February 12, 2015

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Experience the Divine with Divinity (1 of 4)


Divinity (1 of 4)
Written by Matt Kindt
Pencils by Trevor Hairsine
Inks by Ryan Winn
Colors by David Baron
Letters by Dave Lanphear
Valiant Entertainment

Valiant has been telling some great action, sci-fi and superhero stories for the last few years, and it feels like with their "Valiant Next" initiative (which includes The Valiant, Imperium and Ivar, Timewalker, reviewed here and here), they're taking these stories to the next level; to something even bigger, more epic, and a little profound.  Divinity is a part of that initiative, and thankfully for Valiant, they have a highly capable writer in Matt Kindt who not only knows the Valiant universe (Unity, The Valiant), but also understands the strange and mysterious (MindMGMT, Revolver).  If the first issue is any indication, Divinity is off to a strong start.  It's big, intriguing and wrestles with questions of cosmic significance.  

Superheroes are fundamentally an American creation, and in most classic superhero stories where someone gets superpowers (radioactive spider, gamma rays, secret formula, cosmic rays), they're typically an American who shares American values. It's fascinating to imagine what would occur when the recipient of those godlike powers doesn't believe in truth, justice and the American way.  One of my favorite Superman stories of all time is Superman: Red Son by Mark Millar. What I love most is the basic conceit; what if, instead of landing in Kansas, baby Kal-El had landed in the Soviet Union, and had been trained in the belief in Lenin, Stalin and the Communist Party?  Divinity tells the story of Abram Adams*, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union and trained from a young age to serve the state in a secret, long-range mission to the heavens. This first issue concerns his origin and mission, the strange circumstances of his return to Earth, and his connection to an Australian man named David Camp. Going forward, it feels like this clash of values will be an important focus of the story, combined with the supernatural science fiction element.



This is an impressive, gorgeous first issue, and it feels different than any other story I've read from Valiant. That's not meant to be in any way negative to Valiant, only to say that this is something different. To start, most Valiant books are strongly interconnected as they show clearly the through-line of the Valiant universe and its history. This issue doesn't contain overt references to any other Valiant characters (sorry, no Ninjak, at least in this issue), or any other touchstones of the Valiant universe (Harbinger, the Vine, Rising Spirit, etc.) other than perhaps in indirect ways. It's also less straightforward storytelling than I've seen in most Valiant books. Here the creative team uses narration and art to play with the idea that what we're seeing is some combination of straightforward narration, memory or imagination, and we're not always sure which one. 

The art works well in telling the story. Hairsine and Winn (with colors from Baron) have a style that's detailed and fairly "realistic" for the most part, with a great epic, widescreen feel to it that works particularly well in scenes of space or technology, and they jump ably from cold-war USSR to the Australian outback and to even weirder ideas and concepts. There's a great range of skill on display, particularly in one page where we learn that Adams has imagined himself for years as a science fiction superhero and the creative team shows him imagining himself in the world of those stories (though as mentioned above, there may be more to what we're seeing than imagination). On that page, the background color of the page shifts and the colors change as well, and everything (including bright, gorgeous colors) becomes more stylized like an old pulp science fiction tale. 

The creative team succeeds here in telling an origin story that feels both compelling and distant, as it's being related by someone who holds humanity at some remove.  It feels kind of like Superman: Red Son (at least in the sense that we are seeing the origins of a communist superhero) by way of the Fantastic Four, with the existential mystery of Planetary or Watchmen there as well. Whatever happened to Adams in space, he's come back "different", and this issue is very successful at providing background and making the reader care about the main character, only to realize that the issue is being narrated by someone who doesn't really think of themselves as that person anymore. So, like Watchmen, this is evocative of Doctor Manhattan talking about John Osterman as someone other than himself. 

The issue shows us some of what Adams is now capable of doing, and I won't spoil any of that here, except to say that he's very powerful and (as clearly depicted by the art team) capable of doing weird, unexpected things to those that he perceives as threats. This sequence is simultaneously scary, funny and emotionally resonant (great work by the artists in that regard), and sets up the questions for the rest of the series. Who, or what, is Abram Adams now, and what's going to happen when the rest of the world knows what he can do?

This doesn't feel like Valiant's typically excellent action-packed or light-hearted work; it's something deeper and weirder. If you're looking for an ambitious read, Divinity is worth checking out. 


* A slightly unusual name for a child born in the Soviet Union.