3.20.2013

Harbinger #10 [Valiant Effort]

Harbinger #10 (Valiant): The biggest draw in an issue like this are the physical stakes and emotional heart running throughout the book. Perhaps future Harbinger critics will look back on this and cite it as the official “moment” that a real team is born, as the unlikely crew thrust together is about to dive unknowingly into the Harbinger Wars. Joshua Dysart is great at capturing mood, whether it’s an introspective and regretful Peter, the always loyal and down for a challenge Faith, sliding in quick bouts of humor, or leading us to organic death-defying action scenes. Dysart’s dialogue is also very crisp and effective, there’s really nothing superfluous about it, nothing fatty to be found, just “meat on the bone” as one of my old bosses liked to say. Something as simple as Kris uttering “We die plotting” in a pinch, or Charlene saying “Thrust… Thrust… THRUST!” repeatedly brings an instant level of clarity and intensity to the proceedings. If the X-Men, as a concept, were created now, in the 21st century, instead of decades past in the offbeat 1960’s, it might look something like this. It’s no surprise given Dysart’s penchant for real-world politics fueling some of his work, like the lamented Unknown Soldier over at Vertigo. Here in Harbinger, we find the same social relevance as the original X-Men, but it’s been modernized with more self-aware and media savvy kids, hidden wars steeped in corporate malfeasance and government secrecy, and innovative action sequences that push the envelope. Dysart is cognizant about the type of fresh characterization he provides and how he can subvert audience expectations in the process. Faith is an obvious off-type female lead, while Peter stands among the best reluctant leaders, and (though not in this issue) Toyo Harada is a more complex and sympathetic “villain” than you’d typically expect to find in ostensible “cape” comics. For my money, Harbinger is a clear creative standout in a very strong line of books. My only slight gripe (there had to be one, you know me) is that I do wish there was more stability on the art side of the equation. It seems that every couple of issues features a different artist, with this issue bearing 4(!) artists listed, though I will say that the inks of Stefano Gaudiano seem to unify the styles fairly well. There are some individual moments that are visually brilliant; the doctor firing a handgun on the last panel of that page and the shot illuminating his face, or Charlene awkwardly trying to land both come to mind, but I can’t help the feeling that a more cohesive and consistent aesthetic would be achieved with a single artist. Needless to say, I’m all-in for Harbinger Wars, H.A.R.D. Corps, and wherever else this corner of the Valiant Universe takes us. It'll be a fun ride. There’s no doubt in my mind that the writing is straight A material, and if the art displays some opportunity for improvement, then this issue clocks in with a Grade A-. Note: By the way, welcome to a new recurring column here at Thirteen Minutes where I’ll be taking a look at select books in the Valiant line as we prepare to dive into Harbinger Wars.

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