Dysart Assembles "Renegades" in "Harbinger"

Following the relaunch of its line earlier this year, Valiant Entertainment has begun gearing up for its titles' second arcs including "Harbinger," the relaunched classic Valiant series about super-powered humans and their battle against powerful psionic Toyo Harada. Written by Joshua Dysart with art by Phil Briones, the series' second arc "Renegades" follows protagonist Peter Stanchek as he assembles his team to combat both Harada and the Harbinger Foundation.

Dysart spoke with CBR News about the title's next chapter, introducing the rest of the players in the original "Harbinger" run, decompressing the original origin story, Peter as a character and where the writer hopes to take the team and the series following the conclusion of "Renegades."

CBR News: Josh, you've got a new arc coming up with "Harbinger" #6 called "Renegades" -- what's the concept behind this chapter of your overall story?

Joshua Dysart: The concept's really simple: It's time for Peter to pull himself together. We haven't revealed how the last arc ends, but needless to say, Peter has to pull himself together and pull a team together. He's going to war against Harada and he can't do it by himself. It's going to be our last real and true throwback to the original series. We're going to bring back all the original characters from Pete's Renegades in the first series, and each one of them is going to get their moment to shine in this storyarc. It's a pretty basic template, and by the time it's over, I'm really going to be able to feel like a writer, like I can really own "Harbinger," instead of milk all that great stuff from the first series. So, that's really it. It's us finally putting everybody in the book. Then, from there, the starting gun really hits.

"Harbinger #4 moves the title closer to Joshua Dysart's "Renegades" story arc

So the first arc deals with introducing Peter to readers, while "Renegades" will detail the formation of Peter's team.

That's correct -- and not just getting readers introduced to Peter, but getting them introduced to Peter and Harada. That was really the core. We need to build this world as we perceive it, make Peter a real character and his relationship with Harada feel real and genuine. Also, we want to lay the seeds for what we're trying to talk about here, which is the manipulation of individuals by other individuals, the manipulation by the collective -- that's really what we wanted to explore.

Readers haven't yet finished up your first introductory arc of "Harbinger, but Peter has already undergone a lot of growth in just three issues. What's coming up next for him? How does he continue to develop as a character and how does he handle shouldering the responsibility of putting together a team?

That's exactly what comes next for him. Other than Joe and caring for Joe, which was his kindest side, his most human attribute -- it's time for him to decide what he wants to do. Peter's been drawn along by life, and the only time he's really been proactive is with Joe. Later, hopefully, we'll find time to explore just how Peter and Joe got out of the hospital. It was all Joe. Peter's not a proactive person. He's a pretty passive person for a protagonist, and that's all about to change. He's going to have to take control of his life because it's either that or just be steamrolled by the massive presence that is Harada and the corporation behind him in his organization. That's really what we're going to see and we're going to see a shift, I hope, from Peter having this dark, nihilistic view of the world to becoming a proactive person who's moving to fight what he believes in. The whole series is about Peter's redemption. We start with Peter doing what I think is a pretty horrible thing on a very small level in that first issue and it's all about him climbing to the light.

That moment you talk about came during issue #1 and the introduction of Kris Hathaway. Considering what happened, she doesn't really have a good reason to trust Peter -- when she eventually reappears, will it be as an ally or antagonist?

I don't want to give away too much, because that's exactly what issue #6 is. Issue #6 is the return of Kris Hathaway. I'd rather have the readers wait and see exactly how that plays out because I think that's possibly the most real-world and the most human thing we had happen in our book. Even though it was centered around Peter's ability to manipulate people, the actions are very -- especially now just over this past week, the political debate has turned to phrases like "legitimate rape" and things like that. Issue #6 is a very, very important issue for us. It's a very important issue for me and a very difficult one to write, to make sure I get everything the way it needs to be so that we can justify how the series moves on from here. That's what it is and I don't really want to answer if she's going to be an antagonist or an ally. I want to wait and see what people think.

In terms of character designs for Peter's team, can you give us a hint as to the new visual aspects of the characters?

There's going to be a few minor changes. There's going to be some interesting new stuff with Torque, but really, all-in-all, the trick is to take what worked about those characters and really embrace that. Also, to take what maybe was -- it's not the most terribly original team. You've got the big strong guy, you've got the fire woman, but I think we can make this work. In fact, I think in a lot of ways our mission with "Harbinger" is to take all these pretty standard tropes of the superhero team book and somehow keep it fresh. It's like playing a blues song. All blues songs utilize the same chords and progressions and yet, there's an entire world of the blues out there. I think we can play a pretty impressive blues song with what we've got. I don't want to change it too much.

One of the major aspects of the original series was Peter's break from Harada to form his own team. When can readers expect to see this break explode in the current series?

Issue #5. [Laughs] Did you want further elaboration?

