Welcome to Unifying VALIANT, our celebration of the 25-year anniversary of VALIANT’s companywide crossover ‘Unity.’ A precursor to the now omnipresent annual comic event, ‘Unity’ and VALIANT changed the face of the comic industry in the early ‘90’s. In each entry we’ll be focusing on one of the company’s storylines until culminating at ‘Unity.’ Follow along as we dig deep and rediscover what made VALIANT the innovative and revolutionary company it was.
This week we’re meeting VALIANT’s teen team, as the Harbinger kids make their first appearance in ‘Children of the 8th Day.’
It’s Place within VALIANT:
“Harbinger” represents VALIANT’s first full title foray into their own characters. While thus far both “Magnus” and “Solar” had been highly successful and excellent reads, those endeavors were based on licensed characters. While nothing should be taken away from VALIANT’s achievements with their licensed characters, you are basing your storylines and plots on preexisting canon. It is an infinitely more difficult proposition to create the same level of achievement based on characters with no pre-existing fan base.
VALIANT had made an effort to sprinkle in some knowledge of “Harbinger” with the introduction of the corporation and Toyo Harada in “Solar” #3. That issue does not feature a particularly extraordinary story, yet it did plant the seed into early VALIANT readers of a nefarious corporation whose leader can rival Solar in terms of power. Harada’s true origin is featured in a 6-panel story, ‘The Story of Harada,’ told a panel at a time found within each of the first 6-issues of the series. Each issue contained a coupon which when sent in collectively could be redeemed for “Harbinger” #0. The panel featuring Harada’s origin would be attached to that coupon.
Print runs for this initial “Harbinger” run were very small for the time. Issue #1 had an estimated run of 48,000 units, while issues #2-4 receiving subsequently smaller runs at 40,000, 40,000 & 37,500 units respectively. With such low print runs it is no surprise that the amount of coupons sent in for the issue #0 sendaway was remarkably small, with approximately only 3,500 copies made. This makes “Harbinger” #0 (the original pink sendaway variant) one of the most notoriously difficult issues to find from VALIANT’s Pre-Unity era. “Harbinger” #0 would later be reprinted and sold with the “Harbinger” trade paperback, alleviating its scarcity for people who simply wanted to read the story.
Publication dates: January 1992 – April 1992
Written by Jim Shooter
Penciled by David Lapham
Inked by John Dixon
Colored by Janet Jackson, Maria Beccari, Knob Row & Jorge Gonzalez
Lettered by John Costanza, Ken Lopez & Anthony J. Avon
Led by Toyo Harada, the Harbinger Foundation is involved in identifying and institutionalizing super-powered individuals to meet their own needs. Their most prodigious recruit, Peter, is blessed with an array of mental powers that rival Harada’s. Peter though, proves too rebellious and distrustful of the foundation, and escapes with his non-powered girlfriend, Kris. This romantic duo forms the basis of a Harbinger resistance movement, as they search through the foundation’s database to intercept recruits before they can be assimilated. Their first three targets all display superhuman abilities once Peter taps into their minds and unlocks their power. Joined by Zephyr (who has the power of flight), Flamingo (who can burst into flames), and Torque (who has superhuman strength), the group is constantly harassed by Harbinger agents trying to stifle them.
After a skirmish where Kris is wounded, the team befriends a doctor that allows them to stay at his beach house. While there Peter and the team spend their time easing themselves into the impromptu squad they’ve formed, as various aspects of their personalities clash. On their next investigative run the team is put to the test, as Harada himself shows up with a squad to stop the team. Once again the team proves their worth, taking care of all the super-powered Harbinger agents that are thrown their way.
The team’s next recruiting mission leads them to Ax, whose computer based superpower is unleashed by Peter. Utilizing Ax’s wizardry to disseminate Harbinger files, the team finds a lead that takes them to a mysterious longitude & latitude coordinate in the woods. Once there the team is attacked by Spider-Aliens. Making quick work of the invading extraterrestrials, the team hijacks one of their ships as Ax pilots them towards the Spider-Alien armada. The team’s second encounter with the aliens has less than ideal results, as they are ambushed and gassed. Awakening, the team realizes that Ax has betrayed them, allowing the majority of the team to be captured with the exception of Flamingo, who lights Ax’s crotch on fire before preparing to take on the Spider-Aliens singlehandedly.
