Dennis Hopeless and Heather Antos Talk Upgrades, International Threats, and Milk and Pie in Valiant’s X-O Manowar

X-O Manowar #4 cover by Christian Ward
X-O Manowar #4 cover by Christian Ward

Does Manowar make the armor? A new threat towers over X-O. Will he have the strength to bring the titan down? Out this week X-O Manowar #4 saw Aric taking on multiple threats as he attempts to figure out what it exactly means to be a superhero. All of this while the media and world is watching him. With threats both domestic and abroad what does this mean for Aric, X-O Manowar going forward? And what’s up with the armor upgrade?

We discuss this and more with X-O Manowar writer Dennis Hopeless and editor Heather Antos. Plus check out the fantastic art from Emilio Laiso!

Warning, some minor spoilers below!

GP: Hey folks! How’re you both doing on this sunny (for me, anyway) day?

Heather Antos: Well, it’s been below freezing the past several days here so…cold? I’m cold.

Dennis Hopeless: Yeah, it snowed here last night so my day started with shoveling. But at the moment I’m working across the room from the couch fort my kids just built… So I’m very amused.

GP: Last issue we saw Shanhara get an upgrade – can you walk us through how that came to happen from a creative perspective?

HA: If I recall correctly, this was the culmination of a bunch of different conversations between Dennis and I in regards to where we wanted to see Aric and Shanhara’s story go. But I can’t really get into the details just yet…the upgrade of Shanhara is only just the tip of the story iceberg to come…

DH: Yes indeed. One of our major goals for this series was to explore and expand the bond between Aric and Shanhara. The partnership, the friendship and crucial trust between them is our cornerstone. Everything happening right now, including the suit upgrade, is a step down that road.

X-O Manowar #4

GP: How much of a hand did you have in designing the new look for Shanhara? What was that process like for the team?

DH: >CRACKS KNUCKLES< I typed a vague panel description and got all the way out of Emilio’s way.

HA: I was fairly hands off, myself. Emilio is a phenomenal artist so I trusted his instincts so long as the design fit the call of the story Dennis has been building. It needed to look sleek and modern — almost how Troy would design the suit if he could — while still honoring the classic suit that we all know and love. I think Emilio nailed it. 

GP: When designing a new look, how much of that is driven by the narrative and how much of it drives the narrative?

HA: It all depends on what story you’re telling, but I find it can be a bit of both, you know? The story that comes before is going to inspire the build up of the new look the artist comes up with….but then the new design can very often inspire new stories that will come after. It’s cyclical and such a cool part of comics!

DH: Every bit of it is collaborative, in that it’s a conversation. I try to explain what I see in my head and why we’re doing the things we’re doing, but artists like Emilio almost always bring better ideas and designs than I could dream up to the table. Oftentimes, I’ll get new (better) ideas for future story beats based on the art choices. Greater than the sum of our parts.

GP: Can you tell us whether the new look is a permanent change?

HA: Nice try, but you’re getting no spoilers out of me! 

DH: Nothing is permanent. Ever.

X-O Manowar #4

GP: You’ve been taking Aric toward a more traditional style of superhero, but in this issue we actually see him apologise for not doing enough; how will that level of expectation play into the series as it progresses?

DH: I mean, yeah, it’s an impossible job… Even for Aric. But also, Aric is starting to learn how to properly communicate with the public. Troy is teaching him that it’s easier to help people who already trust and respect you… And in the age of mass media, you have to gain that trust in a few different ways at once. “I’m sorry I didn’t do better,” carries a lot of weight.

HA: I can’t even begin to imagine what the pressures of being a superhero are — and here we’re really exploring just the tip of the burden Aric has put on himself.   

GP: Heather, you edit this series as well as other Valiant ones, how much coordination is there between the various series? Are you all thinking through the impact of these changes on the rest of the Valiant universe

HA: Always. It’s super important for editorial to always be aware of what is going on in the other parts of the universe at all times and how that will impact not only their own books, but also the other editor’s books as well. There’s a ton of behind-the-scenes communication between offices about how to best integrate together. 

DH: And it’s important to me to position X-O as a much stronger and more important figure in the Valiant Universe than say… Shadowman. Because Cullen Bunn is a monster and must be defeated.

GP: We’ve seen Aric take on international threats over the course of the series; will you also have him confront domestic terror threats?

HA: I mean, in a way that’s sort of what we’ve seen with Yakiov already, isn’t it? X-O Manowar may be this great superhero that can protect us all from a galactic level, but at heart he’s a man of the people — and those he considers his family will always come first. 

DH: If it were up to Aric, he’d help/save everyone everywhere all the time. Shanhara spends a lot of time tamping down those expectations. But absolutely, yes, we have BIG BAD local threats coming up soon.

X-O Manowar #4

GP: Dennis, the last panel is quietly terrifying; how much direction did you give Emilio Laiso on that?

DENNIS: I just looked at the script and I typed 11 words for that panel. Emilio is very very good.

GP: I have to ask – what made you write Vlad Yakiov as having milk and pie as he’s waiting for his plan to unfold?

DH: A friend of mine once threatened to create a blog called DENNIS HOPELESS IS HUNGRY because I write a lot of eating scenes into my books. It’s not something I started doing on purpose, but I do think little mundane bits of humanity can add a lot of nuance to dialogue-heavy scenes. In this case, Yakiov is terrorizing this family after destroying their neighborhood… And now he’s eating their food. It’s equal parts creepy and disrespectful and shows us just how confident he is that he’s going to win.

HA: This was all Dennis! But I loved it — it’s almost comical, in a way, but also scary, too. This big scary monster of a man walking into your home and just casually starting to eat your food as he threatens your life and the lives of your loved ones? Terrifying. This big scary monster of a man doing a spittake once he realizes he’s been so easily duped? Hilarious!

GP: Thanks for answering our questions and can’t wait to see what’s next!

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