By Todd Allen
Last month, Valiant had a pretty successful start, with X-O Manowar selling out 45K copies and going into a 2nd printing. This week, the second Valiant title dropped, in the form of Harbingers #1. Let’s have a look at it.
Harbinger is written by Joshua (Swamp Thing, Unknown Soldier) Dysart and drawn by Khari (Carbon Grey, Daughters of the Dragon) Evans. This is a book that does not shy away from dark material. The original Harbinger was a riff on mutants that parallels mainstream television like Heroes in the U.S. or Misfits in the U.K. — an event causes a people’s powers to be activated. In the case of Harbinger, it was the creation of Solar (i.e. Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom). Solar isn’t in the current Valiant library, so he can’t be the cause of all this. If there is a cause, it isn’t mentioned in the first issue, and the the first Harbinger, Harada, is shown to have been using his powers in 1951, so that element’s _probably_ been thrown out the window.
What we end up with is a darker take on teenage mutants. Peter Stanchek is 18 and he hears voices. That’s because he has telepathic abilities and has a lot of trouble filtering them out. He drowns them out with anti-psychotic medication. How does he get his medication? By taking control of the minds of pharmacists. He’s escaped from a psychiatric facility with a buddy who’s legitimately disturbed. They’re being pursued by persons who probably aren’t what they claim to be.
Then you have Toyo Harada. A cross between Tony Stark and Professor Xavier (…for the moment, anyway), Harada seems to have a vast corporate empire, but is secretly another person with psychic powers. One who’s collecting people whose powers have just activated and offer to teach them how to control it.
A set-up issue, the characters are established with the plot just starting to be hinted at. Nothing is particularly new with the basics of the plot. The difference with the new Harbinger is the extent to which our hero, Stanchek, is out of control. While we’ve all seen a variation on Professor Xavier teaching Jean Grey how to shut out the thoughts of the masses, Jean Grey wasn’t robbing the local drug store and self-medicating. There’s another plot element that, depending on how you read what transpired off-panel, could be interpreted as mind control induced sexual assault. Did it go beyond a kiss? There’s some ambiguity.
So this doesn’t feel like, “oh, you just can’t control your powers — let me adopt you and all will be well.” Stanchek starts out as a fugitive on the road to self-destruction and the someone is tracking his crime wave. The strong themes of alienation from society and not finding your place in the world, classic themes for the teen market, really give this the vibe of a PG-13 teen-targeted film
I’m neutral on the art. It gets the story conveyed, but nothing’s knocking me out.
Much like X-O Manowar #1, Harbinger #1 is talking it’s time to set up characters and ease into the story. Origins that will be a graphic novel, not a single issue. Harbinger has a feel of a spiral into very bad things before any hint of redemption will come.
Unlike X-O Manowar, Harbinger did not have me immediately recalling the original. It could be that I have less vivid memories of Jim Shooter’s Harbinger. It could be that it’s deviating enough as to not trigger the memories. If the themes and premise sound like something you’d like, if you’d like something a hair meaner than X-Men, go ahead and give this one a look. I have a feeling there will be a few issues before Harbinger gets to anything resembling a status quo, but it’s certainly an interesting introduction.
Here’s a look at the first 6 pages… before the tone gets extra dark.
Todd Allen wears a lot of hats. At various times he’s been (alphabetically), a bouncer, college professor, humor columnist, Internet producer and an NBA/WNBA Beat Writer, among other things. He’s the author of Economics of Digital Comics. You should probably read it.