Although the first arc of Valiant Entertainment’s “Harbinger” reboot is still unfolding, readers have already gotten to know protagonist Peter Stanchek and his soon-to-be nemesis, Toyo Harada — but fans haven’t seen what really makes Harada tick. That’s why, as announced at New York Comic Con 2012, series writer Joshua Dysart along with artist Mico Suayan will delve into the origin of series antagonist Toyo Harada for “Harbinger” #0, which hits stores in February. Dysart’s zero issue explores how Harada became the force of nature at the head of the Harbinger Foundation and will be the second issue of “Harbinger” shipping that month, providing readers with a second installment of the series for February.
Dysart spoke with CBR News about the still in-progress issue, the concept behind bringing back zero issues to Valiant in the modern era, the parallels between Peter and Harada, how the writer arrived at the concept for Harada’s origin and the greater themes in play for the series.
Josh, what’s the concept behind the “Harbinger” zero issue?
Joshua Dysart: To the extent we can talk about it at this point, it is an attempt to give the reader way more Harada than they’ve been given before. Unfortunately, because we have to pay service to the march of our narrative in the actual “Harbinger” book, I’ve been longing to explore Harada more and this is our opportunity. So what we’re going to do with that is look at Harada pretty early in his life when his powers first begin to manifest while he’s in a Japanese refugee camp after the dropping of the atomic bomb.
How did the decision to do a zero issue come about? Considering how important Harada is to the narrative, why make this a zero issue rather than a stand-alone story during the course of “Harbinger?”
A couple of things came together. There was a tradition at Valiant — and we’re very much trying to keep the spirit of the original Valiant alive — of zero issues inside of what they were doing in the early ’90s. Apart from that, I had been pitching to my editor Warren Simons for a while now the concept of half issues. I could deviate from the regular narrative, but it wouldn’t derail things too much because it would be a half issue. You would have an issue #4 and then you would have an issue #4.5 that would come out two weeks later with a different artist — a single one-shot that would explore some aspect of the mythology that we were creating with “Harbinger.” You’d get issue #5 two weeks after that, which would be the normal line. There were responses to the idea and we kept talking about when we could make that work. It just sort of all came together in a recent story meeting that all the writers flew into New York for. The most ideal way to do this is to do a series of zero issues.
My hope is, and this is coming from me not from editorial, that there will be a series of zero issues. This will be zero issue Harada, but we can also do zero issue the Bleeding Monk, zero issue Peter, things like that.
Zero issues in comics have had a wide range of goals — everything from teasing a series to telling origin stories and filling in the blanks of continuity. What’s your main goal with “Harbinger” #0?
We want to do a couple of things. The first thing is just to really flesh out the mythology. Sometimes I think it’s enough to explore the world with your character. I’m always a big character first, plot second kind of guy, but having said that, we do hope that it ties into something that’s coming soon. That’s something we need to work out. We’re very much in the editorial process of building something large that’s approaching fast. I want to tie it into that, but the truth of the matter is we’re in the middle of writing the issue right now. Whether we can pull that off or not, I leave you to decide when the issue finally hits — but that is the hope. The hope is that we can somehow really create texture to the universe with the book and really flesh out excitement for one of our primary characters — Harada — and at the same time speak to coming events in the current Valiant Universe.
“Harbinger” features two major players: Peter and Harada. Looking at this zero issue, will readers see any parallels between the two characters?
Here’s what’s really interesting — and this is something I’d really like to do eventually. We do get a little bit of this in the first issue, but the two parallel opening sequences of the first issue of “Harbinger” ever really shows Peter and Harada at exactly the same age, using their powers to get what they want. The difference of course is that Harada’s ambition is vast. He’s traveled into an extreme war zone to say the least, which is the Tibetan steps of China in the ’50s and he’s going after the Bleeding Monk. Whereas, Peter’s ambitions at 18 are just to get the drugs he needs to stay high and not really have to deal with the crap in his life. It was really important that we set that up early. I would love to continue drawing a parallel between the two early on in their lives. Other than that, you can see how drastically different their lives are. Peter is sort of a first-world discarded kid with very little ambition — almost a piece of litter, really — and Harada is really this epic force of nature who emerged from the end of imperial Japan and into the atomic age. We can draw parallels between them, but really the strongest parallel is just how much disregard Peter has for himself, his culture and his generation and how much regard Harada has for himself, his culture and his generation. Other than that, we’re just splitting hairs.
The other cool thing about this issue is you’re working with “Harbinger” cover artist Mico Suayan, who will also provide interiors. What was it like to do this one-shot issue with a different artist and illustrate the beginnings of Harada’s origin?
