'Harbinger #1' Gives Valiant A Mentally Damaged Hero For 2012 [Advance Review]

Given it’s pedigree, of all the Valiant relaunch titles, "Harbinger" should be the big one. Back in the day, it wasn’t just Valiant’s best-selling comic - it was one of the top selling comics, ever when the original series was released. So with the second title out of the newly reorganized Valiant bearing the name of arguably its most famous property, will we see the second coming of multi-million selling comic books? Well, probably not... But what Harbinger #1 brings is solid comic book storytelling and anew world well worth visiting.

I’ll admit that I’m only partially familiar with the original title, as most of the initial Valiant books fell squarely in the period where I decided I was too cool for comics and stopped reading [Note: that clearly stuck.] However, given that cursory familiarity, what seems on the surface like a bit of an X-Men rip-off - teens with fantastic powers fight for a world that fears and hates them - has been changed with this modern updating to a fascinating look at mental illness.

Peter Stanchek is the Harbinger of the title... Or at least in this first issue, he displays the same abilities as Toyo Harada, an older man who is called “Harbinger.” He can move things with his mind, hear other people’s thoughts, and control men and women with a word. The thought hearing thing is where the mental illness comes in, as Peter can’t filter out anyone’s thoughts without medical help. Along with an also potentially ill (but unpowered friend), Peter has found himself on the run from mysterious forces who want to do... Something with him.

Part of the initial mystery of the first issue, at least for the first half, is exactly how crazy Peter is, and what’s wrong with him. Clearly, even when (mild spoiler) we find out that he does have powers, and isn’t the only one, there’s something not quite right about Peter. He’s been heavily damaged by spending most of his life in a mental facility, and for now, doesn’t really know the line between good and evil. He’s not a superhero: he’s just trying to survive.

In fact, it’s entirely possible that he’s not the good guy of this story at all, even though he’s our protagonist. Writer Joshua Dysart puts our narrator firmly in the “unreliable” camp, which makes the proceedings all the more uncomfortable - and interesting, for it.

Khari Evans on art also keeps everything an an uneven keel... His design for Peter doesn’t suggest a buff hero, so much as a disturbed, thuggish teenager. His other characters are similarly off, on purpose, and it leads to an uneasy feeling throughout: these are not characters that you’re necessarily supposed to be rooting for, at least this early in the game.

That’s going to be a tricky tone to maintain over the course of many issues, as having unsavory characters doesn’t work in the long run if you don’t have some sort of emotional connection to ground them... And right now, these are men and women running around without tethers.

What this first issue does, though, is pack the premise with enough ideas, mystery, and unique characters to get us through the first arc or two with ease... The trick will be getting us to care enough to go along on the ride for more.

Harbinger #1 hits comic book shops from Valiant on Wednesday, June 6th.