April 20, 2016

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Divinity II #1 (of 4)

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

Since the creation of the modern Valiant entertainment, one of my favorite Valiant series has been the Divinity miniseries last year (my review of Divinity issue 1 here). Valiant (in its modern incarnation) has been telling solid, entertaining superhero stories for around 4 years now. However, Divinity (to me) represented a leap forward. This was a brand new character (and not an update of one of their classic 90's heroes). What struck me about Divinity was a willingness on the part of the creative team to be a little more ambitious, a little cosmic, and get a little weirder.  I enjoyed the first miniseries, and I'm happy to say that Divinity II is off to a strong start, with the same impressive, ambitious scope as the first Divinity series.

The original Divinity miniseries told 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 space. In the Divinity series, Adams ventured into deep space, found something incredibly powerful and strange, and returned to Earth as something removed from humanity. However, as shown briefly in Divinity, Adams was not alone in his mission. Two fellow cosmonaut comrades traveled with him to the far reaches of the universe, but their fate was left unknown. However, as we learn in this first issue of Divinity II, one of the crew members (Valentina Volkov) did survive; this first issue covers both her experiences in a weird distant part of the universe, and her childhood and life leading up to the mission.

As with the first Divinity series, the creative team in Divinity II has taken on an interesting and ambitious challenge.  While I don't think you absolutely have to read Divinity to understand what's going on in Divinity II, it definitely helps as it is, in part, a different look at some of the same events.  Abrams was the hero of Divinity but this story provides a different perspective. In Volkov's view, Abrams was no hero, he was someone who abandoned the mission and stranded her and their fellow cosmonaut Kazmir at the other end of the universe.  We hear Volkov's voice (and understand her point of view) but we also hear something different, as Kindt once again captures something ineffable and cold in the narration. It really feels like someone speaking about their own humanity from a distance.  There is effective work in this issue, through art, dialogue and narration.



The art here really sells the story.  Hairsine, Winn and Baron combine to create a gorgeous comic.  Hairsine and Winn's linework is highly detailed, and generally realistic in its depiction of anatomy and objects. There's interesting work in depiction of faces in this story, as the facial acting is expressive and emotive, but the faces themselves are slightly exaggerated. It's very much its own work, but there's something in the facial work that reminds me a little of Frank Quitely. In addition to strong character depiction, there's also thorough work on the locations. The unknown location in deep space here feels like something distinctly alien.  In the above page, for example, the top panel creates the perspective of looking down. While it ultimately shows this to be the surface of the world on which the cosmonauts have landed, as an initial matter it could be a rush of stars or other heavenly bodies moving towards the person's feet, or a school of strange, alien fish. It's quickly (and intentionally) disorienting, and as followed up by the rest of the page (and the subsequent pages) that depicts a vast alien landscape, these pages convey the strangeness of what the cosmonauts (and we) are experiencing.  The panel series below, depicting Volkov's contact with some sort of alien animal/plant life, is one that I found genuinely unsettling for the exact same reasons that Volkov does. That the art team has sent me into the head of the character is one of the best possible compliments I can give for art.

That sense of strangeness is driven in significant part by the coloring work by Baron. Baron does terrific work with colors and shading through the issue. His alien colors are glowing and distinct and memorable.  His choice of colors feel foreign, and not in a neon day-glo and obvious way, but in  way that one might imagine a genuinely strange place to be. By contrast, scenes in the comic depicting life on Earth have a more realistic, less bright color palate. Again, Baron makes non-obvious choices. While it might have been expected to depict all of the scenes in Soviet Russia with a drab gray, Baron doesn't do this. There's a grimness to those scenes to some extent, but there are also splashes of brighter color, and the warmth of home and other locations comes through clearly as well.  What this warmth does is convey that the Soviet Russia of Volkov's youth is a place worthy of saving, a place to be missed.
 

It's clear throughout Divinity II that Volkov has an incredibly strong, unwavering sense of duty and belief in the Soviet mission. To her, the other cosmonauts were weak and soft, which is why her own government tasked her with making sure the mission stayed on course. She came from abject poverty, and it was the Soviet mission that gave her a home and food and purpose; she's also self-aware enough to know that when she was taken in by the space mission leader as a child, it was not the pure goodness of his heart. She knows that she is his "little mouse", trained since childhood to fulfill this mission. Even after undergoing a startling transformation in deep space, her faith in her mission never wavers. It is the belief in this mission that drives her to transform herself into something more than human, so that she might fulfill her true purpose.

This level of belief and determination, combined with the incredible power that comes as a result of the transformation in Divinity II, should make Volkov a presence to be feared and reckoned with in the Valiant universe.  That threat makes for an intriguing premise, and for a strong first issue.