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Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic reviews you never asked for and never knew you wanted!  I'm going to try and keep the introduction short so that we can jump right into the second half of this Reader Request for Valiant's Harbinger. . .

THE STORY SO FAR:

High School student Peter Stanchek discovers he has powerful psychic abilities.  He goes to the mysterious Harbinger Foundation for help and is taken under the wing of Toyo Harada, the director of the Foundation and a powerful psychic as well.

Later, Peter begins to realize that the Foundation's training is sending him in the wrong direction and decides to leave.  Harada retaliates by killing Pete's best friend and later trying to assassinate Pete as well.  When the assassination goes wrong and Pete miraculously survives, Harada decides to capture and study him. . .forcing Pete and his girlfriend Kris to go on the run.

Pete decides to go on the offensive and try to take down Harbinger by gathering a team of superhumans of his own.  Pete and Kris eventually recruit Faith (with the power of flight), Flamingo (fire powers), and Torque (superhuman strength) to their cause. . .but are still outmatched by Harada and his superhuman Harbinger students.

During a raid on a secret Harbinger training base, Pete and his team of Renegades come across encrypted information that they enlist a new member of the team (Ax, with the power to speak to and understand electronic devices) to decipher.

The information leads them to an extraterrestrial craft, which takes them to a hidden base on the dark side of the moon, where the team is quickly captured.  A betrayal by Ax accidentally gives the team the opportunity to escape, but they are severely outnumbered and as they fall one by one during the fight to escape, Flamingo is left to fight the aliens, their leader, and Ax on her own. . .

Which brings us to the second half of this review.

Harbinger Part 2: Issues 4 - 7.  Let's do it!

HARBINGER

Valiant (1992)

ISSUE FOUR
Where the Love-Light Gleams. . .


 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing straight in from where issue #3 left off, our heroes are trapped on an alien space station on the dark side of the moon.  They've managed to escape captivity, but as they make their break for freedom, they are taken down one by one by the aliens, the cyborg human called Rexo, and the traitorous Ax.  Only Flamingo remains standing.
 
She subdues Ax by burning his crotch, then melts the station floor beneath Rexo and his alien minions, causing them to fall and giving Flamingo the chance to free the rest of the team and make their way to the alien ship that brought them.  They force Ax to reverse the alien ship's autopilot and return to Earth, where they dump the traitor in the middle of nowhere before flying to their hideout.
 
After they hide the alien ship under water, they are confused as to why it's so cold in the summertime.  While watching the news, they realize to their horror that it is December and they've been gone for five months!  The aliens must have had the team in some sort of suspended animation before Ax accidentally freed them.
 
The news that a large chunk of their life has gone missing, as well as their almost-deadly experience on the alien base splits the team and they all depart on their separate ways. . .
 
In the meantime, determined to have his revenge, Ax uses his powers to gain more information from the encrypted computer disks left behind by his former teammates.  He discovers files on several superhumans that were rejected by Harbinger for their psychopathic tendencies.  Armed with this information, Ax sets out to form his own superhuman team.
 
We follow Flamingo as she tries and fails to make amends with her mother, who is lost in religion and has disowned her "sinner" daughter. Then we see Faith at home with her loving parents as she finds it hard to return to a normal life after her adventures.  
 
Torque returns to the garage he worked at and finds it abandoned, the man who raised him as a son has passed away during Torque's absence, leaving him without a family.  Kris returns home, but is unable to face her family.  She decides to go to Pete's house and tell his mother he's still alive, but finds a van with Harbinger agents watching.
 
Kris returns to the hideout to reconcile with Pete after leaving him on bad terms.  Faith and Flamingo also return to the team's hideout. . .Flamingo can't reconnect with her mother and doesn't have anywhere else to go, and Faith wants to return to the exciting life of a superhero.  While the four reunite, Torque is attacked by Ax and his team of psychotic superhumans.  
 
Pete and the rest of the team decide to try and get Torque back on board with them, and they arrive to find his home in flames and Torque fighting three superhumans on his own.  Jumping into battle, Pete and the Renegades manage to save Torque after barely winning a brutal fight.  Torque rejoins the team and we end the issue with them celebrating Christmas together at their hideout. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
This issue was half and half for me.  It starts right where the last one left off with the -Awful aliens and Rexo on the hidden moon base. That's the bad half.  Thankfully, there's not much time spent there and things get better as the focus shifts away from punching aliens and back on character moments, with the rest of the issue becoming a "The team breaks up, then gets back together" story.  That's the good half.
 
So far, this series has been at its best in the character moments taking place between the action scenes.  This issue has several particularly strong moments to balance out the weak conclusion to the "alien escape" story.  Flamingo desperately trying to make amends to her mother for all the rotten things she did in the past while her mother just sits there silently and ignoring her stands out as a pretty great scene.  Torque returning home and realizing he has nothing and nobody is another one. Faith getting a Batman doll from her parents and realizing she can't return to a normal life also is a good moment.
 
