By Fred Van Lente, Francis Portella & Andrew Dalhouse
For twenty-five issues, assorted tie-ins, a couple zero issues and an epilogue mini-series, Harbinger was one of the best books on the stands. Writer Joshua Dysart revitalized a 90s concept into a captivating and increasingly relevant series, full of compelling character work and engaged social issues. He did not skimp on the action either, or the consequences which often linger from violence. After he brought the series to a close, the characters mostly drifted to the side, while he concentrated on their antagonist Toyo Harada’s new title Imperium. Gradually, though, publisher Valiant has been bringing the Harbinger cast back into circulation. The year started with former Renegade Faith gaining her own solo series. Later this year she will rejoin her former teammates for a new Renegades title (written by Rafael Roberts who has been doing fantastic work on the current Archer & Armstrong book). This week, the young heroes of Generation Zero step-up for their first ongoing series, the debut issue of which offers a promising beginning.
The youths who make up Generation Zero were originally held and trained by secretive corporation Project Rising Sun. Super powered psiots, they played a key role in the events of Harbinger Wars as Rising Sun, Harada, Bloodshot and the Renegades all fought for what they believed to be Zero’s best interests. In the end, they struck off on their own, weary of conflict and disinterested in playing “hero.” Naturally, this being comics, things did not work out quite that way, as they were sucked into the devastation wrought by Armor Hunters. Since then they have embraced their ability to help others. Van Lente does a good job condensing all this backstory into the essential elements needed for new readers without cluttering the narrative.
The key to his approach is a new character, Keisha Sherman, who is trying to track down the mysterious group. Her friends are mostly useless, relaying more in the way of gossip than useful facts. Still, Keisha desperately needs some outside assistance. She lives in Rook, Michigan, home of the “Michigan Miracle.” Rook was saved from the impoverished fate of many former factory towns by the intervention of an emergency manager. Now the town is booming with not only steady employment but cutting-edge technology. It is an oasis of prosperity where everyone is content. Well, almost everyone. Keisha’s boyfriend Stephen shared Keisha’s nagging sense that something was not quite right about Rook. Then, suddenly he is dead under suspicious circumstances.
Some of these plot points may be familiar, yet, Van Lente is able to weave them in such a way that events in Rook are not rote. Much of this is due to Keisha herself. Keisha is an immediately appealing character with a sharp sense of purpose. While clearly upset by Stephen’s death, she does not wallow in self-pity. Instead, she thinks quickly on her feet. She, not Generation Zero, is the protagonist of the issue and she does a fine job of keeping the reader’s attention. Van Lente did something similar in his Ivar, Timewalker title, using a new character as a stand-in for the reader. Hopefully, as with Neela in Ivar, Keisha will stick around and continue developing beyond a plot device.
The other aspect of Van Lente’s writing which raises it above formula is the social commentary. Rook is clearly a stand-in for Detroit and its environs which have been plagued by a litany of problems. Van Lente seems to seeding the question “what would it be worth to reverse such decline?” At one point, Keisha muses on how she has always belonged to the ranks of the outsides, but those groups are ever shrinking as more and more are absorbed by the in-crowd. Adolescent conformity which mirrors the compromises of their parents? Is this the cost of civic success stories in the 21st Century? In such a way, Van Lente honors Dysart’s legacy with Generation Zero, while still working within his own distinct voice. Indeed, there is a bunch of odd-looking gunmen, who not be out-of-place amidst the populations of Van Lente’s other projects, such as Archer & Armstrong or Weird Detective.
Art for this issue is provided by Francis Portella, seen most recently on the Faith min-series. Portella, along with colorist Andrew Dalhouse, have a knack for immediately setting the mood of a scene. The narrative opens with a flashback to Generation Zero’s former holding facility at Project Rising Sun. The dimmed lights combined with mist obscuring the lowest register of the page creates a sense of a foggy memory. From there Portella smoothly conveys the sense of Keisha’s disorientation as she tries her best to piece together something solid about Generation Zero. Throughout Portella does a fine job conveying the emotions of the scene. This is especially towards the end, as an outdoor party segways into a fantastical action sequence.
Together Van Lente and Portella have crafted an enjoyable first issue for Generation Zero, which honors what came before while setting the groundwork for something new. It is also an easily accessible initial chapter for fans new to the characters or the Valiant Universe in general.
Generation Zero #1 will be released by Valiant in both print and digital formats Wednesday, August 24th.
Disclosure: Publisher Valiant provided a review copy of this comic to Nothing But Comics without any payment between the site and publisher or agreement on the review’s content.