When I worked at a comic store, I had a very simple sales pitch for Valiant’s “Harbinger.” “It’s like X-Men,” I would tell customers, “but it’s really, really good.” I meant that it followed a group of young superheroes, protecting a world that hated and feared them, navigating a soap-opera of drama as they used their powers to save the universe. The thing is, classic “X-Men” was an unpredictable title, hard to fit into a simple box. That’s one of the things that made it great. “Harbinger: Renegade” is a comic that has decided to be similarly unpredictable.
Written by Rafer Roberts
Illustrated by Juan Jose Ryp
Colored by Andrew Dalhouse
Lettered by Simon Bowland
A HISTORIC HARBINGER MOMENT! After ‘MASSACRE’?witness the brutal beginning of the Renegades’ murderous new foe! At the height of the Dark Ages, one of the world’s first psiots has made a terrible discovery: he is not alone. Lurking in the shadows, a mind as sadistic as it is powerful waits – a predator with a darkness so great, it will consume any rivals that dare reveal themselves. How will the secret of these legendary figures come to bear on the modern day…and how will it shape the catastrophic Harbinger War that is to come? ‘MASSACRE’ enters an insidious interlude revealing the origin of the Valiant Universe’s greatest threat, as Harvey Award-nominated writer Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) and incendiary artist Juan Jose Ryp (BRITANNIA) plot the next step in the road to HARBINGER WARS 2!
This issue took a crazy diversion. There is not a single panel of our regular cast. Faith, Peter, Kris, Torque, none of them appeared for a second. Instead, it took place in an extended flashback to the medieval world, just after the Norman Conquests. It gave us a look at what is becoming an increasingly detailed history of the Valiant universe.
One thing Valiant has struggled with is creating new villains. “Harbinger” has been the main exception to that rule, and ongoing nemesis Toyo Harada has become the Doctor Doom of Valiant, threatening the whole universe with panache and style. That’s why this extended flashback makes sense to me, it’s a good way to establish the Alpha (or the Stormbringer) as a credible threat. He’s the reason we’ve gone back to 1097, to see his first defeat.
As much as the concept behind this issue makes sense to me, something was missing. Ignoring the regular cast completely is a brave storytelling move, but it doesn’t entirely work for a single issue. In the collected trade, this story will be full of foreshadowing, and effectively establish the Alpha. While the world-building was fascinating, the characters in the issue were mostly disposable. Sir Gerald of Catalonia, our point of view character, doesn’t have a lot going on, so experiencing his torment felt flat.
Fortunately, what the story lacked in characterization, it more than made up for in artwork. Valiant doesn’t exactly have a house style (a book like “Rai” looks nothing like “Faith”), but this art style created a continuity with one of my favorite Valiant titles: Britannia. Although it’s a thousand years later, rooting the muddy, bloody history of this world in Ryp’s detailed style, makes the past feel as vibrant as it should. The people of this period are dirty and ugly, but the landscape is beautiful, and nothing is as impressive as the lovingly rendered medieval engines of war. I can’t speak to the accuracy of the various battering rams, siege towers and suits of armor, but they are awesome. I found myself lingering on panels, drinking in all the detail that Juan Jose Ryp had to offer. Using him as the artist of historical periods is a brilliant move, that cements this issue in the greater universe. Other comic companies should take note.
The easy thing to do with this story would have been to make it nearly silent. With so much action and conflict, the art could have carried the whole issue, maybe with a few full page spreads. Valiant don’t play like that though; there is not a single page with fewer than three panels. Even the largest panels are bordered by inserts. Harbinger: Renegade #6 is not a throwaway filler issue. It’s not a quick decompressed fight scene. It’s a dense one-shot, full of detail.Continued below
Ultimately, that ends up being a double-edged sword. It’s amazing how much work went into this issue, but in the end, I wasn’t entirely happy to be spending time with these characters. Maybe it would have worked better if a more explicit connection was made with the present-day story. Then again, I appreciated the sheer audacity of the story. Audacity is something sorely missing from superhero comics.
That makes it hard to fully assess “Harbinger: Renegade” #6. It’s a pretty issue and an ambitious story, but it doesn’t quite nail the execution. In the context of the ongoing series, a chapter like this is great for pacing, but in the context of a single issue, it was hard to reconcile. Still, superhero comics rarely take risks, so it’s important to acknowledge one that does.
Final Verdict: 7.6 – A risky issue that doesn’t always nail the execution, but gets points for trying.