Overall, except for the ending of the horrible "alien base" story taking up the front half of the comic, this was one of my favorite issues so far.  It follows a pretty well-worn path of breaking and then re-forming a team, but there's some really good character moments for almost every member of the team (Pete just sort of hangs out at the hideout waiting for everyone to come back) that makes them finally coming back together as a sorta-happy (for now) dysfunctional family a pretty good read.
 
NEXT!

ISSUE FIVE

All For One. . .

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter & Janet Jackson
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
The reunited team decides to head to New Orleans for some vacation time.  We follow Flamingo and Kris as they bond at an art gallery, and Torque and Faith as they enjoy a day at the zoo.  While everyone else is having fun, Pete's real reason for wanting to go to New Orleans is revealed as he mentally follows Toyo Harada's trail.
 
A disaster in Dallas, Texas reveals Harada's presence to Pete.  An explosion that levels a skyscraper that we learn has been caused by one of Harada's most powerful students losing control of his powers.  As Harada struggles to mentally contain his student and prevent worse damage at a hidden Harbinger lab, we see the hero known as Doctor Solar discovering information leading to Harbinger in the wreckage of the explosion.  At the same time, Peter and the Renegades are flying to Dallas to confront Harada.
 
Peter and his team discover the hidden Harbinger base and fight their way toward Harada, who is desperately trying to keep his superhuman student, "Puff", under control.  As the Renegades get closer to Harada, he decides that Puff must be terminated, but his sister "Thumper" won't let it happen, delaying Harada long enough that Peter and his team are able to finally confront the Harbinger leader.
 
While Peter and Harada engage in mental battle, the rest of the team takes on the Harbinger forces in a brutal fight, where Faith is horrified when she accidentally kills a man.  Harada manages to break free from Peter's powers and escapes in the confusion of the battle.  Thumper warns the Renegades about Puff's loss of control and Peter turns to the task of trying to contain him now that Harada is gone.
 
Doctor Solar arrives on the scene and is mistaken for one of Harbinger's superhumans until Faith recognizes him from her comic books.  Solar is quickly informed of the situation, and by combining their powers, Pete and Solar manage to get Puff under control.  Unfortunately, Harada returns, backed up by a fresh squad of Harbinger gunmen and several superhumans, ready to continue the fight.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And it's CROSSOVER TIME!  I knew it was only a matter of time before other characters from Valiant's superhero "universe" showed up.  I've never really been a fan of crossovers, because they tend to take away from the story at hand and often have a definite stench of just existing to advertise other comics.
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
Doctor Solar's appearance here isn't too bad. . .at least not compared to Issues 8 & 9 (that I'm not reviewing) which are full-on crossover $%#@ with just about every character in the Valiant stable for some sort of multi-series "Event" called Unity that makes no sense unless you buy EIGHTEEN comics across NINE Valiant titles, including Harbinger (the 8th and 16th part of the story).  
 
BUT I DIGRESS!
 
I'm not familiar with Valiant's version of Doctor Solar.  I know him from older Gold Key comics and then only with a passing familiarity.  A quick check of Wikipedia tells me that the Valiant and Gold Key versions of the character are two whole different things, but that Gold Key comics actually exist in the Valiant "universe", which is why Faith recognizes him as a comic book character.   Okay, then.
 
Of course, Valiant just assumes that the reader of Harbinger is ALSO a reader of Doctor Solar, because why wouldn't they be? So he just sort of pops into the story like. . .of course Doctor Solar is here.  Why wouldn't he be?
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
Doctor Solar just sort of shows up out of nowhere as the MacGuffin needed to get a dangerous superhuman Harbinger student's powers back under control.  It's a pretty weak excuse for a crossover, in my extremely humble opinion.  As a matter of fact, this whole issue is pretty weak.  There are a couple of decent character moments early on, but then the whole story just becomes this contrived situation so that Valiant can force in an appearance from a character from another series.  
 
And not for nuthin' but "Puff" is about the most stupid name possible for a highly-destructive and barely-controllable superhuman capable of destroying an entire city.  Come on, Jim Shooter.  You can do better.  I KNOW you can do better.
 
MOVING ALONG!
 

ISSUE SIX

One For All

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from issue #5, Pete and his Renegades are confronted by Toyo Harada and a squad of Harbinger gunmen and superhumans.  Doctor Solar intervenes and forces both sides to stand down.  After accompanying the Renegades away from the Harbinger base to a safe place, Doctor Solar warns Pete that he's dangerous and Solar will be keeping an eye on him, and then warns Pete not to enter into conflict with Harada. Then he departs.
 
Against Solar's warning, Pete immediately decides to attack Harada by surprise. The Renegades return to the Harbinger base, which is seemingly deserted.  Of course, it's a trap.  Harada knew that they would be back.  The Renegades are confronted by a large squad of Harbinger gunmen and superhumans, led by Harada, who immediately mentally attacks Pete.
 
