Thursday, February 7, 2013

Pull List Review: Harbinger #0

When I heard Harbinger #0 was going to be about the history of antagonist Toyo Harada, my first thought was, "What's the point?" Don't get me wrong, he's a fascinating character, and the opportunity to learn the details of his history is certainly enticing, but I wasn't sure what would be accomplished in terms of the series as a whole. We already knew so much about his motivations, his abilities, his tactics, etc. that I couldn't imagine what new insights would be offered by turning back the pages of time and seeing him as a younger, less accomplished version of himself. Turns out, this issue isn't so much trying to teach me anything new about Harada as it is showing me that in spite of how much I'd already seen, I'd been underestimating the range of his influence and evil all along.
     This is a story about how villains are made into villains, about the cycle of wickedness that makes good people turn bad. As a young boy, Harada sees firsthand the aftermath of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, an event he only survives because his powers manifest to save him. Watching the world burn around him and constantly being threatened by other survivors, the kid becomes hardened, and ultimately confronts the soldier whose men were sent to bully him. That soldier delivers a speech on how war and evil are inescapable, how oil is thicker than blood and runs the world, and it unlocks a rage in young Harada that I'm not sure has ever fully died down. That conversation is presented as the last straw, the final brick laid in the wall of Harada's villainous persona. Far too impressionable and damaged to recover from such a dismal message, he instead succumbs to it, and it is the first step on his path to becoming one of the richest and most powerful businessmen in the world.
     His origin tale is more than enough to carry this issue on its own, but the real impact of Harbinger #0 is not in the past but the present. Harada tells his story to a young man named Darpan, a powerful psiot who has been with the Harbinger Foundation since infancy. Darpan is in the midst of a mission to capture the President of Syria, and wants the reassuring voice of his leader and father figure to stay with him in case he gets scared. So Harada agrees, and the two of them casually discuss his past while Darpan's powers cause the Syrian president and all of his guards to relive with full emotional force the worst moments of their lives. Held up against Harada's childhood, filled with loneliness and fear, Darpan's makes for a stark contrast. But if Harada became the unthinkable force of evil he is today without any guidance at all, trying to imagine what he has warped Darpan into is a truly unsettling and disturbing proposition. More than anything, that is what writer Joshua Dysart accomplishes in this zero issue. I may have already understood Harada, but I had no sense of what kinds of weapons he'd been building in the minds of his followers.
     Not sure who handled what, exactly, but artists Mico Suayan and Pere PĂ©rezdo both do an excellent job of visually contrasting the two time periods in the same ways the story does. Post-atomic Hiroshima is a dimly-lit place full of tired, grim faces and buildings reduced to rubble or ash. Meanwhile, in present-day Syria, the sun shines brightly as Darpan calmly causes waves of pain and chaos with a smile on his face. What this displays most is the difference in Harada's life. Where once he was a lost, broken, depressed child, he is now a rich and confident man on top of the world. It can be seen most clearly if you look at where he is at the conclusion of each of the parallel narratives. His origin story ends with boy Harada flying into the air screaming, his mental powers causing massive destruction and chaos beneath him. But the issue as a whole resolves with grown-up Harada floating in a meditative pose in a silent, empty room lit with calming candles. In both cases, he's lifted into the air by his abilities, but where one shows the untamed anger of a child, the other displays the intense level of control and satisfaction experienced by the man he is today.
      Toyo Harada has been, from the very first issue, a man clearly not to be trifled with. But in taking an issue to examine the reach of his power, the size of his plans, and the resources at his disposal, Dysart boldly underlines just how terrifying a bad guy this title really has. We've spent so long with the flawed, teenaged heroes of the book, it was an intelligent decision to present us with a picture of a villain without any of those shortcomings. He may have been a slave to his emotions long ago, but now he is the picture of serenity, always so many steps ahead of the game that he knows he has nothing to worry about. And we got to see much more of Darpan than ever before, a sweet and innocent young man who doesn't even seem to realize that he's been weaponized by his handlers. All told, a bleak but impressive portrait of one side of this ever-expanding conflict.

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