I need to place my review of Unity #1 in the context of my knowledge of this Valiant universe. I have read the first volumes of Valiant’s debut series’, X-O Manowar, Harbinger, Bloodshot, Archer & Armstrong and Shadowman. I’ve also read two subsequent Archer & Armstrong volumes. So my familiarity with most of the characters in Unity #1 is of a basic level, I know who they are but not what they’ve been up to lately. That being said I found Unity #1 not very new reader friendly. There’s a recap page that sets up the conflict with X-O Manowar (Aric of Dacia, a time displaced Visigoth in alien armor) but writer Matt Kindt clarifies very little about the other players, who they are, how they relate to the conflict, or to each other. If this is your first Valiant comic your mileage may vary.
The story itself had some interesting moments but was largely muddled. The first few pages recount a battle between Aric, claiming part of Romania under his rule, and the Russian military. This might be a recap of events from the X-O solo book or not, it seemed too slight to not have been fleshed out elsewhere. The narrative then shifts to Toyo Harada, buying time to send a team of his own in to deal with Aric. I know Toyo from Harbinger Vol. 1 so I know he runs a recruitment program for psionics in an effort to prevent global collapse. He may be crazy/evil? Unknown to me as well as a new reader, though for the purposes of Unity he seems to be the protagonist. He meets with Gilad who I know as the Eternal Warrior from Archer & Armstrong but new readers will know as a guy named Gilad with a broken arm. They go and meet the team that’s going to take Aric down, Gilad says their plan is shit and comes up with a new plan that ties into flashbacks revealing that he’s fought in wars for centuries. This neatly explains that he’s super old and fights a lot but does nothing to tell you why he’s here, how he relates to these people or why he wants to defeat Aric. Then another guy gets introduced, he’s being paid by Harada to shut down Aric’s ship. Three pages later my hunch that he’s Ninjak is confirmed by Harada calling him Ninjak, the Unity team drops in to engage with Aric and everything goes to shit.
In case you couldn’t tell I wasn’t very impressed with Unity #1. I understand the sales power of a #1 issue but story-wise this felt like it should have been the next issue of X-O Manowar. I don’t have a problem figuring things out on the fly and I don’t need caption boxes explaining everything to me but I really have very little idea why these people are fighting each other. The reader is told little to nothing about their previous relationships, my limited knowledge of X-O Manowar doesn’t seem to fit with his casting as a villain here and Harada’s interest in the whole conflict receives limited explanation. This might be a case where my having read only those Volume 1’s has hurt me. If I knew nothing it might have been easier to just trust that I wasn’t supposed to know exactly what’s going on. Of course there’s the argument that this is simply “Part 1” and that I shouldn’t expect perfect clarity from only 1/5th or 1/6th of a story. I can understand that point of view but I still believe that single issue comics should present a satisfying and understandable story of their own, while still being part of a whole.
On the art side Unity is served well by Doug Braithwaite, a penciller whose work I enjoyed on the Punisher MAX title. The action is clear and dynamic, the X-O Manowar armor is cool and Aric gets a number of “I’m a badass” shots, and Harada looks pretty dapper in his suit. On the other hand there is a character that appears to have a full QWERTY keyboard on his chest, so that’s a little odd. QWERTY guy is, unsurprisingly, the tech guy and his little bio pegs him as socially awkward and not effective in combat. Pair that with a full page, “team jumps out of a plane into battle while yelling their team name!” moment, and Unity seems to be relying too heavily on cliché at times. In the end I was unimpressed with this as a first issue and uninterested in the story as a whole. Once I’ve caught up with the other Valiant titles maybe my understanding will lead to a better experience with Unity.
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