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 catching up with VALIANT’s teen team, as the Harbinger kids put the pressure on Toyo Harada and suffer the consequences.
It’s Place within VALIANT:
Picking up where the prior storyline had left off, issues #5-7 of “Harbinger” flows directly from the ‘Children of the Eighth Day’ arc. While the original arc had focused on introducing the various characters and had immediately thrown them into a Spider-Alien story, this new arc does not diverge at all and truly focuses on the Harbinger kids. However, in a very VALIANT way, we still do get a cameo by Solar in the first two issues, albeit minimal. While fan reaction for the series would pick up in coming months, “Harbinger” is still very much in an embryonic stage at this point and can be said to be struggling in the marketplace.
Unlike “X-O Manowar,” which had the weight of Barry Windsor-Smith and Steve Englehart behind it. “Harbinger” is very much an in-house creation, with the majority of the work being done Jim Shooter and a plethora of fresh faces or long-time industry veterans.
Issues #5 & 6 of this story arc included coupons redeemable for “Harbinger” #0. As in the original 4 issues, the coupons are printed with a panel of ‘The Story of Harada.’ A 6-part origin story of Harada told a panel at a time. Print runs for this second arc remained substantially low, with 40,000, 40,000 and 50,000 units created for their respective issue.
Publication dates: May 1992 – July 1992
Written by Jim Shooter & Janet Jackson
Penciled by David Lapham
Inked by John Dixon & Gonzalo Mayo
Colored by Maria Beccari & Knob Row
Lettered by Joe Abelo, George Roberts Jr. & Jade Moede
Having been brought together by their leader, Peter. The Harbinger kids are on a quest to take down Toyo Harada and the Harbinger Foundation before they can hurt any more superhuman kids. After their last encounter it’s not long before Peter picks up Harada’s mental trail. Tracking him to Dallas, the team shows up at a Harbinger facility just as one of their Eggbreakers, Puff, has lost control of his powers.
As the team begins battling with the troops Solar appears. Understanding the nature of Puff’s powers, Solar knows how to control them. Unable to teach him though, Peter reaches into Solar’s mind and extracts the method then transfers them to Puff. Effectively nullifying the situation. With Solar’s help the kids are able to escape before anything else can go wrong.
Anticipating that Harada wouldn’t expect them to attack on the same night, Peter and the team return shortly after. Instead of surprising Harada though, they are blindsided by a sneak attack. With Peter nearly incapacitated Harada gives the order to kill Peter and Torque. Hearing this, Puff and Thumper, who feel indebted to the kids for saving Puff’s life, knock Harada out. Allowing the team to escape.
The following day, Harada determines where the team is going. That night a group of Eggbreakers intercepts the team on a desolate road. During the battle both teams cause significant damage to each other, but it is Rock, an Eggbreaker, who strikes a mortal wound. Impaling Torque repeatedly with a giant spike, he leaves him for dead. Upon seeing their fallen friend Faith calls an ambulance, but as Torque is taken away Peter realizes one of the Eggbreakers is in the van. Yanking it open they are too late. The Eggbreaker Weasel has injected Torque with a lethal toxin. In a last ditch effort Peter enters Torque’s mind, but he can’t save him, he can only say goodbye.Continued below
With the weight of the casualty fresh on their hearts, the team must comfort each other while they make impromptu arrangements. Faced with the consequences of their actions the team is on the verge of splitting, with Peter’s single minded obsession clashing with Kris’ need to mourn. Ultimately, through their belief in each other, Flamingo’s religion and Faith’s positive spirit, the team remains together. Utilizing some cash Torque had squirrelled away the team buys a new classic Mustang and continue on their journey in memory of their fallen teammate.
Of all the various comics that makeup VALIANT’s pre-Unity run, “Harbinger” remains as the most time displaced title. In this regard time displaced doesn’t refer to an interesting plot point like in “Magnus” or even a comedic theme like in “Futurama.” “Harbinger” is time displaced because it’s pacing, tone and dialogue are thoroughly entrenched in the early ‘90’s. Short of reading a “Lobo” or “Youngblood” title from the same period it would be difficult to find a comic that so exhaustively embraced the decade it was created. As such, while the storyline has been quite enjoyable, progressively so as each issue has been better than the previous, it just feels a bit distant.
Clearly the focal point of this story arc was to highlight the death of Torque. This brought numerous things into play. First and foremost was the fact that characters will die in VALIANT comics. This will not be the last time a major character dies in this pre-Unity run, and clearly Shooter understands that in order for the audience to feel a real attachment to the characters there must be real consequences. In the 25 years since ‘Unity’ comic creators, more particularly independents such as VALIANT, have understood that one of the major drawbacks of the Big Two (Marvel & DC) is the lack of consequences. With intellectual properties held in such high regard the Big Two can’t afford to take story based liberties that a smaller publisher can. Ultimately, it is to their detriment as we can clearly see here that “Harbinger” is a better book because of Torque’s death, not in spite of it.
The second repercussion of Torque’s death was to establish the continuing vibe of the comic going forward. Up to now “Harbinger” has been focused on a group of teen/early twenties kids with a singular focus and a general obliviousness to the dire consequences constantly surrounding them. Part of their charm is that they are winging it. We see in this three issue arc multiple occasions when the results of their battles start to really come home. Be it from Faith’s reaction to severely injuring a Harbinger troop to Torque’s eventual death. The consequences of these battles are constantly amped up. When Torque dies this rise in violence hits a crescendo, and we can see that the group is teetering on either continuing in their joyful ways or disbanding and letting the weight of it all rip them apart. It is a testament to Shooter’s writing that the decision plays out as emotionally as it does. Dedicating the entire seventh issue to resolving this is a risk with such an action based series, but it played out beautifully.
The other critical facet of “Harbinger” remains the artwork. This is a difficult issue as we all know the success that David Lapham would later receive with “Stray Bullets” and his work for Top Cow, Marvel & DC. The truth of the matter though, is that Lapham’s work on “Harbinger” is not very good. The artwork is a rollercoaster in term of consistency. Some panels look very pleasing, with a beautiful amount of detail and fresh faces on his teenage characters. Other panels though are mired in issues, ranging from proportional, body position, and a divergence in the characters facial features. The work is certainly passable, but it shows the rough beginnings the Lapham worked through.
While I generally detest critiquing artwork as I am a poor artist by any right. My comfort is that Lapham himself recognizes the rough nature of his beginnings. In an interview he did with de-code.net’s Nicola Peruzzi, Lapham states: “My first story I drew was called The Ultimate Warrior’s Ultimate Workout, for the 2nd issue of a WWF comic magazine VALIANT did briefly just before the superhero universe took over. I was awful, but they got the legendary Stan Drake to ink it so it looks all right.” There isn’t much separating that first “WWF Comic Magazine” outing from his “Harbinger” work, but as previously stated each issue shows improvement. Most importantly Lapham nailed the critical panels in this run, particularly Torque’s interaction with Peter in his subconscious just before he passes away.Continued below
Ultimately, “Harbinger” remains an enjoyable read. A bit repetitive in that each issue essentially focuses on the team, Harada and his Eggbreakers, but it’s a solid teen based book. I remember thoroughly enjoying it as a young teen myself. It is only the passage of time that has allowed the cracks in its foundation to show. Much like a great masterpiece from Greek or Roman times though, the cracks don’t detract from its beauty. They simply allow us to appreciate how its beauty had stood the test of time.
Coming up Next:
It’s time to catchup with Aric one more time before “X-O Manowar” reaches the ‘Unity’ crossover. Check out “X-O Manowar” #5 & 6 as we see the continuing saga of a Visigoth in modern times.