Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Khari Evans
Publisher: Valiant Comics
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka – Optimous Douche Ain’t It Cool News)
Here’s where I become a bit of a Hypocrite Douche for a second. I’ve railed for years against covers not having a Goddamn thing to do with the interior material. However, I’m giving Valiant a pass because these 16-bit video game homages stroke my nostalgia nads like no other. No, the material doesn’t take place in the late 80s or early 90s and no on plays video games. If I have to craft a loose defense, HARBINGER does fight Toyo Harada so in that sense the cover delivers on the material inside, but again I know that I’m reaching. I guess what I have a problem with is traditional covers that are all pose and no posse, wherein a splash page of ridiculous poses transplants original thought welcoming a reader. I know I’m old, but I found all of Valiant’s 16-bit month delightful and this was simply the icing on the HARBINGER WARS cake of goodness.
So what happened inside the book? Basically a plan gone very very wrong. This is the elongated seconds of HARBINGER WARS issue 3 where Pete Stancheck and the rest of his renegades completely garbazzled stopping BLOODSHOT and his fellow Project Rising Spirit refugees from reaching the casino compound in now deserted Las Vegas.
The entire mini event that’s run through BLOODSHOT, HARBINGER and HARBINGER WARS has rolled this way and quite frankly I wouldn’t have it any differently. This is cross-over in the truest form and clearly indicative of tight reins being pulled from an editorial standpoint. Not once has there been a gaffe, a misstep or anyone dialing it in as we see all too often when the Big 2 decide to blow our doors off. What’s also been great about this series as a whole is how much richness and much needed back-story this has added to the entire universe. We see what caused the bad blood behind Harada and PRS in some very groovy flashbacks to 1969. We’ve seen early forays into super human development with the power downloading H.A.R.D. corps and finally we’ve learned more about the children of this universe and their inescapable fate as pawns to the world’s power brokers.
This issue specifically was all hilarity as a plan that seemed unstoppable falls flat on its face from the get-go. Using a model (not built to scale of course), Pete masterfully crafts a way to actually sue everyone’s powers to stop BLOODSHOT and crew. Zephyr the early warning, Torque the tank to stop the armored Humvees from barreling forward, Flamingo to toast the insdies, hell even Kris gets to use her non-powered tactical acumen to guide this eventual folly from inside their penthouse sanctuary.
What’s been the best part in all of this has been our position as readers. We know that both BLOODSHOT and the HARBINGER gang are fighting in the same side, the only problem is that no one has been able to talk to one another yet to realize it. I’ve also been enchanted with the calling out of Pete’s crew ridiculous idea to wear the costume of their enemy. That bad choice comes to full fruition this issue.
As we reach the story’s climax, I’m most intrigued to see the aftermath. Will we see a joining of the PRS kids with Pete’s crew? Will BLOODSHOT join them, give the kids up completely and continue the search for his lost identity. What about PRS and Harada, will we see the olive branch extended and a conglomerate formed or this merely the initial whispers of a much bigger war ahead.
I don’t have the answers and I don’t want them. The Valiant universe is more than a read, it’s the unfolding of a new epic mythology that knows the best part of comics comes from a symbiotic relationship of story instead of a forced parasitic appearance.
HARBINGER WARS 1
Writers: Joshua Dysart, Duane Swiercyznski
Artists: Clayton Henry, Clayton Crain, Mico Suyan
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
A week or two ago I railed on the lack of inspiration in STORMWATCH. A team that used to be comprised of really cool powers doing bad ass stuff that has essentially been neutered by continuity. I have a message for DC right now, read the “official” introduction of the new Psiots in HARBINGER WARS 1 and try to buy the rights to this team. They are the coolest set of powers in town and this is the damned coolest book because it finally brings together two other big buckets of awesome sauce; Team HARBINGER and the super powered messiah BLOODSHOT.
As fans we bemoan crossovers, but really we’re the last that should complain. Crossovers are the zenith of fan service, while they truly shun new readers. It’s an amalgam of characters we love doing something epic. The trick is not to make a crossover required reading. Where the big 2 fall down as we’ve seen with the current AGE OF ULTRON is when the crossover hijacks an entire fucking universe in the pursuit of the coveted upsell. And don’t give me any, “well they did AU issues.” Nuh-uh, asking me to skip a month of a title is a worse sin than causing confusion because of crossover aversion.
