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Review: Imperium #1

Written by Royal Nonesuch on Wednesday, February 04 2015 and posted in Reviews

Review: Imperium #1

Utopia, with an iron fist. Brought to you by Joshua Dysart, Doug Braithwaite, and Valiant Comics!

"Every bridge has a toll."

Certainly, a cursory look at the comic book stands reveals that the comics medium is a delivery system for often colorful, largely powerful expressions of imagination. A slightly deeper look makes one think about just what it is we’re imagining. Much of the comics industry stands as a series of reflections on power, to say nothing of issues of violence or morality. When considering the character of Toyo Harada, particularly when written by Joshua Dysart, it’s clear that not only is he the major antagonist for the Valiant universe, he is the embodiment of the mainstream of comic book fiction.

A survivor of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, Toyo Harada was introduced in the Dysart-written Harbinger series for Valiant as one of the world’s most powerful psiots (as superpowers in the Valiant universe for the most part are a function of the mind, “psiot” is the name for beings in possession of such powers). Harada’s power lies not only in his martial ability, but also in his access to resources to make his vision for the world a reality. That vision — the advent of a peaceful, utopian age on Earth, brought about his waging of war and domination. Harada is certainly the big villain of the Valiant universe, but he’s remarkable in that he’s every superhero character turned on their ears. After all, what is at the root of every superhero story other than the notion that violence is the solution to all problems? Everyday survival is a fight, and justice and peace come at the business end of a punch, or kick, or weapon, or explosive energy blast. Sure they’re separated by countless dead bodies, but other than that, there isn’t much that separates the ultimate goals of Toyo Harada and Batman. Harada’s utopian vision of the earth, as seen in Imperium #1, would probably be a good look for Gotham City where Batman is concerned.

Dysart has made his name writing stories about the consequences of violence and power, and in Doug Braithwaite, he has a creative partner who renders the humanity of those stories wonderfully. Braithwaite’s art always carries a sense of weight and gravity, particularly in his human figures, and in Imperium #1, he takes us from the slums of India in the recent past to a utopian futuristic landscape and through to a Syrian battlefield in the present. From squalor to techno-utopia to the sight of human beings being cut down and turned to leaky bags of meat and bone by gunfire, the artwork expresses Harada’s plan of action, and it makes the story truly terrifying. Not only is Braithwaite’s sense of design eye-catching in these settings, particularly in the scenes taking place in the tech-laden future, but the humanity of every character is always apparent, and their worries, struggles, and ambitions are written in the lines on their faces (Harada’s countenance is most interesting, since it was revealed in Valiant’s Harbinger Wars crossover event that his slick, corporate badass image is simply a facade enabled by his telepathy. In actuality, he’s a physically feeble old man. Braithwaite still makes sure to get across that Harada’s is a mission that weighs on him greatly, regardless of what mask he wears). Braithwaite recently worked with Matt Kindt on Valiant’s Unity series, and Kindt once told a panel at New York Comic-Con that the artist has a way of making the reader care even about the people in a story who are killed off as cannon fodder. That talent is on display here, and it’s even enhanced now that he’s paired with a writer like Josh Dysart.

The most common theme in Dysart’s work is consequence, and in Toyo Harada, he has the perfect vehicle for exploring high personal stakes. To whit, of the members of a superhero team (whose heads Harada has literally been filling with visions of the peaceful world that awaits them as a reward) dropped into armed conflict in Syria, the most emotional and empathetic character is the robot. Take this exchange between the robot Mech Major (whose repeated demands to be called Sunlight on Snow fall on deaf ears) and teammate Stronghold, after the latter displays his cavalier attitude towards collateral damage:

“Stronghold! Stop! They’re Syrian Kurds. This girl you killed. We’re on her side.”

“We’re on no one’s side. Besides, how the hell am I supposed to tell them apart?”

“Human! It’s bad enough that we’re killing anyone. You don’t get to kill the wrong ones!”

It’s a dark, twisted bit of dialogue, but one that conveys exactly what Harada is all about. Sure, violence and killing are abhorrent, even to an automaton, but in specific cases, it’s necessary. This coming from an ostensible moral center. As the narrator of the issue states, “the battle for a better world is gonna be the hardest fight that maybe anyone’s ever fought before, and we’re going to have to do horrible things to win it.” With Imperium, Josh Dysart and Doug Braithwaite have created a fascinating space where they can examine the power fantasies of the mainstream comic book zeitgeist, and their main character isn’t just a dark reflection of our favorite heroes — he’s their most logical extension. The Avengers and the Justice League commit violent acts everyday to make a “better world too.” They could probably sit down and drink tea with Toyo Harada before coming to blows with him.  


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About the Author - Royal Nonesuch

As Senior Media Correspondent (which may be a made-up title), Royal Nonesuch tends to spearhead a lot of film and television content on The Outhouse. He's still a very active participant in the comic book section of the site, though. Nonesuch writes reviews of film, television, and comics, and conducts interviews for the site as well.  You can reach out to him on Twitter or with Email.


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