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Gulag is a tale of conviction, inner strength, and redemption

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Divinity III: Escape From Gulag 396 #1

By Eliot Rahal, Matt Kindt, Francis Portela, Juan Jose Ryp, Andrew Dalhouse

Divinity III: Escape From Gulag 396 #1 is the final one-shot accompaniment to the Divinity III miniseries. This inspiring story of fortitude might not be the story you are expecting, but it is one that you need.

The Divinity III: Stalinverse miniseries features revolution – both in ideas and actions. The fighting across this series has been fierce and brutal, both in the main story and in the tie-in one-shots. Many have died valiantly in the pursuit of freedom. We’ve seen ideologies crushed, personal freedoms eradicated, favorite characters persecuted or murdered.

As with the other tie-ins to the main miniseries, Gulag focuses on the fate of major characters in the Stalinverse reality. This time out, it’s Archer and Armstrong. With a story about an inhumanly strong immortal and a psiot gifted in the martial arts, you might expect some major battles. You’d also be wrong. While there is some terrible violence, all of which serves to underline the suffering in the Stalinverse, the power clashes here follow a different path.

There is more than one way to resist. Revolution is nearly always violent, but that violence need not be physical. A sword does not need to be a sword to be a weapon. Gulag is a tale of conviction, inner strength, and redemption.

Longtime readers will enjoy the return to Archer’s roots and his early belief systems. The characterization here is a young man in metamorphosis, but one whose character is becoming more like the Archer we’ve seen in previews of the future. Old school fans of 90s Valiant may note the similarities in Archer’s physical and spiritual rehabilitation between that series and this tale. Writer Eliot Rahal must be a fan of early Valiant – his story contribution to Unity #25 included a reference to Bad Eggs. While Archer’s experience in this story does reflect his earlier incarnation, this version bridges the two, creating a character who fulfills his role as a revolutionary for peace.

Armstrong stays true to character. He is a drunken brawler with a broken spirit. Archer and Armstrong stories emphasize the “buddy” in their telling. This time out, we are given strong reason as to why these two become friends, and in the process, their very natures – Armstrong’s devotion, Archer’s selflessness – is expanded upon. Their interactions are the main sources for levity in this serious tale. Rahal wisely skips forced humor and situational slapstick in favor of subtleness. Keeping the humor natural prevents the comedic from overshadowing the burgeoning companionship and its emotional implications. Still, there are some gems here, such as a certain book Armstrong is given to read.

Artist Francis Portela and colorist Andrew Dalhouse visually build the story. The telling is straightforward and well-suited to the narrative. The facial expressions of Portela’s actors are done well, with the eyes providing great depth of emotion. It is in the expressions where readers will feel the weight of the story. Armstrong in particular is especially moving. Split-screen closeups are successfully used to portray character evolution, and there are details which help solidify this tale with the greater Divinity series, such as propaganda posters in the background of scenes. Dalhouse’s colors reflect their environment, which varies from majestic forest to stark prison. His use of contrasting color overlays to depict Archer’s and Armstrong’s emotional divide is effective in both the telling of the story and in reinforcing their opposing points of view.

This book features an additional short story of the origin of the final member of the Red Brigade, The Pioneer. Written by Matt Kindt and illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp with Dalhouse on colors, the tale gives readers a much-needed introduction to the character. There is still a shroud of mystery to the origin of her weaponry, but the woman herself has been revealed. Ryp does solid work depicting the strength and ferocity of this woman in feature and in action.

Divinity III: Escape From Gulag 396 #1 is an unexpected story of strength and freedom. It’s a fine accompaniment to the Divinity III miniseries that fans of Obadiah Archer should not miss.

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