Divinity III Review: God Finds The Gulag


God joins the Valiant publishing lineup in a spiritually thoughtful one-shot following Archer and Armstrong through the Stalinverse Gulag.

Divinity III: Escape From Gulag 396 #1
Written by Eliot Rahal
Art by Francis Portela
Published by Valiant Entertainment

Cover by Khari Evans

God doesn’t join in much with comic book stories. In the textual level, it’s kind of hard to push monotheism in a world where Bacchus took over a brewery. Valiant has the Deadside, documented evidence of an afterlife. Ninjak and Dr. Mirage go there all the time. And in Divinity, Russian cosmonauts have come back from space as God – twice. So a symbolic transmutation of bread to flesh has stiff competition.

On the publishing level, it’s tough, too. For a country with prominent Judeo-Christian iconography, America’s popular media skews heavily to a benign agnosticism. Non-Christians can associate reference to Jesus as an uncomfortable reminder of privilege and a history of misuse of generally noble ideals. Christians don’t want a company to pander for their purchase. Or worse, get something wrong in the telling.

But the current event, Stalinverse, pushes the conversation here. Americans fear Communism’s persecution of all religious practice as much as they talk about long lines for bread. So Valiant has to make a space for God in this story. What happens to church in a Communist world?

Obadiah Archer is the perfect choice for this one-shot. In the main world, his upbringing let Fred Van Lente lovingly skewer conservative Christianity. The kid grew up in a theme park where Jesus rode dinosaurs! And through his relationship with immortal partier Armstrong, he gradually thaws, keeping his beliefs but learning to respect diversity.

In the Stalinverse, he’s the lone survivor of a terrifying KGB hit on a secret Christian service. He’s scarred, but he chooses to see imprisonment as a mission trip with a captive audience. And the director of Gulag 396 challenges him to see if God will make prisoner Armstrong good enough to spring from solitary.

Congratulations to Eliot Rahal for approaching this story with courage. Archer doesn’t have to apologize for how he learned to care for others. And he doesn’t condemn his Atheist captors or his pagan best friend – he gets Armstrong a copy of The Epic Of Gilgamesh, not a Bible! This can be read as a broad parable about friendship and tolerance. But it can also be used to support a person’s personal Christian belief system.

Publishing diversity means more than just printing a few stories with minority characters. It means that readers can see themselves represented with authenticity and respect. And that goes for people in the majority, too.

Divinity III: Escape From Gulag 396 #1 goes on sale Wednesday, March 15, from Valiant Entertainment.