Sunday, August 12, 2012

Advance Review: Harbinger #3

Harbinger #3
Writer: Joshua Dysart
Artists: Khari Evans & Lewis Larosa
Colours: Iain Hannin
August 15, 2012

The first two issues of Harbinger have been very good at establishing Peter Stanchek as a character and  setting up the events that have created both his personality, and the world around him. These issues have introduced readers to the modern life of a psychologically unstable youth with incredible psychic abilities, and we have seen first hand what can happen when he uses those powers irresponsibly.

Issue #3 finally introduces us to the Harbinger Foundation, to Toyo Harada and his vision of the world, and to what happens when a young harbinger like Peter Stanchek is discovered by Harada and his vast international network.

Joshua Dysart has done an excellent job in updating Harbinger to fit our modern context, a period of 21st century late-capitalism, when corporate control over our daily lives far exceeds government intervention. When Peter snidely remarks to Harada that he wasn't aware he was escaping his life on the run just to work for a corporation, Harada tells Peter matter of factly, "we're not a corporation Peter, we're a culture," and it struck me as the single-most insightful thing I've read in a comic book in months, if not this year.

More than any other writer currently working for Marvel or DC, Dysart seems to appreciate just how outmoded the old paradigm of the individual vs. the corporation is in a world where corporations like Apple and Google control not only the dissemination and consumption of mass media, but are incorporated by individuals as defining factors of their personalities. These companies influence more than our lives, they influence how we think about ourselves, the construction of our very identity, and conversely, how we relate to other people with similar brand identifications. Apple and Google know that they have become lifestyle brands, and Dysart knows this as well.

Dysart and Evans recognize the impact these kinds of corporations have had on our society since the initial Harbinger series, and it shows in their representation of Harada and his network of corporate interests, from his goal of species cohesion (which sounds vaguely like Rupert Murdoch's crypto-fascist delcaration of "all media are one") to the branding of the world's most popular search engine as "Toyo." This series has officially raised the bar for any comic book series looking to tackle the individual vs. the corporation story.

Clearly, this is thought-provoking stuff, but is it any fun to read? Thankfully I can say without reservation that yes, this book is full of excitement and this issue gives us a real taste of the kind of full-on psychic battles I'm sure we'll be seeing more of as this series progresses. Khari Evans art has been improving with each issue, and this issue reached the highlight of the series thus far when he depicted a fight between an angry Peter and the assistant instructor of the Harbinger school.

It was a short, but satisfying battle between two psychics, and I can't wait to see more combat like this in upcoming issues.The action was flashy and electric but maintained a level of plausibility throughout, and it was easily more engaging than any fight between Marvel's heroes that I've read lately.

I should also mention that Lewis Larosa's art, seen in the flashback scene depicted in this preview, is a sight to behold. It fits the tone of Dysart's writing so well in this scene, and I hope that he continues to be a part of this book because I want to see more art this good.

Which brings me to another point, which I'm sure you'll hear from other writers: this is how a comic book about teenagers with powers should read. There hasn't been a New Mutants, Teen Titans, or equivalent teenage superhero book this good in years.

If you ever liked the concept of teenagers learning to use their powers responsibly and have taken that premise seriously, then you need to read Harbinger.

As a fan  of the original series from the 90s, I was cautiously optimistic that this reincarnation would live up to its predecessor, but if this series continues to be this good I am confident in saying that the new Harbinger will surpass the original in terms of overall quality.

This is a thought-provoking, frequently challenging work of art that like another comic I'm really enjoying these days, Saga, makes just about everything else in the mainstream comics biz look like it was produced by rank amateurs.

There is so much more I want to say about this book, but I want you to discover it for yourself. If you've held off on Valiant or this series so far, head to your local comics shop this Wednesday or go to Comixology and buy the first three issues of this series right now.

If you enjoy mature stories in realistic settings that deal with contemporary issues like the ones I've described above, then you will love Harbinger.

Don't make me use my mind powers on you.

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