Valiant’s latest event, “Stalinverse,” takes place within the pages of Divinity III and a number of one-shots. For the most part, the story has been good comics fun in what appears to be an alternate reality. That alternate reality is the Stalinverse. And Valiant has gone all in with it. Josef Stalin doesn’t assume power of the Soviet Union, he forcibly takes it, assassinating Vladimir Lenin.
From there, the Soviet Union begins expanding Westward annexing Poland, Hungary, Germany, and France in 1934 before the Great Patriotic War of Europe commences in 1939. Events unfold from there that see American Rebel Leader John Kennedy assassinated and the United States of America officially becoming Soviet colonies in 1995 despite mass insurgencies.
That’s the world Valiant places us in with their latest one-shot, Escape from Gulag 396 #1, from writer Eliot Rahal and artist Francis Portela. But instead of giving us a high-flying action tale as we saw in Divinity III: Komandar Bloodshot #1 and Divinity III: Shadowman #1, Valiant, Rahal, and Portela give us a spiritual and political tale that shows the true power of Christianity.
Obadiah Archer is the son of a preacher who holds underground church services unbeknownst to their Communist overlords. However, that soon changes right from the get go. Rahal and Portela dream up images from Christianity’s past, yet make them utterly relevant in our modern world. The Christians are in hiding – they are persecuted. In fact, it appears from the comic they are ruthlessly hunted and exterminated. The Soviet secret police have no intention of arresting any of the Church goers – their goal is elimination of anyone who opposes them. And that’s exactly what they do to Obadiah Archer’s father and their entire congregation. And like Job from the Bible, Obadiah Archer loses everything, everything but his faith.
Despite this horrific act, Obadiah Archer perseveres – he keeps his faith in the Lord. He survives. And he learns to fight. But he learns to fight the Christian way. He fights with ideas and good deeds, not violence and oppression. This isn’t to say he isn’t prepared to defend himself. Rahal and Portela make it abundantly clear he is prepared to use violence to defend himself. But despite his ability to use violence, Obadiah Archer chooses not to. He chooses another non-violent path. The way he fights hearkens back to the Catholic Church’s embrace of the printing press and the spread of the Bible through printing. He spreads the word of God through its writing. He risks his own life to deliver Bibles to the city to combat the idea that “for Russia – for the world — God was the state. Communism was the faith.”
Understanding what he is fighting against as well as understanding the risks associated with that fight- he undertakes them anyways. Eliot Rahal and Francis Portela turn Obadiah Archer into a Saint figure. He is willing to risk his life in order to save the souls of others and bring them the Word of God!
However, the story doesn’t end there. Rahal and Portela examine how God works in mysterious ways even in the worst of the worst of conditions. Obadiah Archer’s mission to deliver Bibles and spread the Word of God lands him in Gulag 396, where he is sentenced to 30 years of hard labor. But in this gulag, he finds a new flock. In fact, he embraces God’s mission for him. “He taught me that faith without works is dead. I will take it upon myself to set those free who are doomed to die.” Rahal goes on to further explain how Obadiah Archer views this prison, “The gulag isn’t a prison to me, Captain Bagroff…It’s just an ugly church. And I am its shepherd…”
Now you can guess, the Soviets who run this prison are not very happy with him. They cannot tolerate any kind of dissent from their communist religion even if it is in the worst hellhole of Earth. But this time they don’t want to just eliminate dissent. They want to completely break Obadiah Archer. They want to show him that God does not exist. That the communist state is the only true God. With this in mind, the warden of the prison sends Obadiah Archer on what he believes is an impossible task to bring to heel an uncontrollable prisoner.
In this task, Rahal channels the Parable of the Unjust Judge as well as the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Obadiah Archer becomes the persistent widow wearing down Armstrong until he honors his request. While Armstrong is the Prodigal Son who has lost hope and wasted away his fortune – only to be embraced and rewarded by Obadiah Archer which leads him back to God.
The story fittingly ends with Armstrong returning to the church where Obadiah Archer began his journey with God. “Okay Big Man…A friend sent me. I’m here to talk.”
Rahal and Portela channel a number of Biblical passages as well as the history of the Church to tell an extremely moving tale that puts Christianity at the forefront – something you rarely see in mainstream comics let alone any kind of mainstream media any more.
I applaud Eliot Rahal, Francis Portela, and Valiant for taking this risk and giving us an extremely meaningful tale inspired by God, Jesus, and Christianity.