The cover of Joshua Dysart and Clayton Henry’s “Harbinger” #20 boldly proclaims itself to be “Must Read Valiant,” which sounds a bit audacious but also proves to be true after a mere half-dozen pages. The cover also makes a less-daring claim that the issue is the start of a new story arc, which is also a true statement, as the Renegade kids are now free from central villain Toyo Harada’s virtual prisons after the events of last issue and now make a bold move of their own.
The issue starts, though, not with the title’s main characters but instead with Harada himself in a near-future sequence that’s been previewed elsewhere but is a truly shocking and changing moment for readers who had not yet seen it. The setting returns to present day but stays on Harada, introducing a new character that proves himself as a worthy ally in the Renegades’ upcoming war with Harada. The sequence is a very tense and intriguing modern-day David vs. Goliath battle with the new character proving himself to be a very irritating, and very real, threat to Harada’s empire.
Dysart makes terrific use of his usual knack for knowing how teenagers act and think and extrapolating these behaviors into teenage characters who are gifted, either with powers or intelligence. The new character Ax, or @X as he calls himself, is typical of all of the characters Dysart has introduced in the series so far; they’re all unique, believable and even likeable, even if they’re jerks. The introduction of Ax is so enjoyable that readers probably won’t even mind, or notice, that the main characters don’t show up until near the end of the issue.
Henry is a good choice of artist for a story such as this, with layouts that fit the pace of the story and keep it moving at exactly the speed it needs to, whether during psychologically tense scenes featuring Harada, or the more action-oriented sequence features Ax. His biggest shortcoming are his facial likenesses, which for the most part are good but show a little bit of inconsistency in some panels, especially with one elder but familiar character.
This comic has been consistently good and remains among the best of Valiant’s output. Like the cover says, this is indeed the start of a new story and therefore a great place for those who haven’t been following this book to start doing so. Just as the cover proclaims, it’s a must-read.