HARBINGER WARS remembers this cardinal crossover rule. Of course I haven’t read the issues to come yet, so we’ll see if the Valiant boys can make those issues make sense sans HARBINGER WARS. I have the utmost faith though since for two iterations, spanning the course of twenty plus years, they have NEVER failed me.
All right, let’s talk about what actually is and what’s not, versus my fanboy soothsaying. I’m going to talk to Valiant fans, because if you’re coming in raw to Valiant turn the right the fuck around. I refuse to let you into our party; and frankly it’s for your own good. This is story is the perfect conclusion to the last arcs of BLOODSHOT and HARBINGER.
BLOODSHOT needed a place to end. We learned a Kardashain asston about this guy in the first arc. It was a discovery of self despite the perpetual mind wiping and implanted fagazi lives courtesy of Project Rising Spirit. It was then a brisk well-paced discovery of self, with a little help from his nanite sentient blood (nice upgrade from V1.0 BTW). Arc 2 though, was taking a hella long time to get in and out of one building. But we needed to be introduced to the Psiots and the fact Toyo Harada isn’t the only evil bastard to be packing next gen Harbinger powered humans. It was good, but again was milking it a little.
HARBINGER needed someplace to go. The introduction to this tale of anti-heroes was an origin for the ages. Pete Stanchek is a train-wreck of emotions with the power to change the course of humanity with his limitless mind. The morality grays this book paints are morosely beautiful. Kris, Pete’s victim of mind rape, is tied to the team of the damned or the land of the dead. Plus she bears the unenviable responsibility of being the only one who can control Pete. Her dedication to humanity is to be commended. Even the villain Toyo Harada makes one question whether evil means, actually means evil ways. After escaping Toyo’s initial grasp, arc 2 became a teammate magnet attracting the likes of the nerdly Zephyr the floater, Torque the true embodiment of Brodouche, and Flamingo the stripper with a heart of gold and supernova level ignition. But again they were just escaping from Toyo the whole time, they needed something new – they needed a purpose grander than mere survival.
HARBINGER WARS pushes booth books in their needed directions, while simoultaneously amping up the threat between the world’s largest corporate superpowers. Opening with the aforementioned Psiots, we learn how deeply entrenched Project Rising Spirit is within the American Government. You know you’re dealing with true power when after unleashing a zombie plague on Chinese soil, the only questions is, “why weren’t you making it for Uncle Sam?” And of course they have to justify the four teen superpowers sent in to clean it up: Cronos, team leader and giver and taketh of life, Telic the girl who can see a few minutes from now, Hive the kid who will absorb and retain the mind of those he touches , and Traveler, the boy who can blink between space.
Before getting to HARBINGER AND BLOODSHOT’S place in all this now would be good time to talk art – perfect. Three artists is usually a sloppier experience than Kirstie Alley after a jog, but Valiant wisely chose to let each artist handle one of the three team experiences. The coolest part was that since none of the stories actually meet until the end, each artist could switch up mid-page as the story shifted without one clunky moment. And honestly I can’t pick a favorite; they all deliver the appropriate mood of each story.
And all three stories are starkly different while still serving the same narrative. HARBINGER’S part is morosely fun as the Bleeding Monk basically delivers Pete his ultimate destiny of having to topple Harada and play the Pied Piper of Psiots. The fun part comes from Torque of course. BLOODSHOT’S story collides when he runs into the Psiots with his merry band of mutants we saw him freeing last month. Looks like he is developing a bit of a messiah complex as well.
If I didn’t love this book enough, it also made me view the Valiant universe from a completely different angle. If you read HARBINGER, Harada is clearly a bad dude from the team’s point of view. Here though, his treatment towards his team of Eggbreakers seems almost noble when compared to the head-bomb implanting slavery imposed by Project Rising Spirit. When Harada confronts BLOODSHOT at the end, you almost wouldn’t blame BS for taking up the offer to work together. Given who Rai’s granddaddy was working for till now, Harada’s nefarious methods would still make him employer of the year.
All right I’ve spoiled the hell out of this book and I’m sorry. Just know that great dialog and seeing my descriptions executed by great storytellers still awaits you…along with that pretty pretty art. If you’re a Valiant Virgin and didn’t heed my warning before, I hope I entreated with you to go buy some trades to imbibe the maturity and majesty that is just this small corner of the Valiant universe.
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Barry Kittson
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool news)
I know there will eventually come a time when I no longer harken back to the Ghost of Valiant past in my reviews. With the quality they keep churning out, they join the cast of “indies” who are anything but. Eventually Valiant will soar past its ancestral roots into new numbers, new stories, and a new mythology that will make the 1.0 world from so many years ago forgotten history.
