “increasingly astounded” as it did “incessantly repetitive.” Take a look at what amounts to the first reaction to the Captain’s plans to bombard the city with the team still inside.
Kindt’s dialogue here is simple and straightforward, making it clear that, not only is the team expendable in the Captain’s eyes, it was his plan all along to treat them as such. It’s clean and efficient, calling back to what we already know from Aric’s conversation with Ironside in the previous issue: 1) the Captain is threatened by Aric, so 2) devised this mission for the express purpose of eliminating him. These two lines are all we need to be caught up on everyone’s motives, setting clear stakes for the chase sequence that follows.
But then we get almost the same exact information two pages later, as the rest of the team reiterates what we already know:
Wynn more or less plays the same role in this panel, but Catt steps in to make Aric’s point again, all of which is summarized again by Clubb. Repeating the exact same sentiment so often in such short order feels completely redundant, twisting Kindts efficiency into a reminder that all of these characters are basically interchangeable (a feature only heightened by the fact that, as of that panel, there’s no way to know whether Clubb or Scar was the twin injured in battle). I half wonder if there was some kind of miscommunication at the lettering phase, and some of these lines were meant to be replaced with more generic “we’ve lost our rear shields” or something.
My quibbles with those repetitions aside, I actually enjoyed quite a bit of this issue. Indeed, I was particularly enamored of that opening “expositional water colors” section Michael mentioned. In particular, I was struck at how the stylized images suggested that they were Aric’s own interpretation of what Shanhara was describing to him. Giorello adopts a shorthand for Aric’s experiences in ancient Rome, emphasizing the connection between the current situation and Aric’s own life. Just look at how the president is depicted in that section:
Come on! I immediately thought of Julius Caesar, and I’ve never even met the guy. More importantly, this isn’t exactly how the President currently looks (we glimpse him later sporting a beard and a massive gold belt), and it seems clear that Aric’s baggage is getting the better of him. Oddly, Kindt seems to be leaning away from the resemblance, renaming “the Emperor” mentioned in issue 2 with “the President” here — maybe the parallels were simply too strong?
All in all, this was a bit of a mixed issue for me. The artwork is absolutely stunning, and there is some solid character work when Kindt and his collaborators can actually focus on one character’s subjective experience. Unfortunately, much of the issue is bogged down in an action sequence that repeats its stakes so often, they lose all meaning. It’s not enough to drive me away from this series, but I sure do hope we get to spend a little more time in Aric’s head next month.
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