As Pete and his team are overwhelmed by Harbinger forces, the superhuman brother and sister Puff and Thumper decide to pay Pete back for saving Puff's life (in last issue) and jump into the fight on Pete's side, taking down Harada long enough for them to help the Renegades escape the Harbinger trap.
 
Later, in hiding, the team regroups and tries to decide what to do next.  Puff and Thumper are still loyal to Harada and Harbinger, but agree not to reveal their location.  Faith and Torque strengthen their bond of friendship, and we get a strong hint that Kris is pregnant.
 
Despite their agreement not to reveal the whereabouts of Pete and his team, Harada uses his mental powers to learn their location from Puff and Thumper and sets yet ANOTHER trap for the Renegades. . .this time made up entirely of superhuman agents.
 
During what becomes a particularly brutal battle, Torque is stabbed in the back and badly wounded.  The ambulance that is called to rush him to the hospital is yet another Harbinger ruse, and an agent posing as a paramedic injects Torque with poison.  Pete intercepts the fake ambulance and desperately tries to save Torque by going into his mind. . .but he is too late and Pete's Renegade team faces their first casualty as Torque dies.
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
The death of comic characters is pretty commonplace now, and is usually taken with a grain of salt. The more popular the character, the less likely the "death" is going to be permanent.  Torque's death in this issue took me by surprise, but what's even more surprising about it is that a quick Wiki check told me that this death was actually permanent (except for Torque being in Harbinger Vol. 2, which was less of a revival and more of a complete reboot of the character).  So proper credit due to Jim Shooter here for actually having the stones to kill off a popular character and keep it that way!
 
Obviously, the death of Torque is the big deal in this issue, but the rest of the comic has some pretty good moments as well.  Once again, this series is at its best outside of the obligatory fight scenes. . .which are okay, but almost feel like interruptions to the story.  
 
We get a look at the ruthless side of Harada as he commands his gunmen to start shooting Pete as soon as Harada has him down and not to stop until he tells them to.  We get a bit of light philosophical discussion between the Renegades and Puff/Thumper over what's more important. . .Loyalty or Freedom.  Torque's death is made sadder by having us see him letting down his "Tough Guy" wall and becoming friends with Faith after brutally taunting her about being overweight in earlier issues.  We see that Pete is actually sort of a lousy leader after getting his friends caught in an obvious trap that Doctor Solar tried to warn him about.
 
Overall, this was one of the better issues of this series.  It had some good character moments and is topped off with a surprising death due to Pete's epic leadership failure.  I'm really interested in seeing what happens next.
 
AND FINALLY. . .
 
 

ISSUE SEVEN

Flowers For the Living

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from issue #6, Pete and the remaining members of his team of Renegades try to deal with Torque's violent death as they hide out in a nearby motel while Harbinger cleans the battle site of any trace of a fight.  Kris is especially upset and emotional over Torque possibly not having a proper burial at the hands of Harbinger, so Pete and the team decide to steal his body from the morgue and tend to the funeral themselves.
 
Pete uses his mental powers on a funeral home director to make him ignore the unusual circumstances of a group of teens showing up in the middle of the night with a dead body and Torque is given a proper funeral and burial.  Flamingo is the only one who knows that Kris is pregnant with Torque's child, and she makes a private promise at Torque's grave to protect her.
 
While going through Torque's belongings, the team discovers that he still has a bunch of cash left over from the raid on the secret Harbinger training base (from issue #2).  And together, the team decides to spend it on something he would have wanted them to. . .a brand new Mustang.
 
The End.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
And so we end this review of the first story arc of Harbinger on a somber note.  As you can tell from the fairly short synopsis above, not much really happens in this issue, but what DOES happen is all pretty good. . .if a bit depressing.  
 
Being an issue without any action scenes and dealing with the sudden death of a character, this epilogue to the first story arc digs deep into what makes this comic good. . .the character moments that take place between superhero fights.  It's all a bit gloomy and you KNOW there's trouble down the road coming when Flamingo reveals (to the reader) at Torque's gravesite that she knows that Kris' baby is his.  But it's gloomy and depressing in sort of a good way.  Shooter does a great job filling this issue with darkness and emotion that doesn't feel fake or forced.
 
Overall, this quiet and emotional issue is a fine epilogue for the first story arc of Harbinger.  Shooter has taken us from one young man discovering he has powers, to the formation of a team, to the breaking and re-formation of the team, to the team coming together as a dysfunctional family, and finally here to the repercussions of Pete's actions.  It's a decent end for a decent story. . .and from reading ahead, they probably should have just ended it here.  Things take a steep downward turn beginning with the next issue.  But as far as THIS issue is concerned, it's a good ending.
 

