Building a new backstory into the “Unity” mythos, “Unity” #0 makes the most of its creative team’s talents, but it suffers from an inevitable lack of development. Though writer Matt Kindt does his best to inject gravity into the script, it can’t stand in for getting to know these characters and see their importance in action. It’s a well-executed issue, but it left me wanting a bit more.
“Unity” #0 follows an elite, experimental task force called Unit Y in their climactic, tragic fight against the Germans in World War I. The team is composed of the Eternal Warrior, familiar to readers of “Unity,” and three new characters: Dell, Alpha and Breaker. Kindt does his best to establish these characters, but he comes up against the limitations of the page count, and they aren’t memorable. However, Kindt seems to recognize the inevitability of that limitation, and keeps the story focused on the Eternal Warrior. With him as narrator, the story has context outside of itself.
Kindt makes a variety of similarly smart choices that keep the script interesting. From thematic nods to the nuclear arms race to foreshadowing World War II, his approach to the time period is thoughtful and multi-layered. Breaker’s prediction machine bookends the plot rather beautifully, and the ending is actually quite hopeful and poetic. This could have easily been a pulpy escape, but Kindt pays such attention to the details and ideas.
Artist Cary Nord and colorist Jose Villarrubia give the book a retro look that almost never veers into kitsch. Dell’s scientific getup, complete with mini zeppelins and a helmet straight out of Jules Verne, is an outlandish highlight of their approach. Villarrubia’s colors are washed like a vintage advertisement, but they’re never too soft for the fight scenes. In addition, despite its differences, the style also feels consistent with the present-day “Unity” issues.
Unfortunately, despite the team’s skill, the issue doesn’t entirely work. The Eternal Warrior’s lines lose their gravity because of how new these characters are to the reader. For instance, a line like “If any lives will have meaning in the eternity that I have seen battle, it will be these lives,” is quite lovely and rhythmic, but it just doesn’t feel true when the reader doesn’t know much about the lives in question. I can understand that it’s perhaps referencing how they will live on in future Unity teams, but it didn’t clearly read that way.
Lastly, the racist overtones of Alpha’s character design made me very uncomfortable. The only black character in the book, Alpha thinks science is cowardly, fights half bare-chested, and claims to derive his powers from having “tasted the blood of the ancient lion.” He still calls mustard gas “the cloud that rains poison,” even though he’s reportedly fought many battles in World War I. This reliance on ‘noble savage’ cliches frankly surprised me, and it left a bad taste in my mouth.
All told, “Unity” #0 is a successful addition to Valiant’s universe, but not necessarily a successful issue in and of itself. Despite its flaws, it’s left me wanting to see more of the Unit Y/Unity history, so the creative team has done something right.