Comic fans growing up in the ’90s fondly remember Valiant Comics, the upstart company that dared to challenge the industry titans by bringing novel concepts with top-notch writing and artistic talent into the marketplace. Now under new management, Valiant is undergoing a rebirth, starting with X-O Manowar, who makes his return May 2nd. The following month, on June 6th, it’s Harbinger‘s turn. Created by Jim Shooter (writer of The Avengers and former Marvel Editor-in-Chief) and artist David Lapham (who would go on to write and draw the critically acclaimed Stray Bullets), Harbinger debuted in 1992, and now 20 years later returns under the new creative team of writer Joshua Dysart (Violent Messiahs, Unknown Soldier) and artist Khari Evans (Carbon Grey) with character designs by David Aja (The Immortal Iron Fist). I spoke with Josh to learn more about his plans for the book, which he promises will have something for new and old readers alike. In addition, we’ve got some exclusive preview art for you. Enjoy!
Joshua Dysart: At the plot level Harbinger is about a young man named Peter Stanchek who possesses wildly unchecked telekinetic powers. So unchecked, in fact, that he himself isn’t really sure what he’s capable of. Due to some incidents in his youth, he’s learned to sort of neuter his own abilities to a certain degree. Peter is approached by a billionaire named Toyo Harada. Toyo runs a major international conglomerate that’s profoundly involved in global affairs. Unknown to the world, Toyo Harada also possesses extraordinary telekinesis. Imagine if Steve Jobs secretly harbored god-like powers and used them to manipulate world events. Harada has spent the years since WWII collecting people like Peter (“Psiots”) and teaching them how to control their powers. In the process he’s built a small army of exceptionally bizarre human beings. But Peter is something even Harada isn’t fully prepared for… and Harada is something Peter REALLY isn’t prepared for. It’s the strange father/son rivalry between the two that’s really the engine of this book.
iF: What attracted you to the concept?
JD: I see this as an opportunity to tell a story about the corrupting influence of power. Built into the original are some very relevant themes for the hour we’re living in right now. They may not have always been exploited in the first incarnation of the book, but they’re there. Class anxiety, generational struggle, corporate control, failing economic systems, youth revolt. It’s all in the mix. But there’s also some amazing and unique treatment of traditional “hero” and “villain” tropes in the original… a sort of moral complication of what we generally understand as the superhero equation. Sometimes the heroes seemed too self-interested, while the villains seemed occasionally ethically grounded. I love that. I’ve struggled for that in everything I’ve ever written, so I plan to exploit the hell out of that. If I can get some readers to actually be on “Team Harada’s” (ha!) side, then I’ll have succeeded at achieving something very, very cool indeed.
JD: That’s hard to say. I mean I’m a different writer, but also, I’m a huge fan of both of them. Shooter is someone I’ve always really respected, and Lapham is a genius. I still proudly wear a 10 year-old faded Stray Bullets tee to this day. So here’s the best answer I can give you. My pacing, my characterization and my plotting will vary from the original. But the tone, the spirit and the “point-of-it-all” will ultimately be the same. I’m sorry I can’t give a more specific response, but that would just spoil too much. I’ll say this though, I think that fans of the original will find enough stuff that’s different here to keep their attention, while new readers will be exposed to enough of what was awesome about the first one to get zapped right and proper.
iF: What can you tell us about how the artistic side of the book is developing?
JD: It’s AWESOME!! Next question!
Uhm, more? What else can I say? I’m really happy with what I’ve seen so far. Khari is fantastic at creating context and I love that. I love his storytelling. I’m really excited to see more pages come in. On the cover front I’m being blown away. All of our covers are absolutely stunning! And I really believe we’re backing up the multiple cover per issue attack with good story and great interior art. So I think the whole package is coming together beautifully.
iF: Are there plans to tie this series into a larger, shared Valiant Universe?
JD: Yes, but I’m afraid I can’t give you any details on that. That’s part of our arsenal of surprises. We want the ties to be revealed over time (though not too slowly). We want the reader to really watch everything unfold. That’s one of the things the big two can’t do. Let the connections between their fictions unravel for the reader at a “lento” pace. So we’re in a unique position. We have characters that people are familiar with, but we have the ability to do something truly new with them. It’s an enviable place to be in.
JD: Well, it’s certainly not sci-fi. Not yet at least. There are sci-fi elements in the Valiant universe, and as things start to come together you’ll see more of that in our book, I’m sure. But from the inception the only sci-fi elements will be in some of the heightened tech that Harada’s companies have access to. But the genre we’re really playing with is Superheroes. So there will be uniforms, flying and tele-psikenitic whup ass. Alla that. Having said that though, I don’t want this to just be a riff on traditional superhero books, and I certainly don’t want every issue to devolve into a fight. I hate that about superhero comics. So I guess I’m really looking for a shifting tone that will alternate from the human to the political to preternaturally powerful… all punctuated by occasional surrealism and violence! Cha cha cha!
JD: Peter and Harada are from different class systems, different generations, different cultures and, ultimately, they possess different views of the world. When Harada comes to help Peter, it’s the start of something very, very big. Much bigger than either of them can even imagine. There is a pre-cog in our series called The Bleeding Monk. He sees the future. And it’s this future that everyone is trying to keep from happening. Except, of course, the more they struggle to change it, the more they only solidify it. And that’s what’s central to the conflict between Peter and Harada (as well as the father/son thing I mentioned before). Of course most of this ultimately stems from hubris, so we’ll be exploring the dangers of pride as well.
iF: Do you plan to have the series focus mainly on Stanchek and Harada, or are you taking a wider approach?
JD: The Stanchek/Harada conflict is central to the entire series. Everything orbits around these two juggernauts of power. But I also want to blow the cast out and make all the characters feel like they’ve had their time to shine. So expect all kinds of cool side stories and intricate narrative roundabouts. Eventually almost every active Psiot in the world will be tied to the struggle between the powerful, older Harada and the inexperienced, angry Peter. Notice, I said “almost”.
iF: What has it been like, working with Valiant?
JD: It’s been fantastic. Warren [Simons] is an editor who knows what he wants, yet is still open to letting me do my thing. Together we’re crafting something pretty cool, I think. I love working with good editors. I’ll work on anything if I feel like the editor is really emotionally invested in making the best books they can, so this is a totally satisfying relationship. I’m really looking forward to all the titles coming out so we can start digging into this fully. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, you know… play in a larger universe with other creators. So I’m super jazzed.
JD: I have something else that hasn’t been announced yet, but when I’m done with that I plan to work on Harbinger and use the extra time to do some creator owned stuff. I’ve never really made the space in my to work on my own stuff. It’s something that’s been burning at me for a long time. But also, I’d like to help with the expansion of the Valiant universe. Warren has shown a lot of faith in me where others haven’t. So I’d like to repay that. There’s an enormous amount of back-story and mythology that we’re creating with the new Harbinger that can be explored in minis and spin-offs later. Plus there’s one property that Valiant hasn’t brought back yet that I REALLY, REALLY want to write, so hopefully I can convince Warren to let me take a go at it when the time is right. And for now, at least, those are my plans.
Email Matt Adler with questions or comments.