Writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum Answers Our Spoiler Filled Questions as X-O Manowar Invades
We recently got a chance to sit down with the writer of the latest volume of X-O Manowar and took a deep dive into his inspiration for Shanhara’s characterization, and how he’s been using X-O Manowar to tackle social issues. Originally slated for an April release, this issue is hitting shelves today and we’ve got the spoiler-filled scoop on the issue. So, if you don’t want the issue spoiled, go check it out and come back.
The newest volume has Aric struggling with his place in the world and what it means to be a hero. X-O Manowar #2 is an action-packed chapter that puts a brand-new character, Troy Whitaker, in the spotlight. Will Aric’s new ally help him become the hero that the modern world needs, or will X-O’s primitive ways only cause more damage?
We got to chat with writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum about the series and the real-world issues he’s taking head on.
Stay tuned after the interview for a preview of the issue!
Graphic Policy: This series has Aric and Shanhara in situations that we really haven’t seen them in before in that he’s being more of a traditional hero in an urban setting; where did the idea to take the fish out of water concept to the next level come from?
Dennis Hallum: In our very first conversation about the series, Senior Editor Heather Antos and I talked about bringing the series back down to Earth. We’ve seen a lot of X-O Manowar’s battles on distant worlds, toppling alien armadas over the years. We know Aric and Shanhara can stop an invasion, but we’ve seen very little of them on Earth in the here and now. Aric was abducted and enslaved by alien overlords who left him stranded in a future version of home. He’s a hero out of time and that in and of itself is interesting. It allows us to lean into the humanity of the character. To build drama around his blindspots and weaknesses even as he crushes villains underfoot…Which I guess is a long-winded way of saying it was Heather’s idea.
GP: I’ve been loving the characterization of Shanhara – where did the armour’s attitude come from?
DH: Frustration mostly. She’s this brilliant strategist with access to all human knowledge whose impulsive partner controls the arms and legs. Aric and Shanhara trust each other completely, but they couldn’t be more different. She’s the voice always in his ear, telling him to calm down and think of the repercussions. He’s a wrecking-ball tearing up the pavement before she finishes a sentence. It’s a great partnership. They’re better together than apart… But there’s a lot of fun arguing there.
GP: You’ve been able to use Aric to question society’s “progress” rather subtly in the first two issues, such as Aric willingly sharing the deer in issue one; are we likely to see more moments like this in the coming issues?
DH: Yeah, I think it’s one of the most interesting elements of the book’s anachronism. We obviously think of modern society as being super advanced. In many ways it obviously is, but our “grab it, own it, horde it” culture has its problems. There’s a lot we can say about that from Aric’s unique perspective and definitely will be.
GP: The first issue had Aric coming between the police and some kids they were shooting at, which is unfortunately something that’s not unfamiliar to us. Can you talk a little about why you felt that was an important element important to bring to the comic?
DH: One of the best things about working for Valiant is that we get to tackle social issues head-on. We’re not expected to pretend everyone in the city loves and respects the police. One of the obstacles Aric faces in the series is gaining the neighborhood’s trust. He wants to be their hero, but nobody invited him. He’s this big, blue monster who flies through buildings and crashes things. He’s powerful and dangerous and scary if you don’t trust him completely. Those themes seem to fit pretty well into the current conversation about law enforcement…That scene just made sense.
GP: X-O Manowar has Aric being manipulated to step into a civil war in Ukraine. While not exactly what’s going on it has echoes of the reality in Crimea and the nationalist forces at play. Often in comics, you see made-up countries for conflicts but here you’re willing to reference a real-life conflict (though with a bit of a twist on what’s exactly going on). Did you think about using a “fake” country at all? Any thoughts on how it might be taken by certain parties at play there? Part of the conflict is driven by white nationalists, is that going to be touched upon?
DH: The problem with making up a country is that it makes the conflict seem less real. We want the stakes in the book to have real-world weight. That said, I hope people can tell this is superhero fiction and not my treatise on Crimea. I’m not nearly educated enough on Ukrainian politics to put meaningful commentary in the book. Our villain is a very fictional warlord. Our goal was to create a reasonably believable conflict in a place people know.
GP: With the second issue, you’re delving into the influence of the media on our public figures. It’s especially played out in the Ukraine conflict which very much has disinformation/media as an aspect of it. Where’d you get the idea to go in that direction?
DH: I’m fascinated by the influence modern media and social media has over everyone. Sometimes it feels like we live inside a massive propaganda machine designed to make us buy things and hate each other. And if all of that is new and overwhelming to us, how would it feel to a time-stuck Visigoth Prince? You can’t be a public figure in today’s world without intense 24/7 public scrutiny. Everything is being spun and manipulated all the time to make people think this or that…All of which is very frustrating for Aric. He just wants to punch bad things, end wars, and help people. He doesn’t care about his approval rating. He’s not interested in PR.
GP: You’ve tackled some heavy subjects so far (food poverty, police brutality) – what else do you have in store for us?
DH: I’m hoping to balance the budget and decrease the national debt. Once that’s done, the sky’s the limit.
GP: Back on the Ukraine intervention… There’s often a question about heroes not solving real-world issues. You’d think with so much knowledge and power they could cure cancer for instance or end conflict. Is exploring that aspect some of what’s driving this arc?
DH: That’s absolutely the point. When the eyes of the world never close and everyone has an opinion, super heroism becomes a lot trickier. There are real-world ramifications to crashing a helicopter through a building…No matter how evil the helicopter might be. End a war with a punch. Throw a dictator into the ocean. That’s all great, but what happens next? When you power up vigilantism to X-O Manowar levels, there’s no limit to the good he can affect. But rapid change can be very dangerous and is often very unpopular.
GP: A superhero acting on his own in such a way has to raise eyebrows and concerns from world governments. Is that going to be a part of it?
DH: That’s a huge part of this arc, yes. One of my favorite new characters in the book, Billionaire Troy Whitaker, gets to be our mouthpiece for those concerns. He’s a blast to write.
GP: Do you think that superheroes interfering in other country’s problems is an area of comics that really hasn’t been explored all that much?
DH: It’s a tricky subject that has definitely been touched on before, the problem becomes maintaining suspension of disbelief when your hero’s existence would likely completely change the world. If New York is full of superheroes and villains, at what point does it stop looking anything like the real NYC? Our solution is to go ahead and let Aric and Shanhara change the world. Should be fun to see what shakes out.
GP: Thanks very much for your time!
Harvey Award-winner DENNIS HOPELESS (Star Wars: Darth Vader – Dark Visions) and astonishing artist EMILIO LAISO (Marvel’s Spider-Man: Velocity) present an action-packed chapter that puts a brand-new character, Troy Whitaker, in the spotlight. Will Aric’s new ally help him become the hero that the modern world needs, or will X-O’s primitive ways only cause more damage?