The Union (2020-) #5 by Paul Grist

The Union (2020-) #5 (of 5)The Union (2020-) #5 by Paul Grist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have it on good authority from people whose opinions I trust that Paul Grist is a good writer. I can only assume that this series is not representative of his talents.

To be fair to him, as I’ve said in reviews of previous issues, this series was originally supposed to be an Empyre tie in, but got delayed due to the pandemic and ended up being a King in Black tie in…sort of. It’s clear that it got heavily rewritten, as evidenced by the cover art generally having nothing to do with the comic inside, and ended up being far from the story that Grist originally intended to tell.

Which is a shame, because there’s a lot of potential here. There are interesting new characters and ideas that never get fully explored, and, in fact, it only felt like the final two issues of this series were part of the story as originally intended…or, at least, to some degree.

The lacklustre art has not helped this series, especially as earlier issues boasted some stunning cover art that the comic inside failed to deliver on. Maybe it’s because I’m British that it irritates me to see a comic set in locations I know well…that the artist clearly hasn’t used enough reference for when drawing. You know, now we have Google street view there really isn’t an excuse for this sort of thing.

There’s also something slightly odd about a comic based on The Union at a time when The Union is literally falling apart. I’d have liked to have seen more of an exploration of that, some kind of acknowledgment of the very real constitutional issues facing the UK right now. Or, at the very least, someone pointing out to Union Jack that he should really be called Union Flag unless he’s on a ship…

I’m all for more British superheroes from Marvel, but not like this.

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The Union (2020-) #4 by Paul Grist

The Union (2020-) #4 (of 5)The Union (2020-) #4 by Paul Grist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a definite improvement. The script feels wittier and the pacing is much better.

But at this point it’s suffering from only having one issue to go, and having wasted its first three issues being a mess. This honestly feels like the first issue, because it has so little to do with what’s come before.

I’d be intrigued to read the series that the cover art belongs to, because the covers were obviously drawn for the series as it was before COVID messed everything up and resulted in this not being an Empyre tie in but a King in Black tie in. It should be noted that it really has nothing to do with King in Black at all.

I can see the germs of a good series here, but it’s clearly been hamstrung by rewrites that have left the series a mess. It’s a shame. I’m always up for some new British super hero action.

The cover art is, however, utterly gorgeous.

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The Union (2020-) #2 by Paul Grist

The Union (2020-) #2 (of 5)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.

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The Union (2020-) #1 by Paul Grist

The Union (2020-) #1 (of 5)The Union (2020-) #1 by Paul Grist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was…fine.

I was really looking forward to this when it was originally going to be part of Empyre, then got cancelled, and now it’s part of King In Black and…er…it shows. It’s not bad, at all, it just feels…disjointed.

This series may well improve over time, as we get to know all of these new characters. I mean, suddenly landing a whole load of new British super heroes on us…and never once mentioning Captain Britain (who is currently MIA over in the pages of Excalibur, but that’s a whole other thing…) feels…odd.

So, yeah, jury’s out on this one so far.

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