Friday, August 16, 2013

On the Title Panel of Harbinger #15

The latest issue of Valiant's Harbinger is probably going to be a divisive one amongst fans, because of the sudden severity of its ending. I won't bother spoiling it here, but at the close of the issue, one of the most important characters in the series goes through a major and unexpected change that I suspect will bother many people. Personally, I didn't mind it, even though I adore the character in question (it's Kris, and she's awesome), but I'm not here to talk about the specifics of the issue's conclusion, anyway. All you need to know about the end of Harbinger #15 is that it is exceedingly dark, even for this series. What I'm interested in is how a few simple but smart choices at the beginning of the issue foreshadowed that darkness.

When the story begins, the book's heroes are all hanging out together on Venice Beach, enjoying a well-deserved vacation after the devastating events of the recently-completed "Harbinger Wars" crossover. They're lounging, relaxing, smiling, and making plans for the rest of their time off—just a bunch of normal teenagers relishing their lack of responsibilities. It's the happiest and calmest anyone in Harbinger has ever, ever been, and it lasts for a page-and-a-half before the issue's title card shows up:
This panel is what I really want to talk about. When I first read this issue, that title gave me something akin to chills. Even though it's done in bright colors and placed on top of an image of classic summertime beach fun, it manages to telegraph all the doom and gloom that will come before the issue ends. There are a few reasons for this, I think, the most obvious of which is Simon Bowland's lettering.

In spite of the jovial mood of the preceding scene, and the theoretically pleasant title of the issue, Bowland makes the letters brash and domineering. The lines are rigid, the title done in all caps, and there's space between each letter that makes the whole thing look like a wall of language constructed to hold back some powerful, terrible force. These are not the lackadaisical swooshes and curves of a more handwritten font, nor are they matter-of-fact, informative letters just trying to get information across. This is a title with a message; it may say "Perfect Day" but it loudly expresses the opposite sentiment. Unlike the extra-relaxed characters on the nearby beach, the letters in the title stand at attention, because they know something wicked this way comes.

The other indication on this panel of the issue's forthcoming tragedy is the mere fact that, under the "Perfect Day" title, the issue is labeled as "Chapter One." After a huge crossover event like "Harbinger Wars," it is not at all uncommon for a series to take a bit of a break, using a single issue to tell a short story of lighter fare. Based on Harbinger #15's opening page, I would have expected this to be a full-on vacation issue, a self-contained one-shot devoted to showing the heroes in their down time so that, starting next month, things could begin to ramp up once again. But seeing that "Chapter One" subtitle told me that this issue was no breather. It's the start of a fresh new arc, and that means some serious shit is bound to go down.

These are tiny touches, but they made a world of difference. As soon as I saw the panel in question, I could feel the issue's horrific conclusion coming for me. I didn't know what it was going to be, because writer Joshua Dysart took his time building up to the actual event, but right at the start it was obvious that the Renegades' sunny disposition would be short-lived. It's not every day that a single panel's letters say so much about the entirety of an issue, so I thought it was worth pointing out. Whatever your opinion of the actual story content contained in these pages, the title panel is a success. 

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