The 48-page issue — which includes a main story by Dysart and artist Khari Evans as well as contributions from Ron Wimberly, Lucy Knisley, Barry Kitson and more — puts a cap not only on the series, but on the “Death of a Renegade” arc that begins in “Harbinger” #22 that (you guessed it) sees the death of one of the book’s main characters.
But despair not, “Harbinger” fans! Dysart isn’t quite done with Peter Stanchek, the Renegades or Toyo Harada just yet. Ahead of their Saturday panel at 11:30 AM at WonderCon 2014, Valiantly has exclusively announced to CBR News that the writer will helm “Harbinger: Omegas,” a three-issue miniseries that deals with the aftermath of “Harbinger” #25 and features art by Rafa Sandoval.
CBR spoke with Dysart in an exclusive interview, where he discussed the upcoming end of the series and how it might lead in to future plans for the “Harbinger” cast, the experience of taking a character off the table in “Death of a Renegade,” Faith and Torque’s newfound relationship and how the series’ conclusion and “Harbinger: Omegas” mean big things for Toyo Harada. Plus, he also discusses his “Armor Hunters: Harbinger” miniseries for Valiant’s big summer event, which brings the Generation Zero kids from “Harbinger Wars” back into the spotlight.
CBR News: “Harbinger” is coming to an end! You launched and developed this series over the last year — and to cap it all off, you’ve got quite a bit planned for the final issue. Tell us a bit about what readers can expect from #25.
Joshua Dysart: Well, obviously, I don’t even want to tell you guys it’s ending! I would like for the reader to get to the end of the book and see “End of Book 1” or “End of Chapter 1,” or whatever we’re calling the first phase of the “Harbinger” title and property and just be shocked by it. [Laughs]
I don’t want to tell you anything about it! I feel like it’s a complete and whole narrative ending, I think there’s going to be a satisfaction in it. Obviously, some characters will continue on and other characters will not. We’ve been teasing for a while now that, sadly, one of our very beloved fictional characters is going to be left on the battlefield, and that’s going to have a great emotional impact on the others. I’ve always tried to remind readers that these are kids and they’re in over their heads and they’ve never been very good at what they do. There’s just repercussions to this kind of behavior even if you have superpowers. That’s what we’re moving toward, we’re moving toward that final statement — really saying that strongly for the reader, “This is what the story was always about.” It was about inexperience in the face of great danger.
Before heading in to the series finale, “Harbinger” #22-24 heralds the “Death of a Renegade” storyline, which seems pretty self-explanatory. It’s the first major death for the series, and for the Valiant Universe as a whole. For you, the writer who’s developed these characters since the beginning of the Valiant launch, what was it like to take one of them off the table?
Super, super hard. It’s been really, really difficult, and it’s still really sad to me. I’m actually kind of surprised by how impactful it is, but I guess that’s a good thing. I guess it means that I and my editor lived with these guys and I feel like there’s a real loss, because there’s potential. Every character has true potential to say something, to do something, to be something — and we’re cutting off someone’s potential; we’re taking away something beautiful from the Valiant Universe, that could have been something more. On the one hand, that’s good because that means we’re tapping into something that’s real about finality and death and — again, not to hit this note too hard — consequence.
On the other hand, as a writer, it sucks. [Laughs] It’s tough, but it was the right decision to make, it was the real decision to make. It is the kind of thing that we try to do to separate our book from other teen superhero books. It had to be done, but it sucks. It’s hard.
One of the things that’s distinguished “Harbinger” from other books are the relationships between the Renegades as kids, as teenagers. Most recently, Faith and Torque had a romantic hook-up. What intrigued you about that particular couple pairing and why do you think readers responded to it so well?
[Laughs] Most of them responded well. There are a few Faith lovers who are disappointed in her decision.
I thought it was a great coupling because I felt it was the only coupling that could really happen at this point inside of this group of kids. It feels natural because the only place where Faith doesn’t have — where her charisma and her love of life isn’t really fully formed, is in her love live. She hasn’t gotten a lot of attention from men and she would make interesting decisions. Inversely, the only real woman that doesn’t intimidate Torque is Faith, because he’s not inherently physically attracted to her.
