At War With Unity is a disappointing collection for a few reasons, but primarily as it only presents half the story. At the close of Homecoming Aric had landed hundreds of refugees in an area of Romania vaguely comparable with his home land of Dacia 1600 years previously and claimed it as his territory. This not being the way 21st century politics work, various forces aligned against him, and for the purposes of this book the most relevant is Valiant’s all-purpose operator in grey areas Toyo Harada, whose Unity team launched a new series on the back of the crossover with X-O. Want the complete story? You’ll have to buy the opening volume of Unity and alternate reading chapters of that with this material. The effect otherwise is to turn the page and discover the rug has been pulled, and having a couple of expository word balloons is hardly compensation. When did this presentation become in any way acceptable?

Compounding the annoyance is that the art is initially disappointing. Cary Nord drew Aric’s re-introduction in By the Sword, but here only the opening chapter is entirely his work, and he’s using a completely different style. The subtle naturalism of his older work shines through in places, but accompanied by grimacing and gurning characters with muscles in places no muscles should be (see sample page). The remainder is Nord’s layouts finished by Vincente Cifuentes, with Trevor Hairsine also stepping in for a few pages, and it all looks far better.

The shame of the gaps is that, from the half we see of it, Robert Venditti has constructed an interesting story with obvious real world analogies. It’s clever, and it’s a tale that prompts some thought about the price of freedom and ideology, avoiding any definitive viewpoint. At War With Unity involves several other Valiant heroes, ending with a form of compromise, and that leads into Prelude to Armor Hunters. Alternatively both books are collected in hardcover as X-O Manowar Deluxe Edition 2, and for those that can afford it, it’s the more satisfactory purchase as it also includes the issues of Unity that slot between the X-O chapters, so supplying the entire story.