Heroes. Anti-heroes. Villains. In the Golden Age of comics, heroes and villains were often simple typecasts, easily discernible by their actions. There was “Good” and “Evil”, and not much else in-between. Flash forward to the modern age, and the ranks of the stalwart hero have been joined by the anti-hero. Typical anti-heroes don’t fulfill the expectations of a hero’s morality and behavior, yet nonetheless still serve justice. Reluctant and troubled, they make for interesting, more realistic characters.
The portrayal of villains has evolved as well. Once restricted to purely selfish or destructive acts, villainy just isn’t as cut-and-dry in the Valiant universe. Truth is a matter of perspective, and several of the Valiant villains force readers to consider things from other points of view and question morality. Based on one’s perspective, a character may be a savior or a monster. Morality becomes a murky area. The result is complex characters that readers find relatable and believable with motivations that we can empathize with, even if we abhor the actions. I call these characters “anti-villains”.
Let’s take a look at one of the key hero-villains in the Valiant universe: Toyo Harada.
Major appearances: Harbinger, Harbinger Wars, Unity, and is slated to be the focus of Imperium, the next step of the Harbinger story.
Harada is one of the most powerful psiots in the world. His powers manifested under extreme duress as a child. He used his abilities to not only survive the horrors of war, but to dominate other survivors, doling out punishment as only a petulant child can. As illustrated by his early lessons with the koi and rice balls, it’s apparent that Harada believes he should be given what he wants. Harada grew into an adult who believes that humanity is deeply flawed but can be saved by him. Someone needs to be in charge, and he believes it should be him. His singular vision of himself as savior coupled with the firm belief that his way is the only way that the world can achieve peace, has turned him into the same type of despot that he despises. He is unable to see how hypocritical his actions are and unable to accept blame for the events that his hubris has caused.
Why he’s an anti-villain: He has a god-complex, and like a god, performs acts both wonderful and horrible.
The Good: He genuinely wants to make the world a better place. Though the world governments were aware of Harada’s abilities to an extent, prior to the finale of Harbinger, the general public had no knowledge of psiots. Harada was a key player in world economics and politics, spearheading medical research and offering aid to many countries. He also served as team leader for the first incarnation of the Unity team, in an effort to prevent nuclear attack. His goal was to save the world.
The Bad: Where does one start? Not content to wait for natural evolution, he takes matters into his own hands. The backbone of his organization is a trained army of psiots. Harada “activates” their powers at the risk of the participant’s painful death. He turns children into soldiers, and under his orders they perform acts no child should need to, and they risk their lives.
While he may not fully embrace the desire to be a world leader, he is unable to accept that anyone other than himself is capable of saving it. It was his own desire for control of power that led to his expulsion from the Unity team. In Harbinger, his efforts to create a “better world” – one that fit his vision – often meant many casualties. He chose the end product over the means, and didn’t mind murder as a means of coercing others. Take the case of Pete Stanchek, a psiot whose power rivals his own. Harada manipulated Pete into activating a fellow psiot – flyer Faith Herberger, a process which caused her pain and disturbed Pete greatly. Harada considered Faith a failed activation and planned to kill her, despite surviving Pete’s process. Harada ordered the murder of Pete’s friend as a way to convince him to remain part of the Harbinger team. When that backfired, rather than leave Pete alone, he pursued and eventually imprisoned him and his friends in a mental stasis, and anyone caught in the crossfire was an acceptable loss. Though he rationalized it by using Pete’s teenage unpredictability as an excuse, Harada could not allow someone with power as great as his own to exist without being under his sway.
Further evidence: Harada’s ego-mania prevented him from listening to the advice of his key staff regarding the stability of his health. The result of this conceitedness was a literal meltdown of his powers that caused an explosion with catastrophic results for members of his own Harbinger Foundation.
At present, the world is now aware that he is a super-human of sorts, and his puppet mastery of world politics has come into the limelight. Rather than work with the world governments, he chose to challenge and threaten them all – killing hundreds of people in the process. He forcibly claimed land as being his own to rebuild his own new world there – and the casualties continue to grow. Somehow this is acceptable to him, even though when Aric of Dacia acted similarly, Harada believed he was a threat that needed to be taken down. Harada does provide help and sanctuary to those in need, but they must align themselves with him to receive it. In short, he’s setting himself up to be an emperor. With Harada, you are either with him or against him.
Just as history is written from the perspective of victors, we are the heroes in our own stories. We justify our actions and whitewash our wrong-doings to make them more acceptable. It’s human nature. The anti-villains of the Valiant universe are another example of how Valiant presents us the world outside our windows – and in our own mirrors.
Originally from ValiantCentral.com