I’m not typically a fan of comic stories that hinge on the mass destruction of real-world cities, but in the case of Valiant’s Armor Hunters event miniseries, writer Robert Venditti makes it work.
Armor Hunters #2 opens with Mexico City no more and the entire planet at risk of facing the same fate. The stakes are about high as they can get as Venditti lays out a tense military-tinged storyline that pits the ruthless space-faring Armor Hunters against the people of Earth and their resident armored Visigoth warrior – Aric of Dacia, aka X-O Manowar.
The wonton destruction of a city of millions could feel callous and outlandish in other hands (see the sinking of San Diego in Aquaman a few years ago), but Venditti balances it with a real sense of urgency and disbelief from his cast of characters. The heroes, generals, and world leaders that Venditti mobilizes to meet the threat of global annihilation are left dumbstruck and angered by the turn of events. Even in a world of superheroes and alien armors, the complete destruction of a major city is treated as a big deal, rightly so.
Over the last few years, X-O has been firmly established as the most powerful force in Valiant’s shared superhero universe. With the introduction of the Hunters and their no holds barred tactics, Venditti places Aric and his support team of the U.S. government and fellow superhero teammates, Unity against a set of adversaries that truly threaten the status quo. It’s a tension level rarely attained by other publisher events and makes for an exciting experience for readers. The creative team produces a story that feels like it will have lasting effects for X-O and the rest of the Valiant universe well beyond the closing chapter of the Armor Hunters four-issue mini.
Doug Braithwaite’s artwork is solid. He really shines when rendering the alien Hunters and their varied powers. Everything from the Hunters’ Kirby-esque robot spaceship to their gruesome and destructive arsenal of weaponry feels big and visceral. These are warlords on a planetary level done right. Think Galactus meets Seal Team Six. Creative comic book space villains tempered with familiar military trappings.
The artwork and story pace does get a bit lackluster in a few beats as things return to Earth for some stale introductory scenes (as to which Valiant characters jump in the mix, I’ll remain mum and spoiler free), but Braithwaite offsets this by handling the emotion of the issue’s substantial terrestrial dialogue in a way that keeps hold of the plot’s forward momentum. The issue’s overall energy rarely feels like it pauses even when less interesting subplots interject, and when the main action does let loose, Venditti and Braithwaite handle it skillfully.
Armor Hunters is an event book that feels like an event. Big stuff is happening and the repercussions look to be profound for the Valiant universe not just in these pages but in many issues to come. The inclusion of Valiant’s expanding roster of characters makes the action felt beyond just the circle of X-O Manowar, but does bog things down a tad. For fans of X-O, Armor Hunters #2 ratchets the threat level to a higher place than we’ve yet seen for the character and promises to leave Aric in a much different position than when the series started.
In what seems to be their specialty, Valiant once again boils superhero comics down to their core elements and succeeds in telling a dynamic and engaging story. Armor Hunters #2 is an event issue that actually feels eventful from start to finish.