For now though, in these beginning stages, they are playing the game right – keep what was wonderful from the old universe while extracting the dated elements to reflect modern mores and sensibilities.
Issue 7 follows its predecessors in not only darkening the HARBINGER mythos, but each mother-lovin character as well. I haven’t given this much adoration to a single series since ALL STAR SUPERMAN. Please don’t think they are the same book, they’re not. This is a series going for the long haul; epic is not the name of the game. However, it entertains me in the same sense it sits at the top of my read pile each week it come out, I can always find words about it, and damn if it doesn’t surprise me. It is one of the most stark, dark and honest portrayals of the mutant comic mythos. It’s Valiant Now in the truest sense of the word Now, I will also give it Valiant Here, because it truly feels like I’m watching our world evolve. Now after reviewing about three issues of this book I do have one gripe that I’ll get to in a minute.
This issue shows the true forming of a team for Pete Stancheck, his non-powered yet clearly the strongest of fortitude…let’s call her God Keeper…Kris, and the fat and floaty yet also endearingly innocent Zephyr. Now that they hhave completely uncovered the eeeevil plans of Toyo Harada and his fuel to rule the world by activating and employing every mutie on the planet the true game of a powers land grab can begin. Kind of like Far and Away minus bad acting and Enya.
This week we meet Flamingo. In Valliant 1.0 this small town cutie tweaked young Optimous nether regions with her skyscraper bangs, Daisy Duke cut offs and small town slut ways. Valiant portrays the same naughty, but like every girl of promiscuity story these days we now the learn why and for anyone who is not a sociopath it induces instant boner deflation. Dysart does a great job making the back-story of this stripper soon-to-be turned Flamethrower natural and perfectly flowing with the story today. Everything shitty in her life, from her job to her current abusive beau all stems from negligent and abusive daddy issues. And before some blowhard crises cliché from the parliament party of pain in the ass, go to a stripclub sometime and actually talk to these girls. If you’re average isn’t 7 out of 10, then you probably also found the one where the same number have degrees instead of “currently looking into Sociology.”
Real, timely and full of great yuck nugetts from Zephyr’s first experience in a house of dollar stuffing ill repute, to Kris truly realizing her place as leader of this group since she controls the heart and thus the will of living God Peter – HARBINGER 7 basically just makes me excited for HARBINGER 8.
Oh, wait I did say I have one gripe (and no not the art, Kittson is grand and really kept this issue sexy, yet clean, and also impactful when sexy time for Flamingo was over). My gripe is with Harada. And again I say this gripe because I come from the context of just rereading Jim Shooter’s SOLAR from Dark Horse a few years ago. Here’s the thing. I think Harada needs to be a little more sadistic like Shooter’s portrayal. Taiwanese hooker punching bags is all I’m going to say. After sixty plus years of being a living God, you go where you can for your kumbayayas. Show us the human and thus inhuman side of Harada in an issue. Right, we’ve only seen the business half of the character mullet – bring forth the oh so wrong party in the back please.
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Phil Briones
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I consider it my personal mission to herald the virtues of great comics to the masses. While I like to spread this love across the entire industry, lately I can’t keep my eyes off Valiant. Their realistic, no bull-shit approach to the fantastical is almost impossible to emulate while wearing spandex and capes. Hey, I understand gritty realism isn’t for everybody; and even I with all my dark cynicism need my escapist dose of poses and dialog bubbles that are decrees instead of conversations, but Valiant cracks a nut that no “Reboot” or “ReNow” will ever be available to achieve simply by virtue of who they are.
I was all set to extol the virtues of X-O MANOWAR this week, and while this ancient Norseman in futuristic battle armor is a great read, X-O is mid-story right now. HARBINGER, the Valiant answer to the X-MEN starts a new arc this issue and with it Dysart reveals yet another layer to a book that was already several stratums deep. Basically, if you’re a fan of old Valiant you’re a fucking idiot for not imbibing Valiant 2.0. If you are too young to remember old Valiant or still don’t know a Shadowman from Dayman, I hope the following will entreat you to learn more.
HARBINGER is the new term for the age old problem of muties, mutates, freaks, basically the next generation of humanity that can control the world instead of being hapless victims to circumstance like all of us poor old Homo Sapiens. What’s different with HARBINGER is that it takes a pragmatic approach to this problem as the real world dictates, avoiding the exercise of making the real world transform to fit the narrative.
