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Retro Review: The Unity Saga

This week Valiant Entertainment have been focusing on the superhero team Unity as their Hero Of The Week, an initiative the company are undertaking to give readers and Valiant fans something to look forward to while the comic industry is on pause.

Valiant Entertainment is the company launched by a group of folks who purchased the first Valiant’s original character rights (Solar, Magnus and Turok were licensed characters used by the original iteration of the company, and weren’t included in the sale which is why you don’t see them in the modern books). The two eras of comics often differentiated by VH1 for the original publisher and VEI for the modern company (there is a VH2, but that’s not relevant right now). Given VEI’s tendency to reuse the names of VH1’s heroes, teams and comics in ways that pay homage to the original, or just as a tip of the hat to fans familiar with the VH1 era, I thought it would be interesting look back at the VH1 version of Unity.

Unity was an eighteen chapter crossover that took place from August – September of 1992 across seven different series published by Valiant Comics, with each of the publisher’s ongoing series dedicating two issues to the crossover. X-O ManowarSolar, Man Of The Atom; Shadowman; Rai; Magnus, Robot Fighter; Eternal Warrior; Archer and Armstrong; as well as prelude and epilogue under the Unity name each had a blue banner across the top of the cover, with artwork that formed two interconnecting images of eight comics. Both Eternal Warrior and Archer and Armstrong were launched during the crossover, with both the first and second issues having the blue banner.

The cover to first part of the story as it appeared in the individual series form a giant interconnected image.

The crossover was unique in that if you only read one series, say X-O Manowar, and had no intention to read the entire crossover, then you could read just the two chapters in X-O Manowar and still enjoy an almost complete story across those two chapters. That’s something that works very strongly in favour for the ongoing series that Unity crosses over, but when reading the story twenty-six years later it does have the effect of causing a sense of repetition as numerous scenes are retold – often from another character’s perspective, but not always. This also allowed for a slower build for the story, almost too slow by today’s standards, with a non-linear timeline that is perhaps necessitated by each contributing series having a complete story across both chapters.

The plot of Unity focused on a being of pure energy, much like Solar, called Erica Pierce who sought to unify all of time into one place, known as the Lost Land, where time moves incredibly slowly in comparison to the rest of the time stream. From the Lost Land, one can enter the timestream at any point, except in the Lost Land’s past, making the place a time nexus.It’s for this reason that Pierce wants to consolidate the timeline and eliminate anything that is not in the Lost Lands. Understandably, the heroes of the Valiant universe, both past and present, band together to stop her.

The covers to the second part also form a larger image when pieced together.

It’s the past and present of the heroes that’s interesting as we get the Eternal Warrior from the 1990’s and the Eternal Warrior from 4001 in the room at the same time, which leads to some interesting interactions between the two characters. What I was perhaps most surprised about was the ease of which you could read the series from start to finish without any knowledge of 90’s Valiant; now obviously I am more than a little familiar with post-2012 Valiant, so I may have had some advantage there, but one could also easily make the case that going in with knowledge as to who the characters are now doesn’t make it easier to read about who they were. It’d almost be like a Marvel vs Ultimate Marvel, or DC before and during the New 52 and then the Rebirth era. Similar, but not the same. More of a case of the new being inspired by the old.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the crossover, and was equally as surprised when I found myself collecting the original Valiant comics as a result. It was an epic story but because it was also designed to be ready easily if you only picked up some of the series involved, say Magnus, X-O Manowar and Harbinger, when reading every single issue you will notice there is some overlap. Often from a different perspective, but it lends those issues a feeling of familiarity that can be hard to shake. Although given the time displaced setting, one can argue that this familiarity is an added layer to the story – and the saga never shies from going in depth with the character’s emotions and thoughts, which is ideal if you’re starting to read VH1 comics with Unity as I did.

As a crossover story by a then young company, this was as ambitious as it was daring. Unity is the benchmark that other Valiant crossover stories are often held to, even today. After reading the story, I understand why.

Because some of the characters and comics included in the story are no longer under VEI ownership, it can be very hard to find the trades of Unity. Fortunately, the floppies are still relatively easy to track down for a very reasonable price. I don’t think I paid more than $4 for any of the books with the average being between $1-2. That is a great price considering what’s presented in this story.

Do you think that this kind of line wide crossover could work in today’s market?

Almost American