It's funny -- there's really a little bit of debate on the Internet. We've overwhelmingly gotten positive press, which is amazing and really awesome. There has been a little bit of debate on whether we are being too decompressionist with it. Really, we're just exploring the story of the zero issue. We're taking one small issue that David Lapham did and we're turning it into a story arc. I could see arguments against decompression that are probably applicable to us, but at the same time, it was so important to touch on these aspects that were really interesting. First, we needed to show Joe and Peter's relationship and we needed to talk about how these kids come from the streets. We needed to show Peter's potential first power, so that's issue #2 -- and we can't get away without showing the power the Harbinger Foundation has, which is issue #3. Now that we've done those three things, issues #4 and #5 can really be about ramping it up. What are the inherent philosophical differences between Harada as a superpowered person who can affect the world and Peter as a superpowered person who can affect the world, and how do those philosophical differences turn into a violent split? That's going to fuel the rest of the series until the day it's over.

Before talking more about your second arc, I wanted to touch on the fact that Khari Evans will be leaving the book for this story with Phil Briones stepping in? Have you found that you have to adapt your writing to a new visual style?

We're not as deep into it yet that I can feel as comfortable writing for Briones as I did for Khari. I'm excited for that to happen, I'm really looking forward to it. One of my favorite things about writing comic books is looking at an artist's work and learning how to write for that artist. With Khari, I didn't start really feeling like looking at the books -- because we were so far ahead with the scripts before the art -- I didn't really feel like I knew how to write for Khari until issue #3 -- mostly #4 and #5. It'll be a while before I'm writing to [Briones'] muscle. What is his art muscle that really flexes the shit out of it? It's going to take a little time, but I'm really excited to do it. That's one of my favorite parts of the job.

One of the great things about the Valiant Universe is that it is indeed a universe of characters, and with the mentions of Project Rising Spirit in "Bloodshot," it seems likely there may be a little crossover with "Harbinger." What are the plans, if any, to tether these books together?

Without revealing too much because so much of the joy in this is in the reveal, I think it would be disingenuous of us as the aggregate architects of the new Valiant Universe to not exploit the shared universe aspect of it. Because then, we're not being Valiant. That was a part of what made the original Valiant, and so, yes, you can expect all kinds of crossovers and us all splashing around in the same pool. Absolutely.

With "Renegades," you finally get your hands on all the toys in the "Harbinger" box. Is there a character from the original run you were especially looking forward to writing?

You know, if you had asked me this question a few months ago, it would have been Faith. And I still feel that way. For me, it's Faith's book. I'm going to be honest. To my mind right now, the way I'm perceiving everything, everything changes when Faith appears. Until Faith appears, it's dark and it's brooding and it's a struggle for control between the haves and the have-nots. It's about the ideology of control and the ideology of how power works in the world. Then, Faith appears -- I mean really appears.

As published, we've only got a very brief appearance from her. In #4, it sort of expands a little bit and in #5, we sort of blow up to Faith that I am really looking forward to getting to. So when Faith appears, all this heady, dark bullshit just lifts away. There's a weightlessness that Faith brings to the book, who, by the way, can fly. There's a weightlessness Faith brings to the book that's going to change everything. I don't just mean tonally or creatively -- it changes Peter. It changes Kris. Faith is the most appropriately-named character I've ever written. She's going to have the ability, with her presence and her sensibility, to just really change everything for the better. Everything changes for the better when Faith is around, and that's really exciting to me.

That's what I would have told you if you had asked me that question a month ago. However, the more that I've started really working with the "Renegades" story arc, I can no longer pick a favorite because they're all sort of really quirky and fun in their own way. But I guess I'm going to have to stand behind Faith as my favorite character to write. I think visually, she's a character we don't get in comics very often. We're drawing her -- we're definitely not pulling back on this character. She weighs about 215 pounds. She's going to be an awesome superhero. She's going to be the closest thing to a superhero this book is going to have. She's going to keep everything buoyant and light and I love her. She's awesome.

Following "Renegades" and the assembly of the full team, what kind of situations and concepts are you hoping to introduce to help drive the book?

There's obviously the ongoing conflict between Harada and everything, but I want to explore the culture of how you build towards conflict. That's really, really fascinating to me. It's not just about getting this core group together, it's also about -- Peter's going to need more than five people to take on the Harada Corporation. There's all these exterior forces happening in the Valiant Universe all at once. How that all plays into it is going to be really, really fascinating as we move beyond our establishing year, which is the first ten issues. Once that structure is laid, we can go anywhere and that's really, really exciting to me. Once I've finished laying out this groundwork and we've made the book palatable to the audience, I want to start looking more to writers like Phillip K. Dick for inspiration on what is real, what's not real -- we're talking about two armies of psychics going to war and we're talking about Harada being able to cast massive memory bubbles as is passively mentioned in issue #3. This is an organization that can hide entire buildings from the world. This is going to be really interesting, the way we play with reality and how we struggle to make things surreal but also street level. This is the real creative thing that I'm excited to do. I don't feel like I can do that -- at least to the fullest potential of the idea -- until we lay a good foundation and everybody feels comfortable and know all the characters. Then we can get trippy.

"Renegades" begins in "Harbinger" #6 by Joshua Dysart and Phil Briones

Tags: valiant entertainment, joshua dysart, harbinger, khari evans, philippe briones

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