CONCLUSION

 
I came into Harbinger with no knowledge except the fact that it exists.  I'm not a fan of Valiant comics and I'm not a fan of team books in general. . .so there was plenty going against Harbinger before I even opened the first page.  Like I said in my introduction to part one. . .as far as I was concerned, these were junk comics to be given to my daughter to plump up her collection with reader books that could take some abuse.
 
BUT. . .
 
When I actually READ these comics, I found them to be a pretty enjoyable read (for the most part). 
 
They follow a pretty well-worn path in general, but Jim Shooter gives things JUST enough of a twist to keep things interesting.  It's basically an X-Men story with the script slightly flipped so that the "Professor X" character played by Toyo Harada is actually the villain and his "School for gifted children", the Harbinger Foundation, produces psychopathic superhumans fanatically loyal to Harada.
 
Pete Stanchek and his "Renegades" are a dysfunctional mess of a team, with a lousy leader that is directly responsible for the death of one of their own and a team dynamic based on jealousy and physical attraction, which was probably the most interesting thing about this series.  
 
Unfortunately, that strange team dynamic fell into the background following issue #4, in favor of crossovers and large-scale superhuman battles with only a few moments between action to showcase anything else.  The story was still pretty good, but the best parts were left behind in favor of a new focus on Pete's poor leadership.
 
Overall, I have to say that Harbinger is a pretty good series.  It's not great.  I've definitely read better.  But it's not nearly as bad as I assumed it would be.  It's not really Longbox Junk as I define it, due to the surprisingly high collector "value" of the first few issues, but I'd certainly recommend picking up the collected edition, if you should spot it for a good price.  
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
This review only covers the first 8 issues of this series.  I've read ahead a bit and can pretty confidently say that this is where Valiant should have ended the story.  The next two issues are unreadable crossover $%#& and going past that, the series never really recovers its footing.  So fair warning.  This is as good as Harbinger gets.  It's all downhill from here.
 
Up Next. . .
 
So much Longbox Junk!  I don't even know what's next!
 
I'm thinking of maybe heading back into some Marvel or DC stuff.
I've been in the off-brand section of my collection for a while now. . .
 
In any case, be there or be square!

- read more

Welcome back to Longbox Junk, the place to find comic reviews that nobody USUALLY asks for. That's right. . .it's another Reader Request Edition!

This time out, I switched things up a little.  Instead of randomly drawing a request from the pickin' hat, I decided to grant a (very late) Christmas wish to one of the fine folk of Comic Book Realm and give his suggestion for Valiant's Harbinger a read and review.

Here's the thing about Harbinger. . .and most of Valiant's 90's comics in general:  I don't really like them.  I admit that I've never really given them the chance they deserve, but even just flipping through the ones I've gained here and there I've never really seen anything to grab and keep my interest.

BUT. . .

I'm going to give Harbinger a fair chance here.  It's what Longbox Junk is all about!

A little background before we get into it.

These comics are actually from my daughter's collection, and they've been there for years.  Usually when I come across any Valiant comics in auction lots or comic bundles of some sort, I'll give them to my daughter by default, so she actually has quite a few of them.

So imagine my surprise when I did a little of my usual pre-post research and discovered that these comics are actually NOT quite the Longbox Junk I thought they were, with the first issue in good shape valued at a cool $125 (according to Comic Book Realm) and high-graded slabbed copies (According to CGC) coming in at around A THOUSAND BUCKS!

Who knew?

I just tossed these comics (and many others) to my daughter when she was a kid in order to plump her starter collection with reader comics that could take a little abuse.  Just looking at them, I would have never thought that ANY of these comics would be that "valuable".

As far as my daughter is concerned, though. . .their true "value" lies in having got them from her dad when she was a kid.  She's not interested in selling them for any price, thank you very much.

ANYWAY. . .

I'm not reviewing the whole 41 issue series of Harbinger because my daughter doesn't have the whole series.  After issue #10 there's a lot of gaps.  So what I'm going to do here is review the first story arc, which covers issues #1 - #7  and the most "valuable" issues of Harbinger.  I'm also going to break it up into two parts make things a bit more readable.

Merry (late) Christmas, Tenzil!
Harbinger #1 - #7. . .let's do it!

HARBINGER 

VALIANT (1992)

ISSUE ONE

Children of the Eighth Day

 
WAIT! HOLD UP!  
Well isn't this series just FULL of surprises. . .
 
After a very confusing read of the first issue, I discovered that there's a #0 issue where the Harbinger story ACTUALLY begins.  My daughter doesn't have the #0 issue, but the #1 she has DOES have the coupon you need to send away for it, which means that (K-CHING!) she's got the most "valuable" version of the comic (not that she cares much about that).
 
A bit of research shows me that this Harbinger #0 is actually pretty rare (even though it was included with collected editions later) because in order to get it, you needed to send in the coupon included in issues #1 - #6.

I find myself a bit confused over this.
 
