Indie Comics Spotlight: Harbinger Wars, X, Invincible Universe
by Jonathan Pilley (@omnicomic)
Harbinger Wars #1
For the past year or so, Valiant has been nothing short of amazing. They’ve rebooted all their key franchises and done so in a manner that both pays respect to them as such, while also presenting them as new, fresh books for readers. Both Harbinger and Bloodshot are books that the publisher has made sure gets attention and rightfully so. The publisher’s first crossover event features the two aforementioned books in a four-part series starting with Harbinger Wars #1. The title is written by Joshua Dysart (via collaboration with Duane Swierczynski), illustrated by Clayton Henry, Clayton Crain and Mico Suayan, colored by Brian Reber and lettered by Dave Lanphear.
For decades, Toyo Harada’s Harbinger Foundation and the government’s own Project Rising Spirit have been waging a secret war over the rarest resource known to man – the unruly superhuman telekinetics known as Harbingers. Over the years, they’ve each collected a small army of these empowered children to inflict their agendas on the world. But now, the reformed Harbinger hunter known as Bloodshot needs to atone for his crimes – and he’s going to start by releasing two dozen of the most volatile Harbingers from their PRS prison and into the world.
Considering this is Valiant’s first major event, Dysart does a phenomenal job in presenting it as such. If you’ve been reading the independent books up to this point, then you know the build-up has been there. Where Dysart excels is by making Harbinger Wars #1 feel like much more than just a crossover. It stands alone as a great book, buoyed by the backstories in other Valiant books. Having said that, the book isn’t quite accessible to everyone. If you’ve been devoted to Valiant and all their titles, you’ve seen the groundwork being laid for this mini-crossover. If you haven’t, well, there’s a lot that you may miss. The issue stands alone and there’s a good narrative to bring the reader up to speed, but you’ll definitely appreciate it more if you’ve been reading Bloodshot and/or Harbinger.
The art team of Henry, Crain and Suayan also do a fantastic job. Bloodshot has all the requisite anger spilling out of his physique, while the Harbingers are illustrated all showcasing their powers. There’s an almost photorealism to the book that makes the pages seem shiny and it works. There are some panels that look a little dark and there’s an almost cartoonish looking lion that’s a manifestation of one of the Psiots, but overall, the art is a solid addition to the comic.
Harbinger Wars #1 is a great example of what a careful, well-thought out crossover should be. It’s got all the pertinent backstory in the individual series, meaning this one isn’t bogged down by recaps. It’s got Bloodshot in a slightly different role, as an almost “father” figure instead of cold-blooded killer. And it’s got Psiots en masse, unleashed and angry. If the first issue is any indication, fans of the Valiant universe may be in for something special.
Harbinger Wars #1 is available now.
There are some people who glut themselves on the decay of a city, prompting a call for hero (anti-hero?) to step in and take out those feasting. How that individual handles their duty to a city is entirely up to them, even if it involves lots of blood and violence. X #0 from Dark Horse is a book that’s heavy on all of the above. The issue is written by Duane Swierczynski, with art by Eric Nguyen and colored by Michelle Madsen.
Three crime lords in the decaying city of Arcadia have received photographic death sentences from the mysterious “X Killer.” Their cunning defenses won’t stop Arcadia’s vigilante from making sure each one of them suffers. And boy, does X test those defenses in his quest to make them pay for their shortcomings as good citizens.
Swierczynski’s story isn’t pleasant. That is, it’s full of pain, violence and sheer anguish. His character X is unapologetic about his quest to punish the crime lords; so hellbent and blinded by his fury that he shows no regard for his well-being. Swierczynski knows about writing gritty characters, having done so for Punisher and Bloodshot and X is really no different than the other two. He’s a firm believer of the eye for an eye mantra and relies heavily on solid doses of violence and violent weapons.
The story is chock full of grit and it kind of makes you feel dirty after reading it. Arcadia clearly doesn’t make its economy run by selling rainbows and sunshine. It’s a bad place run by bad people, which fully explains the need for X to resort to the violent methods. The “Pigs” are aptly named; gorging themselves on a city that’s slipped so far through the cracks it makes Gotham City look nice.
Nguyen’s art is equally as gritty. The pages are full of blood and gore, but not so much that it takes away from the book. It fits within the context of the story itself, a story that’s not happy. X finds all manner of force to get his point across and Nguyen does a great job showing that. There are some panels where the blood makes it a little difficult to discern exactly what’s going on, but the bulk of the issue looks perfectly fine.
X #0 is a violent comic that’s unapologetic about its underpinnings. X himself is a man who relies on violence begetting violence, showing little regard for his health when it comes to achieving his goals. The book is a little intense and may not be for everybody, but if you pick it up and can handle a crowbar through the face, X #0 is a solid book.
X #0 is in stores now.
Invincible Universe #1
When confronted by an evil named Dinosaurus, the world will turn to whatever heroes are necessary to win. Even if that collection of heroes happens to become a universe of heroes, as in Invincible Universe #1. The issue is written by Phil Hester, with illustrations by Todd Nauck, colors by Gabe Eltaeb and letters by Rus Wooton.
In the aftermath of “The Death of Everyone,” Dinosaurus has left his mark on the world. This has spawned an uneasy alliance between Cecil Steadman and Invincible, with the former encouraging the latter with a deal to avoid prison if he serves his will. Invincible (alongside the Guardians of the Globe, Tech Jacket and the Astounding Wolf-Man, among others) are struggling to help the world recover from the destruction, but by the end of the issue, they’ve got a whole other problem to contend with.
Off the bat, you’ll notice that Invincible Universe #1 is dense. Really, really dense. It assumes you’ve read the issues of Invincible leading up to the start of this series and, if you haven’t, all the luck to you. That’s not to say that Hester makes the book overly complicated; in fact, he does a great job throwing everyone at you and not wasting time explaining who everyone is. Instead, certain characters get more prominence and from their actions and dialogue, you get a feel for the role they’ll play in the universe.
The issue is a solid read though, but, again, you’re much better off if you know what the full backstory is. Instead, it drops you right in the middle of the aftermath, with the title character on two pages and the supporting cast littering the remainder of the book. Steadman is much like Nick Fury, bringing together all the different powers and his new assistant Edelman comes with an extensive resume and a propensity for having to catch up. It’s not entirely clear if the direction of the series will primarily be cleaning up the aftermath of Dinosaurus or feature that as a sidestory.
Nauck’s art probably steals the show in Invincible Universe #1. No discredit to Hester, but what Nauck does with some of the panels is amazing. There are a few pages where Edelman is giving Steadman status updates on all the heroes and they’re projected as holograms. Nauck does a fantastic job keeping the holograms detailed but not overwhelming, considering the amount of characters thrown at the reader. The last, full-panel page is both terrifying (in a good way) and awe inspiring, showcasing Nuack’s talent.
Fans of Invincible shouldn’t hesitate to pick this up. If you’ve heard good things about the original series though, Invincible Universe #1 probably shouldn’t be your first foray into that world. The issue is solid all-around, but it assumes the reader has been “paying attention” to this point. It’s not quite accessible to new readers, but the series is looking like it’ll be a blast.
Invincible Universe #1 is in stores now.