Out of the events of King in Black comes The Union, a new team of heroes representing the countries of the United Kingdom. Paul Grist (Judge Dredd, Jack Staff) writes the series, with art by Andrea Di Vito. Originally solicited as an Empyre tie-in series, the coronavirus pandemic forced its delay. Now it will launch as part of King of Black in December. The team features familiar British Marvel hero Union Jack and new characters Snakes, Kelpie, Choir, and team-leader Brittania. The comic promises an inauspicious debut that will challenge these heroes and test the bonds that bind this team to their limits.
ComicBook.com spoke to Grist about what fans should expect from The Union when they debut in December. Here's what he had to say:
Marvel announced The Union as an Empyre tie-in. Now, due to conditions in the real world, it's debuting as a King in Black tie-in. How much has that affected the story you're telling?
Paul Grist: Not a huge impact on the overall story. The tie-in with Empyre was always a way of introducing a few new characters and launching the comic. The tie-ins in both cases were always going to be fairly loose given that the main action in both cases is taking place on the other side of the world! Having said that, the change of the tie-in storyline is quite significant. We had to change about 7 pages in the first issue, and the second issue needed to be completely rewritten! Fortunately, only a few pages of the second issue had been drawn before the pandemic, and, as they didn’t have any direct involvement with the Empyre story, could be easily repurposed for King in Black. But it did mean I had to drop some of my favorite bits of story from the second issue, as it would have been a bit too difficult to explain what a Skrull was doing in the middle of the story! Fortunately, I’m also able to rework some of the character bits I wanted to establish in the second issue into the third issue, so nothing too important gets lost! It all works out good in the end, but it’s not one of the things they teach you at comic writing school!
There's always going to be a certain amount of baggage when dealing with patriotic heroes because readers will see them as symbols of their country. Why is now the time to tell a story about a team like The Union? How are you approaching that symbolic element?
I’m trying to downplay the symbolism, to be honest. The way I see it, the characters come from different countries, but I’m not using them as representatives of what those countries are. They are not meant as patriotic heroes. My usual example for this is to say that Wolverine is Canadian, and was introduced as a Canadian hero, but I don’t think anyone would say he was meant to be a symbol of the Canadian character. That’s just where he’s from. And that’s how I’m trying to approach these characters.
The only one that does come with baggage is Union Jack, who is basically a walking flag. When I was growing up, the Union Jack flag was a symbol of racism and the political far-right, and whilst that mellowed with time, in recent years with Brexit and more political flag-waving it has become a bit of a trigger issue for many people. I think that makes it quite an interesting thing to explore right now. What does a man wearing the British Flag think he’s representing? After all, Joe Chapman only ended up wearing the costume due to circumstances outside his control. Maybe it’s time for him to take a bit more control over his life? And whilst Britannia does wear the flag colors, she’s meant to be a call back to earlier times before countries and borders were established.
What can say about the relationships between these characters? Is this a finely-honed fighting team, or something a bit more dysfunctional?
The relationships between the characters are quite antagonistic as they have been brought together for political ends. Well not quite, the team is basically a group of individuals brought together by Britannia as she senses a change that’s happening in the United Kingdom and she’s trying to give those people a purpose, a sense of belonging, to try and protect them. But in order to do that, they end up getting packaged and sold to the public as something they’re not, which is probably not something that’s going to make working together easy for any of them! But we're seeing a team very much at the beginning of their journey before the rough edges get smoothed away, and that's all the stuff that makes them fun to read!
As you've been working on them, which of the characters has emerged as your favorite to write? Have you've been surprised yourself at all by the way any of the heroes are evolving?
The Choir is probably the main focus of the story, but hopefully, all the characters will get a good airing over the course of the story. Britannia is certainly my favorite character out of the bunch! She's someone with a long history behind her, which we manage to hint at in the first issue. If she has a long future ahead of her is a different story!
Tell us about the artwork. You're working with Andrea Di Vito. What kind of visual tone is he creating for the series?
The artwork is looking great. Andrea is to be congratulated for his patience in dealing with me insisting that locations for the story look as near as possible like the actual locations when I'm probably the only person who'd actually know! It's not looking like my comics normally do!
Lastly, it's hard to think about Marvel's British heroes and not think about Captain Britain. How, if at all, will Betsy Braddock, Brian Braddock, and Captain Britain's mantle interact with The Union as a team and as a story?
As far as Captain Britain and his retinue, I’m probably not the best person to comment. Whilst I’m old enough to remember getting the original weekly comic when it was first launched in the UK, I was disappointed when they turned Brian and his family into peers rather than have him be an ordinary man from the streets. That’s one of the reasons why I like Union Jack, or rather Joe Chapman. Whilst the original Union Jack might have been a Lord, the role has now been handed to an ordinary working man. He’s not coming from a place of privilege. That’s someone I can relate to. I’m also not a fan of all the UK heroes having to be rooted in some kind of Arthurian Myth. What I’m trying to do with The Union is to have characters with different roots and experiences. Whilst there’s no reason their paths won’t cross, I don’t see that they’d really have a lot in common with one another!3comments
The Union #1 goes on sale on December 2nd.