In order to get the BEGINNING of the story, you have to spend SIX MONTHS collecting coupons from the series, meaning you will have already reached the END of the first story arc before you can send in for the comic that STARTS the story.  To make matters worse, the coupon in my daughter's #1 has 3 panels of a story ON the coupon.  Research shows me THAT short story told over the 6 coupons is the origin of the main Harbinger antagonist, Toyo Harada.
 
SO. . .what we have here is the beginning of a story that readers could only get 6 months after the series had been running, with the origin of a major character told in tiny pieces on the coupons you had to send in to get the missing part of the story.
 
Probably the worst part about this confusing little dance that Valiant set up is that Issue #1 of the series takes place soon after the end of #0, making it practically unreadable without context.

In 2020, I'm fortunate enough to be able to cheat and read #0 online, but this must have been a strange experience for readers in 1992 because #1 starts RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE STORY during a fight scene with absolutely NO explanation as to what is going on or who these people are!  
 
Just how the these comics became so valuable after such an awkward beginning is a complete mystery to me.  But there it is.  A comic  that begins in the middle of an action scene without any context or introduction is worth a thousand bucks slabbed. Go figure.
 
ANYWAY. . .
 
Like I said, I cheated and read #0 online just so I could figure out what the was going on.  So let's start this thing over from the beginning and throw an extra issue into this review, shall we?  We shall!
 

ISSUE #0

The Beginning

 
SCRIPT: David Lapham
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
After high school student Peter Stanchek begins to manifest strange mental abilities, including mind reading, levitation, and telekinesis, he answers a mysterious newspaper ad placed by "The Harbinger Foundation" that claims to be looking for people like him.
 
After meeting a representative of Harbinger, Peter's powers seem to increase.  He uses them to mentally control his mother, and to make one of the most desirable girls in school, Kris Hathaway, want to go out with him against her will.
 
Peter is taken to the Harbinger Foundation complex in Pittsburgh and we are introduced to Toyo Harada, the head of Harbinger, as he secretly watches Peter being interviewed.  We learn that Peter is unusual in that his powers manifested on their own instead of being fully triggered by Harada's own ability to do so, and that Peter manifests multiple powers instead of the usual single power Harada is able to unlock in others.  Harada takes Peter personally under his wing, becoming a sort of father figure and mentor.
 
The story skips ahead two months later.  Peter's best friend, Joe, confronts him.  He's concerned about the nasty changes in Peter's personality since becoming involved with Harbinger.  He also suspects that Peter is forcing Kris to be his girlfriend against her will.  
 
During that day's training at Harbinger, Peter is distracted.  He knows that his best friend is right and Harbinger has changed him for the worse.  Peter decides to leave Harbinger for a while in order to clear his head.  This doesn't sit well with Harada, who has been personally training Peter.  He quickly identifies Joe as the problem.
 
Later that night, Peter removes his mind control from his girlfriend, Kris, and tries to explain.  She is disgusted by what she's been forced to do under his influence and makes him leave.  Peter goes to Joe's house in order to apologize to his best friend.  He finds Joe dead. . .covered in blood.  He's been murdered.
 
Turning to the only place he thinks he can, Peter returns to Harbinger. . .but he (rightly) suspects that they were behind the murder of his friend.  As his mental state worsens, Harada sadly comes to the conclusion that Peter must die as well.  A despondent Peter calls Kris to make amends and discovers that despite his mind control, she did develop feelings for him.  They agree to meet.
 
As Kris drives to Pittsburgh to meet Peter, Harada's assistant takes advantage of Peter's trust to get close enough to shoot him in the head.  The assassination doesn't go as planned.  In a massive explosion that destroys the Harbinger building, 32 people are killed and 200 are injured as Peter's mysterious powers somehow subconsciously save him.    Harada is intrigued by Peter's survival and decides that instead of killing him, Peter needs to be captured and studied.
 
The story ends with Peter and Kris fleeing Pittsburgh together.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
First off. . .despite the very "collectible" nature of this comic, it has one of the most -Awful covers I've seen in a while. But that's neither here nor there, as far as the story goes. . .
 
The story here is actually pretty good.  It introduces the two main characters very nicely and with a minimum of exposition.  It's well-written for the most part and flows well from start to finish, nicely setting up the rest of the series (which was already through with the first story arc by the time anyone could get their hands on this. . .but enough about THAT).
 
At the heart of things, it's basically a sort of discount X-Men origin story.  However, there's just enough differences to make me want to see what happens next.  I like that they flipped the X-Men script and made the most powerful Psychic in the world (Harada, playing the role of Professor X) a villain finding and recruiting potential superhumans for training (The Harbinger Foundation playing the part of Xavier's School for Gifted Students).  This reversal on the standard formula is an interesting one.
 
I also liked that as Peter's powers increased, he uses them in a way that (come on and admit it) many of us would if we suddenly had mind control powers as a teenager. . .he snags the hottest girl in school and makes her do, well. . .whatever he wanted her to do.  There's no nobility here.  There's no heroism. He uses his powers to get what he wants. It's a pretty honest and realistic look at how powers would probably actually be used by a teenager.
 
