In “Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger” #1, Peter Stanchek has long since come out of hiding, but his arch-foe Toyo Harada — who had gone off-planet in exile — has now returned for a final confrontation. Writer Joshua Dysart has touched every issue of “Harbinger” since the beginning, so it’s only fitting he chronicle its end; joined by artist Kano, the pair deliver a trippy, dystopian, yet ultimately hopeful resolution of a centuries-spanning conflict that has shaped the world. As he has done throughout his time on the series, Dysart capitalizes on the characters’ personalities, and Kano adds perfect futuristic designs and cosmic scope to give this one-shot a genuinely epic feel.
The issue’s title foreshadows the Renegades’ fates. Dysart touches on their individual deaths, although the mention is largely incidental and the focus is really on Peter and Harada, the true “harbingers” of the dawn of the psiot era in the Valiant Universe. While the Peter/Harada showdown is plenty enough to carry the issue, Dysart’s somber recap of the fates of Zephyr, Torque and the others makes for a sad but tantalizing tease; the few panels given to each contain individual stories that deserve their own page time, and it’s disappointing readers don’t get more.
The issue can’t be faulted for what it doesn’t contain, though, because what it does have is a truly grand experience on a cosmic level, which also stands as an emotional beat for the individual characters. Dysart focuses on Peter’s loneliness, since he has long outlived all of his friends; Peter consoles himself with entities that are basically autonomous memories of his teammates extrapolated into their later years. Just like Dysart had done so well with these characters as teenagers, he proficiently shows Peter coping with advanced age the way many do: outwardly living a content and successful life, yet longing for the familiar — and perhaps happier — trappings of his youth.
One of these familiar — but definitely not happy — elements of his past is Harada himself, who Peter once again faces with the world’s safety in the balance. Forced to jettison the fantasy world he has built for himself, Peter finds himself alone again, save for his oldest foe, who he’s bound to in ways Dysart and Kano show so remarkably in this ultimate showdown. Peter and Harada have a very simple kind of bond, if for no other reason than their history and that they’re all that’s left from each other’s earlier lives.
Kano gets to flex his cosmic muscles when the time for the showdown comes, but his art beautifully captures the issue’s setting even before Dysart’s story gets to that point. Peter’s journey into space is gorgeously captured in its own right, with aqua hues dominating the landscape of deep space and a fine pattern of curved lines within his spacecraft, hinting at the virtual environment he occupies. Kano also captures the bright and pristine detail of the futuristic city housing the world’s leadership, the ugly demise of another longstanding character critical to Harada’s history and the unusual alien tech that serves as the basis for the world’s technology.
Come the galaxy-spanning finale, though, Kano serves up a fantastic, mind-bending journey through the cosmos, as Dysart’s maturation of both Peter and Harada comes into play as a somewhat unexpected sacrifice is made. Kano is asked to render what’s all but indescribable, but does so with a colorful sensory overload and such simplicity, depicting the characters at the heart of it. The final battle is mind-blowingly carried across the span of several pages, exquisitely laid out with touches of imagery that embellish the cosmic experience. It’s the kind of sequence that could only be conveyed in a sequential art form, and Kano makes superb use of the medium here.
“Book of Death: The Fall of Harbinger” #1 is an artistic and literary masterpiece, melding excellent characterization with stunning artwork that provides one possible conclusion to Dysart’s ongoing and evolving storyline.