REVIEW: ‘Harbinger’ #20

(Valiant Entertainment, 2014)

Review by Cory Thrall

Written by Joshua Dysart
Artwork by Clayton Henry
Color Artwork by Brian Reber

Welcome to “Resistance”.  Leave your secrets at the door.

Over the course of its current run, ‘Harbinger’ has had a very strong ‘Us vs. Them’ vibe.  What began as a simple tale of the possible-hero/maybe-saviour escaping the hard confines of Toyo Harada’a teachings at his Harbinger Foundation has, over time, become so much more.  The vibe remains but it has focused, gained strength, and become what I consider the main theme of this series as a whole.  This comic is surely a classic for our time and while this is a extremely popular book, it is also one of my favorites on the rack.  We may be talking about powerful psiots (basically ‘X-Men’ mutants with different powers but without physical mutations) and genetically modified soldiers, but what we find here is more a classic Good vs. Evil set-up handled in such a way that is far from ‘standard’.  There have been amazing things within these pages.  The ‘Harbinger War’, the virtual prisons, the Mind Squall - all of these beg explanation and the series is all the more grand for it, and for its characters, in its telling of these stories.

This newest issue follows suit with most of the other titles on Valiant’s roster, and by that I mean they have dug up a character from the original 90′s Harbinger title and replanted a new version here in the new canon.  His name is Ax and, though he was a tad bit whiny in the original 90′s title I always had a fondness for him that I couldn’t explain.  He has an interesting path that he follows in the earlier title, and that makes this new version all the more interesting.  Both character versions have (or in this new Ax’s case *might* have) powers over mechanical objects and systems.  Both seem to be a bit over the edge mentally, even if only implied.  But that’s not the important part about Ax’s ‘return’.  By nature of the character and his situation we are seeing a new branch of the overall theme I’ve mentioned.  Another kid, on the run from ‘Them’, doing what he can to stay a step or two ahead.  Whipping the established authority with their own secrets and lies.  With Peter and the Renegades playing little into the scheme of things in this issue it makes Ax’s plight seem all the more desperate and lonely.

This issue opens with something that has been hinted and teased for quite some time now - the realization by the World that psiots exist and are scary as hell.  Toyo Harada turns himself in to Governmental Authorities, telling them to look away from the murder, treason, fraud, and insider trading (among other charges) he is being accused of and take a look at all he’s done over the years to better our society.  He tries to come off as officious and an accepted spokesman for active psiots everywhere, but this makes him all the more frightening.  An egotistical monster fully aware of his influential position and with the power to do as he pleases.  A World in his image, should be dare to wish for it.  Knowing his footing all too well, Harada tells the World that they are in serious need of change on so many levels, and that he is just the super-powered man to fix things.  Before we know it he is putting this plan into action, and with explosive results.

As the story goes from the “Soon” of the opener to “Now” we see Harada (disguised as his older self, since that is how he’d look given his actual age) as he accepts the Nobel Prize for Peace.  During his return trip home on his private jet he is told of a website that is making the news - a website not too unlike the very real WikiLeaks.  Ladies and Gentlemen, here is our introduction to Ax.  Taking a more modern turn on him, Ax starts out as much a WikiLeaks-type whistle-blower as he does someone that hints strongly at the also real Anonymous movement.  Again, the ‘Us vs. Them’, but in very real analogies.  Ax communicates with the World wearing a mask (adorned with symbols spelling out a form of his name on his forehead) and uses his site to leak a very large amount of Project Rising Spirit’s (Harada’s sworn enemies) secret files - thousands of pages of documents featuring info on the inner workings of PSR, details of their work in varied areas of science, a large amount of goods on the Harbinger Foundation itself, and much more.

Ax is quickly chased down, but is able to make his escape using diversion techniques and quick feet.  He jumps from a very high window, landing hard on the roof of a car below, and moves right on.  Does Ax possess some other form of power?  Is his technology based life facilitated only by his know how and non-suped up brain?  Maybe.  At this point we don’t know.  Either way, he makes a break for it, making sure the capture squad is following him, but not too closely.  He wants them to keep up, but at his speed and per his plan.  As he makes it to his destination - a park full of unsuspecting families - the squad barrels down on him.  And that’s where the Renegades come in.  Que ‘awesome’ music!

