Harbinger Volume 2: Renegades
By Joshua Dysart, Barry Kitson, Lee Garbett and Matthew Clark
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The kids are all right. No, wait, they look like they might need some help. No, it looks under control now. Phew. Hey, did they just rob a bank? Okay, that one is definitely on fire! Huh, guess she’s fine. Maybe they’ve got this whole on-the-run with powers thing figured…oh come on, that one totally just ripped off that dude’s arm! These kids are definitely not all right. Such is the roller coaster of events in Harbinger’s second volume, titled “Renegades” by Joshua Dysart and no less than twelve different artistic contributors. Peter Stanchek decides to put together a band of undesirables with the help of the girl he manipulated into loving him and the squee-tastic exuberance of the other girl he helped to realize her dreams – all in the name of sticking it to the man responsible for killing his only friend in the world. There are some unforeseen tribulations along the way, an arson here or a militarized death squad there, you know, like you do, but it is an absolute blast of a read that relies on all the best aspects of what the X-Men should be if they were also the A-Team.
Fresh off the heels of confronting the psiot-collecting, near omnipotent Toyo Harada, Peter is in dire straits as he sends Faith (last seen screaming “This is awesome!”) to bring Kris (last seen screaming “I hate you!”) to put him out of his misery. Obviously, since the book didn’t end at issue 5, they work things out and decide to go on a recruiting mission to build their own personal army to take on Harada’s massive Harbinger Foundation. They meet, albeit awkwardly for all involved, a young, vivacious erotic dancer named Charlene Dupre who is quite literally fiery hot, as well as a crippled country-boy named John Torkelson who retreats inside his mind to a fantasy land that makes Heavy Metal look like Candy Land. Just as the team forms, Project Rising Spirit crashes the meet-and-greet and the kids quickly have to learn on the job how to…not die or get kidnapped or basically everything involving good guys versus bad guys. Peter remains racked with guilt and self-doubt after Joe’s death last arc and it seems as though everyone is running away from perceived weaknesses. While this is all building towards the Harbinger Wars crossover with Bloodshot, and the conceit of super powered teens form a team is hardly original, Dysart manages to instill a freshness to this arc that keeps it fun throughout.
There’s a sincerity to the dialogue and depiction of these kids that Dysart absolutely nails. Yes, a truly authentic teen experience would likely involve the cast staring at their phones the entire time and never leaving their rooms, but hey, he’s trying to make a comic here. The sequence of events as just described above is compelling, sure, but the real delight Dysart brings to Harbinger is the attention he pays to the quiet moments between the characters. Kris and Charlene in the diner, Peter and John’s first meeting, Faith and..well, anyone really. Beyond just being the reader’s “in” with her wonderfully nerdy interests and uber-current colloquialisms, Faith is the heart and soul of this book and the part that will stay with you longest. Peter may be the catalyst for the outside forces, but Faith is unquestionably the hero of the story thus far and the one who naturally makes the action move from beat to beat. Issue #9 provides much needed background on her and though some may find it packing more sap than necessary, Dysart succeeds in shaping a character with real motivations, delusions and insecurities. If Faith gets on your nerves, it’s because she’s supposed to in those moments! She’s the best example of it, but Dysart gives an equally honest portrayal for the majority of his young cast, as well as injecting just the right amount of menace into Harada and Project Rising Spirit.
In a surprisingly pleasant twist, Dysart even manages to paint a sympathetic light onto P.R.S.’s Mr. Tull and his continually purposeless existence save for capturing Peter. He’s been made an empty shell a thousand times over thanks to Peter, who finds himself in an inverse role to the one he has played to Harada. It’s a clever touch and a reminder that this isn’t a morally straightforward series; the kids do literally rob a bank and murder a few folks along the way. Dysart is performing an impressive balancing act tonally between the lightness of these kids’ banter and desire to do the right thing, and the darkness of the real-world consequences of their abilities.
This volume collects five issues and each of them has a different art team; some with multiple artists in a single issue. It’s a large stumbling block in trying to define the tone of the series when each issue is a different instrument. On the whole, each of these issues look great on their own, particularly Lee Garbett’s solo outing in issue eight. There, Garbett’s style, combined with the saturated palette of Moose Baumann, is in sync with the energy of the young, spirited characters. However, this is a departure from the more detailed finer line of Phil Briones and more faded color work of Ian Hannin in issue one, which in turn is radically different from the Chaykin-eque style of Khari Evans, who does parts of issue three which is…yada yada yada. There’s lots of talent on display, of course, but the constant musical chairs is jarring and the characters, specifically their faces, are consistently inconsistent. It’s never so bad that the reader couldn’t honestly recognize a character and when it was consumed on a monthly basis, it was likely fun to see a new art team give their take on the Renegades, but sitting down with it as one collected edition the shifts in art feel far too discordant. It’s a shame since Barry Kiston, Matthew Clark, Pere Peréz and a whole clown car full of artists do contribute very nice work, but sadly this isn’t an anthology title.
This title is primed for the Harbinger Wars crossover and the story potential of having Bloodshot interacting with Faith is richer than any sugar. For the time being, Harbinger volume two is Gen13 done right and an essential piece of the larger Valiant world. Mesmerizingly touching and intriguing, its diverse cast is a pleasure to get to know despite the constant turnover in artistic styles found within this volume. These kids are far from all right, but they’re beyond fun and real and…Dammit, they just car jacked some dude.
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