When you put these two together, something really interesting happens: Faith does for Torque what she really does for the whole book, what she does for her whole corner of the Valiant Universe — she makes that moment better. She makes Torque a better person. Torque literally has to rethink his understanding of himself, of beauty, attraction — and that’s a big thing. Torque’s not a dumb guy, he’s just sheltered. So, I think this relationship is really good for them. I think it’s fun for the book, I think it does something beautiful for body dynamics which, if I can be a little meta here, is always what Faith was sort of about, doing something interesting with body image in comics. Having this super-strapping, one of the most physically impressive characters in the Valiant Universe, be with someone who’s traditionally not considered more physically beautiful, does everything that the Faith character was meant to do both inside the universe as a character and outside the universe as a creative exercise.
For me, it was a no brainer — and I also thought it was super hot. One day, I want that Frank Frazetta cover — the one with Conan the Barbarian holding the sword and the princess in a bikini on his leg — only I want it to be Faith rising up and Torque hanging on her leg. I just want to play with those role reversals.
Harada has had his hands full both with chasing the Renegades in “Harbinger” and in his new role in “Unity.” Indeed, Harada is just as much of a main character as the Renegades. What kind of developments can readers expect as “Harbinger” heads to its first volume conclusion?
Well, as we already know — we had a flash-forward in issue #20 where Harada was outed to the world, and that is an event with huge repercussions for the Valiant Universe and for Harada’s organization. Here we have an individual who has been able to manipulate and control through the guise of legitimacy and using this ism, the big rise of modern capitalism in the latter half of the 20th century and those tools are now lost to him. So, he’s unchained — Harada unchained is a very dangerous person. For some reason, he felt like he needed that legitimacy, he felt like it was easier to manipulate markets secretly and when you take that away from him, that becomes a really interesting character to watch.
I don’t want to say anything specific about that, but I think the potential is pretty extraordinary and Harada is going to be a very evolving character for the next year, at least. I’m super excited about that. In fact, one of the reasons it seems so natural and so instinctive to come to an end with this particular chapter of the Harbinger crew is that so many changes are in effect now. There’s something that feels so much more prestigious — instead of just droning on and on and putting comic book after comic book out and fighting whatever the monthly villain is, this feels like we’ve told a real story. Now, that story’s changing and those characters are moving on. They’re becoming different people. It’s time for us to naturally change what the books are titled and how we number them and everything. It’s not a gimmick, it’s a genuine change in the Harbinger corner of the Valiant Universe.
“Harbinger” #25 is going to be a jam issue — with creators like Ron Wimberly, Lucy Knisley, Barry Kitson and more set to contribute. Jam issues can traditionally be a tough nut to crack, storytelling-wise, especially when it comes at the end of a big run. Talk a little about how you approached structuring that issue and the challenge of it.
Well, the actual narrative of the ending of the book will be handled by Khari [Evans] and me. The jam aspect of the issue are individual short stories that we’ve given a lot of these creators free rein on. It’s less of us integrating them into our narrative and more of us saying, “We did this thing for the last two years and we gave it our all and now everybody play in our yard!” It’s not quite as structurally difficult as you would imagine. The stories aren’t canonized, it doesn’t matter how they happen in continuity. It’s people having a really good time with these toys. It’s not really a challenge, it’s much more relaxed. It’s going to be a bigger issue with extra pages and it’s just us saying goodbye to something that’s hard for a lot of us to say goodbye to.
Following the final “Harbinger” issue, you’ve also got something new planned for the kids — “Harbinger: Omegas.” What’s the story behind the miniseries and how will it continue your long-term plans for the Harbinger corner of the Valiant Universe?
One of the interesting things about the place that we’re in is we have [a couple months] before the world finds out which Renegade unfortunately doesn’t make it, so we have to be very careful about what we say and what we show, and it makes it difficult. In that spirit, I have to be a little bit vague about “Omegas.”
But I will say this: it’s about both the surviving members of “Harbinger” and how they move on from the loss and the finality of the event at the end of the “Harbinger” book; and it’s also about Harada rebranding, changing his empire, dismantling Harada Global HTC and refashioning himself as really, for lack of a better term, what we would see as a more traditional super villain in comics, because he hasn’t been given a choice. It’s a bridge story about the change in these environments and how we’re going to get to the next chapter of the Valiant Universe. That’s really the best I can pitch it without giving away all the details.
