Harbinger (Vol. 1): Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart (writer) and Lewis LarRosa (artist) and Khari Evans (artist) and other various artists
Until recently, I’d read only a few various issues from Valiant, a publisher that is still relatively unknown to me; however, based on a recommendation of a friend with good taste in comics and an excellent weekend sale at Comixology, I decided to give the Valiant Universe a try. I started with the first issue of Harbinger, and before I knew it, I’d read the first two collected volumes of Harbinger, as well as the first collected volume of Valiant’s Bloodshot, before realizing it was 3:00 in the morning. They are the equivalent of the perfectly written, filmed, acted, and paced Hollywood Summer Blockbuster.
Harbinger is about Peter Stanchek, a teenager who has super-powers, but the book doesn’t feel like a superhero book. It’s very much grounded in a world that seems much like our own. Most people in the world of Harbinger don’t believe that there are superheroes or that people have superpowers. Most sane people in that world also don’t believe in conspiracy theories, and technology, while advanced, doesn’t often surprise the ordinary person any more than it surprises us. So, though the Valiant Universe appears the same as ours, if people in the VU could only get a glimpse behind the curtain, they’d be in for quite a shock. Valiant comic books, of course, let us see what’s really going on by pulling down the entire curtain for us.
We our invited behind that curtain in different ways, depending on which comic book series you start with, but from what I can tell, most, if not all, of the books tie together. Peter is a kid on the run who can hear what everyone is thinking and can only block those thoughts out by taking as many narcotics as he can stand. He also can control people by getting inside their brains and making them perform an action, think a certain way, or even feel a specific emotion, such as love. He can then wipe their minds so they have no memory of him if he decides to do so. With these skills, he can walk into any pharmacy, bank, or restaurant and have people give him what he wants without upsetting anyone. They don’t even remember he was there.
Peter is on the run with the only friend he’s ever had: Joe, another teenaged boy whom he met in an institution. Unlike Peter, Joe has no super powers. He’s a mentally disturbed young man who was kind to Peter, and Peter tries to take care of Joe and make him take his medications, a difficult chore while on the run from the authorities.
What makes Peter’s attempt to flee so difficult is that he is running from too many people. First, he is running from a man who represents Project Rising Spirit, an organization that seems to have only bad intentions. However, as they close in, Peter becomes aware of a second organization, the Harbinger Foundation. The Foundation is a large organization, and it is seemingly a much better alternative to Project Rising Spirit. However, as we learn more and more about the Harbinger Foundation and Project Rising Spirit, many of our beliefs are thrown into question.
Peter is eventually “saved” by the Foundation, taken in, and given a place to live. He meets other students who have powers like his, though perhaps not as powerful. The hierarchy within the Foundation is an interesting one: Harada seemingly runs it, but he consults with the Bleeding Monk, a mystical, old man with precognitive abilities. There’s a psychologist, a headmaster known as Hidden Moon, and a woman who communicates with machines and has shifting loyalties.
What makes this book great? As I said before, it’s a perfect action story with top-notch art and excellent dialogue. But the suspense is what keeps readers turning the pages. These are the concerns that keep us reading: There are hidden layers within the Foundation, and we wonder what all those layers are; the Foundation has so much financial and political power in the world, conspiracy theories seem likely to be accurate; Peter’s powers have not been fully revealed to us yet, since neither the Foundation nor Peter himself know the full extent of what he can do; his relationship with a tough, intelligent girl is complicated, to put it mildly; and the general unpredictability of much of what happens makes the book very difficult to stop reading. Important people die in this book, and since the VU isn’t tied to some giant company like DC or Marvel, almost anything can happen. It’s fantastic.
Other than Bloodshot, I haven’t read the other titles in the Valiant Universe, but I plan to. Because I haven’t immersed myself in the VU yet, I know the first two volumes of Harbinger read well without knowing anything else about these other Valiant titles; however, since I’ve finished the first volume of Bloodshot, I now know that Bloodshot was created by Project Rising Spirit, the same organization Peter’s running from. Bloodshot is the ultimate weapon (similar, in many ways, to Wolverine in Marvel), and when Project Rising Spirit decides to pull the plug on the project by terminating him, Bloodshot decides to go after them to terminate them. From what he’s been forced to do for the organization in the past (once again, much like Wolverine), we know he’s capable of fulfilling that goal, too. I imagine that Peter and Bloodshot will be crossing paths soon, but I don’t know if they’ll be friends or enemies. I can’t wait to find out.
I’m excited to find these Valiant titles: Harbinger is a great book to read by itself even if you don’t plan to read any other comics from Valiant. But I’d be very surprised if you can read Harbinger without seeking out Bloodshot. As I get deeper into the VU, I’ll be reporting back. In the meantime, give Harbinger a chance.
Harbinger has to be my favorite regular series from the last decade. The first arc sets up Pete and Toyo perfectly. The second arc, Renegades, does an incredible job of quickly widening the cast while taking the time to make each new character unique and whole. Keep reading through 25! In every war there must be casualties.
Comics rarely move me emotionally, but in the first 25 issues of Harbinger there are a handful of moments that made me remember how comics can be so very powerful.