Overall, I liked this issue.  It's a great introduction to the series.  It follows a pretty well-worn path, but flips the script JUST enough to make me want more.  Too bad readers in 1992 had to jump through hoops to get it.
 
MOVING ALONG!
 

ISSUE ONE

Children of the Eighth Day

 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: Jim Shooter & David Lapham
 
So HERE'S where the Harbinger story actually started for readers in 1992.  
Let's do it!
 
THE STORY:
 
Our story continues directly after Issue #0, with Pete Stanchek and Kris Hathaway on the run from the Harbinger Foundation after a failed assassination attempt on Pete leads to the death of more than 30 people.  Harbinger is in hot pursuit of the couple, with Toyo Harada determined to capture and study Pete.  
 
After a battle with three of Pete's former friends and fellow superhuman Harbinger "students", Pete and Kris manage to elude their pursuers and go into hiding, where Pete decides to fight against Harbinger by intercepting mailed responses to the Foundation's newspaper ads seeking new recruits.
 
After robbing a post office and finding a likely contact, Pete and Kris make their way to the home of Faith Herbert.  Pete reveals his powers to her and, in doing so, unlocks Faith's own powers of flight.  She quickly agrees to join Pete and Kris on their mission, but there's immediate jealous tension between the two women.
 
A few days later, during a raid on a Harbinger building to intercept more ad responses, Pete encounters Charlene Dupre (AKA Flamingo), a recent Harbinger recruit with the ability to manifest flames from her body.  After witnessing Pete using his telekinetic abilities to wreck the Harbinger office, Pete fully unlocks Charlene's powers and she quickly joins the growing group of Renegade superhumans.
 
Charlene's arrival at their hideout immediately causes more tension, with Kris coming to the conclusion that Pete is less saving people from Harbinger and more building a mind-controlled harem.  She is determined that the next recruit for their group will be male or she's leaving Pete. . .and so they decide to investigate a John Torkelson in Georgia.
 
Torkelson is a massively strong man, but not superhuman.  Pete immediately becomes jealous as all three of the women are obviously strongly attracted to him.  They invite "Torque" to join their group despite his lack of powers and against Pete's wishes.  
 
Later, while Pete is away from their hideout, the women are all trying to attract Torque's attention, leading to a fight between Kris and Flamingo that Pete arrives in time to break up. Pete uses his powers to look deeper into Torque's mind and unlocks his hidden superhuman strength.  Reluctantly, Pete admits that Torque has a place in his group of Renegades.
 
While the group discusses Torque's place with them, Harbinger attacks their hideout!  A brutal battle between Pete's group of Renegades and Harbinger's gunmen, backed up by several superhumans, takes place.  The Renegades fight together as a team and barely manage to defeat the Harbinger hit squad, but Kris is injured during the battle. . .
 
To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
It's basically a "Gettin' the team together" story that concentrates mostly on introducing the members of the "Renegades" and showing them fighting together for the first time.  As I mentioned before, it begins abruptly and with no context. . .lacking the essential Issue #0.  The picture below is literally the first introduction the reader has to these characters:
 
 
It's an extremely odd way for a comic series to start.  It still amazes me that this issue is so valuable to collectors, given the almost unreadable nature of the story at the beginning.  And if you think you're going to get some exposition later. . .you're wrong.  There's VERY little background given.  The story jumps right into a fight scene and then Pete and Kris start gathering recruits for their group without any real explanation as to who the they are or why they are doing what they are doing.  It hits the ground running in the middle of the story and doesn't look back.
 
My first read through this issue before discovering there was a #0 was confusing to say the least.
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
I've already gone over the strange beginning of this series WAY too much.  Let's look at the issue on its own merits.  Like I said, it's basically a "Let's get a team together" story that is mostly introductions to new characters and setting up conflict for future issues.  It covers a lot of ground, so even though it's well-written, it does feel a bit rushed.  Even so, I still liked this a lot.
 
What I like most is the underlying sexual tension that keeps this from being a straight X-Men clone and gives it a bit of a darker edge.  I like how Kris calls out Pete for only recruiting women to his group, and then turns hypocrite when she (and the other two women in the group as well) falls for Torque, who immediately takes over Pete's place as Alpha Male.  It's an interesting setup for an extremely dysfunctional team where every decision is made based on jealousy and physical attraction.
 
Overall, moving past the problem of starting a story in the middle, this is a pretty interesting take on what would otherwise be a standard superhero team comic. By giving everything a dark undertone of tension and jealousy, it flips the script just enough that I'm interested to see where this is going.
 
NEXT!
 

ISSUE TWO

The Root of All Evil

 
 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
 
Continuing directly from Issue #1, Pete and his team of Renegades rush an injured Kris to a nearby hospital.  Pete desperately uses his powers to pull the bullets out of Kris, but he lacks the medical skill to save her.  He reluctantly allows an actual doctor to operate.
 
