From the amazing shared-world superhero universe of Hexagon and the creative efforts of Jean-Marc Lofficier and Vincenzo Chiomenti comes Captain Ukraine.
In our world, Ukraine is under unprovoked war with Russia. During these tragic hours, Hexagon Comics stands with Ukraine, uniting past and present by releasing this very special issue, the profits of which will be donated to the Ukrainian Red Cross.
Hexagon Comics is a unique and exciting company. Its origins can be traced back to the 1950s when it was a French publisher named Editions Lug. For years now, the characters of Editions Lug and its successors have been owned by Hexagon Comics.
Jean-Marc Lofficier is writing new tales and reprinting silver age classics as well as translating Hexagon French-sourced comics into English, steadily releasing some of the company’s output in America.
Some American readers might be familiar with Hexagon’s premier team Strangers, once published by Image Comics in the early 2000s. Characters from Hexagon have also appeared in a Witchblade crossover, Blood Oath.
Jean-Marc Lofficier (often in collaboration with his wife, Randy, or Roy Thomas) has written numerous comic-book stories for Marvel and DC including DR. STRANGE, HELLRAISER, TEEN TITANS, and the METROPOLIS Elseworld trilogy. They won an INKPOT AWARD for their translations of the MOEBIUS graphic novels. They are also the authors of various novels, anthologies, and several books about TV series such as THE DOCTOR WHO PROGRAMME GUIDE. They have also written animation scripts for television series such as THE REAL GHOSTBUSTERS and DUCK TALES.
The majority of Vincenzo Chiomenti’s body of work exists overseas. He studied in Milan. Debuting with PANTERA BIONDA. Vincenzo then worked for Il Vittorioso and Intrepido. He has illustrated episodes of ZAGOR, CAPITAN MIKI, and MARCO POLO. For Editions Lug (Hexagon’s predecessor) he created characters such as JOHNNY BOURASK, JOHN MIST, BOB STANLEY, and MAC. More importantly, with CAPTAIN UKRAINE, he also created the 17th century Cossack warrior IVAN KARINE.
IVAN KARINE is where the story of CAPTAIN UKRAINE begins.
JOESEPH SIMON: Hello and welcome, Jean-Marc. This special issue introduces a character who is both new and yet has been part of the Hexagon Universe since 1963: Captain Ukraine! How is Captain Ukraine new and a part of the company for decades?
JEAN-MARC LOFFICIER: Obviously, the current events compelled me to create a “Captain Ukraine” for a benefit book. But I didn’t want to create a character out of thin air. Hexagon surely must be the only western comics company that already had a historical Ukrainian hero as part of its catalog: 17th century Ivan Karine.
As fate would have it, two years ago, I had already created a 19th century descendent of Ivan that teamed up with the Napoleonic Guardian in 1812. (In the GUARDIAN/ ZEMBLA comic, already translated & available.) So it was easy to create first a WWII descendent, Aleksander Karine, and then a modern-day version, Nadiya Karine, who is the current holder of the title.
JOESEPH: This is an interesting project at an interesting time in modern history. I’m sure the real world going ons between Ukraine and Russia surprised you as it did the world. Before Putin’s Invasion, I thought about Russia and NATO in regards to Ukraine as the equivalent of two bald men fighting over a comb. Sadly, I was wrong. You stepped up quickly with the Captain Ukraine special, with profits going to the Ukrainian Red Cross. Prior to making that choice, what were your thoughts leading up to this unfortunate world event?
JEAN-MARC: I don’t think many people genuinely believed that Putin would actually start a war like a WWII-type war. We expected cyberattacks and maybe a few scuffles, but not a full-blown invasion with tanks. I had no thought of creating a “CAPTAIN UKRAINE” until the war started; but once it did, the project took form very, very rapidly, starting with the cover which is a deliberate swipe of the famous CAPTAIN AMERICA #1 cover by Jack Kirby.
