Harbinger is a Valiant series centered on the concept of psiots, individuals with buried, latent abilities. The most powerful of these is Toyo Harada, an influential businessman who keeps his true nature secret from the world, while carefully gathering other psiots under his control. His dominance, however, is threatened by a troubled young man, Peter Stanchek, whose power may be equal to Harada’s. Their differing worldviews, along with personal hatred for each other, sparks a bitter rivalry that forms the seed of this excellent series.
Harbinger was never one of the original Valiant titles I read back in the 90s. Part of the reason may have been the inaccessibility of its earliest issues; part of it may have been that to my teenage ears the concept sounded rather reminiscent of The X-Men (young adult heroes, the next stage of human evolution, and so forth). Either way, I took a pass. So, when the relaunch was announced last year, I was less excited for Harbinger than for X-O Manowar or Archer & Armstrong, whose characters I had much fonder memories of. Yet I kept hearing how great the title was, how many fans listed it as their favorite of the new Valiant. Back in June I read the first trade, enjoyed it, but felt no rush to catch up. On Friday, I read the second trade, and can now say that I completely understand the love readers have for this title.
What makes Joshua Dysart’s Harbinger stand-out in my mind is his use of character. Just as Venditti took his time telling Aric of Dacia’s story, Dysart has been in no rush either. (You could argue that the first ten issues of Harbinger have been, more or less, exposition). After spending the first issues establishing who Peter Stanchek is, Dysart switches gears in his second arc. This time the story-line concerns building a team around Peter, each character getting an issue to reveal their background in their own words. At the same time, Dysart never loses the thread of the overarching narrative, expertly weaving back and forth between his story strands. The end result is a rich tapestry that not only illustrates a team, but also distinct individuals who I feel as though I already know.
For today, I would like to focus on one of those teammates: Faith, aka Zephyr. While I enjoyed her brief appearance in the first arc, I couldn’t get enough of her during the second. Her character is an example of how creators can challenge false preconceptions. Faith may be overweight, but, it is never a hindrance to her actions. Instead, her power of flight allows her to soar freely above any stereotype. It’s a great concept (which I acknowledge comes from the original series), and a welcome one.
Faith is something else too: she’s fun. We complain sometimes that despite the amazing material comic creators are producing these days, too little of it is simply entertaining. Faith is full of an enthusiasm that is contagious, a good cheer that made me smile repeatedly. (Best reaction ever to being in a strip club for the first time: “So, that’s what fakies look like.”). She’s grown up on comics, sci-fi, and fantasy, and embraced the idea of superheroics wholeheartedly. True, she has had her dark moments: her parents died in a car accident when she was young. It was from her parents that she learned her love for all things geek, and by fanning that flame of devotion, she keeps them alive in her heart. And so, when everything looks lost for Faith’s new companions, she reminds herself who heroes are, of how “They hold the line of compassion for other human beings in a world built on chaos.” She survived the accident that killed her parents for a purpose, so that she could help others. It’s a beautiful moment. (Credit is also due to Pere Perez for drawing Faith’s chapter, as well as the various talented artists who worked on this series).
Zephyr is just one component of what is shaping into a terrific team book. I could have easily written about Kris, Charlene, John, or Peter as well. I look forward to seeing what happens next as they march into Harbinger Wars . . .
(Meanwhile, I now feel extra guilty for never reading Dysart’s Unknown Soldier book from Vertigo. I’ll need to remedy that error.)
[Getting Into Character is a weekly column in which one of our staff takes a closer look at a character whose name isn’t on the cover of that comic you are reading. Next week: Ganke from Ultimate Spider-Man]