Valiant Entertainment relaunched X-O Manowar this year with writer Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum and artist Emilio Laiso. After a lengthy delay due to the pandemic, the second issue hits your local comic book store on November 25. Monkeys Fighting Robots caught up with Hallum to talk about the new series, the importance of positive male role models, and how Aric fits in 2020.
Enjoy the Dennis “Hopeless” Hallum Interview Below:
MFR: Dennis, thank you for taking the time to talk with me. There are more than a few epic comic book creators coming out of the lower Midwest region. What is going on over there?
DENNIS: Umm… Stupid hot summers and long cold winters to hide inside with your imagination. But mostly, I think it’s the siren song of cheap real estate.
MFR: X-O Manowar first appeared in 1992; what audience are you writing this book for?
DENNIS: Ours is about a new stage in X-O’s life. All of his experiences from the previous series have shaped him and informed how he looks at the world, but this new chapter starts here… Which makes it a great story for longtime X-O fans and people brand new to the character. We’re focused on building an exciting new story and world around X-O with issue #1 as the jumping on point.
MFR: What are the core elements that form X-O Manowar, to where if you removed one, the character would no longer be X-O Manowar?
DENNIS: X-O is an action movie character through and through. Conan and Robocop are as much a part of his DNA as anything superheroic. Aric is the guy flying straight through the firestorm with his teeth-bared, ready to wreck whatever villain he finds on the other side. We try to keep that in mind with every issue. We’re doing a lot of character and world-building in this series, but X-O has to be X-O.
MFR: X-O is a title and character born from the 90s; how do you plan to reinvent the character to fit today’s norms?
DENNIS: X-O is fun in that regard because Aric is a man out of time. He was raised on swords and shields to fight for his people against the Roman Empire. Modern society was foreign to him when he got here and progresses at a pace he’ll never get used to. Our series doesn’t so much reinvent him as throw him in the deep end of the social media era and force him to swim. Fortunately, he has his sentient armor partner Shanhara to help him stay afloat… Or at least tell him when he starts to drown.
MFR: The definition of what it means to be a man is evolving. What was acceptable even five years ago is no longer acceptable in today’s society. Do you look at a character like X-O and think about your responsibility as a potential role-model to young men?
DENNIS: Absolutely. X-O has always solved a lot of problems with brute force because he has the instincts of a Visigoth warrior and wields the brutiest force of all time. That makes for fun action sequences but doesn’t translate well into the real world. I have two six-year-old sons, and we talk a lot about what happens when they try to resolve conflicts with their fists. More fists, followed by tears. The way we deal with that very real problem in the series is to really focus on the consequences of X-O’s violence. When he smashes a helicopter in the middle of the city, homes are destroyed. Buildings have to be rebuilt. When he flies over and ends a civil war… It creates a dangerous power vacuum. There’s failure baked into Aric’s success, and with Shanhara’s help, he gets to learn and grow from it.
MFR: X-O is the most powerful weapon in the universe. Without a Lois Lane type of character, how do you ground X-O, so the reader has something to relate to?
DENNIS: We’ve created a love interest for Aric named Rory Road. She’s a cable news anchor who… Just kidding.
We are quite literally grounding the character in a neighborhood that he accidentally destroys (possibly more than once). Becoming a part of the community as he physically rebuilds it. Aric is a time-traveling, space war veteran superhero, but he’s also a person. People need people, so… we’re giving him some.
MFR: How is your relationship with artist Emilio Laiso? Do you write tight scripts, or do you give Emilio a chance to flex his artistic muscles?
DENNIS: Emilio and I worked together on a Spider-Man book last year, so I know what he can do and trust him completely. My scripts are relatively tight because that’s how my brain works, but he has all the rope he wants to change and improve the story. Collaboration is the best part of this job, and Emilio makes us all look good, so we let him.
MFR: When Ruth Redmond dropped color on the first issue, did you have a conversation about which palette to use?
DENNIS: No, but I love the palette. Color theory is well outside my lane, so I keep my nose out. The book is undeniably gorgeous though. I’m thrilled with the art team, soup to nuts.
MFR: With the pandemic, your book has been delayed. How will all the events of 2020 (COVID-19, BLM, Election, Wild Fires, Murder Hornets, etc.) influence your writing moving forward?
DENNIS: It obviously wasn’t intentional because we plotted the book long before most of those things were making headlines… But I think the current social climate lines up pretty well with a lot of our themes. This is a complicated world with some insurmountable problems that don’t have obvious solutions. You can’t punch a virus in the face. Good and evil isn’t as simple as cops and robbers. And even if you’re doing what seems right and just and best for everyone, a big swath of humanity will think you’ve messed up. X-O Manowar couldn’t fly in and fix the world overnight even if he was real, so we’re obviously not going to do it with a comic book… But I do think these issues are worth discussing, and fiction has always been a powerful conversation starter.
MFR: With the events of the pandemic, the comic book industry was forced to evolve. What do you think the world of comic books will look like ten years from now (2030)?
DENNIS: More voices than ever before. More ways to get comics and more places to show off the ones you’ve made. It seems like retail and distribution systems are in flux right now, trying to deal with a world that was already changing and then took a massive leap almost overnight when the pandemic hit. That could shake out a lot of different ways, and I’m not sure anyone knows for sure where things will settle… But readers still want to read comics, and we all still want to make them, so I’m optimistic about the future.
MFR: Dennis, thank you again for your time, and best of luck with X-O Manowar!
DENNIS: Thank you!
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