JOESEPH: It’s also very interesting, the Karine family is part of the Zaporozhian Cossacks. How does the Cossack aspect of characters’ history affect the characters and story?
JEAN-MARC: Very much so. The Zaporozhian were really the first Ukrainian patriots, serfs who had fled to be free and ended up in the Russian “orbit”, if you will, but after securing various rights. During the Soviet Era, official history books tried to downplay that angle. In my story, we introduce the “Helmet of Khortytsia” which is named the first bastion of Ukrainian independence. I also refer to the fact that Stalin wasn’t kind towards Ukrainian patriots right after WWII. So the story is steeped in history.
JOESEPH: This issue features the Captain Ukraines of the 17th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, united in a common effort to defeat injustice and tyranny. Is Captain Ukraine a line of heroes through the centuries with a common lineage? Or is there another factor that brings them together?
JEAN-MARC: They are clearly descendents of the same family. We refer to the Ivan of 1812, but the main roles go to Aleksander and Nadiya.
JOESEPH: From the cover and in real life, Putin is clearly the bad guy. Who is or what is the enemy in the 17th, 18th, and 20th parts of the story?
JEAN-MARC: Stalin is the villain who orders Aleksander’s death. Loyal readers will see the return of the two Soviet Super-Champions, The Hammer and The Sickle, who previously appeared in the GUARDIAN / PHENIX issue (also available in English). The villain the 1812 Ivan Karine fought alongside the Imperial Guardian (see above) is Koschei the Deathless, a monster from local folklore. In fact, some of the mythology we use goes back all the way to the pre-cataclysmic era of Prince Kabur.
JOESEPH: Are the Captain Ukraines empowered in some manner?
JEAN-MARC: The original character was a fierce swordsman and a fine athlete but had no more superpowers than Zorro. Ditto with the 19th-century version. However, the modern-day versions have the Helmet of Khortytsia which confers a degree of invulnerability and a “noetic belt” – a power belt, if you will – powered by what amounts to a “magic crystal”, one of a set of seven which go back to the times of Kabur and have often appeared throughout the Hexagon Universe. The belt gives them super-strength, durability, and some energy projection abilities.
JOESEPH: You have a special cover for this special issue with a Captain Ukraine take on the classic Captain America #1 cover. The Captain America cover is very iconic. What does it mean to you and how does it translate to Captain Ukraine?
JEAN-MARC: I had another image in mind initially, which is now our Page 1 Splash. But like the proverbial light bulb, I was suddenly struck by the thematic similarities with that iconic CAP cover from March 1941. I just couldn’t get it out of my mind and decided that it had to be our cover. Note that on the wall in the background, we have replaced the swastika with the old Soviet hammer-and-sickle because I think what Putin is doping is like what the Soviets did to Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968. I blame him, the ghost of the Communist Regime, and not the Russia of today. There is an old Russian curse that says: “Our Future is Our Past.” This is what this symbolized.
JOESEPH: Talk about Vincenzo Chiomenti. Outside of Captain Ukraine, he created many characters for Lug including the interesting ‘Mac’ series, about three Scotsmen in the Old West. Will more of Vincenzo’ characters show up in any upcoming English versions anytime soon?
JEAN-MARC: Vincenzo has been a gold mine of great characters. His JOHNNY BOURASK, who was a very, very early American settler, has now acquired a modern-day descendent who is a female agent of C.L.A.S.H. (our S.H.I.E.L.D.) named JOANNI BOURASK. Also, his JEAN BRUME (JOHN MIST in English), who was like the Scarlet Pimpernel, underwent a rather radical transformation, which was revealed last year in our GUARDIAN / COUNT ST. GERMAIN comic (to be released in English this summer) who turned him into some kind of immortal wraith-like figure. I like the MAC series about the three Scots Lairds wandering about the Old West, but I haven’t had the opportunity to reintroduce them in any of the new stories—yet!
