Harbinger: Renegades #5 (Valiant Comics)
Harbinger was an important part of the Valiant line-up back when they first relaunched. It was more down-to-earth than the operatic X-O Manowar, more serious than Archer & Armstrong, more compelling than Shadowman, and more thoughtful than Bloodshot. There was a lot going on here, a lot of high concepts broken down and made relatable through excellent writing and characterization.
This is the story of two men: Toyo Harada and Peter Stanchek, both alike in power and both alike in their flaws. They are what Valiant calls psiots – essentially their version of mutants, with Harada playing the role of both Xavier and Magneto and Peter being a very damaged child who only sees what is directly in front of him. They’re both heavyweights, the most overtly powerful beings on the planet, but they are diametrically opposed to one another.
See, Harada sees that late-stage capitalism is killing the planet and he’s doing everything in his power to save it: he started a corporation to do so, trying to move the world towards more progressive views in order to build a utopia. Sounds good, doesn’t it? The thing is, Harada often doesn’t see the forest for the trees and he’ll break the world if that’s what it takes to save it.
Peter is very much among the broken. His powers manifested when he was a child and he broke his father, broke his mother, became a drug addict to dull his power and fled from a government that he knew wanted nothing but the worst for him. He did terrible things for which no one has forgiven him and has tried his best to make up for them, never expecting to be forgiven for what he’s done.
It’s made for a very complex story.
Harbinger was followed up by the incredible Imperium, where we got to see the fallout of two gods battling it out for control of the world, where Harada was outed and Peter fled. Harada tried to rebuild his empire and save the world from itself, but the corporate overlords that have enslaved the world kept attacking him, kept attacking him, kept attacking him, and we got to see the horrific lengths he was willing to go to.
Peter was largely ignored, given that he had removed himself from the world. Now, in the fallout of Imperium, he’s been forced back into a world he believes he doesn’t deserve. One of Harada’s old proteges, a psiot and genius by the name of Alexander Soloman, has the ability to analyze and predict potential futures. He’s using this power to make a play for himself and he’s got a bunch of Harada’s old goons and psiots desperate for protection backing him up.
See, the American government has a system to make use of psiots: they capture and vivisect them, drug them into unconsciousness while doing nothing for their pain, and then plug a bunch of tech that tends to drive people insane into soldiers so that they can make use of powers stolen from those victims. It’s pretty horrific. The people that do this are good patriotic Americans who do their duty without questioning it, because patriotism.
This is the comic where theses three powers meet and find themselves exposed to the world, and if you think writer Rafer Roberts is going to make this anything less than epic and heartbreaking than you need to track down the back issues and understand what you’re getting into. Artist Darick Robertson, likewise, will lovingly craft every line of agony and hope and terror and…
Look, Marvel is having issues right now. DC Comics is doing better but who knows how long that will last? If you’re looking for an alternative to the big two, for an integrated world full of progressive superheroes and complex stories that really are the best the medium has to offer, this is it. This is the mature storytelling that everyone talks about and then misses done properly, this is the wonder and scope and scale that comics promised you.
This is also meant to be a jumping-on point, so jump on. You will not be disappointed.