Review - Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1 (@ValiantComics)

"My name is Obediah Archer. And...I am a criminal."

You'd be hard-pressed to find an odder couple than Archer and Armstrong throughout all of comics. The two couldn't be any different from one another, but they share an almost unbreakable bond that makes any situation manageable. That bond is even stronger in Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1 from Valiant Comics. The issue is written by Eliot Rahal, illustrated by Francis Portela, colored by Andrew Dalhouse and lettered by Dave Sharpe.

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?

The relationship between Archer and Armstrong is one of the most enduring things about their adventures and it's something that Rahal taps into well for Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1. The majority of the issue explains a backstory for Archer and how he's become the man he currently is--unflinching in his beliefs and fiercely loyal. Rahal parlays that into building his relationship with Armstrong, offering the two as kindred spirits of sorts. Much of the rest of the issue allows Rahal to explore the harsh conditions of a gulag prison and how characters like Archer and Armstrong are equipped to handle its debilitating effects on individuals. The dialogue is pretty snappy and effective in informing the reader throughout as well.

Portela's artwork is clean and beautiful in its reimagining of Archer and Armstrong in a Soviet-controlled society. His version of Archer eschews the typical boyish appearance for one that is grizzled and hardened--an accurate portrayal of his life in the alternate reality. The Soviet characters are illustrated with an emphasis on bulky bodies and chiseled faces as Portela hearkens back to just about any bad guy in an 80s Sylvester Stallone movie. The panel construction on each page affords Portela another opportunity to reinforce the strict conditions of Gulag 396 in the Stalinverse. Dalhouse excels in his use of colors as well, primarily in showcasing the conversations between Archer and Armstrong that emphasize each side with sharply contrasting reds and blues.

Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1 is a boss standalone issue that really taps into what makes Archer and Armstrong tick. The two characters are unlikely best friends and that relationship is on display in the book. Rahal succinctly captures everything that makes their bond so strong and manages to condense their entire history effectively into an alternate reality. Portela's artwork is clean and presents the duo in a way that makes the reader believe that despite their physical wear from the gulag their mental states are as sharp as ever. Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1 is just a solid book all-around and a welcome read for fans of Archer and Armstrong.

Divinity III: Escape from the Gulag #1 is available now.