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HARBINGER RENEGADE #5

by Thegreatmagnet on July 12, 2017

Written by Rafer Roberts
Art by Darick Robertson
Inks by Richard Clark
Colors by Diego Rodriquez
Published by Valiant Comics
 
Let me preface this review by saying unequivocally that all of these comments come from a place of love. I am a die-hard Valiant fanatic, currently contemplating several Valiant-themed tattoos. I gave Valiant a shout-out in my wedding vows. I love this company and I try to sell them to anyone who will listen. But I also need to call things how they see them, because I want to company to live up to their own insanely high standards. I’ve heard more than one person say that Valiant fans are spoiled, and it is absolutely true.
 
I have to be honest. In writing this review, I feel a bit hamstrung by directives from Valiant to keep reviews spoiler free. They have been hyping this issue for the last four months, hammering home the point that a major character from the Harbinger corner of the Valiant Universe would die. Based on the marketing, it seems the entire point of the whole issue could be boiled down to who dies? It’s not the first time that Valiant has promoted a Harbinger storyline by promising the death of a major character, and perhaps they promoted “Death of a Renegade” in a similar fashion (that was just before I started reading Valiant). However, I would be surprised if the promotion of that story approaches the relentless hyping of this issue. Valiant publicized panels and script pages that were heavily redacted, and they reportedly created numerous versions of the script that featured different characters, with only five Valiant staffers actually knowing who would die. (By the way, has a Valiant employee ever actually leaked material plot points before a release date?) The problem, in my opinion, is that when you hype up something so much, it’s all the more important that you deliver something solid. In my opinion, the character deaths while very striking in the aggregate, don’t necessarily live up to the “major” billing on an individual basis, especially given the speculation that I’ve heard in the fan community. And I say that as a person who loves every single one of these dead characters. I would dispute that any of the deceased are truly major characters in the Valiant Universe, but unfortunately I can’t elaborate on those thoughts for fear of spoilers.
 
In real life, when confronted by the all-too-common news of catastrophic violence, terrorism, human cruelty, etc. I think that many people react with confusion and bewilderment. How could this have happened? Why would people do these things? These victims had their whole lives ahead of them – so much wasted potential! I find myself reacting to this issue in a very similar way. Perhaps that was the intent, but I don’t mean it as a positive. I have fundamental questions about why these events are happening. Not only does this issue not connect to or even reference a single event of the first four issues of the series, but we basically jump into the H.A.R.D. Corps minutes before attacking a U.S. city, without any explanation about who was giving the orders (their old boss is dead and his organization was dissolved). We’re dropped right into the mayhem and we don’t really know why anything is happening (especially for anyone that didn’t read Generation Zero). It takes a lot of hard work to create a character and develop them in a way that creates an emotional attachment with the audience. I feel that, in general, if you’re going to kill a character and lose those valuable assets, there should be a good reason for it. This is even more true for Valiant, because the company brands itself proudly with the principle that once a character is dead, they stay dead. This is not Marvel, where these characters will return to publication in six months. Given the near total lack of context for these events, these deaths seemingly serve the purpose of moving other peoples’ stories along (fridging) and/or to prove that the stakes are very high in the upcoming Harbinger Wars 2, and that no characters are safe! (except probably for all the characters whose deaths we saw in the Book of Death event tie-ins). The deceased were good characters and they deserved better.
 
Beyond that, I’m somewhat struck by the civilian deaths in this issue. Admittedly Valiant is no stranger to civilian death tolls and collateral damage. This is a publisher that once vaporized Mexico City and leveled much of downtown Los Angeles a month later. The bodycount in this issue is probably not that much higher than the average action-driven Valiant issue (they don’t really elaborate about the exact numbers), but somehow I find it troubling here. Perhaps it’s that the civilian deaths almost seem like an afterthought not worth discussing or really even portraying, unlike the superhero deaths. The civilians are thrown in to add additional shock value. There is a lot of death in Valiant books, but something about this issue feels almost nihilistic for some reason, perhaps again because we have no context or leadup to the conflagration. Admittedly, it’s possible that the callousness of government and military officials that we see in the aftermath carries a topical political message. If this is the case, I have to admit that I’m feeling drained by our toxic political reality, and I’d rather not see the Trumpbag in my comics. Whatever the reason, this issue left me kind of creeped out.
 
I also have other problems with the writing. First off, I’m not convinced that Roberts really understands the Generation Zero characters’ personalities or how their powers work. Beyond that, I have logical questions about the story. Why does Gen Zero arm the civilians they promised to protect? Did they really think the government psiot hit squad was going after human civilians? Why exactly does Omen Corporation care about being embarrassed by P.R.S.’s mistakes when they seem to have erased all evidence of their affiliation. Were they ordered by the government to conduct the mission in Rook, or did they do it on their own initiative?  From a nuts and bolts perspective, the issue is somewhat light on dialog and some of what we get is straight up painful (for instance, Vagabond’s yo momma joke). Rafer is a funny guy, so I’m not sure why the jokes fell flat in this issue.
 
I also didn’t love the art in this issue. I generally enjoyed Robertson’s work on the first four issues of the series, and I’ll admit there are some panels in here that I did enjoy (mostly close-ups of the characters and the occasional gritty panel). However, Valiant has an absolutely insane stable of exclusive artists on staff and I think I would have preferred any of them on this issue in terms of overall style. Aside from admittedly subjective taste issues, there were several different key scenes in this issue where I literally don’t understand what is happening in the panels, even after close examination. Other places characters appear and disappear from shots without explanation. Was this maybe a scripting issue instead of an art issue? That’s certainly possible, and I wonder if having multiple versions of the script may have contributed to the disjointed storytelling. I’m being harsh about the art, but this is one of Valiant’s tentpole titles that was put on hiatus for four months, ostensibly so Robertson would have the time to do the art for the current arc. Valiant has had amazing success switching off interior artists between storylines on their series, so I can’t justify putting this series on hold for this art. That being said, I did enjoy the colors by Diego Rodriguez, who also shines on the current X-O Manowar series.
 
Is anybody still actually reading this? Let’s attempt a constructive conclusion, because it’s really not my desire to offend. I’m emotional and probably irrational. This review has been an intense exercise in grappling with and coming to terms with this issue. I think that part of the problem may rest in the intense marketing for this issue, which always raises expectations among the fans. Perhaps this marketing was necessary, given that the series was going on hiatus for four months. Clearly I don’t think that this book should ever be put on hold given that Harbinger is an essential tentpole, and it’s building up to the massive Harbinger Wars 2 event next year. But more importantly, when you build up a massive hype, you’ve gotta be rock solid and I feel this issue was flawed in terms of the writing and the art. That is something that can (and should) be addressed, since I expect this title will continue for at least another year or two. Also, I hope that if significant characters die in future issues of the series, that they’re given a dignified and meaningful death. Stay Valiant.
 
 
 

Our Score:

3/10

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Comments

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