HARBINGER 5 Review – Stark Realism from the Spandex Set

Harbinger 5 CoverHARBINGER 5
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artist: Khari Evans
Publisher: Valiant
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.

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