Originally published at AiPT!
In addition to this week’s X-O Manowar #47, I recently reread the series’ first issue as well. The first page, before even introducing the readers to Aric of Dacia, opens on two of his fellow Visigoths, shocked that the so-called Roman “heathens” would dare to attack on Easter Day. The irony of the insult is that, given the year (402 A.D.), the Roman troops in question were not likely to have been pagans, or even Stoics or Epicureans, which had previously been prominent. No, given the timeframe – post-Edict of Milan, post-Nicaea, post-Constantinople even – most of the Roman legion were likely orthodox Christians, for whom Easter would have been every bit as sacred as for the Aryan Visigoths. As a real world religion, after less than four centuries Christianity had already split into numerous sects, including the orthodox and the Aryans. This contrasts with the fictional religion of the Vine.
Per the opening pages of issue #47:
“Our scriptures teach us that Shanhara was once the savior of our people. The sacred armor chose a Worthy One and guided the Vine into an age of untold prosperity. These are the tenants of our faith, taught to every Vine from the moment of birth.”
As a seminary-trained theologian and the leader of an interfaith philosophical society at Rutgers, the contrivance which TVTropes identifies as the “One True Faith” has always been a pet peeve of my own. I daily dialogue with fellow deists and platonists, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheist, agnostics, and more, which still constitutes just a fraction of the diverse conclusions humans have arrived at regarding the mysteries of existence. Even back in seminary, where everyone ostensibly held to the same tenants, there were always at least five different opinions between any four students or professors. The notion that an entire species, even one telepathically linked like the Vine, would be perfectly homogeneous in their beliefs has always struck me as supremely implausible, indicative that the intellectual curiosity which so often begets new sects and schisms is in such species lacking.
As artificial as that aspect of the Vine faith struck me, just a few pages later, as part of the same soliloquy delivering the background exposition, a few lines jumped out at me as closer to real world religions than most members would probably realize:
“As our people spanned millennia, it became easy to forget the other side of our faith. If there was a savior, then there was also a destroyer… “If not for Shanhara and the Worthy One, our people would never have survived the Torment and emerged from the prehistoric cradle. We would never have spread our seeds across the stars. Nor would we have discovered that our scriptures are not yet complete. On a world called Earth, the final book is about to be written…”
Though few laity are aware of such, in numerous Protestant denominations the official position is that the canon of scripture is still open; new books could yet be discovered or written and added to their Bible. Moreover, very much like the Vine, one of Christianity’s eschatological prophesies affirms that a hidden revelation which was struck from their scriptures would be made known prior to The End. Such is surely not the inspiration for the Vine’s prophecy as well; to say that it’s an obscure doctrine is an understatement. But it added a dash of verisimilitude to the Vine faith that just panels before had shattered my suspension of disbelief.
Of course, the particulars of the Vine religion are mere background details, a matter of intense interest to myself given my field of study, but the real highlight of the issue for most readers will undoubtably prove to be seeing the apocalyptic prophecies of the Vine teachings actually play out. It just so happens that the final battle begins not at Megiddo or Dabiq, but rather western Nebraska. Aric’s first encounter with the ancient adversary – the Torment – is explosive and gorgeously rendered, but two factors undercut the tension significantly. Firstly, the means to defeat the Torment are already within humanity’s hands. The Vine high priest was explicit in stating that the Shanhara armor – melded with a worthy one – singlehandedly defeated the Torment in the past. Aric has the armor already; there is no need to acquire the weapon of Man’s salvation, nor any indication that the Torment are a more significant threat this time around. For Armageddon, the stakes are surprisingly low. Secondly, the Torment, far from living up to so fearsome a theonym, come across as utterly bewildered and confused. They’re a threat to be sure, but less so in the manner of Mass Effect’s Reapers and more so as in Of Mice and Men’s Lenny. They seem more filled with questions than with malice.
I too am filled with questions. Issue #47 was solicited as a jumping on point, and despite having read some previous issues, in addition to the usual due diligence of scouring the various Wikipedia and ComicVine entries summarizing the characters and the story so far, for a jumping on point this issue is hardly new reader friendly. It feels like plunging into the story en media res, which, given the seemingly serial nature of the series, seems somewhat inevitable. For longtime readers such is surely no strike against the issue’s quality, but I myself feel far more tempted to catch up on the back issues before continuing with the current ones. In fact, that indeed is my plan. I regret not climbing aboard the series earlier. Aric is a particularly compelling character, a man out of time, but unlike a certain super-soldier, in constant tension with modernity; I can certainly relate.
The bulk of this issue is an action-packed battle, and I’m probably alone in finding the dump of exposition at the beginning the most fascinating aspect. Such does a wonderful job of adding to the mythology of the Valiant Universe, but it’s not itself sufficient to bring new readers up to speed. That said, it is enough to whet one’s appetite, to garner greater interest in how the story got to this point and where it’s going from here. If the Vine scriptures are to be believed, it going in an absolutely apocalyptic direction.