Since the game-changing events that concluded Joshua Dysart’s “Harbinger” series and its subsequent follow-ups last year, little has been seen in regards to series villain Toyo Harada’s grab for world domination. That changes with the launch of this new ongoing series, also by Dysart and artist Doug Braithwaite, where Harada is now the main player, at least as seen in “Imperium” #1. Harada’s Harbinger Foundation now operates openly, engaging in deadly skirmishes against anyone who tries to take a stand against them, and it’s a new dynamic as the disbanded team known as the Renegades is no longer around to stop them.
Dysart starts off the issue nearly a century into the future with the apparent and seemingly idyllic realization of Harada’s vision. The issue is narrated from the standpoint of an elder Darpan, one of Harada’s psiots featured in past issues of “Harbinger,” and tells of an almost impossibly perfect world, ripe with the benefits of future technology and punctuated with beautifully poignant moments. Darpan’s tour through his part of the world — and eventually above it — starts out as a utopic portrayal but, though Dysart injects notions of finality, uncertainty becomes more pervasive as the narrative proceeds. It’s an effectively understated trick, as readers likely suspect that a perfect world by all appearances seldom is, especially one created by Harada.
The narration takes on an almost propaganda-like flavor until Darpan’s tone starts to waiver, the reason for which is later revealed. Dysart plants the seeds of doubt throughout the first half of the issue but cleverly shies away from the source of the discontent until unveiling the very real and surprising reason for it. It’s a trick employed by many writers in the past, but it works especially well here because there’s no reason to suspect that there is a trick. As the issue continues to take on an ever-darkening tone, Dysart convincingly continues to shift Darpan’s tone, going from contentment to uncertainty to grudging resignation within the span of this single issue.
Harada’s outwardly beautiful world is indeed beautiful as rendered by Braithwaite and the coloring team of Brian Reber and Dave McCaig. Blue skies shine over futuristic skyscrapers while even deeper blue seas serve as the skies for clean and quiet underwater communities. When the story shifts to the not-so-idyllic present day, the colors take on a more appropriately dark and listless tone. Throughout, Braithwaite applies his usual non-grandiose technique, with larger panels kept to a minimum and layouts kept simple, ensuring that his art tells Dysart’s story without drawing attention away from it.
Braithwaite successfully communicates a dichotomy of tones within the different settings, bringing emotion to Dysart’s script; while eventual death remains an unavoidable fate for all even in a perfect world, Braithwaite conveys such a death with a poignancy that, while sad, is carried out with an uplifting sense of acceptance. In the present day, the kind of death seen on the battlefield is given a similar kind of respect, and it’s a new character, ironically the robotic Major Mech, that demonstrates the kind of emotion that is coldly lacking from other members of Harada’s Harbinger Foundation. Along with Dysart’s dialogue for the character, Braithwaite gives Major Mech an intangible sense of humanity, making this briefly seen artificial construct one of the more intriguing introductions to the series.
Valiant Entertainment once again delivers an incredibly strong first issue of a new series, as it almost always does. “Imperium” #1 will give existing readers everything that they enjoyed in “Harbinger,” and new readers will find themselves wanting to stick around.