Advance Review: Harbinger #1 by Joshua Dysart & Khari Evans

Harbinger #1
Omega Rising: Part 1

Written by: Joshua Dysart
Art by: Khari Evans
Coloring by: Ian Hannin
Lettering by: Rob Steen

Published by: Valiant
Cover Price: $3.99

Warning! This review contains quite a few spoilers!

I was glad to see Harbinger as one of the early series in Valiant’s relaunch. The original Harbinger series was one of Valiant’s best . It was a teenage superteam book, though avoided a lot of the cliches that you would expect. The Renegades, as they were often referred, were reluctant heroes led by a powerful young man named Peter Stanchek, who were mostly just trying to protect themselves (and other powered youths) from Toyo Harada and his Harbinger organization. The book was often funny, often tragic, and had a lot of creative and unexpected moments.  You truly never knew what was going to happen next in Harbinger.  When one of the team died fairly early on, I was floored.  It seemed to come out of nowhere, and had some terrific ripple effects on Harbinger and other Valiant books.

My favorite character was a heavyset comic geek who called herself Zephyr, even though her teammates often referred to her by the not-quite-politically-correct code name Zepplin. The rest of the original team consisted of Torque (a super strong redneck), Flamingo (a southern belle with with flame powers who is hinted to have a very important destiny), and Kris (Peter’s girlfriend, who didn’t have any powers). Plus, Harada had a wide variety of “Eggbreakers” superpowered operatives under his command. The preview for this issue showed us Harada and Stanchek, but didn’t give us too many hints about whoelse would be back for this reboot.

Just a quick head’s up, Valiant usually gives some approved preview pages to use in advance reviews, but this issue didn’t have any with it. The pages I used for this review all came from the Digital copy of Valiant’s Free Comic Book Day book.

Summary (contains spoilers): Harbinger starts in 1951 in Tibet. Chinese soldiers are chasing after a 18 year old Toyo Harada. Toyo uses his vast psychic powers to tell them to “Protect me from yourselves” causing the soldiers to open fire on each other:

Harada goes into the “Flying Nest Hermatige.” We find out that he was brought here by a dream. Inside, he finds an old man who promises to show him his future, which he refers to as “an unassuming wind waiting to be whipped into a storm.” The old man also refers to Harada as a Harbinger (sort of Valiant’s version of a mutant).

The scene switches to modern day. We are introduced to Peter Stanchek, also 18 years old. Like Harada, Peter seems to have psychic powers as well, but his are causing him to hear the thoughts of everyone around him:

Peter is finding this overwhelming, so walks into a pharmacy in order to get something to dull the voices. The pharmacist already thinks Peter is on drugs and tries to send him away, but Peter uses his powers to take over the pharmacist’s mind, forcing him to give him medication as well as all the money in the cash register. He also erases the memories of this ever happening. Once the medication kicks in, all the voices (and voice bubbles) are gone, and Peter seems at peace.

Peter heads over to a car, and we are introduced to Peter’s friend Joe. Joe also seems to be having problems with voices in his head. Joe seems concerned that it was not a good idea to come back to Pittsburgh. He feels they should be hiding. Peter says that hiding in plain sight is their best option. They head to a house in the suburbs with a “For sale” sign in the window. Once there, we find out that Peter and Joe have been on the run for six months. Joe keeps referring to a mysterious “him” who is chasing them (safe assumption is that he’s reffering to Harada). Joe says that there is no way he’s going back to the hospital. Peter promises him “no more hospitals.”

The scene flashes to Harada, who has by now has built a global corporation which seems to have its hands in the media, robotics and alternative energy. Harada also seems to have a strong interest in the political situation around the world, especially in warring areas. After a business meeting, Harada goes to meditate and focuses on locating Peter.

We soon find out that Joe isn’t taking his meds. Peter is distracted when he sees a girl named Kris walking by. He seems to have known Kris since they were kids, but Kris claims not to remember him. Peter tries to get her attention, but she basically blows him off.

Joe is in the park feeding pigeons when the cops arrest him. He promises that his friend will be coming to rescue him.

