Saturday, January 10, 2015

Harbinger: Overall-Part 1 (Classic Valiant)

Harbinger is a series from Valiant Comics that ran for 42 issues, from 1992, to 1995. I'll only be looking at the first 26 issues today, as they're very distant from the rest of the series. The two halves are very different, and have an almost entirely different cast, so it's more suitable to do two separate 'Overall' posts for Harbinger, as reviewing both halves in the same post would just be a mess!

The Harbinger Foundation is a seemingly benevolent organization that secretly helps superpowered people, who they deem Harbingers. Businessman Toyo Harada runs the Foundation, and he does so cruelly, killing whoever and destroying whatever he perceives to be a threat to him as he covertly works to rebuild the world in his image. Opposing him is Peter Stanchek, an equally-powered Harbinger renegade. Together with his friends Kris, Flamingo, Faith, Torque, and Shatiqua, Pete struggles to end the threat Harada poses to the world...

The first and biggest problem with the series is that it has no idea what it wants to do. You'd think the series about a group of renegade teenagers battling a supervillain would be about just that, but it isn't! When not stumbling into superfluous space hijinks, the team basically sit on their asses in their NY apartment. In some issues, they look for fellow Harbingers, but this doesn't happen very often, and never amounts to anything, except for gaining a new team member in Shatiqua. They never take the battle to Harada after Issue #6, and it's not because of a team member's death that issue. It's just lazy writing, because the author doesn't want the series' plot to advance.

The writing throughout this series is pretty mediocre, and the main arc is never advanced even one iota. It only moves a tad in the grand finale, but that's comprised of a single fight scene that ends with two abrupt cop-outs, then the story just stops.

The characters in this series are dull. None have much to them, and quite a few are killed off way too soon. Torque, for example, is a good character, who's not too developed, but he's growing slowly but surely...and then he's killed off in Issue #6! This completely wastes the character! He could've really had some depth as the series went on, but he's killed way too early, and after he dies, he's rarely mentioned, and his death affects nothing!

Peter is a dull team leader, while Kris' character is that she's Pete's girlfriend. Faith 'Zephyr' Herbert is likeable, but underutilized. It's also really annoying how much the series mocks her for being overweight. Every one of her teammates calls her Zeppelin instead of Zephyr, and they never stop doing this, or apologize.

Shatiqua is dull. She has no personality, and never really contributes much to plots. The only time where she does have an emotional stake with a story's events is in Issue #17, and it's incredibly forced there. She's supposed to have developed a strong connection with a character, and is devastated to see him permanently taken away by the Harbinger Foundation, but we never saw the two even interact outside of swapping names! The worst thing to happen to Shatiqua is that she's abruptly killed off in a women-in-refrigerators moment. This death robs the character of potential development and only happens to affect the male lead.

Not complex in the slightest, Toyo Harada is a boring villain, mainly because as the series' main story arc never advances, neither can his character, so it remains stagnant. What's worse is that it was always destined to be permanently stagnant given the Valiant company bible Rai #0, which irrevocably confirmed that Harada would survive unhindered for a thousand years, so if you've read that before Harbinger, then you're in for a frustrating read.

The worst character injustice comes in the grand finale-Issues #23, #24, and #25. Kris, Faith, and Charlene are brainwashed offscreen, go kill-crazy, and suddenly vanish from the plot for nearly two whole issues. They briefly reappear, having had their memory's wiped, and after abruptly leaving, they never appear again in the story. Kris never even appears in anything after this!

Harbinger has some pretty misogynistic traits to it at times. First of all, in Issue #0, the hero mind-rapes schoolgirl Kris, and possibly actually rapes her to boot, assuming they had sex while she was under his control (which is very likely), yet once she's free from his control, not only does she forgive him in a nanosecond, she's totally willing to jump his bones a day later. In case you're wondering what Jim Shooter's power fantasy is...

Then there's the fact that nearly every villain in Shooter's (thankfully brief) run of the series constantly threatens sexual violence. This would be fine if not for the fact that it's all there is to these villains, and they just don't stop making these comments and threats. Making this worse is when one of the heroes borderline does this, even ripping off a female villains clothes off after beating her to a pulp! And he's not being portrayed as morally ambiguous in the scene!

And finally, there's more of the series' treatment of its female characters. Some exist only to be brainwashed and/or killed in order to affect the male characters, while Kris has a baby only to instantly lose it, and we never get to see how she feels about this until five issues after the fact. To boot, her inner turmoil is overcome extremely quickly, with some mind rape, which the writer didn't seem to realize is a bad thing!

Now lets discuss the themes, or lack thereof, of Harbinger. Many claim that the series portrays a battle between the Renegades against a man they believe to be a supervillain, but in their fight against him, the audience comes to see that given Harada's benevolent aspects and the teens' misuse of their powers, maybe they're the ones in the wrong, or at the least, both parties are deeply morally ambiguous. Yeah, that's bullshit! Having read the series, I can confirm that none of that comes across. Harada is a cackling murderous madman with zero redeeming qualities, while the Renegades are a bunch of bland do-gooders who never misuse their powers except on very rare occasions when they badly hurt people, but those are only in moments of dire self-defense (for example, Faith accidentally backs a guy into glass while he's trying to shoot her to death), and Pete rarely misuses his powers, and even rarely goes all out with them. Only in the Unity event, and in Issues #24 and #25 does he really cut loose with them and cause lots of destruction, but in the former, that's a good thing, and in the latter, it just comes across as out-of-character.

There are moments where Peter gravely misuses his power, but one such occasion is in Issue #0, when the character's just learnt about his powers, and is acting selfishly with them at first, until the death of his friend makes him realize the error of his ways, jumpstarting the series' plot. Because of this, that example doesn't count, while with all future examples, the dubious nature of his acts completely went over the writers' heads, such as the mind-rape of Kris in Issue #14.

Harbinger is a rotten series, and I can't recommend it less. It's a poorly written, poorly though-out, dirty piece of garbage!...

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