It's a cliche in comics that one story "changes everything" - but Valiant Entertainment's Divinity III: Stalinverse aims to fulfill that tease for once. Not only does the miniseries, which launches next month, see a godlike being alter history so that the Earth of the Valiant Universe is ruled by an international communist regime, but it also introduces a new group of superheroes intended to make a big impact on Valiant's line going forward.
Foremost amongst the new characters is the Red Legend, a new female hero and member of the Red Brigade, a new team debuting in Divinity III: Stalinverse No. 1 on Dec. 21, with her origin being told in a story appearing in the following week's Divinity III: Komandar Bloodshot special issue.
Heat Vision talked to Matt Kindt, the writer of Stalinverse and the Red Legend's origin story, about renewing the Valiant Universe and what it took to create a Soviet-inspired heroine who can stand alongside Wonder Woman and other iconic female comic book heroes.
With Divinity III: Stalinverse, you get to perform a stealth character study on Valiant's comic book universe by showing familiar faces altered in a small - but sizable - manner, revealing what's constant about them even when Earth has been transformed into a Soviet-run totalitarian world. Were there things that surprised you in reworking characters like X-O Manowar, Bloodshot, et al.?
Definitely. That's the fun of doing a high-concept like this - really sort of diving down to the core of the characters. I think there's a danger of making cliches of the characters with something like this as well - you can easily end up writing archetypes. But that's the beauty of working in the Valiant Universe. These characters - X-O Manowar, Bloodshot and Ninjak - they're quirky and very singular. They don't fit a traditional kind of "hero" mold. As a writer, that's what is so attractive about working with them. You can really humanize the larger-than-life figures.
It's particularly timely, I think, with the recent election and this idea of examining what it means to be a member of a nation. People were threatening to leave the country depending on the results and I was honestly inspired by that kind of bigger idea - about the role of citizens in a country and actively participating in government. How does that inform an individual's personality and identity? So, in a way, all of that informed how I approached these characters suddenly finding themselves in Russia…being Russians…and communists. Does living in a different country affect who you really are? What about the form of government you live under? How does that affect your outlook? Those were all really fun issues to sort of play with when I was attacking this idea.
As if Stalinverse didn't give you enough to do with reinventing the Valiant cast of characters as already exists, you're adding in four all-new characters as well. You're obviously a fan of working on a broad canvas - 4001 AD demonstrated that! - but what do The Red Legend and her compatriots bring to the third act of Divinity that the reimagined characters didn't offer?
It was a great opportunity to invent a whole host of new characters that are born from a different culture and ideology. That is really appealing as a writer - to step out of my realm of experience and inhabit a different place and different outlook on the world. These characters, and The Red Legend in particular, aren't just new heroes in new costumes that end up fighting villains and saving the world in the traditional sense. They're bringing a different perspective to everything, which is a great contrast to the characters we've already established. And yeah - I love populating the world with new personalities. It's the dream as a writer - to live and work in this fictional world that is so diverse that you're able to tell any story you want to tell, big or small, and really mix up the genres.
That's the true magic of the Valiant U. You're able to play with all the genres within the guise of superheroes - from going cosmic to crime and espionage.
The Red Legend has a fascinating mythology and origin behind her; you're drawing on Slavic folklore, but mixing it with a dose of, for want of a better way of putting it, comic cosmic-ness. What were the origins of the character's creation for you? Where did she come from - in the real world, I mean, as opposed to in-story.
In school I read The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, which I highly recommend if you've never read it. It basically outlines some of the subconscious motivations for fairy tales, why they exist and why we keep retelling these stories and dressing them up in different ways. I really wanted these new characters, and The Red Legend in particular, to be different. To actually feel like they were born in a different place and lived a life that would be foreign to most of the characters in the Valiant books. In particular, there is a folk tale called "The Firebird," which is really pretty standard - a hero's journey where a prince goes to find this rare firebird and return it to the king to receive his reward. Along the way, he meets a princess and they fall in love. The prince gets the girl and pleases the king. Pretty standard stuff.
But what struck me was that the title of this folktale is that it's titled "The Firebird" but the story isn't at all about the firebird - in fact, the firebird is barely a McGuffin in the story. But it's this rare bird that lives in this gilded cage that, by the end of the story…was just stolen and taken to a different kingdom, where it still lives in a cage. I wanted the story of that firebird. I've heard the prince's story a hundred different times, but I want the point of view of the bird in the cage who's just a means to an end. And that's where the real inspiration for the character came.
Valiant has a run of successful female characters that reach to a wider audience than the traditional Wednesday store crowd - Faith, obviously, but also Dr. Mirage and Kris from Harbinger Renegade. The Red Legend's joining a pretty impressive crowd, so what does she bring to the group? In many ways, she almost seems the most traditionally superheroish, especially in the patriotic/propaganda role that she occupies in the alternate reality of the series. Is there power in playing to - and, simultaneously, subverting - the icon?
I wanted to tell the story of the firebird in its cage…and of course, the way I'm telling it - she escapes…and then the fun begins. The real-world version of that is one of a Jewish girl who grows up in a Russian work camp. Her adoptive mother was a political prisoner. That's all the life that The Red Legend has known. As she gets older, she's not content to be kept in this labor camp…and drama ensues. I also pulled some inspiration from the Book of Esther in the Bible, which tells the story of a woman who is torn between her duty to her people - the greater good - and her own personal safety and desire.
The Red Legend is definitely going to be complicated. She does end up becoming a kind of symbol, but a different symbol to different people. A hero of mother Russia, but also a hero to those she left back in the labor camp. But she's also a young woman who grew up in very difficult circumstances…deprived of a normal childhood, so she's dealing with that as well. I think in a lot of ways she feels like what a lot of teenagers feel like…wanting to form her own identity, but then being pulled in different directions to be something for everyone else…and then feeling guilt over not being to be all things to all people.