Saturday, October 6, 2012

Review: Harbinger #1-3 by Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, and Lewis Larosa

I'll be honest, I don't remember the original series that came out over two decades ago but I remember being a fan. I remember that, before eBay, the pre-Unity issues of all Valiant titles were unaffordable so I couldn't go back to the beginning on anything. But I'm a fan of the universe so as eager as I was to review X-O Manowar, I was eager to review this as well.

Peter Stanchek is a 'psiot' or someone with powers. In Peter's case, his telepathy and telekinesis allows him to read minds, alter thoughts in others, and physically effect things. He's on the run from a hospital he escaped from with a friend of his when he decides to hide out in the last place anyone would think to look for him: Pittsburgh - the city the hospital is located in. Peter is going through a rough time - in addition to running, he's also robbing pharmacies to get pills that dull his power so he isn't burdened with other people's thoughts and help his schizophrenic friend. When Toyo Harada, who is a psiot in addition to running the largest corporation in America, reaches out to him with an offer of training and protection, Peter cautiously accepts.

Dysart gives us plenty in Peter Stanchek to like and dislike. He's sympathetic to readers because you can feel his desperation and exhaustion but when he forces an old friend to fall in love with him, he crosses the line. When I was a kid you'd have all kinds of arguments with your friends about what you'd do with superpowers and we used to come up with all kinds of irresponsible or immoral answers - "I'd rob a bank - they'd never catch me cuz I'd be invisible," "I'd date Heather Locklear (hey - it was the 80s okay?) because I'd have mind powers," "I'd fire optic beams at the school bully from a roof - they'd never know it was me," etc.

After forcing a girl to fall in love with him and presumably sleeping with her (they are in bed together at one point), which would not have been consensual if she'd been in her right mind, he releases her from his control. But he doesn't absolve himself of taking control of her. Peter's usual move is to tell the person under his influence not to remember him but he simply releases her in a way that she can remember everything she experienced and she's angry as is reasonable. I think by not glossing over it, he's taking some kind of responsibility for it. But I think it would have been kinder to make her forget about the whole thing. This is an emotionally complicated way to introduce a character that we're supposed to like.

And once Peter's safely at Harbinger Foundation, he shows he has a little bit of a temper and the power to back it up. Even before his outburst the other students dislike him or fear him because of how powerful he is. Dysart isn't afraid to make Peter deeply flawed, disturbed, and really put him through his paces. After all, if the Bleeding Monk's vision of the future is correct (the name is literal which is kind of gross and I could have done without that character even if he doesn't appear much), Peter destroys the world. How's that for high stakes?

The thing I loved about the original Valiant Universe is that it had fantastic characters who had powers but weren't superheroes. The first three issues of Harbinger do what the first three issues of X-O Manowar did, which was to establish the character, the problems, and the universe Peter Stanchek inhabits. It's a great introduction to the characters and a great foundation to tell more stories from. Although I do wish the artwork were a little tighter - sometimes it's hard to make out what's going on or the ethnicities of the characters. This will be well worth picking up the trade paperback. While we're on the subject - X-O Manowar's first TPB is offered in Previews this month for $10. This is two great titles right out of the gate for Valiant Comics.

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