Part 2 of the story “Dead Hand” finds the action in full swing a hop, skip and a jump away from Earth in the Alpha Centauri star system as Aric of Dacia – X-O Manowar – is flying in space, trying to outrun a huge solar flare. He’s racing against time to reach the planet Loam, homeworld of his former enemies, the race known as the Vine, in an attempt to warn them to evacuate everyone from the planet while there’s still very precious little time.
Once planetside, Aric works with the Vine’s high priest to fill any available starships to maximum capacity with the available citizens in the area and take off for deep space. While they are successful, that still leaves millions of the Vines citizenry across the planet awaiting their oncoming demise. Despite the Vine being his hated enemies he swore to eradicate when the series first started, Aric stays behind on Loam to try and comfort a mother whose young son was fortunate enough to escape the demise of their planet aboard one of the departed ships. While his armor protects Aric himself, he witnesses the end of the planet Loam as the solar flare hits and leaves nothing behind but scorched earth in its wake. Mourning the loss of so much life, Aric swears this will not go unavenged.
With nothing left to do on Loam, Aric takes off for space and goes directly after the attackers who caused the solar flare. The robotic collection of beings known as Dead Hand first took flora and fauna samples from the planet last issue before using the solar flare to sterilize the world. The Dead Hand is an automated Armor Hunters protocol which destroys planets to keep there being lifeforms that can bond with the sentient bio-mechanical X-O armors that, while rare, do exist around the universe. Aric takes the fight directly to the Dead Hand ship only to meet a formidable defense and quickly finds himself outnumbered and outgunned. While he hates the thought, he decides that discretion is the better part of valor and retreats. Dead Hand then merely proceeds to the next star system…
Later, in deep space, Aric rendezvous with the Vine fleet and discovers there are only a few thousand survivors left on a handful of ships. Only those that launched from Loam’s night side of the planet escaped; the day side ships all lost to the deadly solar flare. Seeing the shape the Vine survivors are left in, he declines their offer of military assistance in another engagement against the Dead Hand. He wants what’s left of their military to focus on protecting the surviving citizens. “Leave raising an army to me”, he tells them at the end of the issue. We’re left wondering where the Dead Hand is heading to next (Earth is only 4.3 light years away!) and what “army” Aric has in mind (other heroes from Earth?).
Aric has really grown and matured since the start of the series and it shows in this issue. In the early issues, he swore that all members of the Vine species were his enemies and wanted nothing more than to eradicate the entire race. Now he tried to save their planet, and failing in that, he actually took the time to comfort one of the doomed people as death quickly approached. The loss of the planet troubled him and you get his sense of frustration and helplessness; a stark contrast from the battle-minded 5th century Visigoth barbarian we met in issue 1! That credit must go to writer Robert Venditti, who has been on the title from the start, guiding the direction. The art in this issue was handled by Diego Bernard and Ryan Winn, who give it a dynamic and polished look.
The “Dead Hand” story is a sequel of the “Armor Hunters” storyline from last year, but it feels much tighter, more focused and definitely isn’t lacking in action. X-O Manowar continues to be Valiant’s flagship title for a reason!