by Jarrod Jones. It’s another day in our modern world. Civil unrest grips nations, emotionally-stunted tech billionaires want to play with rockets. Tying up traffic with would-be alien invasions, squashing mysterious robots, and fixing banged-up cars with internet how-tos—what’s a 5th Century barbarian wrapped in strange alien armor to do?

It would seem that Valiant’s X-O Manowar is due for an upgrade. And wouldn’t you know it? He’s getting one in the latest run of comics featuring the powered-up Aric of Dacia, who will soon discover what it means to be a hero in the 21st Century when barbarian instinct often impedes the convenience of modern living. Written by Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum with art by Emilio Laiso, colors by Ruth Redmond and letters by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, X-O will endure this learning curve with a warrior’s cunning, a superhero’s zeal, and a regular-dude’s general affability. (Laiso’s already hooked up the golden-locked Aric with a painfully modern man-bun, so he’s on his way.)

But wait. X-O Manowar—superhero? He’s been a Barbarian, a Soldier, a General, and an Emperor. But what happens when X-O and his alien armor friend Shanhara take to the sapphire skies as the world’s newfound defenders?

“One of our big plans with this series is to increase the level of Earthbound threats Aric and Shanhara face,” Dennis Hopeless says. “We’ve all seen them blasting tanks and taking out alien invaders, but what kind of weird crawls out of the shadows to take on an impossibly powerful super hero? How does the Earth respond to X-O in this new role?

“So, yeah, big threats are coming… Which will not only test the limits of the X-O suit, but also push it in new directions. There’s so much cool new X-O coming, we’re going to need [a] toy line.”

A new world order demands some answers. So I put the questions to Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum to find out what’s in store for Valiant’s X-O Manowar in the year to come.

Cover to ‘X-O Manowar’ #1. Art: Christian Ward/Valiant

1. I’d like to begin by asking how you landed on ‘X-O Manowar’ as your first Valiant assignment. Was this run something you had stored away in the creative archives that you could finally dust off and crack open, or were you asked to bring your own style and verve to this specific series?

Dennis Hopeless: X-O was my first Valiant assignment but it wasn’t my first Valiant pitch. I actually pitched on Shadowman WAAAAY back in 2012 when I was just starting out at Marvel. Then I discussed or pitched a few other properties over the years that never quite happened. So I’ve had Valiant on the brain for a while now. When [Valiant Senior Editor] Heather Antos called me about X-O and we were on exactly the same page, it definitely felt like Valiant wanted me to be me. Human condition. Relationship drama. Lots of arguing. I’m doing Hopeless X-O Manowar and it’s a blast.

2. You told Graphic Policy that your goal with your ‘X-O Manowar’ run is to bring Aric of Dacia to “full-fledged superhero status.” What kind of superheroic figure does Aric cut for you? A Stark-ian/Asgardian hybrid? Conan with a modern wit and a measured temper? A barbarian Booster Gold?

Well from a Hollywood high concept standpoint, Aric is Conan in an Iron Man suit. An ancient warrior’s honor and killer instinct wrapped in the most advanced weapons system known to man. But what makes him most interesting as a hero, is Shanhara. Aric has this brilliant co-pilot whispering advice and often dissenting opinions in his ear. Then you throw in the anachronism of it all and… X-O Manowar is a Visigoth warrior and a hyper advanced sentient alien wrestling for the best way to save a modern world neither one of them completely understands.

3. Aric has frequent banter with his alien suit of armor, Shanhara. In fact, one of the first action sequences in your run is brimming with chummy banter, which makes all the heroic pyrotechnics on the page appear effortless on Aric’s part—and, it makes Aric seem a bit lonely, as well. All this casual joshing around is there, naturally, to bring Aric down to a more grounded level, but what kind of relationship does Aric and Shanhara have in your mind, and how will that relationship inform your run on ‘X-O Manowar’?

Aric and Shanhara’s relationship is the heart and soul of the series. They lean heavily on one another to try and navigate this new mission statement. Super Heroism and War aren’t the same thing. These two need each other to figure out how this is going to work. Aric and Shanhara have always been partners… But it’s more than that now. They’ve become family. You can see that when they argue. 

4. The Shanhara armor seems to have a specific set of abilities—flight, force-fields, impenetrability. Are you going to explore the capabilities of this armor, maybe give it a new set of tricks? If so, feel free to spoil details right here. I won’t tell Valiant.

One of our big plans with this series is to increase the level of Earthbound threats Aric and Shanhara face. We’ve all seen them blasting tanks and taking out alien invaders, but what kind of weird crawls out of the shadows to take on an impossibly powerful super hero? How does the Earth respond to X-O in this new role?

So, yeah, big threats are coming… Which will not only test the limits of the X-O suit, but also push it in new directions. There’s so much cool new X-O coming, we’re going to need [a] toy line.

5. Tell me about Troy Whitaker, the billionaire playboy who sips martinis in Hawaiian swim trunks in ‘X-O Manowar’ #2. Seems ol’ Troy has ambitions beyond his considerable pay grade simmering behind those expensive-lookin’ Ray-Bans. What level of misrule does Troy have in mind for this new story? Is this a new Luthor-in-the-making?

In my head, Troy Whitaker sounds like Matthew McConaughey when he was explaining why he got arrested naked playing a conga drum… Except he’s a brilliant tech billionaire. Troy definitely sees the world through strange lenses, and will irritate Aric to no end, but he’s not our bad guy.

6. There’s the Morris family, young Desmond and his mother, who welcome Aric to stay in their home. Where do the Morrises fit in the wider plans for ‘X-O Manowar’? I presume there will be consequences to letting a 5th century barbarian with a chatty alien in his ear sleep on the couch.

One of Aric’s big stumbling blocks early in the series is not understanding how normal people see him. He drops a crashed spaceship in the middle of rush hour traffic and expects everyone to appreciate the save. They do not. Aric and Shanhara figure out pretty quickly that they need to spend time on the street amongst the people they’re trying to help. The Morrises represent their first success on that front and the start of X-O building a community.  

But I really don’t know what makes you think there will be negative consequences. What could go wrong?

7. What kind of mark do you hope to leave on ‘X-O Manowar’ when all is said and done? In 2020, what do you think Aric of Dacia has to offer in terms of escapism?

We have three big mission statements. I hope to leave THE WORLD of X-O Manowar bigger, weirder and scarier than we found it… While at the same time leaning into Aric’s humanity so that we understand and relate to him more than ever. And then finally, we want everyone to get to know Shanhara and love her as much as we do.

8. To wrap up, if you had Shanhara constantly buzzing in your ear, whose voice would you hope to hear? Cate Blanchett? Barack Obama? Jason Aaron?

Oof. That’s tough. I can’t even stand Siri telling me how to get to the store.

Definitely not Jason Aaron though. His advice is pretty much always Roll Tide and I promise you that gets old in a hurry.

‘X-O Manowar’ #2 hits stores November 25. You can pre-order it now. (Diamond Code: JUN201424)

Check out this 4-page preview of ‘X-O Manowar’ #2, featuring a cover gallery by Christian Ward, Netho Diaz & and Daniel Warren Johnson, courtesy of Valiant!

More comics interviews to get those synapses firing…

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10 things concerning Cavan Scott, Corin Howell, and the covert magic of ‘Shadow Service’

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