Or – “Steve Borden and Gordon Sumner Are Watching Closely…”
The original run of Harbinger back in the 1990s constitutes one of the strongest runs to come out of Valiant Comics, a company known for strong concepts and characters. The relaunched Harbinger caught my imagination, and now we’re back for a second helping, to see if the good feelings last. Your Major Spoilers review awaits!
Previously, in Harbinger: Peter Stanchek hears voices in his head, because he is a telepathic Harbinger of evolution. His best friend Joe, on the other hand, has different reasons for hearing voices. On the run from the authorities, Peter and Joe have taken to self-medicating, robbing pharmacies and squatting wherever they can crash. Of course, Joe leading the police right to their hideout is probably going to complicate things for both of these young men…
IS HARADA THE VILLAIN THIS TIME?
Previously, Toyo Harada was always portrayed as a cold-blooded, Machiavellian presence, willing to do nearly anything to advance his agenda and increase his own personal power. Last month’s issue presented us a much more benign Harada, one who spoke to Pete in his mind offering support and a safe place to live. This issue opens with a flashback sequence set a decade ago, as Harada finds a very young child with immense psionic powers, gently throwing off the child’s powers with his own and remarking how wonderful it must be for the child to finally be held in someone’s arms. It’s a very different take on Harada from the VH1 version (I honestly don’t recall a lot about the VH2 Harada, or indeed, even if there WAS a VH2 Harada) and one that contrasts well with the new loose cannon Pete Stanchek. Our first glimpse of Pete this issue comes as he deals with the fallout of Joe’s screwup, as armed guards arrive under the command of the mysterious Mr. Tull, to take Pete into custody. Things quickly get out of hand, and we see the full range of powers at Pete’s command in a very hyperkinetic sequence.
NOT BASED ON THIS ISSUE’S EVENTS, ANYWAY.
There are some peculiarities with the art in this issue, especially as regards facial expressions (Pete’s girlfriend Kris suffers particularly badly) but the battle sequences and displays of power are pretty impressive throughout. Pete makes some truly awful (almost indefensibly bad) decisions this issue, and his anger endangers everyone until Harada pulls off the save with some anger-management (in the form of psionic manipulation.) Things certainly seem to be inverted from what I remember, but the issue gives us tantalizing little glimpses of things to come, as well as an appearance of an old Valiant hero for a split-second, but the real fireworks come as Peter makes a decision that seems to be a good one at the issue’s end. Thankfully, the writers also deal with the really disturbing part of last ish, Pete’s telepathic rewiring of his old crush’s emotions so that she loves him endlessly and without question, and the clear implication is that things will be better for both of them as he sets off to join the Harbinger foundation. Still, there is a very well-done hint of uncertainty and dread in the final moments of the issue, leaving us with a skillfully ambiguous ending.
THE BOTTOM LINE: MORE COMPLEX THAN EXPECTED.
Coming into this title with a love of the original Harbinger series, I had mixed emotions about the relaunch. The creators clearly understand what was special about the original book, and respect that with what they’re doing here. Using Harada (whose name has previously been shorthand for “nefarious”) the way they are, playing up the worst-case scenarios of what Peter Stanchek’s powers can do, Dysart and company effectively make this version of Harbinger their own while keeping this old-school fan happy. There’s a lot going on here, and I can’t say for sure whether they’re inverting the series paradigm or just explaining it for the new reading generation, but either way, the book is a compelling read. Harbinger #2 keeps up my interest, advancing things more quickly than I expected, but wisely hasn’t given away the whole game yet, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.