Harbinger #8

Story by
Art by
Lee Garbett
Colors by
Moose Baumann
Letters by
Rob Steen
Cover by
Valiant Entertainment

In "Harbinger" #8, Joshua Dysart and Lee Garbett introduce the last of the Renegades, John Torkelson, soon to be known as Torque.

Dysart's has taken risks as he re-interprets the original "Harbinger" characters, developing each team member in psychologically intense bursts over the introductory story arc. His approach is to knock 'em down, then build 'em up -- he inflicts serious emotional dysfunction and damage on each character before bestowing purpose and power to each. It's like the scene in "Chronicles of Narnia" where each Pevensie kid gets a Christmas gift that says something about their role and personality, but in "Harbinger," every gift is double-edged. Powers or abilities are both a magnification of and glimpse inside each character's core personality, yielding fascinating results.

"Harbinger" has already had a merry-go-round of artists, which hasn't been great for visual continuity. Lee Garbett's art is fine in "Harbinger" #8, but it isn't as strong as it was in his recent issues of "X-O Manowar," because the script is more focused on talking heads and fantasy landscapes than the hand-to-hand weapons combat that Garbett excels at drawing.

The Renegades are finally assembled in "Harbinger" #8, but they've got a record level of intra-team tension. Faith is a breath of fresh air in this angst-y group, but she's also the odd one out. Unlike the others, she has no defining tragedy, no secret sorrow and no potential romance on her horizon. Faith is both the resident geek and fat kid, so I deeply hope that she doesn't remain static and become merely a mascot or comic relief.

There are snippets of interactions involving Faith and all other major characters, and you can feel the plot advancing towards the "Harbinger Wars" event. Despite these fragments, "Harbinger" #8 is really Torque's issue. He is the last Renegade to debut, and it almost seems like Dysart is deliberately pushing it in terms of testing whether readers will find anything to like about him. He addresses the reader directly in first-person as previous Renegades have done, but he sinks his first impression by issuing the lame disclaimer, "not to sound all gay, but..." This is followed by elaboration on an inner life that is an embarrassing slosh of porn, reality TV and action movie cliches. Torque is all Freudian Id, reduced to two testosterone-fueled drives of fighting and sex.

In "Harbinger" #8, Torque evokes pity and amusement, but it's also hard to like or respect a character who is responsible for the phrase "where the land smells like sweet, sweet ass." These are deliberate personality choices by Dysart, and his goal seems to be to re-work the original Strong Man of the team by emphasizing how Torque's obsession with strength, social isolation and even his Southern-stereotype-riddled background have resulted in emotional and intellectual stunting. As Livewire and Harada put it less kindly, latent psiots like Torque are "litter," "gutter trash," or "losers."

Of all the Renegades and their associated baggage, Torque's introduction is the least successful, if measured by complexity of characterization plus inherent charisma over how much of the issue he occupies. In particular, the dream-like sequence of Torque's experience of activation doesn't add much to the story. The success of a character introduction doesn't entirely depend on reader identification and empathy, but those factors are part of the equation, unless the writer is aiming for something like Dostoevsky's "Notes from the Underground."

The payoff for a character like Torque will be in his future interactions with the rest of the Renegades and what he will do with his powers, and I'm still onboard and eager for more of Dysart's characterization and dialogue in future issues of "Harbinger."

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