Synopsis: Gulag 396 is a horrific place where dissidents of the soviet regime are kept. There is no escape but death. When Obadiah Archer is sent there with a sentence of 30 years hard labor, he knows this is where he will die. However, Archer is a man whose religious faith gives him hope; the only thing his jailers cannot take from him. So when Obadiah is approached by the warden of the gulag with an offer (a satan tempting christ scenario), Archer will attempt to share that hope with someone who is absolutely hopeless.
Review: Escape from Gulag 396 tells a very concise story while conveying a very complex concept. The issue gives you a great foundation for its protagonist. Seeing Archer’s faith formed in flashbacks greatly solidifies the earnest fervor of his characterization. Normally, his character is played as a straight man for laughs, but none of that factors into this issue. There is a defiant resilience that give Archer a sense of unbreakable strength. The perfect example would be the scene where Archer triumphantly calls for his fellow inmates to, “unchain your souls” during a riot. I loved this because it drastically highlights how low Armstrong has fallen after centuries of loss once the characters are introduced. Both characters have loss so much, but to Archer’s flame of hope rekindle even a minor spark within his foil, really seals what an effective storyteller the writer is.
What I loved most about the art for Gulag 396 is the facial expressions of the main characters. Vivid is the best way to describe them. Instantly, you know the untold grief residing in Armstrong, or the level of malevolence of the warden. By the way, the warden is a really fun villain (If I were a heartless and cruel soviet warden, I would be him right down to the lapels. Yes, there are a lot of beautiful backgrounds and dynamic scenes. The locales jump from one fully realized place to another, yet it is the expressive nature of our players that really shows the high level of artistic acumen for the issue.
As I have stated before, Divinity III is a great series for Valiant. The rich alternate universe has a wealth of potential that the writers and artists are fully taking advantage. In an industry where tie-ins can often feel lackluster and pointless, Divinity III consistently defines itself as a cut above the rest.