Harbinger Wars #4

Writers Joshua Dysart, Duane Swierczynski and an able team of artists bring Valiant Entertainment's first "event" to an engaging and satisfying close in "Harbinger Wars" #4. As he has done throughout the series, as well as the regular "Harbinger" title, Dysart deftly weaves the paths of the various characters as they finally and fully converge in this final issue. Once they do, the entire creative team also converges to give readers a thrilling payoff in the final chapter of this carefully constructed storyline.

The entire issue is tense, well-paced and well-choreographed. Dysart and Swierczynski acrobatically juggle the subplots between several groups of characters and time things perfectly when they all fold into the main story. As is the case in any team comic, let alone an issue featuring many teams, it's often difficult to balance page time amongst so many individuals, but the writers here make it seem effortless. All the while, the story jumps between the simultaneous battles among the different factions, but these transitions are surprisingly smooth, aided by the artists' simple page layouts and uncluttered panels. Well-placed narrative boxes announcing a scene change and frequent mention of the characters' names go a long way to help readers keep it all sorted out.

One clever trick the writers employ is a brief flash-forward to eight days after the aforementioned skirmishes, where the backdrop of a government briefing serves as a mini-teaser to the battle's presumed outcome. It's actually a subtle and crafty diversion from the actual conclusion, which is genuinely unpredictable on its own. It's a kind of trick-within-a-trick that keeps readers guessing throughout the remainder of the issue, adding a level of suspense that wasn't really necessary, but enhances the story nonetheless. This break also serves as a well-positioned breather, and is quick enough to add dimension to the story without convoluting it. It's a pretty commendable feat to pull off on top of all of the other layers already being managed.

The story is compelling enough, but it's actually Patrick Zircher's intense, neo-iconic cover that does what every comic book cover should do: grab the reader at hello. The intimidating image of a triumphant Toyo Harada holding up a defeated Bloodshot just has cool written all over it and is symbolic of the events inside the comic, so plastering "Harada Triumphant!" at the bottom isn't really necessary. But Zircher's cover is so striking that the caption could likely be missed at first glance.

Crossover-style events like these are generally maligned for being marketing-driven, disruptive to existing storylines, and churned out rather than crafted. But none of these are true for "Harbinger Wars"; the story plays out naturally from events of the titles that tie into it, and feels like an appropriate extension of the ongoing titles, without being the least bit contrived or forced. And it's not marketing telling readers, but rather quality storytelling asking them nicely, to pick up future Valiant titles to see a couple of loose threads from this issue wrapped up. These threads could have been tied off within the pages of this story, perhaps, but even as it concludes, readers who want more will be able to get it.

There is a genuine change to the status quo in the Valiant Universe at story's end, something that's often promised by publishers prior to these kinds of stories but often not really delivered on. With this issue, Valiant proves that the dreaded crossover event story can be good, and satisfying.

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