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Harbinger continues to be about action and consequences. The Renegades are the closest thing Valiant has to a superteam.
We can say this much about Harbinger: this isn't your everyday superhero team. Certainly, we don't get a lot of strength and bravery in the face of chaos, or any of that "look to the sky" stuff. This isn't the type of book where the barrel-chested heroes gather, smile, and vow to fight evil whenever it rears its ugly head. Harbinger is a book that shows us that things are a lot more messy and complicated than all that.
The concept of unending virtue in heroism takes some hits in a book like Harbinger. The latest in the ever expanding "superpowers in the real world" subgenre, Harbinger focuses on Peter Stanchek, and the colossally poor decisions he makes with his psi powers. Right off the bat, in issue #1, Peter does the absolute worst thing he can do when he puts the mental whammy on the object of his crush, Kris, and makes her fall in love with him. After his misadventures with the evil Toyo Harada and his Harbinger Foundation, Peter ends up reversing the whammy, which leaves Kris with an empty heart and renders her an emotional wreck. Dysart is smart enough to not run away from the consequences of what he sets up. Kris rightfully resents Peter for what he's done, and she gets her say about the whole situation. Peter is never depicted as the mischeif making "boys will be boys" type of loveable loser. At the same time, the story does get across that Peter was a dumb, impulsive kid when he did what he did, and how can someone like that really be counted on to instantly make the right decisions when gifted with a phenomenal power? It gets more complicated when you factor in the presence of Project Rising Spirit, currently about to declare war on the Harbinger Foundation with Peter and his fellow "renegades" caught in the middle. Kris, for her part, never lets Peter off the hook, and neither does the story, but there are plenty of other things to worry about in the short and long-term.
This type of well-observed, intensely-focused character drama is what drives Harbinger, a comic about the difficulties of traveling the country and finding other superpeople with latent powers to join you in your crusade to stop a powerful would-be conqueror. That's what Peter Stanchek is up to in the current storyarc, anyway. Kris has reluctantly agreed to work with him to put together his ragtag team, and he already has Zephyr, the bubbly teenybopper who possesses the power of flight, on board. In Harbinger #7, the team encounters the girl who will be called Flamingo. For now, though, she's just Charlotte, a one-time party girl who ran away from her small Southern town and its small town attitudes to make it in New Orleans. It hasn't gone well for her. Dancing in a strip club and stuck with an abusive boyfriend, Charlotte continues the trend of the fairer sex being unable to catch a break in the book, which unfortunately only makes it resemble our own world all the more. Dysart doesn't beat us over the head with this theme, but it is prevalent. In a superpowered universe, the plight of women in a paternilistic society is only more lamentable.
Dysart's story reveals its layers late in the issue, when Stanchek activates Charlotte's fire-based powers. They burst forth from her body like a volcanic rage (as you'd expect from firey powers), and this is where Charlotte betrays her true feelings of anger and resentment. Throughout her first-person narration of the issue detailing her origin, Charlotte takes on a more resigned, "this is the way things are" kind of tone. By the time her powers manifest (in a gloriously rendered page by the art team), it makes sense that she has this simmering rage under the surface. What also fits in with the world Dysart has set up in Harbinger is Charlotte's actions when she gains her powers. Once again, this isn't an automatically virtuous world where everyone immediately does the right thing. Virtue is something that needs to be learned and discovered, and hopefully that happens with the support of other superpowered individuals going through the same thing. If it doesn't, then Peter Stanchek and his friends are good and screwed. That's really what Harbinger comes down to: How are these kids going to get it together enough to stop such exceptionally powerful threats to their being?
Harbinger #7 sees veteran comic book artist Barry Kitson come on to lend his expertise. His clean style works well with what's come before. Regular artists Lee Garbett and Khari Evans are still credited with some of the work in the issue, but the coloring by Ian Hannin and Dan Brown keeps things consistent. The art team uses the old but always effective trope of rendering flashback scenes in a different color scheme than the main story. There are some leering shots of Charlotte during those flashbacks (oh yeah, and when she's dancing in a strip club), but in a comic that's all about truth and consequences, they never really cross over into being particularly exploitative. They just further the point that the world of Harbinger is one where nothing is sugar-coated, and everything is dark and difficult. Under Dysart's pen, it's a narrative that's layered and sensitive, and it's always expanding. Dysart appears to be on for the long haul, since there's nothing he sets up that can be done away with all too easily. The Renegades truly are a superpowered group in a very real world, and it's all handled ably by Dysart and the rest of the creative team.
Written or Contributed by Royal Nonesuch
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