Thursday, January 24, 2013

Pull List Review: Harbinger #8

Harbinger hops off the rails a little bit this month. Everything still moves forward, but it does so at an uneven pace. A single scene of Harada, a sudden and unnecessary flashback, and the addition of another new character make this issue a bumpy ride. All of the ingredients that have made Harbinger so successful before are still here, but not in the same amounts as they've been in the past, so the overall flavor is a bit blander than before.
     Joshua Dysart continues to handle teenaged dialogue excellently. John Torkelson, the psiot who is recruited by Peter Stanchek and his crew this issue, is physically immobile and spends his days mentally fighting monsters in a fantasy world he calls Torquehalla. The mix of narrative curse words, intense sexuality, and and exaggerated adventure that go down in Torquehalla are spot on, letting the audience know from the first page that what we are seeing springs from the imagination of an adolescent. This capturing of the teenage point of view has been one of Dysart's most important contributions to the title all along, and even in a script that jumps around and feels rushed at the end, the clear and realistic voices of his cast remain.
     The Torquehalla scenes, as good a means of introducing John as they may be, do add to the sense of disjointedness in Harbinger #8. Cutting from our reality to that one, and then watching the two worlds become one in the midst of widespread combat, is all a tad jarring. Not hard to follow, exactly, but accompanied by a feeling of unstoppable narrative velocity. This story whizzes by its readers. It opens with a fantasy world that isn't explained for several pages. It cuts for two pages to five days ago, for the sole purpose of showing us that yes, Flamingo is joining the gang, which we basically knew from last time and could've gleaned from what came in the earlier portions of this issue, too. And there is another example of glossing over Peter's lack of morality when he mentally abuses John's brother Jake in order to more quickly get to his forced meeting with John. Kris does point out the ethical implications of it, but her character can't continue to be the voice of, "Is this right...?" indefinitely before somebody answers with a resounding, "Hell no!" Peter and company need to get ahold of themselves and their abilities and find a less intrusive way to go about finding allies. Even when Peter activates John, he doesn't truly have permission of any kind. He just rolls into a stranger's bedroom and forces incredible powers to awaken within him. The attitude is essentially one of, like it or not, you're in a war now, John. Deal with it.
     Just a few months back, I was incredibly proud of this title when it revisited the mind control that Peter had used to sleep with Kris in the debut, and let us in on the long-lasting damage it did to her to be so manipulated. But since then, Peter's done plenty of almost-as-despicable things, and at most we see Kris admitting they're wrong without doing anything to stop it. I guess I want to see more of the internal moral struggle these kids should and would be going through, and it feels like that's being pushed aside right now for the sake of cast expansion and explosive action. They are a varied, grounded, well-written group of heroes, but I would like to see them strive to be a bit more heroic, or at the very least show me that they feel torn over their more questionable actions.
     Lee Garbett is on art duties and does very good work with all of these characters. Their youth, their sense of adventure, and in some cases (Peter most of all) their deep inner turmoil are all captured in rich detail. And Garbett puts just as much life, energy, and dynamic layout work in a scene of two girls talking at a diner as he does when John punches a helicopter out of the sky. This artistic consistency actually helps bolster the wobblier narrative points, making the whole a bit stronger than the sum of its parts.
     This is still a great book, and still a good issue, but I want the story to give itself a minute and catch its breath. The recent piling on of new characters in exchange for the kind of slow and careful character development that we saw in the beginning of the series is not a trade-off I enjoy, and I'm hoping that there won't be very much more recruitment before Harbinger can settle into a steady rhythm once again.

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