Is there anything you can tease about the future of “Harbinger” beyond “Omegas?”
I think they’re going to be there — all but one — they’re going to be in the mix. They can turn up in any book now. There’s not anything I can tell you, though. [Laughs] Not without ruining what we have planned going forward and keeping the energy, surprise and uniqueness of it.
What’s exciting about all this is that they’re all changing and they’re all growing a little bit as people. They’re young people, so I think that’s really exciting. Serialized narrative really allows us to grow our characters in a way that approximates real life, and that’s an adventure for a creator.
For fans of the Generation Zero kids, you’ve also got some plans for them in the “Armor Hunters: Harbinger” series. What have you got going on for Valiant’s big summer crossover?
I’ve been dying to get back to Generation Zero. There is an event that occurs in the first “Armor Hunters” book that is shocking. “Armor Hunters” is a global event that takes place all over the world, and so Generation Zero finds themselves responding to an occurrence in Robert [Venditti’s] first “Armor Hunters” book in a humanitarian role. This gets them embroiled in one little corner of this global occurrence happening. It’s going to be awesome! It’s going to be a blast having those characters back. I really love those characters. The difference between them and the Renegades is that, where the story of the Renegades is really about inexperience and growth; the story of Generation Zero is very much about child soldiers. They’re formed together in a unit, they know what to do, they’re conditioned for combat and that makes them a much more dangerous and much more organized and in many ways, a much more unstable crew. It’s going to be a blast.
I know you’ve got a special place in your heart for these kids. What was the experience like coming back to them after establishing them during “Harbinger Wars?”
One of the things that we did was we built the “Harbinger” corner of the universe really fast. That was my own enthusiasm and excitement at creating new characters and putting them into strange situations, but one of the problems with that of course is we have a finite amount of space to work with these characters. We want to make sure everyone feels real and gets enough airtime. We haven’t gotten to do a lot with them, we haven’t gotten to evolve them a lot or grow them a lot, or — even beyond “Harbinger Wars” — express who they are to the reader. This is an opportunity for us to do that.
Hopefully, the series will be the growth process of them. This will be the first time that both I as a writer and you as a reader will see them grow into their roles and see who they are. I really hope that we make enough impact with this cast that it becomes something that people want to see over time, because I think Generation Zero has a great deal of potential.
As far as how they’ve grown, they haven’t really. They had this brief moment when they were free during “Harbinger Wars,” and then they were captured again, forced into the exact same role they were forced into during Project Rising Spirit — maybe a little less torture and cruelty involved, but they were put into the Harbinger Foundation machine. Harada’s been extremely busy dealing with everything, so they were never integrated into the Foundation, so they’re exactly who they were at the end of “Harbinger Wars.” They spent their entire lives imprisoned and now they’re out and looking for purpose, and don’t have a lot of love for greater society. At the same time, maybe they do but just aren’t aware of it yet. They don’t know who they are. It’s a bunch of crazy kids with crazy powers that have never had a childhood. That’s how we left them and that’s who they are when we meet them again.
You’re still Valiant Exclusive, so what can you tease about your future work at the publisher after the first volume of “Harbinger” wraps up?
We’re discussing that now. Warren [Simons] and I purposefully put a cap on the stuff we were doing because I don’t want to get overburdened and I want to make sure we spend as much time and energy that we have on whatever we’re working on in the moment. We put a cap on these things that we’re working on, and we’ve just recently begun tossing around ideas for what to do beyond that. I know the direction of where I’d like to see all the characters I’ve created or worked on in the Harbinger side of the Valiant Universe go. I know how I want them to grow and where I want them to go, it’s just a matter of figuring out how to attack that and get it into a book that is enjoyable and exciting. We’re just now having that discussion, which is exciting for me. I don’t want to be a creator that just powers from one project to another. Contemplation time is important if we’re going to do good work. Sometimes you’ve got to stop and take a break and look at the landscape, and decide what is the best next thing.