The bad guy in HARBINGER, Toyo Harada, was the first of this next gen. An early baby-boomer caught near grand zero when America ended WWII in a flash of light. He is also one of the most powerful of this next generation; he can manipulate minds on a global scale, transform reality, and activate anyone who is latently carrying the HARBINGER gene. All of these issues have been explored before in comics, but never with this stark level of realism. Instead of donning a cape and hat, getting five mutants together, and then destroying some high-profile target, Harada realized that power simply was not enough. In this complex age, he who has the money writes the rules. One can use far less power to control much more if they have a solid infrastructure in place before begin their power play. To that end Harada spends the better part of the 20th century using his power to build a global conglomerate before moving into his end-game of check mate.
The flip-side of Harada is Pete Stancheck, a young man on the same power scale as Harada with a millionth of the ambition. In fact, Stancheck is more afraid of his abilities than ready to embrace them. Rightly so, as a member of the “better parenting through pills” generation, Pete grew up believing that it wasn’t the blessing of power he carried, but rather the curse of insanity. Once Harada took notice of Peter in the early issues of HARBINGER, we begin to see the man Peter might become, but the journey will be long. As a member of Harada’s HARBINGER Foundation, Pete quickly realizes Harada’s power play and makes a hasty exit for freedom. Peter was greatly helped in this decision when he uncovered last issue that his insane friend, Joe, who Harada swore to protect, was merely a pawn in keeping Pete under control.
That’s things in a nutshell; all good stuff…but what makes it truly great? This is where we get into the infinite layers that clearly show Dysart has a clear plan instead of just throwing random superhero tropes onto the page.
Harada is more than a man of power; he is the embodiment of the at death’s doorstep Baby-Boomer generation. A generation that was able to ride the spoils their parents fought so hard for and lived a life of relative ease as a result. Alan Greenspan said thirty years ago that the next generation will not do as well as the Baby-Boomers. We all laughed at the time, but as the current state of the economy shows, where raises are a gift instead of an expectation, the legacy of the boomers could very well be a bust. Yes, this is part of the “stuff” of HARBINGER (not the Greenspan thing, that’s my value-add), Harada can slow the decay of time, but not stop it. And he is damned and determined to leave his final mark on the world.
A generation ago, when Gen X was far from middle-age, the kids who we are learning will be the renegade HARBINGERS (off Harada’s reservation), came together in a very different way by virtue of the time period. Twenty years ago life was much simpler, a tradesman could practice their craft and thrive, there was a freedom and prosperity when my generation was leaving High School and College that simply isn’t real anymore. Back then the HARBINGERS came together through happenstance as they all were searching for the adults they would one day become. The powers basically were secondary…at first In today’s world of heavy processes, and need for predictive ROI, very few young people hit the road searching for themselves.
We can also attribute this lack of generational courage to helicopter parenting that does nothing to prepare kids for tomorrow and keeps them in Mom and Dad’s basement until their first prostate exam. Fellow renegade HARBINGER, the fabulously floating Zephyr is a prime example of this new molly coddling. She’s fat, she knows she’s fat, yet she embodies her Christian name of Faith at every turn. Twenty years ago, Faith was a big fat mess mentally, even though she tried to keep a firm upper lip. Now, she’s part of the home schooled generation that as soon as the going got tough the less than tough turned to Mom to become their HS principal. Now Dysart doesn’t specifically state Faith is home schooled, but by her Golden Retriever levels of trust in humanity, it’s clear she was sheltered versus Mooed at in the hallways of public High School. Don’t get me wrong I love Zephyr, a character that simply floats instead of flies are the deconstructions comic fans live for.
Finally rounding out the new renegade HARBINGERS is Kris, the young lady who Pete has imprinted on as his life mate. With Kris you see the starkest differences between Valiant 1.0 & 2.0. A generation ago these two were truly in love and Kris came with Pete willingly on his adventure of overthrowing Harada. In the 2.0 world, Kris and Pete only dated a few times, he thought more of it then she did, and in the first few issues he mind rapes her into loving him. Powerful stuff. Even more powerful was when he let her go, when he though the HARBINGER foundation was serving the greater good. Even powerfuller is the full circle this issue takes to bring Kris back into Pete’s arms and her altruism in taking on the babysitting of a living God.
I could continue to ferret out the details of HARBINGER; discussing in depth how each conversation has emotional resonance, how Briones’ art perfectly captures the moody scenes as well as the action with equal aplomb, but… wouldn’t you rather just read the book? Please say yes, my fingers are tired and I really want to get back to reading more Valiant books.
