A Divinity III: Stalinverse Tie-In that continues their streak of worthy comics.
Valiant has been on a roll lately, their signature events have been fantastic, full of drama, action and stellar, long-lasting characterization. I’ve particularly loved Matt Kindt and Trevor Hairsine’s work on Divinity, introducing new characters with vast powers affecting the fabric of reality in the Valiant Universe, yet in a grounded and character-focused way. Divinity is the epitome of a high-concept comic executed perfectly.
Valiant is in the midst of Divinity III: Stalinverse, an Elseworlds-like tale of the USSR ruling the world. With event comics, it seems that every property must tie into the event somehow. Normally, the tie-ins rarely focus on the event, but also seem meaningless to the direction of the arc. Thankfully for us, Valiant has been crushing their tie-ins!
I love Archer and Armstrong, I find them light-hearted, fun and compelling, especially when many other comics take a grim approach to superheroics, so I was interested in seeing how Eliot Rahal and Francis Portela could invert the Archer and Armstrong relationship and mine depth and drama out of a wildly different landscape. The result is something new and refreshing, a different take on 2 of my favorite heroes that feels organic. Valiant has continued their hot streak!
Escape from Gulag 396 is written by Eliot Rahal and illustrated by Francis Portela, and they get a limited page count to define the A&A relationship in a Russian controlled world. Tagging on at the end is a backup story written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp, “The Origin of the Pioneer.”
Eliot Rahal absolutely gets pseudo-Archer. With a limited page count he is able to provide a fully fleshed out Archer, who ministers to his “congregation,” the rest of the prisoners. Archer’s faith is called into question by the commandant, leading to Archer and Armstrong’s first meeting. I thought the writing was perfect and Portela used multiple pictures within pictures to further demonstrate Archer’s faith and dedication. The only weak link was Armstrong’s characterization (surprisingly!). Normally, Archer’s motivations are more one-note and Armstrong is the morally challenged, compelling character; but Armstrong is almost devoid of charm here. Last minute twist aside – which was a nice surprise, the page count and back story limited Armstrong’s dialogue to basically a whiny, soup sandwich. I hope Valiant gives this creative team another chance to finish this story and give Armstrong some redemption.
“The Origin of the Pioneer” is an intriguing, but limited, back story, about a character, possibly superhuman, fighting the army that killed her tribe in the waning days of World War II. Kindt provides the barest glimpse of a compelling character, unfortunately, the page count forces his hand and he has to rush to get the character involved in a war. I’m interested to see where this “Wonder Woman” like character goes in the future, and Valiant certainly has room for another female superhero in their pantheon of heroes. I’ve heard rumors that they are pushing the Pioneer into bigger and better things, with a superstar writer like Kindt writing the origin, the future definitely looks bright for the character.
I did want to mention the art, both good and bad. Portela does an excellent job at conveying emotions and depicting the kindness and generosity that imbues Archer’s spirit, however, the only face that looked remotely human was Archer’s. Every other face looked like something you would see in a carnival’s house of mirrors, the faces just looked off. Thankfully, Portela maximized the script and used limited speech to convey multiple emotions. He really carried the middle portion of the Archer and Armstrong adventure. Juan Jose Ryp, on the other hand, is a phenomenal talent and everything he draws is beautiful. Ryp is at his best drawing action scenes, but I’m convinced he could illustrate paint drying and make me want to buy it. While Portela’s facial descriptions leave a little to be desired, his storytelling combined with Ryp’s knockout art make for an above-average comic experience.
For a tie-in to a major comic event, Escape From Gulag 396 was better than I expected, it fleshes out the Divinity III: Stalinverse landscape, both past and present, and provides a compelling introduction for some of Valiant’s biggest heroes. I wish Valiant had given the book more space to flesh out the two stories – Armstrong in particular needs additional characterization, but this book is definitely worthy of a purchase.
- Archer’s characterization
- Valiant is making their own Wonder Woman
- Fleshes out Divinity III: Stalinverse with fantastic art from Juan Jose Ryp
- Needs more pages to breathe and develop – the small page count demands constant action for any sort of resolution
- Character development is wanting