The Union (2020-) #2 by Paul Grist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I really want to like this book more than I do, but it’s really hard.
The Brexit analogy is hard to ignore and feels a little clumsy. Having left the SHED, Super Hero European Directive (a particularly clumsy acronym), the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Norther Ireland has formed a team made up of members from all four nations of the UK. Presumably to show that we (the UK, I’m from the UK, I should make that clear) can make it on our own in the world, apart from Europe. During their first training/PR exercise the team’s leader, Britannia (supposedly Britain’s “beloved” superhero, who we’ve never heard of before…apparently everyone’s forgotten who Captain Britain is and thinks Union jack is a joke) gets killed and at the end of the team’s first mission the team splits up. Subtle.
Also, the Northern Irish character is called Snakes, and one of the things Ireland is famous for is not having any snakes. Saint Patrick supposedly drove them all out. So this is…odd.
There’s some good stuff here, like when the team’s Scottish, Northern Irish and Welsh members point out to Union Jack, the English member, that he doesn’t represent them and probably doesn’t “know where Merthyr Tydfil is.” I know that some in the UK were concerned that this series wouldn’t understand the tensions within the Union, but it certainly seems to (and given that it’s written by British writer Paul Grist, that’s not surprising).
Where this issue falls down, however, is that at times it just feels…off. I suspect this is a result of the series having been reworked form an Empyre tie in to be a King In Black tie in. But it manifests in strange ways, such as Union Jack’s magically disappearing and reappearing sword. Union Jack doesn’t have a sword, traditionally he carries a gun, but he has a sword for the first few pages and then it suddenly disappears. Then, just as suddenly, half way through, he has a sword again, and the it’s pretty integral to the plot. It’s…odd, and it took me right out of the story.
The art, by Andrea Di Vito is pretty good, although it’s rather shown up by the stunning cover art by Paco Medina. Also, the cover…well…the cover prominently features Britannia, who looks like she’s just defeated Union jack in a fight. This doesn’t happen in this issue. Britannia died at the end of #1. So, that’s strange…and I suspect is another hangover from the extensive reworking of the series.
So, yeah, a lot to think about here, and I really like the characters, particularly the Welsh hero, the Choir. It seems a shame that Britannia is dead, and I was expecting her to be resurrected this issue, but instead Union Jack has been steam-rollered by the government to take over as leader of the team…the members of which have all quit. This book has a lot of potential, but I’m not sure it’ll get a chance to fulfil it, and if it fails to acknowledge the existence of any pre-existing UK super heroes beyond Union Jack then that’ll really frustrate me.