Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance. This week, it’s Divinity #1. Written by Matt Kindt (Mind MGMT, Rai) with art by Trevor Hairsine (X-O Manowar, Eternal Warrior), inker Ryan Winn (The Darkness, Batwing) and colorist David Baron (The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage, Archer & Armstrong), this issue introduces the first major new character of Valiant’s current incarnation with a debut that marks a creative high point for the publisher. (Note: This review reveals major plot points.)
Why aren’t more people reading Valiant Comics? Sure, it’s a tough marketplace, especially for superhero comics, but the most lackluster titles at Marvel and DC (both in terms of quality and sales) still outsell the majority of Valiant’s line each month, and those aren’t bad comics. It’s been two and a half years since the new incarnation of Valiant hit the scene with the launch of X-O Manowar, and except for that series, all of the other Valiant launch titles have ended their initial runs and been replaced by new books. The publisher brought back the classic characters that fans of the original ’90s Valiant were familiar with, but since that didn’t set the industry on fire, it’s time to experiment with something new. Divinity is that experiment.
Written Matt Kindt with art by Trevor Hairsine, inker Ryan Winn, and colorist David Baron, Divinity is the first Valiant series spotlighting a wholly new creation: Abram Adams, a black communist cosmonaut that gains superhuman abilities after embarking on a secret mission into space during the Cold War. This first issue provides all the necessary background information with flashbacks to Abram as a child, teen, and young adult, but the reader isn’t the only person looking back at these past moments. Abram himself lingers in the background, flipping through the book of his life and constantly returning to the dog-eared pages of his most precious memories.
Divinity #1 is an exceptional example of using form to dictate content. Kindt makes the comic-book reading experience a reflection of how Abram perceives time and space after his cosmic transformation, and just as the reader is able to jump to any page at will, Abram can jump to any moment in his past. The imagery of books and pages is constantly brought up in Abram’s narration, drawing a connection between the lead character and the reader that isn’t empathetic in nature, but experiential. This is the kind of complex storytelling that Kindt regularly brings to his creator-owned work, and it’s not a coincidence that he’s upped his game when given the opportunity to develop something new.
For a brief period of time, Marvel and DC were engaged in a tug-of-war for Matt Kindt’s talents, employing his skills as a writer on titles like Frankenstein, Agent Of S.H.A.D.E., Justice League Of America, Suicide Squad, Marvel Knights: Spider-Man, and Infinity: The Hunt. Of those books, Frankenstein and Spider-Man stood out most because they gave Kindt freedom; the off-kilter Frankenstein was distanced from the rest of DC’s New 52 titles, and Spider-Man was an out-of-continuity miniseries that allowed Kindt to offer his distinct take on Peter Parker and his rogues’ gallery. Those other books were all tie-ins to larger events, and the restraints placed on Kindt by those crossovers prevented him from putting out his strongest work. He’s a comic creator with big ideas (see: his outstanding Dark Horse ongoing Mind MGMT, one of The A.V. Club’s best comics two years in a row), and he thrives when he has the space to realize those big ideas without limitations.
He has that freedom at Valiant. Books like The Valiant and Unity have lots of ties to the greater Valiant Universe, but Kindt has been put in a position where he’s allowed to shape what that environment looks like rather than working within the boundaries created by others. After a slightly rocky start, his ongoing series Rai has grown into a thrilling cyberpunk sci-fi story exploring Valiant’s far future, and his upcoming Ninjak offers full-throttle spy action perfect for fans of books like Grayson or Black Widow. Ninjak #1 features some beautifully choreographed fights by Clay Mann, plus it delivers a huge amount of story (40 pages!) for the standard Valiant $3.99 price.
Kindt has had the benefit of working with strong artistic collaborators at Valiant, and that continues with Divinity. To start, Lewis Larosa delivers a striking design for Abram’s space suit, incorporating flowing life-support tubes and glowing lights to give him an otherworldly appearance. Trevor Hairsine understands that this costume reflects the way Abram has become distanced from humankind, and there’s an iciness to his present-day characterization that isn’t found in his younger, more passionate self. Hairsine’s art has a lot of detail, but that never comes at the expense of character expression or fluidity of movement, and his precise storytelling heightens the impact of Kindt’s script.
Ryan Winn’s inking draws attention to the intricacy of Hairsine’s work while adding dimension to his forms, and the strength of their work in this issue suggests that Valiant should keep this pair together for as long as possible. The artwork is grounded but dramatic, strongly rooted in a recognizable reality but hinting at something more fantastic on the horizon. That dynamic is highlighted by David Baron’s color palette, which begins with neutral tones for the early scenes of Abram’s life but becomes more vibrant as the character gets closer to his celestial awakening. Abram’s present life in 2015 isn’t the gray and brown thing it was back in Russia; it’s something full of lush colors, just like the alien worlds in the sci-fi comics he loved as a child.
Valiant has employed the skills of renowned designer Tom Muller for its “Valiant Next” titles, and he brings a visual aesthetic that is far from the superhero norm. His minimalist logo for Divinity understates the inherent grandeur of the title, whereas his logo for Imperium—the next stage of the riveting story Joshua Dysart began in Harbinger—embodies that book’s anti-establishment angle by slicing through Times New Roman.
Muller is working on variant covers for each of the “Valiant Next” titles that take preexisting pieces of art and apply bright color gradients over them, but he’s also tackling Divinity variants on his own, and that’s where he’s doing his most interesting work. Muller’s solo covers don’t offer any information about what is inside the book, instead putting hard geometric shapes and bold colors together in visually arresting combinations. Muller’s able to create a cosmic landscape for his Divinity #1 variant using just one circle, seven triangles, and three lines, a visual that is open to interpretation, but easily translates to a planet, seven asteroids, and three comets.
With some remarkable comic book creators in its employ, Valiant has the talent to become a major force in the industry, but it’s not going to do that by relying on properties created more than 20 years ago. That may work for Marvel and DC, but X-O Manowar and Bloodshot aren’t Captain America and Superman, and the extended absence of Valiant books lowered the profile of those characters with each passing year. Divinity represents a shift toward new concepts that could be the key to Valiant’s success, so it’s appropriate that this issue involves a recurring visual of an infant’s hand reaching toward the sky.
After two and a half years, the new Valiant isn’t quite an infant anymore, but its line of titles is still in the early stages of development compared to the major competition. Yes, it is built on concept and characters created back in the ’90s, but the publisher is still forming its identity in the current superhero comics marketplace. It’s still figuring out what works and what doesn’t, cycling through series to see what audiences respond to most, but keeping its monthly output at an easily manageable size for readers.
Divinity is only a four-issue miniseries, but that’s the perfect length. Just long enough to gauge reader interest over time, but short enough that it doesn’t require an extended commitment. This first issue asks a lot of questions, but it’s not going to be very long before those answers come along, and if the next three chapters are anywhere near as thoughtful and engaging as this debut, Valiant’s first major new character could be its superhero savior.