First Impressions – HARBINGER #1

If you had phenomenal psychic powers, what would you do with them? And not just psychic powers, but psychic powers of a world-breaking scale? The newest series from the reformed Valiant Comics attempts to answer that question. It’s HARBINGER #1.

As I’ve explained previously, Valiant was a comic publisher that rose to unexpected success in the early nineties. In only a few years, the company was selling on par with DC comics, with a catalog of beloved characters and fifty million books sold. But then the company and all its properties came under the control of Acclaim – a video game company – which proceeded to run the business into the ground and squander the success Valiant once knew. Instead of a company on par with Image comics (a publisher that similarly saw success in the early nineties), we instead had it rot and die, and not publish a single book in many years.

That was until this year, where a number of businessmen bought all the rights to the various properties and formed Valiant Entertainment. Now in addition to offering Valiant’s backlog via digital download, they’ve also returned to the comics game proper with four new ongoing series based on their old properties. Earlier this year we saw the new XO Manawar series, and in the coming months we’ll be seeing new Bloodshot and Archer & Armstrong series. Right now though, we have HARBINGER #1. I don’t know if this was an old property brought back or a new thing altogether, so I’ll be treating it as its own thing.

And what a thing it is. Specifically a good thing.

I think the cover to this first issue explains a lot more about the ongoing’s premise than most. Peter Stanchek is a young man of eighteen, on the run from the authorities (and private groups, unbeknownst to him) because of his incredible gifts. The first power we see him using – or is it being used against his will – is the ability to read minds, which if the panels and cover are any indication he cannot just turn off. He also possesses a number of other powers, like mind control or psychokinesis, but let’s focus on the telepathy for now.

From the word go, before we know anything about him, we know Peter has great power, but no idea how to use it, or even how to manage in day to day life. Just looking at the cover, plastered with thought balloons showing the inner workings of a crowd, we begin to suspect this guy doesn’t really know what he’s doing. This is confirmed by the comic itself. Peter was sent to a hospital at a young age (probably when his powers began to manifest out of control), and after escaping has been on the run ever since. He’s accompanied by the habitually counterproductive Joe, one of Peter’s fellow hospital mates suffering from borderline personality disorder and schizoid tendencies.

The two, barely getting by via Peter’s powers, wander through Pittsburgh and stop to squat in an abandoned house in Peter’s old neighborhood. Peter, stressed from running and self-medicating to keep his powers down, tries to reconnect with a girl he knew from childhood that he’d had a crush on, because he hasn’t really had a chance to become a real adult. She doesn’t care for him, and he does things he shouldn’t. Meanwhile, it’s obvious Joe is a big a threat to their freedom as the ones hunting them, made all the worse by his refusal to take any medication.

If you’ve been paying attention, you would have noticed a theme to the last two paragraphs or so. Peter has been endowed with untold power, yet he neither knows how to use it nor has any intention of being constructive with them. He’s making sentimental decisions, and dragging around a guy that needs real psychological attention (though obviously Joe cares little for help, and is thus half the problem). When we get right down to it, Peter is at the end of his rope, if I may use an expression the book itself used. And that’s the point the book is trying to make. Our protagonist is more than sympathetic, but his current course is one that leads off a cliff.

And that’s where Toyo Harada comes in.

A wealthy industrialist and humanitarian, Harada is similarly gifted as Peter, yet has years of experience and an eye towards the future. He’s constantly looking for ways to improve mankind and change its course towards a more constructive future, which he believes is perfectly possible, though not at the rate humanity is going. All of this is well woven into a metaphor for the protagonist’s situation. And Harada wants to help Peter master his abilities.

Not once is he shown to be doing anything…shall we say questionable? So I guess the guy is on the level, though we’re only shown one character that could be considered an antagonist. And not the main one.

One scene has Joe meet one Mr Tull, an agent working for one of the mysterious private organizations looking to claim Peter’s powers. Apparently he’s crossed wits with Peter and Joe before, and come out on the losing end every time. It’s also suggested – and the art direction supports this – that repeated encounters and mind wipes thanks to Peter have taken a toll on Tull’s psyche. He’s very visibly not a full person anymore, which is both frightening as a measure of the damage a psychic like Peter could due, and masterful in how well-crafted the history to this book is. We believe these guys have a history, and it hasn’t been kind to Tull.

Of course, it all comes from Joe’s speculation, so this could all be unreliable information. Which makes this book all the more chilling as a narrative.

I’ve been rambling for a bit, gushing about how good I think this book is. So for what it’s worth, take that as evidence simply of being a good first issue. I wasn’t around when Valiant kept pace with the biggest, oldest comic publishers, so I can’t say much for its past. But if the rest of the titles are any indication, Valiant definitely has a future. Will I keep reading this series? Maybe, depends on if I can free up some space from other ongoings I read. It’s certainly worthy of attention.

Oh, and this just in. Valiant just released a cover for a fifth new series, also based on a beloved property. Look out people, because in September NINJAK is comes back.

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