“Harbinger” #4 antes up the dramatic tension as The Harbinger Foundation makes new demands on Peter Stanchek, who shows no signs of settling well into this less wholesome X-Mansion. Writer Joshua Dysart and artists Khari Evans, Matt Clark and Lewis Larosa build towards a tragic cliffhanger that is certain to be a catalyzing event for Peter, but they also introduce some hope and light in the form of Faith Herbert, also known as Zephyr.
The opening story arc of “Harbinger” is still rising in action. Toyo Harada, founder of the Harbinger Foundation, is determined to learn more about Peter’s powers as quickly as possible, pressuring Peter into making a choice mid-issue. Their different reactions to the consequences point to worldview differences that will define the shape of future conflicts. Jim Shooter’s original “Harbinger” series rolled out its scenario much more quickly, but Dysart’s decompression of the world-building doesn’t lack for suspense and he has a gift for intense, layered character development.
Readers of the original “Harbinger” series, including Dysart himself, were fans of Zephyr for her sunny disposition, pure heart and enthusiasm for super-heroing. “Harbinger” #4’s first page shows readers a look Faith’s blog. It’s an unusual, passive introduction to a character, but it works as a “things in my room” shorthand, with references to Firefly, Harry Potter and World of Warcraft. Faith’s hyperactive, nervous, fantasy-loving but reflective voice is captured in her journal entries and her chipper buoyancy provides a stark contrast to Peter’s violent training sessions at Harbinger Foundation two pages later.
Faith pops up again mid-issue, but the “Harbinger” #4 is still emotionally focused on Peter Stanchek. Dysart isn’t easy on his main character, and already Peter is a mass of very human paradoxes. He comes across as a punk kid that’s all kinds of messed up, but he is likable, even charismatic. He is content to just passively get by, but already there are signs that he has a strong will and potential to be a leader, if he could find others to follow him. In his relationships with Ben and Kris, he has already proven himself to be capable of both great love and great selfishness. Peter rapes Kris in “Harbinger” #1, yet Dysart can write him so that he is still a sympathetic character.
It’s hard not to smile when Peter quotes rap lyrics while following Livewire, and responds to her request to “Please shut up” with “Lady no likey the Nas?” It helps that Dysart has sharp dialogue and each character has a distinctive voice.
The art by Khari Evans, Matt Clark and Lewis Larosa supports Dysart’s plotting with a cinematic buildup to the cliffhanger and the facial expressions eloquently convey characters’ moods and personalities. Despite the mash of artists, the artwork is mostly cohesive. My only serious quibble is how all the characters have pointy chins and eyes with upturned edges, but this visual quirk doesn’t affect the excellent pacing and emotional depth.
“Harbinger” is turning into a must-read because of Dysart’s exceptional characterization, and the team dynamics coming down the line should be spectacular. If “Harbinger” #4 is any indication, the Valiant Entertainment relaunch is one of the best things to happen to superhero comics for a while.