by Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa and Ian Hannin
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Imagine if you will, that the world as you know it is shaped not by the actions of many, but rather, by the actions of a very select few. Those few, in turn, are controlled by an even scanter set of individuals. Peter Stanchek is a teenager. Like most teenagers, Peter feels lost, confused and uncomfortable with what he is becoming. Now imagine, that Peter is the most powerful force on the planet. Oh dear, that mind-reading, reality-manipulating little boy from the Twilight Zone has grown up and joined the Xavier Institute. Well, not quite. Filled with Lost levels of tension and mystery this collection is a blast to explore alongside the hormonal nigh-omnipotent protagonist. Harbinger volume 1, “Omega Rising” by Joshua Dysart, Khari Evans, Lewis Larosa and Ian Hannin delves into an ancient, global and mysterious twilight zone of unknowns, leaving the reader to question if anyone at all is worth trusting.
Peter is a fully realized protagonist, himself tragically unable to fully realize what he is, what he is meant for and what it means for the many others looking to exploit him. He knows he can control the actions of others with sheer will, but he is also constantly bombarded with the thoughts of everyone around him, causing him to numb himself through the drugs he “coerces” pharmacists to provide him with. Both he and his fellow institute escapee, Joe, are on the run from Project Rising Spirit (you may remember those charming murderous militants from Bloodshot) only to wind up in arms of a talking dog. It makes sense, really. While meeting the on-the-run troubled street youth with undefined and uncontrollable powers in the first two issues of this five issue arc is compelling on its own, specifically his relationship with the equally disturbed Joe and his questionable actions with a childhood sweetheart, the real joy is diving into the belly of the Harbinger Foundation and its ambiguously nefarious leader, Toyo Harada. Filled with gifted youngsters, dubbed “psiots”, adorned in sharp Starfleet reminiscent uniforms, Peter is finally exposed to the larger game at play even if he doesn’t understand the stakes. There’s those that can control machines, others who create psionic energy from absorbed mass, another who can telepathically make someone relive their greatest trauma and then there’s Toyo himself, who can seemingly do anything. And yet he fears Peter, who according to his personal psychic hotline, an immortal levitating monk that perpetually bleeds. It’s all charmingly bizarre and a treat to watch layers stack up page after page until you’re not fully sure what you’re left with, but know for certain that it’s near impossible to put down.
Joshua Dysart is clearly having fun blending and inverting superhero tropes while building a rich background mythology of this world’s psiots. The sprinkling of flashbacks to scenes of immense displays of power at various locales and times let the imagination soar as to where the overall story is headed while still letting you revel in the moments themselves. It would be understandable if he allowed the big ideas to take center stage at the risk of having more generic cast members, but fortunately that’s not the case throughout this opening arc. Peter’s voice is believable as a confused and often rebellious teenager (a.k.a. a regular teenager) in extraordinary circumstances and his supporting cast is well developed, particularly Joe and Faith. And yet, they’re all overshadowed by the mysterious and richly written Toyo Harada. Not some mere mustache twirling villain or Mr. Miyagi like mentor, Toyo and his motivations are complex. Typically, fiction has taught us that the wealthy dude in the suit who stares out the window of his penthouse office is the de-facto bad guy, but Dysart has shaped Toyo to be a villain worth rooting for. There’s sharp dialogue and smart plotting abound, Dysart is skillfully balancing a story that is clearly leaving a great deal intentionally and compellingly, obscured.
Unfortunately the art is just a step behind the writing in Harbinger’s opening arc. Khari Evans is a very skilled draftsman, which is made blatantly evident in the uninked flashback scenes, and he excels at the large set pieces especially the opening pages bleeding monk reveal. But there’s certainly a discord in panels between pencils and inks, most noticeable on facial features that often have characters appearing different from page to page. Many times faces appear bloated only having definition via a far too thick inked cheek bone. Throughout there’s a feeling that there were perhaps to many cooks in the comic illustrating kitchen as there’s four credited pencilers, at least three credited inkers and four colorists. The coloring of Ian Hannin has a sheen to it that is welcomed in many places like the multitude of elaborate rooms in the Harbinger Foundation’s training facilities, but occasionally creates a plastic-feel to characters. To be clear: the art is still very good, but with hiccups of inconsistency (most notably in the radical style shift between pages of issue #5) which is likely attributed to the multitude of artists contributing to the title and it is never at the sake of the storytelling.
Harbinger volume 1 is hard to put down, begging you to turn the page to see what the next betrayal or furious display of psionic power will be. For now, the art’s erratic jumps hold it back from truly soaring. Compellingly cultivated characters are interwoven with a budding mega-mythology culminated via Dysart and Evans’ ability to reimagine one of the most cherished Valiant titles for the better.
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