With the “Summer of Valiant” reaching its end, “Harbinger” hits its third issue as writer Joshua Dysart and artists Khari Evans and Lewis Larosa up the ante with character moments and foreshadowing galore.
As leading man Peter Stanchek fully dons his Harbinger gear for leader Toyo Harada, Dysart gives us a look inside Harada’s mind. He makes a great villain as his motives appear honorable — he only wishes to make the world a better place. The villainy leaks through when Harada uses destruction, mind control and a questionable moral code to justify his means. In that regard, he’s in the same category as a Magneto or Doctor Doom. In this new Valiant Universe, Harada is depicted about a decade younger than his original version in the ’90s and it works.
Dysart introduces a slew of new characters as Stanchek is introduced to the super-powered students and faculty of the Harbinger Foundation. Headmaster Hidden Moon has an indicative introductory scene and is used to deliver some exposition. Most importantly, Moon sets the stage for the 24 other students at the Harada school, all of which had to be painfully “activated” to trigger their powers — an experience Stanchek never had to go through. Moon says, “That troubles some of our students,” and with one line of dialogue, Dysart sets up future tensions with Stanchek and his new found “allies,” planting the seed to drive the story who knows where in a few months.
Some of these students include the Eggbreakers, Harada’s personalized team of super-powered teens, most notably Livewire and Ion. Livewire, Harada’s main guard, is badass without doing anything substantial due to how Evans and Larosa depict her demeanor. The stage is set for Ion, the senior student at Harada’s school, and Stanchek to throw down later in the series. There was a great battle scene between the two which showcased the brilliant power of these kids.
It’s the character introduced on the final page who has me the most giddy — as a reader of Jim Shooter’s original “Harbinger” run in the ’90s, I’m interested to see how Dysart will handle her. Especially when considering in the original, this character was one of the most prejudiced in the title for her weight issues. The insults thrown her way throughout became very uncomfortable to read, and it’s an element hindering the original series from translating well today. That being said, Dysart clearly knows his Valiant history and his writing style lends confidence he has things under control.
Evans and Larosa propel the story with their artwork, movingly depicting emotion, hitting their beats throughout. Their strongest moments are during a flashback of Stanchek’s worst childhood memories and a brief battle scene between Ion and Stanchek. In the flashbacks, Stanchek goes through polarizing experiences — when they’re dark you can feel the pain, but also the joy during the happy times. In the fight, squiggly lines or energy patterns are only present when need be, and the combat moves are minimal as each character reels from the power behind each blow. This adds to the realism of “Harbinger’s” setting, and leaves an impression with the reader when these characters swing, they go for home runs.
The only major art misfire was a coloring issue prior to the Ion fight — he was the same skin color as Moon. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for it happened during a key moment and Ion’s face is shaded, making it confusing who is delivering the line. It hindered the flow of the scene, causing the reader to do a double take on the panel.
In comics, it’s sometimes difficult to separate the writer from their work. There are numerous reasons for this, such as a reader disagrees with their personal politics, but there’s also the contrary — where a writer’s real world experience and knowledge enhances the story they’re telling. Dysart is an example of the latter. He’s a well traveled, well cultured man, having gone so far as Africa to research his “Unknown Soldier” series with Vertigo back in 2008. His commitment to his work and passion for meeting people of other cultures, experiencing their colloquialisms and way of life, is reflected in his current “Harbinger” run. He’s writing a team book with an enormous cast from all over the world, and his past experiences allow him to add believable depth and color to his characters.
It’s Dysart’s skill as a writer accompanied by the expressive storytelling of the artists that no two characters read the same in this issue. It’s amazing what one seemingly innocent line of dialogue here, or the focus of an eyeball there can do to move the story. It’s great to watch unfold, and as a result, “Harbinger” is a book people need to know about. It’s indie superheroes at its best, and fans of team books like “X-Men” or “Teen Titans” or indie works like “Invincible” or “Americas Got Powers” need to give “Harbinger” a read.