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Khari Evans
Reviewer: Rob Patey (aka Optimous Douche – Ain’t It Cool News)
I know some are going to bemoan my fossilization, but sorry, it’s virtually impossible for me to traverse these first New Valiant reviews without waxing a bit nostalgic. A good brand will induce a flood of emotions and memories. 20 years ago, Valiant was a distinct, unique, and great voice in comics. They were a salvation from the hyper-stylized popcorn of the early 90s. As we enter an early 90’s renaissance with folks like Rob Liefeld finding work again, Image characters collapsed into DC canon, and the ACTUAL resurrection of early 90s Image titles, Valiant is once again poised to provide an oasis of complex storytelling saving us from the rocky waters of these shallow pouch laden ghosts of yore.
HARBINGER is Valiant’s answer to the end result of humanity’s dalliances futzing with the fabric of the universe when we entered the nuclear age. Think the X-MEN 50 years ago without the bullshit sanitization of a comic’s code to water down the shock, horror and awe the world would have at someone who can control minds, fly, convert mass to energy…you get my drift. HARBINGER, while being about the next generation of humans who can do fantastic things also plays on the much deeper level of change as each powered youth deals with growing up and discovering their place in the world. The travesty in coming of age, combined with the wonderment of humanity’s next phase of existence is the perfect word-blurb nutshell for HARBINGER.
Valiant has always captured the zeitgeist of the time period. When I fell in love with Valiant twenty years ago, there was still a sense of Morning in America, an optimism left over from the Ragan years – or at the very least it was Brunch in America. Now, we are Mourning in America and Valiant expertly shifted the tonality of all their titles to stay relevant while still adhering to every staple that made their books a success so many years ago.
Gone are kids who are simply rebellious. Kids who took to the road, kids discontent with their future as kids have always been. However, they weren’t despondent over tomorrow like today’s emo fueled youth. Pete Stancheck, the protagonist of HARBINGER then and now, is the perfect case point for this change in youth culture. 20 years ago, Pete was weird, but mostly harmless. Like most odd ducks he was simply ostracized back in the 90s version, and mostly harmless (aside from the mind control thing). Keeping in line with our current culture, Dysart transformed Pete into today’s weird kid, complete with a menagerie of misdiagnosed mental disorders and a cornucopia of psychotropic substances to substitute parenting and a warm glass of “quit your bitching” from Dad. Right from issue one of HARBINGER 2.0 Pete was a much darker character, even going so far as to use his powers to mind control the girl he has a crush on. The old Pete never would have considered such a literal and figurative mind fuck. But again we didn’t have a society 20 years ago where our favorite fetish could be broadcast on 14 devices in our homes in seconds. Dysart understands the instant gratification generation and extends this impudent impatience to Pete and all of the HARBINGERS we’ve met thus far.
Another drastic change in this modernization is the mantra of the book itself. Back in the day, the book was way more about all the HARBINGER kids as they escaped being part of the evil Toyo Harada’s plans to rule the world. Harada, the baby-boomer first HARBINGER, is explored much deeper in this new version.
Part of this is a function of legality. In Valiant 1.0, Harada was introduced as a mother-fucker supreme in SOLAR. Without this property in the stable, HARBINGER now becomes just as much Harada’s story as it is Stancheck’s and the rest of the kids. Dysart also does an excellent job adding to Harada’s creep factor with the introduction of The Bleeding Monk. As the name implies, he’s a monk that…bleeds everywhere. Outside of the creepy visuals this induces, the Monk is also symbolic of Harada’s quest to control…well…everything. The BM can see the future and Harada keeps this personal oracle captive to glean cryptic images of what might be.
One thing I NEED to see from Valiant that I haven’t yet is a cross-pollination of characters in titles. It was a true benchmark of the original Valiant. Jim Shooter’s editorial fastidiousness kept all events in order and never allowed earth shattering events to remain self-contained in one title. Comics are about a complete universe, for me anyway. I don’t want to see New York destroyed in the X-men and have Peter Parker swinging care free the same month in Spiderman, it feels lazy to me (and this has actually happened more than once). The new Valiant stands poised to build just as cohesive a universe, if not better, since they are currently dealing with less titles and time periods than the original universe.
HARBINGER doesn’t let one spandex trope escape its grasp before slathering it with a dark pall reflective of our real-world fears and tribulations.