Having never read the original “Harbinger” series, I came to this book like a blank slate. I’m glad of that fact because what Joshua Dysart gave me in “Harbinger” #1 is exciting and feels new in a way that few comics about characters with superpowers manage these days.
There’s a lot of great character work here, strong dialogue and a lot of plot, but the most exciting thing to me as a fan of superhero books is how Dysart handles Peter Stanchek’s power. Peter is some version of a telepath and unlike so many books out there, this fact is not just swept under the rug. It’s dealt with quite realistically and in good detail so that we can see what a mixed bag the power is. In fact, Stanchek’s first real act in this book is to steal drugs from a pharmacy and then mind wipe the clerk — but he needs the drugs to quiet the incessant inescapable voices in his head, so it’s hard to blame him. So often in comics that bit just gets glazed over — “Oh, you have to learn to control it” — cut instantly to it being controlled. This is far more interesting.
Almost equally as interesting is our main character doing something truly villainous by controlling his childhood sweetheart; first forcing her to kiss him, then fall in love with him, and certainly what looks like sex after that. If it is, it’s straight up rape, which is a bold choice in a first issue and for a main character that we will surely be following for a while. I’ll be interested to see how Dysart deals with this issue as the series progresses, but so far it’s nuanced and I found myself empathizing with Stanchek, even in spite of his very wrong behavior. The kid has a raw deal. That doesn’t excuse it, but it’s nice to see characters with all the layers. Good and bad and everything in-between.
Khari Evans art is good, but there are some problems. It’s a little muddy in general and while I don’t mind a loose look, that looseness has to feel controlled and deliberate rather than rushed or sloppy. Most of the time the art works well and in the beginning feels tighter, but occasionally it falls off. I found myself at times more aware of how the art was letting the story down, instead of just enjoying myself.
The colors by Ian Hannin have a nice superhero pop to them, but if I’m honest they’re a bit garish and overly bright for the story thus far. I think a subtler palette would be more fitting, at least for now in this tale, as it doesn’t yet read (and maybe never will?) as a “typical” superhero book. And that’s a good thing. We have plenty of superhero books out there, both good and bad, but so far Dysart’s “Harbinger” brings something very smart and cool to the table. It would be even more exciting if the art looked just a little more finished and the colors were tonally more in synch with the current story.
It’s exciting to see such a strong new offering from Valiant as the publisher begins its launch of new books. Dysart’s reputation as a talented writer precedes him, but he delivers on that reputation absolutely in this first issue.