Realizing that Harbinger is hot on their trail, the Renegades flee the hospital with Kris as soon as she is stable.  They are attacked by Harbinger snipers outside and the doctor who saved Kris gives them his car in order to escape.  After they elude their pursuers, Doctor Heyward gives them directions to his secluded summer house, where he allows them to stay until Kris recovers from her injuries.  Pete and the Renegades are glad to have found a new ally and hideout.
 
In the meantime. . .Faith flies to their former hideout in order to retrieve their belongings.  She finds the area completely cleaned of any sign of the battle that took place shortly before.  As she investigates, she is attacked by two Harbinger agents waiting for anyone to return.  Pete arrives just in time to save her, and mentally interrogates one of the gunmen.
 
Following a vague lead in the mind of the Harbinger agent, Pete and Faith discover a warehouse full of Harbinger uniforms.  They steal enough to outfit the team.  Also at the warehouse, they discover information pointing toward another secret Harbinger training facility.  
 
As Pete tries to rally the Renegades for an attack, Torque asserts his new dominance and tries to take over command of the team (and the team's women) from Pete.  Kris makes it clear that Pete is still the official  leader of the Renegades. . .for now.
 
The Renegades quickly travel to New York City and assault the Harbinger facility, meeting little resistance until they discover a secret elevator that leads them straight into an ambush!  The team is attacked by dozens of Harbinger gunmen, led by Toyo Harada and backed up by several superhumans.  
 
The rest of the team are quickly subdued by Harada's mental powers, and he informs Pete that he is too dangerous to be allowed to live.  Pete desperately fights back, managing to revive his friends and helping them to defeat the Harbinger forces until only Harada is left.   The Harbinger leader retreats, and as as Pete and the Renegades try to pursue him, they discover his office and break open the hidden safe.
 
The story ends with Pete and the Renegades flying back to their new hideout in possession of a huge pile of cash money and celebrating their first victory as an actual team.
 
To be continued.
 
THE REVIEW:
 
Moving past the "Gettin' the team together" stage and into the "Comin' together as a team" phase of the story, the second issue is well-written, fast-paced, and carries a nice sense of tension and jealousy. . .especially in the scene where Torque tries to take over the team from Pete by openly asserting his dominance over the women.  It's an interesting take on the usual "superteam" dynamic. . .at least for a comic from the early 90's.  This kind of deconstruction of "traditional" superhero tropes is pretty common in comics today.
 
But underneath the interesting angle on superteam dynamics there is a glaring continuity problem rooted in. . .*sigh*. . .that strange Issue #0. It's established in #0 that Toyo Harada was a father figure and mentor to Pete, whose betrayal was so brutal that Pete is now gathering a team of his own to gain revenge.  In THIS issue, Harada introduces himself to Pete for apparently the first time. . .
 
What's the REAL introduction?
Issue 0
 
OR. . .
Issue 2?
 
It's just a strange little moment that sort of breaks things if you actually read issue #0 as the beginning of the story instead of #1.  It makes me wonder when exactly #0 was written. . .before the main series or after it was already going?  There are a few other disconnects that I've noticed in these first two issues. . .namely Kris' steadfast devotion to Pete (despite her physical attraction to Torque) and extreme jealousy toward other women on the team when in issue #0 she was disgusted by the things she had to do for him under mind control and they were barely speaking to each other at the end of that issue.  
 
Strange continuity disconnects aside, this was a pretty good issue.  Jim Shooter does a nice job of keeping an edge of physical attraction and jealousy in almost every interaction between these characters, which make the conversations between fight scenes just interesting enough for me to want to keep reading.  I can see where this sort of writing can drive right off the cliff into superhero soap opera territory, but for now Shooter is keeping a pretty steady hand on the wheel.
 
NEXT!
 

ISSUE THREE

One Small Step. . .

 
 
SCRIPT: Jim Shooter
PENCILS: David Lapham
COVER: David Lapham
 
THE STORY:
Continuing shortly after issue #2, Kris has recovered from her injuries and the team plans their next move.  They fly to Seattle to enlist the aid of a computer hacker called "Ax" in order to see what's on some heavily-encrypted computer disks they stole from Harada's office during their recent assault on a secret Harbinger training base.
 
Ax is unsuccessful until Pete reaches into his mind and unlocks his hidden power (the ability to speak to and understand electronic devices), leading Pete to wonder if EVERYONE has a hidden ability that he can unlock.  They discover that the discs contain lists of suspected and confirmed "Extraterrestrial Landing Sites".  The team votes Ax in as the newest member of the Renegades and decide to investigate the closest site on the list.
 
Deep in the forest of Olympic National Park, the team discovers what seems to be some sort of beacon.  As they try to decide what to do next, they are attacked by strange beings driving a heavily-armed vehicle.  After defeating the creatures by turning their own weapons against them, Ax discovers a control box, which he uses to open a hidden holding area containing a large alien ship!
 
