Monday, July 7, 2014

XO Man-O-War #1 and #2 (Acclaim Comics)

XO Man-O-War* is a pretty fortunate comic book property all things considered. Its first series (part of Valiant Comics) sucked for I-don't-know-how-long (best I can do is tell you that issue #66 and beyond is good), but its recent remake (by New Valiant) is actually very good, as is it's first remake, back from 1996, courtesy of notoriously shitty company Acclaim**.

*Yes, I'm aware that's not how these comics spell it, but dammit, I didn't graduate English for nuthin'!

**That is to say, the company was terrible, but they released plenty of good products, like most of their comics, and quite a few of their games. Unfortunately, not enough of their games, and they made several 'bright' business moves like buying a bankrupt comic company for $65 million dollars during the Great Comic Industry Crash of 1996, attempting to put advertising space on tombstones, inserting awful quality porn in a crappy BMX game to make it sell better instead of actually making it good, etc.

Ever since the Second World War, the US army have had a mysterious set of armour they captured from the Nazis. No-one has ever been able to unlock its secrets until ace scientist Donovan Wylie had a look. Now the super-powerful armour is up-and-running, and  as high-tech terrorist group R.A.G.E. intends to attack the White House, and they've got weaponry advanced enough to do so with little opposition. Expert soldier Rand Banion is chosen to be the wearer of the XO armour, and flies out to combat R.A.G.E. while Wylie sits out on the sidelines, advising Banion on the armour's capabilities. Tragedy strikes, however, and Wylie is forced to use the armour himself to take down R.A.G.E. before Washington falls...

Like I said above, this series' main character is scientist Donovan Wylie. That's right, no ancient Visigoth barbarians or spider aliens here. Some hate this decision, but I don't mind at all. For one, it's a remake, it's allowed to be different, and two, the Valiant XO series ran for over seventy issues! After that many, it's really not so much of a loss that the remake is completely different in every way.

Wylie is a total egotist, but he's pretty likeable. He hasn't gotten much development so far, but the series has only just started, so I can absolutely let that slide for now.

Rand Banion is a pretty awesome character, and immensely likeable, so it's a crying shame what happens to him here! Thankfully this isn't the end for him in the series, as he comes back in another form. The villain, Commander Revere, is ok. He's a stock standard villain, but his motivation is pretty interesting.

The plot here kinda resembles a '90's Image comic, but whereas those were grotesquely illustrated, the bearer of paper-thin stories, and were ultra grim-'n'-gritty, XO is just plain fun with a capital fun!

Speaking of plots, let's compare this to the first two issues of Valiant's XO, shall we. What was accomplished here? A scientist helps unlock a mysterious armour from the 1940's, stolen from the Nazis. The US military need the armour desperately to combat a powerful new terrorist threat with the immense brute power to fly right to the White House and Independence Day the crap out of it. The XO armour's pilot is killed in a battle with the terrorist mothership, and the scientist has to take matters in his own hand, and uses the armour to temporarily neutralize the threat. What was accomplished in Valiant's first two issues? A guy finds a tough suit of armour and kills some aliens with it. Which sounds more enticing to you?

This is very well-written, although it does get into things a tad too quickly, as Wylie has already worked on the armour when the story starts, and while he's been told the story of the armour's retrieval to death, we don't know anything. This is a pretty minor problem though.

Another minor problem is to do with Wylie's narration. It's under the pretense of 'Donovan's Brain', an ultra-comprehensive diary, which is fine. What isn't, however, is the chapter discrepancy. Issue #1 opens with Donovan's Brain Chapter 473, and #2 opens with Chapter 809, even though these issues take place right after the other.

The artwork here is pretty great. And the covers are fine too...Except for the blank barcode obtrusion. Funny, you wouldn't think XO Issue #1 from 2012 would have the exact same problem! 'Tis a bit of Synchronicity at work here, so it seems.

One final note, and bear with me here, as this is pretty long, this series is also great nostalgia for me...technically. When I was about six, I went to the York Show (an annual local festival), and one stall had a few comics, from Valiant and Acclaim (which I didn't know at the time). Either these comics were free, or very. very cheap, which isn't surprising, given this was only a couple of years after the comics industry crash of '96. I read through them quite a bit, not really knowing what the hell was happening in them, and I've no idea what happened to these comics of mine. When I realized what they were a few months ago, I was pretty surprised. One of them was Acclaim's XO Man-O-War, which was news to me, as I remembered it as being an Iron Man comic with Captain America, or vice versa. My memory of that comic is pretty vague, but there was something off about it being either of those two Marvel characters-I don't know what. Maybe it's was my subconscious trying to tell me my memory had it wrong. But when I found out about this series, the Bravado character of later issues, that there was a black guy (who I originally thought was Iron Man) and the villainous R.A.G.E., everything came together   I haven't gotten to that issue yet, so there's no nostalgia yet, but there will be, I'm sure of that! In the meantime, I abslutely recommend this series! It's great fun...

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