Review by Frank Plowright
This re-booted version of X-O Manowar sticks very closely to the original template. X-O remains Aric, a Visigoth warrior plucked from 400AD, and the alien armoured suit he eventually wears is sentient and responds to his requirements. Everything around the concept, though, has been given a 21st century gloss polish, initially making this series a far more satisfying read than its previous incarnation.
It’s with Aric that the series opens, with his warrior king uncle leading the Visigoths in battle against a weakening Roman Empire on their borders. Spying on a Roman encampment he witnesses an alien incursion, not fully comprehending the aliens are replacing babies with infants of their own race, their physiology mutated in order that they resemble humans. When he and his small raiding party make the mistake of attacking the vastly technologically superior aliens they are easily defeated, and abducted. Briefly escaping on board their spacecraft Aric witnesses the alien weapons and protection, and determines to escape again. As this follows the pattern of the 1990s material, it’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that by the end of the volume Aric possesses the X-O armour.
Artist Cary Nord is accomplished delivering battles from 1700 years ago, or an alien society aboard a colony ship, and scenes set in the 21st century are equally compelling. A brief to remain close to the original series means he’s stuck with the spider-like aliens so prevalent within it, but he modifies their design. Combined with the cultural background supplied by writer Robert Venditti, and now known as the Vine, they’re far more interesting than was previously the case. Venditti’s plot reveals why Aric, while not particularly likeable, is worthy of inheriting centuries-old armour sacred to the aliens when their finest warriors have failed to tame it. Almost the entire focus is on Aric, and only the barest brush fleshes out most other cast members, but as Venditti’s plot unravels in page-turning fashion this isn’t to the detriment of the story.
By the Sword is a very promising start, and for those preferring a more durable format, it’s collected along with the two following volumes Enter Ninjak and Planet Death in the hardback X-O Manowar Deluxe Edition volume 1.