By Matt Kindt, Doug Braithwaite, and Brian Reber
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Finally, Valiant’s most popular and enduring characters join together under a banner emblazoned Unity. They’re all here: Bomb, Mirror, The Captain, and Ether…wait, what? That’s the team? This can’t be right. While this group of unknown psiots might “officially” be labeled as Unity, the core of Matt Kindt and Doug Braithwaite’s story is firmly focused on much more familiar names. More than just an exploitative opportunity to assemble successful characters, Unity volume 1 “To Kill a King” explores what it means to trust, what loyalty really means and how far one can go before morality bends it to the breaking point. Tightly written and elegantly drawn, this inaugural collection of some of Valiant’s brightest stars balances tactical action with introspective character reflection and status quo altering events. And, of course, there’s Ninjak, so you should pretty much just go buy it now because ninjas.
What do you do with a problem like Aric? Fresh off the events of “Planet Death”, he has returned to Earth with the descendants of his people and has laid claim to the land that was taken from them centuries ago. Unfortunately, that land is now known as Romania and Russia feels that perhaps Aric has gotten a little too big for his X-O armored britches. Before a full-scale nuclear war is made a reality, Toyo Harada gathers together a team of his most well-trained Harbinger psiots to strategically nullify the Visigoth threat. Except, it turns out they suck at the whole not being annihilated thing. The much more adept alliance of Ninjak, Gilad the Eternal Warrior, Livewire and Harada himself proves to be far better prepared for taking on the Man-O-War. Their stated mission is to neutralize the Vine ship Aric returned to Earth in and capture the Manowar armor prior to World War III breaking out because the Russians are too trigger-happy and proud to be repeatedly and embarrassingly beaten by a single man. That’s the bulk of the action, but the subtly moving pieces and inner anguish of the characters are the far more interesting aspects to Unity.
Matt Kindt is one of the most talented, intelligent writers working in the industry right now and nowhere is that more evident than on his title Mind MGMT. While Kindt is expertly weaving together a complex narrative in that title, he is a little more hindered with Unity taking place in a larger, shared universe. There are events that occur off-panel that are likely further explored in X-O Manowar (whose solo title ran concurrently to the events found here) and result in a few narrative hiccups along the way. The story ebbs and flows between head-detonating action, conference room scheming and spaceship-jacking misadventure. It’s fun if not slightly predictable and the chess pieces really don’t move about the board too dramatically until the final act. But Kindt’s real success here is in the inter-personal relationships and conflicts of these already strong, established characters.
Ninjak is as debonair as ever, a sharp wit never dulled even when his physical graces are blunted. Gilad is confident, wise and proud in a way that belies the self-doubt he often displays in his own series. Harada is surprisingly desperate, his own self-assured façade being whittled away at by a legitimate threat to the world order he has so masterfully overseen. And then there’s Livewire, who absolutely steals the show. Kindt asserts her as a strong-willed protagonist at a crossroads between the man she owes everything to and the needs of everyone else, which is further conflated once she dons an enormously powerful suit of armor. For the first time all of these characters, save Harada of course, feel like heroes. Each one of them has their own set of motivations, but ultimately they are united by a desire to do the right thing regardless of personal obligations or selfish gain. Yes, even the ninja-for-hire eschews his wage in the favor of heroism. Kindt isn’t creating Valiant’s Justice League, so much as Valiant’s Secret Six / Uncanny X-Force mash-up that is every bit as entertaining as that sounds.
Doug Braithwaite’s soft pencils combined with Brian Reber’s pastel colors nicely round out the hard edge of the violent occurrences. Braithwaite renders perhaps the best depiction of the X-O Manowar armor to date, with its contrasting striations and reflective sheen, and he threads action sequences together through overlapping panels and angles with great precision. Most of the male characters are depicted as these grimly stone-faced brutes, but considering this particular roster of dudes that’s actually pretty on the money. His line work can get a little too busy on faces, but that same level of detail works exceptionally well for the multitude of technological equipment, weaponry and vehicles he’s been tasked with in this arc. Reber compliments those soft pencils perfectly with an almost ashen palette that preserves every pencil stroke, while still delivering a great deal of weight to the textures. Braithwaite and Reber pair nicely, each heightening the others’ strengths to deliver a sharp, if not expressionistic, heroic adventure across, and off, of the globe.
If you’ve never read a Valiant comic before, this is not the place to start unless you enjoy feeling completely lost, but enjoy explosions, ninjas, world diplomacy power-plays and…actually, that may be a fair amount of people. Still, more than a passing familiarity with the characters found within should be held to get the most out of the character work Matt Kindt is exploring in Unity. Heck, even the original Unity squad is made intriguing via flashbacks and text boxes and their brief dialogue, so much so that it would be a shame if Kindt didn’t continue to revisit their origins. It is a tremendously enjoyable read for Harbinger, X-O Manowar and Eternal Warrior fans and a fresh perspective on some established characters. Pieces are moved about the board, allegiances are formed and broken and the resulting fallout is rife with potential, feel confident knowing the Unity is exactly the team book Valiant fans have been waiting for. Except Bloodshot. They’ll call him when they need a guy who just gets constantly shot.
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