Other characters of his that deserve a mention include BOB STANLEY, an American Samurai in Old Japan, JIM MISSISSIPPI, a Zorro-like figure who fought slavery in the South just before the Civil War, and DAN LUCKY, a rather typical western hero, sort of like the Rawhide Kid, but luckier.
JOESEPH: Captain Ukraine is not the only Hexagon hero appearing in this special issue. The leading Hexagon hero, The Guardian of the Republic, also appears in Captain Ukraine. What is the significance of Guardian appearing?
JEAN-MARC: Several reasons. One, the current Guardian’s ancestor (the Napoleonic Guardian) had met Ivan Karine. The current Karine, Nadiya, needs the crystal that the Napoleonic Guardian took from her ancestor. That was told in the GUARDIAN/ ZEMBLA comic I had written in 2020. So in a way, without knowing what would happen two years later, I had already set the stage for a meeting between the two modern-day incarnations. Also, more prosaically, I needed a character to replace Bucky on the cover, so it made sense to use the Guardian.
JOESEPH: I found it interesting that Ukraine’s Diplomatic relations between France and Ukraine were established in 1992. Since 2006, Ukraine has been an observer in the Francophonie. Starting as a small group of French-speaking countries, the Francophonie has since evolved into a global organization whose numerous branches cooperate with its member states in the fields of culture, science, economy, justice, and peace. I really find this to be a great idea for international relationships. Is Francophonie part of the Hexagon universe?
JEAN-MARC: Not particularly. We have a very international cast of characters. If you count all the different western heroes, we probably have more American heroes than French ones! But unlike American comics of the 60s, Hexagon (or Lug) had African, Asian, South American, etc, etc, heroes. As I said I think we’re the only western comics publishers to already have a Ukrainian hero who could be dusted off the shelf.
JOESEPH: I’m curious, what other connections might Ukraine have with France?
JEAN-MARC: There is a great adventure novel by Jules Verne called MICHEL STROGOFF (without any sci-fi or fantasy elements) (aka THE COURIER OF THE CZAR) which was filmed several times with great success, which probably influenced the creation of our IVAN KARINE, so at least in the literary field, there was that connection.
JOESEPH: Jean-Marc, what you are doing with Captain Ukraine is very cool. Readers, if you are reading this, then you are a comic fan. Captain Ukraine is an interesting way to not only help a great cause but to do so within the context of your favorite hobby! Not only that, if you haven’t yet (and you should!), you can check out Hexagon Comics. There is a great wealth of superhero material here. The Hexagon universe has been around since 1950!
Jean-Marc, for readers who have not yet taken the dip into the world of Hexagon Comics, what would you like to say to them?
JEAN-MARC: In terms of themes, the classic Hexagon Comics from 1950 to 1980 are very much like the old DC Comics. I started to introduce a more Marvel-like approach when I began writing them in 2000, and certainly when I became Editor-in-chief in 2010. Mind you, the same happened to DC in the 1980s when they started to hire writers like Roy, Marv, Len, Gerry, etc. However, we’ve had no reboots, CRISIS-type of projects, etc. Like DOCTOR WHO, I just leave the old stories where they are and use what I need. So it is a very accessible universe and one whose scope is truly equal or superior to the DCU and maybe greater than the Marvel Universe because they have fewer historical and international heroes. We have now 50+ books available in English, enough to dip a toe and see if you like it.
JOESEPH: How can readers order Captain Ukraine and other Hexagon comics?
JEAN-MARC: Go to www.hexagoncomics.com – or if you wish to put more $$ in Jeff Bezos’ pockets, Amazon, of course.
JOESEPH: Any last words to close in regards to Captain Ukraine, Hexagon, and the reality of world events?
JEAN-MARC: I’m pleased to report that, as I write this, I’ve already sent 500 euros to the Red Cross for the Ukrainian refugees and it’s only the beginning!
Thank you, Jean-Marc. I hope Captain Ukraine raises a lot of money for this good cause. Captain Ukraine is being released in both English and French simultaneously. Pre-order now at Hexagon Comics for the April 15th ship date.