A divine cosmonaut transforms the Valiant universe into one where Russia took over the world
In the wake of CIA reports that Russian agents may have been behind the hacking of Democratic National Committee emails during the election, there’s been extensive discussion about whether Russia (and its leader, Vladimir Putin) has started to exercise influence over American politics. Compared to the superheroes of the Valiant universe, we have it easy. This week, Valiant Entertainment published the first issue of a new event, Divinity III: Stalinverse, which shows their entire superhero universe taken over by the Soviet Union, and characters like Bloodshot transformed into Communist agents.
Written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Trevor Hairsine, this series is the third installment in the Divinity saga, which follows three Soviet cosmonauts returning to Earth decades later with newfound reality-bending powers. The first to come back was Abram Adams (in the original 2015 Divinity series), who took the name Divinity and attempted to use his godlike powers to recover his wife and daughter. When that failed, he agreed to stop employing his powers so wildly. In Divinity II, the second cosmonaut returned and tried using her powers to turn the whole world Soviet until Abram was able to talk her down. Unfortunately, third time’s not the charm. When Divinity III opens, the whole Valiant universe has become the Stalinverse, thanks to the machinations of the third and final cosmonaut. The Valiant heroes now exist in a world where the Soviet Union never fell, and in fact expanded to conquer most of the world.
With the first issue out this week, Kindt and Hairsine talked to EW about creating the Stalinverse and the unexpected real-life parallels. They also offered an exclusive preview of issue 2, out in January. Read on below.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: At the end of Divinity II, it seemed like the Stalinverse had been averted. What can you tell us about how we got from there to here?
MATT KINDT: As a series, Divinity always had a larger structure – a bigger plan. In the ’60s, the Russians sent three cosmonauts into deep space. To date, we’ve only seen the ultimate fates of two of them, so Divinity III: Stalinverse is the culmination of events we set in motion in the first series. Everyone seems to have forgotten about the third cosmonaut… and he’s not too happy about that.
The first issue has a rundown of what all the main Valiant characters are up to in the Stalinverse. How did you go about reinterpreting them for this parallel universe, both in writing and design? What’s fun about applying the Soviet Union ideology/aesthetic to these recognizable characters?
KINDT: It’s the ultimate “what-if” scenario. And I think casting these heroes in the red light of a Soviet-controlled Earth doesn’t change the characters so much as it allows us to really see what makes the characters tick. What’s at their core? What is their purpose? I think readers tend to take a lot of the high concepts and premises for characters such as X-O Manowar and Bloodshot for granted to a degree. But throwing a character like X-O Manowar and Shadowman into the Stalinverse allows us to see something more. As a writer, that’s what I try to do every time I write any character – put myself in their shoes. What are they feeling? What does it feel like to know nothing but Soviet occupation and dominance, and then get ordered to the Middle East to fight for your nation’s interests? Is there a way to find some peace or justification for what you do under Soviet occupation? Do you fight an opponent when there is no chance of success? Do you still fight on principle? And how far can you push these characters until they break – both within the narrative and also just as a concept?
TREVOR HAIRSINE: From a design point of view, I mostly worked in elements of Russian military uniforms into the current costume designs, with a dash of Rasputin for Bloodshot. Overall, I thought our ex-heroes should all look a little more utilitarian for their new roles.
Each issue so far comes with an official Stalinverse timeline, and it’s really fun to look over. How did you go about wargaming the history of this alternate universe?
KINDT: Well, I started by getting my big book of history out, and just started at the beginning. Not a joke. I have this amazing book, Timelines of World History – a big DK book with timelines that fold out of it and it starts at the beginning of recorded history and stops in modern times. It’s great because it has this gigantic flowchart for all the different areas of the world – but has them running parallel – so you can see what’s happening in Asia at the same time as Europe and the Americas. It’s really a fantastic way to visualize history, and helped me get a grasp on the really domino/cause-and-effect nature of major events. I started there and just went through the years – coming up with small fictions and scenarios to drop in and replace real events or mirror bigger pieces of history. It gets trickier the further along you go, since those ripple effects get bigger and bigger, the further away you get from World War I (which is where the re-writing of history really begins).
With the original Divinity sidelined and most heroes brainwashed, it will obviously be difficult to return to normal. What can you tease about the challenge facing the heroes and what long-term effects the Stalinverse might have on the Valiant universe?
KINDT: That was really important to me. As a reader of comics for over 30 years now, I’ve seen it all. We all have. The parallel universes and the dream-sequences and the re-writing of history – only to be undone and the status quo maintained. I really wanted to do something different – to give this story stakes and to have the characters come out the other end like we all know they have to – but different. They won’t be the same. A lot of what happens is getting reset. There are some major characters that are springing whole cloth from the Stalinverse that are going to end up sticking around and causing problems long after the series is over. It’s the Valiant Universe, so realistically I can’t kill it – but this story is definitely going to leave some big scars… but in a fun narrative way! Ha!
This issue happens to arrive in the midst of a media panic about Russian influence and the idea that Russian agents may have hacked our real-life election. What do you think about those unexpected parallels?
KINDT: I’m a product of my childhood in the ‘80s, so if anything I’m just having déjà vu. We’re talking Red Dawn and Ivan Drago 1980s. I guess part of me is secretly relieved that my narrative ideas aren’t just a rehash of my childhood but actually still relevant. It’s an interesting time to be alive, to say the least. But in a way it’s not surprising. That’s the other great thing about my Timelines of World History book: It makes it painfully obvious how history keeps circling back around.
Check out an exclusive preview of Divinity III: Stalinverse below.