Valiant comics has been creating some of the most consistently good comics on the market for years now. But lately, they seem to have found a new gear. Their Divinity III event called Stalinverse is allowing the creators to re-imagine the Valiant Universe as if it existed in a world run by the Soviet Union. It's a type of Elseworld story that DC use to excel at, now Valiant is knocking it out of the park. I just read Divinity III: Escape from Gulag 396, a one-shot set in the Stalinverse and focusing on Archer & Armstrong.
If you read the recent A&A: The Adventures of Archer & Armstrong series, you know that the theme of the book is a buddy comedy in a lot of ways. This version is definitely not a comedy. The Obadiah Archer we meet here is a determined man of great faith, born from a tragic past and the oppression of his beliefs by a totalitarian system of government. He finds himself in prison where he tries to bring hope to his fellow inmates. This leads him into trouble with the warden, who offers him anything he wants if he if Archer can bring another inmate around to following orders. The inmate is Aram Addi-Padda / Armstrong.
Eliot Rahal does a great job in a short amount of space. He introduces us to both characters, establishes who they are and why they are… and gets us to what I'm assuming is where these characters need to be for the main story line. The interaction between the two characters is not too far away from how they've acted in other series, but it is without the humor that is usually there. And in this particular world, the humor should not be there. Francis Portela's art is sharp, and sets the perfect mood for the story.
Also in this episode you have the Origin of the Pioneer by Matt Kindt and Juan Jose Ryp as we see what made her choose to side with Soviet Union and attack Japan.
My only disappointment has to do with the title of the one-shot. Though the story is very good, the title makes it feel like a bait-n-switch. Escape from Gulag 396 sounds like we'd be getting a story on par with Prison Break, but instead we have a story about hope, faith and perseverance. Because there really is no escaping involved here at all…
DIVINITY III: ESCAPE FROM GULAG 396 #1
Written by Eliot Rahal Art by Francis Portela Cover A by Adam Gorham Cover B by Khari Evans Cover C by Andres Guinaldo Character Design Variant by Ryan Lee Variant Cover by Kano
Archer & Armstrong: Enemies of the State! In the Soviet-controlled world of the Stalinverse, there is a place where liberty is sentenced to die…and it's Gulag 396. A maximum-security prison where the only escape is through death, the gulag is the final stop for all enemies and detractors of the world's oppressive authority. But when public enemy Obadiah Archer is admitted as the latest inmate, could his gospel of goodwill and optimism be the spark that ignites a new faith in the prison's population…including the immortal undesirable known as Aram Addi-Padda?