Inside the ship, Ax's new abilities compel him to launch the ship on a pre-determined course off of Earth and toward the moon, to the horror of the rest of the team.  The ship automatically lands at a hidden alien base on the dark side of the moon.  As the team exits the ship to investigate the base and find a way back home, they fall victim to gas that knocks them all unconscious.
 
Shortly after, Faith is woken by Ax, who has been recruited by the aliens to use his powers to help them build a ship that will enable them to return to their home galaxy.  They have been stranded since their original ship was somehow destroyed.  Ax informs Faith that part of his agreeing to work with the aliens is that they have given him Faith to use as he pleases.
 
Faith quickly wakes Pete, who uses his psychic powers to disable Ax as they rouse the rest of the team.  They leave Ax behind as they try to find the ship they came in so they can escape the deadly alien base.  They are quickly cornered by a large group of aliens and their human ally, Rexo. . .who is a former quadriplegic that was given a powerful robotic body by the aliens for. . .reasons?
 
The battle doesn't go well for our heroes and they are quickly overwhelmed by the superior numbers and weaponry of Rexo and the aliens, leaving only Flamingo, cowering and terrified.   Ax rejoins his new alien allies and Rexo gives Flamingo to him.  He orders the rest of the team executed.  Flamingo finally summons the courage to attack, burning Ax and then facing Rexo and the aliens alone!
 
To be continued. . .
 
THE REVIEW:
 
*Sigh* I KNEW it couldn't last.  
 
Only three issues in (four, if you count #0) and this series hits the first dud.  There's still some interesting things going on between the characters in the first part of the book. . .Torque trying to be a bit more discrete in his takeover of the team (and the team's women) from Pete by concentrating on Pete's main defender among the women, Kris. . .Flamingo noticing this and admitting to Pete that she's nothing but a "Hosebag" to any guy who wants her as she makes a move of her own to seduce the leader of the team. . .other small moments between characters through the issue maintaining the interesting level of sexual tension and jealousy that underlies their every action.
 
But then there's the aliens. 
 
The story is just so contrived and forced. It honestly feels like the lowest amount of effort  was put into it, like they were starting to get behind a bit and just threw this out there.  It's just. . .it's bad.  After a pretty good start in the first two issues, all of a sudden we get an extremely weak alien story like this?  There's no imagination here.  There's absolutely nothing interesting about the aliens or their laughable robo-warrior, Rexo.  They even LOOK stupid!
 
I haven't really talked about the art in this series yet, as the story has been pretty interesting up to this point.  The art is actually very nice.  It seems to have a light Neal Adams influence, with expressive faces and a good amount of detail.  It's nicely-colored and there are some interesting panel layouts.  It's not GREAT comic art, but it's good comic art that I don't have much to complain about. 
 
THAT SAID. . .
 
The aliens and especially Rexo are just. . .stupid-looking.  I don't know what happened here, but the art after the first half of this comic takes the same steep downhill slide that the story does.  It's pretty disappointing, to say the least.
 
Overall, there are still some good parts taking place outside of the main thrust of the story during the lead-up in the first half of the issue, but once you're past the midway mark and the alien story is in full swing, it's garbage.  It looks like maybe this issue wasn't going to hit the stands on schedule, so the creative team just rushed something out.  There's an obviously clear divide between good at the front and bad at the back.
 

CONCLUSION

 
As I said in my introduction, I've never really given any Valiant superhero comics a fair chance until now.  I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised to find Harbinger to be a pretty good read.
 
It has a well-written story that flips the standard teen superhero team comic script (of the time) by having every single action by the main characters influenced in some way by physical attraction and/or jealousy, leading to a constant underlying theme of dysfunction and tension.  I can easily see this sort of writing going off a melodramatic cliff at any time, but for now it's an interesting team dynamic.
 
That said. . .
 
It's not perfect.  Not even close.  This series has problems that keep it from being as good as it COULD be.  The major problem and the Pink-Covered elephant in the room is that the first issue starts in the middle of the story, hits the ground running, and never looks back long enough to explain what's going on.  The actual beginning of the story wasn't available until the first arc was done with.  
 
But THEN, the #0 issue directly contradicts events and story beats in the main series, leading to several "Wait. . .what?" moments that made me wonder exactly when the beginning of this story was actually written.
 
Worse, a mere three issues into the series and there's unfortunate signs of decline in terms of both story and art with an unimaginative alien brawl that I hope isn't a portent of things to come because I still have four more issues of Harbinger to review before I'm done.  
 
Overall, despite some pretty big flaws, I like Harbinger so far.  Hopefully the extremely weak third issue is just a bump in the road because I can see a lot of promise for good stories that DON'T involve punching aliens.
 
Up Next. . .
 
MORE Harbinger!  
I wrap things up for this Reader Request Edition with issues #4 - #7
 
Be there or be square!

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