Faced against bitter odds Flamingo shows her worth. She defeats the Spider-Aliens and releases her teammates, allowing them to make their way back to Earth. Once back the team dumps Ax and then decide to go their separate ways. As each member returns to their previous lives they realize that many months have passed since they went up to space. The lost time, coupled with the experiences they’ve had, proves to be too much. As each of the members make their way back together, only Torque remains missing. The team searches him out, and just in time. Ax has been recruited by Harbinger and has chosen to attack Torque first. Joining the fray the team deals with Ax and the Harbinger agents. Cementing their bond and their group’s mission of derailing Harbinger’s global plans.
It can be argued that “Harbinger” remains the most sought after title from VALIANT’s early pre-Unity run. Normally that would be considered a sign of an excellent comic. Lamentably, while the issues were perfectly pleasing to read, the storyline took a distinctive step down after the magnificence of “Solar” and “Magnus.” The impetus for this popularity stems from the extreme rarity surrounding these issues (print runs were well below 50,000 copies for each issue), and the inclusion of the send away coupons. Nevertheless, to disparage the issues because they fall beneath “Solar” and “Magnus” is a disservice to “Harbinger,” as there are many positives found within.
The writing and pacing throughout this four issue run is a bit of a rollercoaster. While there are moments that feature brilliant writing by Jim Shooter, others come across as fragmented with questionable character motivations and peculiar plot points. There is a lot of good here, however, Shooter isn’t able to craft a fully immersive experience as he had throughout his VALIANT run so far. Of the five original team members, two appear to join the team for no particular reason. Likewise, the Harbinger agents that follow them range from clever spies to bumbling office workers. It’s clear that Shooter is trying to portray the team as a group of talented loose cannons that can stay one step ahead through a combination of skill and persistence. Yet, it feels that a lot of times they can get away simply because the Harbinger agents are incompetent.
Then you have the dialogue. While a difficult pill to swallow given modern day sensibilities, I’m willing to give the dialogue a pass based on its age and teen influenced vocabulary. Plus, comics as a genre have always had difficulty in providing believable dialogue for teen characters. Whether they be members of the X-Men, Teen Titans, or the kids from Harbinger. Even then it’s difficult to find any consistent chemistry between the characters, both on a friendly level or the ones romantically involved. The exception to this is the team’s ridiculing of Faith’s weight. Their constant hazing and taunting by calling her “Zeppelin” rings true to this day, even if her overly optimistic attitude would now be replaced with a blanket proclamation of bullying. It’s interesting to see how something that was acceptable thirty years ago can become a social taboo, yet its imprint remains frozen in time within the comic page.
All that being said, the chemistry between the characters and the general vibe of the writing improved with each passing issue. As each of the characters developed, their clichéd dialogue proportionately decreased. This is especially true of Flamingo and Torque, who spent the first three issues spewing cringe inducing one line innuendos at each other. By the time you get to issue #4 things are churning rather nicely, making this issue the most pleasing to read. I’d also be remiss not to mention one of the best moments from these early VALIANT issues as Flamingo burns off Ax’s crotch. It’s a great moment for the character and a clear example of the risqué nature that Shooter brought to VALIANT.Continued below
In a similar fashion to the writing, David Lapham’s pencils aren’t quite as wonderful as the work he did on the Rai intro issues. He’s also asked to do much more in these issues. The nature of the team’s adventures takes them to a multitude of settings, from a forest to a beach, and even deep space. Though some of the artwork is less detail rich, there are certain areas where Lapham excels. His depiction of women, for example, are consistently beautiful across the board. Both Kris and Flamingo should come across as gorgeous women. But even Faith, who is young and pudgy, is drawn with warmth and attractiveness by Lapham. Clearly regardless of the artistic demands of a character, the attention Lapham gives to the women of the Harbinger team is a priority.
The crux of this storyline is that it represents early 90’s comics almost perfectly. That’s really what characterizes these early “Harbinger” issues. They are a specimen of storytelling locked in time, from an era where writers gave their characters overly cheesy lines and social norms were not what they are today. It doesn’t take away from the quality of the comic though. They are still a fun read and a necessary primer for what is yet to come.
Coming up Next:
So far the Spider-Aliens have found themselves in all the VALIANT titles, so next we’re going to go deep into their territory and meet Aric, X-O Manowar. Pick up “X-O Manowar” #1-4 – ‘Retribution’ as we go hunting for some Spider-Aliens while on our way to ‘Unity.’