Well, as I stated earlier, we haven’t actually launched into full-scale art. I’m really, really excited about it. So far, Mico’s done these amazing covers for us. I’m really, really excited to see his sequential art. The only thing I wish is that I had worked with him sequentially before so I could write directly at his strengths. This is the one downside about working with a new great artist. What you really want is to really have a fundamental understanding about what makes them such great artists so that you can tailor-make that script for them. I started doing that for Khari [Evans] once we got into our groove. Now working with Phil Briones, those pages are looking amazing and I’m finally starting to get a feel on how to write for him. I’m just excited to see what Mico does. We haven’t started this yet, we haven’t started this process. So, it’s going to be really interesting writing for him. I’m really excited to see his sequential pencils.
When we last spoke, you were really looking forward to readers getting to see Faith and the rest of Peter’s Renegades team form in the upcoming arc. What has it been like for you getting the chance to flesh out Harada as more than the series’ main antagonist?
The only unfortunate thing is that my cup runneth over — I’ve got all these amazing characters. As I stated before, I’m a character first, plot second kind of guy. I love the idea of fleshing out all these people. The work we’ve done on “Renegades” so far predominantly fleshes out Peter’s team. The zero issue that we’re in the midst of writing is my chance to really, really explore Harada. I’m excited about that. I’ve been pitching this since day one. Let’s do a story that’s going to be separate but equal and let’s really explore who Harada is. It’s been awesome. We’re in the midst of it now, so I’m pretty jazzed about it.
While comics have a tradition of good and evil being pretty black and white, as the medium has progressed, there have been many shades of grey. Will this zero issue help readers to empathize with Harada’s goals, or will it serve to further clarify that black-and-white distinction?
I don’t know if it’ll help you empathize with Harada. Maybe. It definitely will not clarify the black-and-white. If we’ve done our job right, there’s never going to be a strong clarification. The original Harada — there was something beautiful about his relentlessness and I don’t want to lose that. Harada’s the kind of guy that is changing the world through advanced medical technology forever, but will also lean into you at a dinner and say, “I’m going to kill your whole family if you don’t do what I tell you to do.” That’s Harada. Is that evil? Probably. But is that a black and white take on evil? I don’t think it is. That’s not going to change. Once you finish reading Issue #5 and you see Harada’s dark side, I think people will have a beat on Harada. They’ve seen him be compassionate and they’re about to see him be bad. He’s vast and he contains multitudes. He can be all those things. If we do “Harbinger” #0 right, we’re just going to really continue that tone.
There was an old Valiant Harada origin that had him as a little boy killing his parents and had him running the board of a massive corporation at six years-old. I love that issue. Tonally, it doesn’t really work with what we’re doing with “Harbinger” today, but the images of a child gaining power and being in power are super powerful. That’s really what the zero issue is going to tap into, that same sort of thing. You get to see Harada be both a victim and ultimately a powerful child, which is a scary thing.
It’s something I’ve been obsessed with since I did some research and spent some time with some child soldiers in East Africa. I can’t get the disarming feeling of a child with power — in that case, the very realistic power of having an AK-47 — I can’t get that out of my system, I can’t write about that enough, I can’t think about that enough. It was a pretty harrowing and interesting experience. So that’s in there.
Wow. Did you go into your original pitch for “Harbinger” with that in mind? Did you originally think this would be an aspect of what informed the character of Harada?
No, but it wasn’t very long before I started pulling this all together. Long before I even knew I had the job, when I was just pitching and competing for the gig, I very quickly realized one of two things that was really interesting to me. One was the mythology that I could build from the characters but also from the idea of these psiots’ history. Another was that theme of youth with power. Any way you slice it, Peter’s an 18-year-old kid. He’s probably not as developed an 18-year-old as he would be had he had a more nurturing home life and raised under a more typical situation. It has always been about youth with power. It’s a little bit different than this, than early Harada. That’s come to me more recently, but it feels so right.
Will this issue be required reading for people that want to follow the narrative all the way through, or can fans put this one aside for later and still figure out what’s going on in the main thread?
I should say that it’s going to be required reading for sales. [Laughs] But in the interest of honesty, no. That’s kind of the problem with the industry right now. A lot of these books sort of force their readers to follow other books if they want to sell and stuff. That’s not something that interests me. Even when Valiant comes to doing crossovers and stuff, when that time comes I really hope we can give the readers a choice, where they’re able to read just their book. They don’t have to break away from their book to get the gist of the narrative. I hope that we do this with the zero issue, too. I’d like the zero issue to just be a gift. It’s something that you have that will definitely color your understanding of the overall narrative, but isn’t necessary to follow the story.
“Harbinger” #0 by Joshua Dysart and Mico Suayan arrives in February.