Friday, July 19, 2013

Some Very Brief, Off-the-Cuff Reactions to the End of Harbinger Wars

Even though technically there are some epilogue-style issues of Harbinger and Bloodshot still to come, for all intents and purposes the new Valiant's first crossover event came to an end this Wednesday with the publication of Harbinger Wars #4. I didn't read all of the Bloodshot issues that tied in, but I follow Harbinger anyway so I read those, as well as all four chapters of the main event title. It was a wild ride, a full-throttle action story with more than its fair share of explosive moments, both literally and figuratively. But as entertaining as the whole affair was, now that it's over, I gotta say...I'm not sure how I feel about it. It ends up seeming like an event for the sake of it, stretched out over multiple issues of three titles not because it needed the space to tell its story, but just because that's how crossovers work. At the same time, it bucked some typical superhero comicbook trends in impressive ways, and had some fantastic-looking action along the way.

I wasn't bothered by the different series showing the same scenes from various points of view. That strategy I actually liked. It allowed the individual titles to stand on their own so readers weren't required to get them all in order to understand what was happening. This is one way in which Harbinger Wars did something unusual and unexpected. The much more noticeable thing it did, and the aspect of the book I liked the most, was a small but significant shake-up of the typical "heroes fight because of a misunderstanding, but then realize the mistake and team up" story. Instead, the good guys fought one another over a misunderstanding per usual, but never figured out that they were battling against potential allies. Then, in the end, it is a group of villains who teams up with one of the good guy teams, when Harada convinces Generation Zero to join his foundation. I love that conclusion; it's such a simple shift in such a tired trope of the superhero genre, yet the implications for the future of the characters (and their respective series) are enormous.

Unfortunately, this ending is also what makes Harbinger Wars lightweight as a narrative—the events leading up to it are largely sound and fury signifying very, very little. Once Harada talks the kids into siding with him, much of what that has come before is rendered immaterial. Because the violence that fills these pages isn't really connected to what Harada does. There's no natural progression, just a string of fights that don't really relate to one another, except inasmuch as they're all over the fates of the Generation Zero kids. But Harada gets taken off the board by Bloodshot early on, then there's a bunch of intense combat in the middle that accomplishes pretty much nada, and then very rapidly in Wednesday's issue, Harada returns fully healed, wipes out the competition, and wins the whole conflict with an only semi-convincing speech.

I'm writing this like an hour after finishing Harbinger Wars #4, so maybe I'm being unfair. Maybe there are bonds between things I'm not remembering right now, but will be more apparent on a reread. And it's not that I didn't like Harbinger Wars, because I really did. Perhaps the violence wasn't all necessary, but it sure looked great, harsh and with a touch of realism, yet firmly founded in a superpowered reality. The story had some strong surprises and character beats, and TONS of interesting things were seeded for the future. As the final page of the final issue says, wars never really end, so even if the event proper has come to a close, its ramifications will last for a long while. So there's plenty in the story's favor, it's just that the destination made a lot of the journey feel like wheel spinning. This is my initial, gut response to the event's ending, and though I might revise or even retract it once I've gone back over the material, first impressions always count for something.

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