Ten years ago Robert Venditti did not think he would be writing comic books for a living. Today he’s a New York Times bestselling author (The Homeland Directive). His series The Surrogates was adapted into a feature film starring Bruce Willis. Now he’s tackling X-O Manowar, the initial release in Valiant Comics’ 2012 re-launch.
Originally running from 1992 to ‘99, X-O Manowar chronicles a Roman-era Visigoth who obtains the most powerful weapon in the universe—the X-O Manowar armor—and wields it against an alien army covertly invading 20th century earth. Now Venditti is teaming up with Cary Nord (Dark Horse’s Conan, Daredevil, X-Men) for a new take on one of Valiant’s most notorious characters. Venditti’s work, especially The Surrogates, embraces the more heavy and adult oriented form of storytelling, shedding the traditional “you’re the bad guy and I’m the good guy” cliché. He’s one of the smart guys, placing his voice alongside the likes of Alan Moore or Howard Chaykin. Unlike the middle fare in comics Venditti’s titles explore the human condition, using the medium for cultural exploration and criticism. Because Venditti’s writing takes this stance his work on X-O Manowar should prove interesting. I had the chance to talk with Venditti recently regarding his new work with Valiant along with The Surrogates.
Florida Geek Scene: What drew you to write the new X-O Manowar series?
Robert Venditti: I’ve been writing comics since 2005 and I have never done a monthly series with an established character. Most of my work has been creator owned and so this is something appealing: writing something in a more serialized format, in comparison to the graphic novel, which is what I typically do. Also, re-launching the character but also being part of a larger universe and re-launching that universe too was a chance for me to take a character that’s been off the shelves for a while and put my own take on it, put it out into the world and see how people respond. It’s a different style of writing. On top of that the character content is really cool. He is a Gallic warrior who gets kidnapped, steals his captor’s armor and returns to earth. It’s a conflict of somebody being the most primitive person on earth but also being the most technologically advanced.
Technology seems to be a reoccurring theme in your work. For example, I felt The Surrogates deeply discussed about where we are as a culture in the digital age. Are you adding any of this into X-O Manowar?
Sure. Technology will be there but I don’t think it’ll be the same. Technology will be a big part of it but it’s definitely going to be different. It’s not going to be like The Surrogates where technology changes the public’s perception of the characters – if they want to change gender or race or age. It’s a different kind of technology, a weaponized form of technology. What does it mean when there’s a character that lived in times when the most advanced technology was the catapult and now he’s wielding the most powerful weapon in the universe? Aric has a mentality coming from the days when they answered all their battles with a sword. When you have something as destructive as the Manowar armor you have to approach the technology differently.
What about the ideas of cultural assimilation, the man/machine hybrid: are these still a big part of X-O?
Absolutely. In some sense those themes are timeless. We will also see new themes and characters while still staying true to the spirit of the original series, updated for a modern audience but leaving in the themes that made the series so great to begin with. We didn’t want to completely revamp the series, where the only thing it has in common with the original X-O is the title. That’s not what I wanted to do and that’s not what Valiant wanted. They’re looking to stay true to the original concepts that made the books so popular back in the day.
Are we going to see crossovers with other Valiant characters and titles?
Absolutely. That was one of the big draws on this project. The idea of working in a shared universe, especially the one Valiant is known for.
Warren Simons, the executive director of Valiant, reached out to me back in June of last year. I started it in June of 2011 so when the first issue comes out on May 2nd I’ll have been working on it for almost a year.
How many issues have you written so far?
The first five issues are already done.
I felt that The Surrogates was a great science fiction piece, at least from a Philip K. Dick or Isaac Asimov viewpoint where it uses the future to discuss the present world and issues. Was that an initial concern when writing The Surrogates?
I’m actually not very well versed in science fiction – I’ve only read about ten sci-fi books (some of them Philip Dick) – but I wanted to address these themes, especially around ’99 or 2000, with the Internet and chat rooms and how people were spending so much time online. They were reinventing themselves and creating this online persona. You had to surrender this persona when you’d go to work or class or drop the kids off at school; my idea asks what if through technology you could create and be this idealized version of yourself all the time and what would it be like in that environment? Given that this technology doesn’t exist yet I thought science fiction would be the best way to tell that story but I feel it’s more of a detective story, about police procedure, than heavy sci-fi. There are no flying cars, time travel or aliens and it’s very similar to the world we live in today except for the technology which I extrapolated on.
What do you think of The Surrogates gaining exposure in academia?
It’s actually very flattering that The Surrogates is taught in college classes, especially not just science fiction or comic book classes but philosophy classes. To think that people are reading that into the book and spending that much time thinking about it, I think that’s such a huge compliment.
I’d never read comics really. I was working at Borders and my friend was always trying to get me to read it [Astro City]. I was really struck by the depth of character and how character oriented it was. This was the kind of style I was working on while doing my masters work at UCF, a literary style of fiction based on character. It just sort of jumped out at me that I could work in this medium and tell genre stories, which I also really enjoy, and have them be very character centered. Also the art attracted me. When I was a kid I wanted to be an artist: the highest calling in life. But I can’t draw well. I started writing stories to describe the worlds I had imagined and all these years later when I started reading comics I realized here is a medium where I can write the words and somebody else could render it into art. It was a way to reach that childhood ambition.
Any future projects you’re working on?
I have more Surrogates stories coming out this year from Top Shelf Comics. We’re going to serialize them first in digital form and then in a trade paperback. I’m also adapting the Percy Jackson novels for Hyperion Books. Also for Hyperion I’m doing The Lost Hero. I have a novel of my own, a prose novel, I’m writing at the moment. I also have a few other creator owned projects in the works. I’m definitely getting to the point where I have a full plate, which is great. I feel lucky being able to say that because it’s such a hard thing in the arts to keep yourself busy. I feel very fortunate in that regard.
The first issue of Robert Venditti’s X-O Manowar appears in comic shops on Wednesday May 2nd. Also, there is a free comic available on Free Comic Book Day (May 5th) featuring X-O Manowar and other characters from Valiant’s newly re-imagined titles including Harbinger and Bloodshot. Finally, Venditti will be appearing at Midtown Comics in New York City on May 2nd for the X-O launch. Click here for more information.
For more information regarding Robert Venditti check out his website: robertvenditti.com