We return to Harada, who at this point is at the site of his recent Mind Squall, in which his mind blew a gasket and killed “a sizeable amount” of Harbinger workers and personnel.  Soon enough he visits a member of his Eggbreakers team ‘Stronghold’, who is suffering from major PTSD.  He survived the horrific Squall, and is more than a little shaken up by it.  Now being watched and cared for in the Foundation’s Psych Facility, Harada sits and begins to speak with Stronghold, whose frailty is a perfect touch and counterpoint to Harada’s assertiveness and obvious lack of remorse.  They exchange some words, with Stronghold trying his best to keep his mind together as Harada calmly and coldly explains away most of his worries, or gives him straight up PR explanations of what happened and the clean-up afterwards.  Suddenly, Harada is called away to a matter that requires his immediate attention and leaves Stronghold to his thoughts.  This scene is one of my favorites with Harada, as it shows that his care is for nothing but himself, no matter how much he explains his actions are for the movement of humanity’s progress.  This is a man that wants it all, and with no one else to play with his toys once he gets them.  He creates himself as a father figure to his people, much like he did with Peter in the beginning, only to use and abuse them all as he sees fit.  Pawns for a million different games.

As Harada is leaving Stronghold to his room, we end the issue on a shot of graffiti on one of Harada’s buildings - the sign of Ax.

Overall this issue was a fun one, if a bit brief.  The story unfolds quickly and keeps the brisk pace the whole way, which works for most of the issue since it is simply Harada sitting or standing as he speaks and/or looks into computer screens.  There is a good dose of action in the chase scene with Ax, but I came away not only thinking the scene was way too short, but also feeling like this issue was rather uneven.  The cutting back and forth between times and locations weighs the story down, and the near complete lack of character development in the case of Ax is curious.  This is supposed to be the intro to a new character, but all we get is a few lines, a chase scene, and the knowledge that he can fiddle pretty well with computers.  There is no links to who he is, or what his personality is like.  In some ways I want to say this is on purpose to keep even the reader from knowing more than Harada and his squad do about Ax, but I don’t think that’s really the case.

Joshua Dysart’s writing here is as intelligent, layered, and intriguing as always, though I do wish some areas of the story didn’t feel so disjointed and rushed.  The dialogue is damn good, and always has been.  He writes the characters so well and so distinctly individual that it’s perfect, especially with so many characters going to and from this title.  The artwork by Clayton Henry isn’t a highlight for this issue by any means, as I found a lot of his work rather pedestrian and without the spark of excitement this title usually beams with.  This creates a sense of stagnation, as his figures are boring and the action scenes pretty by-the-book.  Henry’s work here is a bit sloppy, maybe a little rushed, but it is saved by the wonderful color work by Brian Reber.  Reber takes scenes that would’ve fallen flat given the drawn art and turns them into kinetic and beautiful bits of storytelling.

This was a pretty decent issue, that much is sure.  Was it a good one, as well?  I don’t know.  It left me wanting answers and development, but mostly just left me with more questions.  Did it succeed in introducing a new and exciting member to the comic’s cast?  Sort of.  Maybe.  And that’s the major failure of this issue.  We want to know who Ax is.  We want to know how he and the Renegades both knew he’d be at that park.  So many questions, and I’m sure they’ll be answered soon enough, but even after reading this I still have to ask: Who is Ax?  Why should we care for him, good or bad?  Hopefully the next issues will shed more light on this and this issue won’t feel like so much filler.  An amazing comic has to have a tepid issue now and again, and this is Harbinger’s.  Don’t let it fool you, though - this title is as golden as ever, and only promises to get even crazier from here.  I want to see what Ax can do.  Hell, I want to see him bring it all down.  It’s time Harada had a wake-up call.



Cory is an artist, writer, and musician hiding between the empty storefronts of Santa Rosa, Ca. He lives with his cat Bronson, a lifetime of comics, and a penchant for being overly wordy.

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