Valiant Summit Reveals More Diversity and Divinity
Following the Valiant Summit presentation, I got to talk with Tom Brennan, one of Valiant’s associate editors, about the newly announced titles. Our conversation focused on diversity and representation. Valiant’s new line-up features female characters more prominently than ever before, and the summit also drew attention to several characters of color, a same-sex romance that serves as an emotional linchpin, and of course the body positivity for which Faith has been widely praised.
Brennan is particularly proud of Generation Zero, one of Valiant’s first team-driven titles, because it centers around female characters. In general, the ensemble-oriented titles that Valiant announced seem aware of avoiding the Smurfette Principle, making sure there are multiple distinct women whose emotions and growth are important in their own right. He pointed out that several female characters are responses to character types that we normally associate with male heroes. For example, he sees Faith as a Peter Parker figure – witty and upbeat, taking her powers as a blessing and trying to make the most of them.
I also chatted with Matt Kindt, the writer of the Divinity series, whose Divinity III will premiere this fall as part of Valiant’s new slate. The premise of Divinity III builds on the previous installments, which center around Soviet cosmonauts who return from a secret deep-space mission with godlike powers. Divinity III will be set in a reality constructed by one of those cosmonauts, in which an oppressive Russian regime reigns supreme over the world. During the panel presentation, Kindt stressed that this “Stalinverse” was not an alternate universe or an illusion, but a real episode within Valiant continuity.
In our conversation, Kindt gave me more insight about how that will work. The Stalinverse will, of course, not be permanent. Ninjak, one of the core Valiant superheroes, will remember what the world is supposed to be like and will lead an effort to restore life as he knows it. But Ninjak and the other characters will remember the Stalinverse, and Kindt hopes that it will have repercussions on the greater continuity for a long time to come.
We don’t see a lot of comics influenced by Russian culture, so I asked Kindt how he’d become so captivated with it. He said he was inspired by the looming threat of the Cold War when he was growing up in the 1980s, going through nuclear bomb drills and being urged by adults to fear Russia as a looming enemy. Thirty years later, that threat has looped around, and people now ask him whether Putin is a real-life supervillain. He says he avoids direct comparisons like that one, or specific statements about Russian politics, but it’s always present in Divinity.
One of the strengths of Divinity is Kindt’s research into Russian culture and his avoidance of romanticized or exoticized representations. It sounds like this refreshing approach will continue in Divinity III, although with more opportunities for sci-fi in-jokes and playfulness as Kindt reinvents places and characters for the series.
Another element present in this chapter of Divinity is the influence of Philip K. Dick. Kindt says that Dick’s genes contribute not only to the political alternate reality of Divinity III but also to the pattern of altered minds and wills. He says Ninjak’s role in Divinity III will be reminiscent of many of Dick’s heroes, who have to prove they aren’t crazy in order to restore reality.
Talking with Kindt made me eager to dive into Divinity III, and not just because it’s easy to lure me in with a high-concept alternate universe. It sounds like this is a low-key way to develop an event that resonates across Valiant’s entire superhero universe without demanding lots of crossover reading. Throughout the Valiant Summit presentation, the editors and creators described the new titles as “entry points” for new readers to get excited about Valiant’s characters and mythos. While I’m uncertain of how effective some of the new titles will be in that respect, I’m optimistic that Divinity III will have enough standalone potential to attract new fans, not only to the Divinity series but to Valiant’s approach to superhero comics in general.