Joshua Dysart and Khari Evans take a bit of a pause in “Harbinger” #24, between the surprising and emotional events in “Death of a Renegade” last issue, and next issue’s conclusion to the Toyo Harada saga that Dysart has been building since launch. It’s a breather, yes, but it’s not filler either, as Renegades leader Peter Stanchek is still boldly facing off against Harada, while the rest of the team quietly regroups and wrestles with their loss.
Dysart’s two years on the book has been filled with surprises, and this issue is no different, although the biggest surprise of all might be the way he chooses to structure the storyline. Dysart has been steadily ramping up the tension in the issues leading up to Peter and Harada’s showdown, but now that it’s here, the story steps back for the storytelling equivalent of an injury time-out in the final minutes of the game. Every more surprising, perhaps, is that it works, and works wonderfully; every character involved in the story is emotionally if not physically injured, and the time-out gives readers a chance to catch their breath as well, and absorb the emotional impact of the last few issues. Anyone who’s been following this title from the beginning and expecting a straight-line buildup to next issue’s finale will be a little startled, sure, but not in the least bit disappointed.
Dysart makes good use of the break, too, by further examining the team’s characters and revealing some surprising reactions to the recent tragedies they’ve endured. It ultimately strengthens their bond, but it’s not all hugs and mutual understanding; Kris especially reacts differently than the others but it’s completely in tune with her character. There’s plenty of emotion, too, especially as Peter says his good-byes to the team in a way that makes perfect sense as presented, but even more so when the subterfuge is revealed, in another kind of surprise that Dysart has done so many times, and so well before, that works just as effectively here.
As Peter and Harada continue their battle, both physically and psychically, a known character intercedes and results in changing the mindsets of both men, in a shift that gives new life to the arch-foes’ upcoming final confrontation. It’s a last-minute refreshening that’s arguably unnecessary, but is actually indicative of another storytelling trait that Dysart has consistently done so well throughout this comic’s run: to take a storyline that’s doing just fine but nonetheless giving it a shot in the arm to make it even better. It even provides a legitimate story reason as to why the battle is paused the brilliantly sets up the rest of the issue.
Evans makes sure the setting is appropriately dark, both literally and emotionally, which is somberly illustrated when Faith makes a tender but ultimately futile attempt to remove her fallen teammate from the battlefield. The team’s dimly-lit hideout plays into the mood as well, as the group finds themselves surrounded by darkness in more ways than one. The structure of Peter’s farewell is beautifully laid out by Evans, as a sad moment is capped off with the rest of the team finding at least some momentary peace.
The issue ends with a very ominous, foreboding, but ultimately fascinating narrative by the good guys, one that’s not only a near-perfect wrap-up for this penultimate chapter but also plays into an earlier and perhaps forgotten flash-forward scene from several issues ago. “Harbinger” #24 is the kind of story that can only be told in a longer arc like this one, and proves that a strong lead-in to a finale doesn’t have to have lots of fights and explosions. It’s also an excellent example of the best superhero comic that way too few are reading.