Peter ends up ditching his meds, and following Kris. Kris tells him that she does remember him and remembers that everyone was scared of him. Peter admits that he was in love with her, and Kris mocks him that “you were ten, you weren’t in love, just bored.” Peter talks about being in the hospital and how his memories of her were all that got him through. Kris blows him off again, so Peter uses his mental powers to make her come back and kiss him.

At the police station, a man called Tull comes to see Joe. He believes that Joe doesn’t have any powers, he’s just a paranoid scitzophrenic. Joe realizes that Tull’s memories have gotten badly damaged by all the times Peter has mindwiped him in the time they have been on the run.

Harada starts to project images into Peter’s mind, showing him an idealized garden from his own youth. Looks like Harada wasn’t the one holding Peter and Joe, they really were in a mental hospital. He explains how powerful Peter can be. He explains that Tull works for some kind of rival organization who is more dangerous and closer than Peter and Joe realize. Harada talks to Peter about a program he has started to help people with powers and to try and change the world. He promises Peter that he will be able to find happiness. He explains that he would have to leave Joe and Kris in order to be part of this.

Joe arrives. Tull and company followed him. The issue ends with a large armed force surrounding Joe and Peter.

Review: There wasn’t a lot of action in this issue, but there really didn’t need to be. This was a comic about characters and big ideas.  Things like mental illness, abuse of power, and alienation are all prevalent in this comic.   Joshua Dysart really manages to capture the emotion and intensity of this story perfectly. Like X-O, we are given a lot to digest at once, and often times there are more questions than answers, but it’s always very easy to grasp. I was always engaged and never frustrated at not knowing quite what was going on or what was coming next.

One complaint I have about a lot of comics (even by writers I like) is that often all the characters sound exactly the same. Dysart does a great job giving every character their own voice. Peter, Joe, Kris, Harada, even Tull, all immediately have well-defined personalities.

On top of that, in just one issue, he’s already started to put together a very compelling world here. You really wanna know more about Harbingers, and Harada and Tull’s warring organizations. I have always been a sucker for books like Astro City, set in worlds were people have super powers, but the books aren’t neccessarily traditional “superhero fights supervillain” comics. Harbinger definitely seems to be leaning in that direction.

I am really curious what letterer Rob Steen thought when he saw the script. At a few different places in this comic, numerous thought bubbles fill the page as we hear all the voices that Peter is hearing in his mind. It was a damn cool visual effect, but had to be a real nightmare to make work. I always love when comic creators play with the format this way. I will admit, I actually read all of the bubbles. With Valiant, you never know what’s going to be important later on.

Honestly, I was not 100% sold on the art in this issue. Khari Evans had a lot of great pages, but at times the art felt inconsistent. The last page in particular (when Tull’s forces arrive), everything seemed sort of hurried and lacked any real definition. There were a few other panels throughout, when the images seemed pulled back some and lacked detail.

It could just have been a stylistic choice, but there were other panels (often on the same page), that were done which a great deal of care and detail, so it made the long shot panels look strange and almost unfinished in comparison. It wasn’t enough to make me not like the art, but I definitely noticed the inconsistencies.

One thing I am especially excited about is that Valiant seems to have a strong long term plan in place. Over the summer, they will continue introduce one new series a month (Bloodshot in July, Archer and Armstrong in August). In the Fall, they are adding Eternal Warrior (Armstrong’s brother), and in the Spring, Rai (who in the comic was a descendant of sorts to Bloodshot). The Free Comic Book Day special also teased that Armstrong’s second brother Ivar (known as Timewalker in the original Valiant universe) is an important part of this new Valiant Universe as well. It’s nice that they are not flooding the market with books, but still seem to be developing a nice strong interconnected universe here.

Valiant continues to be on a roll here. Just like X-O, Harbinger packs a heavy emotional punch. I did think the art wasn’t as consistantly good as Cary Nord’s art in X-O, but it didn’t take away from the great read. Definitely worth checking out. Harbinger is everything X-Men wishes it could be! Highly reccomended.

Final Score: 8.5 – A very strong first issue! Some of the best dialouge and characterization I’ve ever seen in a comic. Peter Stanchek and Toya Harada seem destined to be enemies, and I expect this is going to be a hell of a ride.

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