07th Dec2020

‘The Union #1’ Review (Marvel Comics)

by Dean Fuller

Written by Paul Grist | Art by Andrea Di Vito, Paul Grist & Various | Published by Marvel Comics

As a British comics fan growing up in the 1970’s,, one of the things I always loved about Marvel was that they genuinely seemed to care about their British fans. They had a strong reprint presence in the newsagents, something DC didn’t have until much later, and Stan Lee and various Marvel writers and artists often popped over to Old Blighty and detailed it in Bullpen Bulletins. The love affair between Marvel and the U.K was always a mutual one, if at times Marvel could be a little Dickensian with their portrayals of bobbies on the beat and ‘gor blimey, guvnor’. As much as I love characters like Captain America and Iron Man, I’ve always had a huge fondness for the Brits. I’ve loved Captain Britain, Union Jack, The Invaders, Black Knight, Excalibur, MI-13, anything with a British connection.

So, Marvel have come back to the well, with a book that has been delayed several months because of the coronavirus, what else. It’s very much the baby of veteran British writer/ artist Paul Grist, which is very much a kind of full circle thing. He’s probably best known for his creator owned British hero Jack Staff, which came out of a rejected pitch for the Union Jack character a couple of decades ago. Grist likes to very much ground his characters, give them personality and a personal focus. It’s certainly an interesting time to take on a cast of British heroes, considering the political climate. One thing I think we’ll get, that the older books lacked, is an authenticity of place and character. Let’s take a look.

Grist jumps straight in on the politics and shows us that the new team, The Britannia Project, is an attempt to bring together the different nations of the U.K at a time when that bond is being seriously tested. A political creation, the team is led by Britannia, an ageless warrior hero, with new heroes Snakes (Northern Ireland), The Choir (Welsh), and Kelpie (Scottish). It is a literal representation of everyone working together across the four nations. These things never go well, especially when the team name is being chosen by a morning breakfast show phone in. Behind the public relations facade, though, the team are being tested by Union Jack and a team of soldiers, playing a glorified version of ‘Plant the Flag’. That all seems to go ok, which is handy as a giant dragon has just shown up. The giant gets dealt with, but a new problem springs up in its place. That, and a team member dies. In the first issue.

So, where to begin. Firstly, the art was gorgeous. I’m assuming Grist did the layouts that Di Vito then pencilled, but the end result is some stunningly good art. The rest of the book is a little more problematic. This is mainly an introductory world building issue, with Grist introducing us to mostly brand new characters alongside the only established one, Union Jack. Not sure why none of the many other British characters available were not used though. Captain Britain? Knights of Pendragon? The new characters we have yet to really meet, as they barely spoke or did anything in this issue. Most of the air time went to Union Jack and Britannia. Grist did write a fantastic Union Jack here, and I found myself wishing he could finally write that solo book he wanted to write before.

I think the main problem this title will have is the political background. Although the opening page establishes the team itself is essentially a political/ social media construction, one designed to engineer some national unity post-Brexit, the politics of it all may be troubling to some readers. Perhaps that’s the point? Perhaps Grist over the next few issues will show that the team is as divided as the countries they represent. Maybe Kelpie secretly supports Scottish independence. Maybe Snakes wants a united Ireland. Forced unity is no unity at all. I think it’s fair to say this issue left far more questions than it answered, and it made it tricky to form a firm opinion of the story or the characters, especially as Grist has had to shoehorn in this launch with the ‘King in Black’ crossover.

I’m happy to see where this all goes, and if Grist can flesh out a promising direction down the road. I’m sure he can.

***½  3.5/5


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