Harbinger #6: Hung Jury

The return of Kris Hathaway was supposed to help me render a verdict on this book. Not quite.

Andy Hunsakerby Andy Hunsaker

Harbinger #6

For the most part, I've been enjoying the revitalization of Valiant Comics, because I wasn't around for the first run and thus these are all new books to me. X-O Manowar is solid, Archer & Armstrong is fun, Bloodshot is weird enough to stay interesting, Shadowman looks decent. The only book I haven't been sold on is Joshua Dysart's Harbinger.  I discussed the reasons why before, but suffice it to say when your first issue has your protagonist mind-control raping a woman, it's hard to invest in your story.

For reference: Peter Stanchek is the main character of Harbinger. He grew up mostly in an institution, has incredible mental powers with very little control over the sensory input from telepathy, and is very unstable. In the first issue, he escaped from the institution with his friend Joe Irons, and tracked down Kris Hathaway, his former neighbor who kissed him once when they were ten years old. He'd apparently fixated on her as his only semblance of normalcy. When she reacted badly to his overtures, he mind controlled her to fall in love with him. She kissed him, and then in the next panel we see them in, they're lying next to each other in the dark under blankets, and he's shirtless. This heavily implies that they had sex, although it's never outright stated that they did and the fact that they are still partially clothed might have been trying to mitigate the assumption. That is likely why, in Harbinger #6, Kris finally returns to the book and the word 'rape' is never used.

I've continued reading the book assuming that it was indeed rape (although having doubts that Dysart would ever address it properly), and hoping the slow build to Stanchek going crazy would be us reading about the formation of a supervillain who wold eventually get what's coming to him, and Kris would have something to do with it. True, Stanchek felt guilty about what he'd done, and mentally commanded her to fall out of love with him, too, before he left to fall in with Toyo Harada's Harbinger Foundation – a training ground for telepaths and super-types. They've helped him with control, but betrayed him a lot by killing Joe after dumping him in a drug den and telling Peter he was being treated well. He flipped out, attacked, got beat up, ran off to lick his wounds, and apparently sent for Kris to give her the gift of letting her kill him. He's awash in guilt and regret – vastly different from the cocky asshole he's been most of the series – and feels he has nothing to live for.

For her part, Kris has apparently been stewing in anger ever since Peter pulled his violation on her, which is only exacerbated by her family's financial issues and her father's health problems. She refers to it as 'emotional violation' at one point, and says "for a few very strange hours, I loved this boy." And yet, in a very unfortunate choice of words, she vocally laments her decision to go find Peter. "Why am I here? How much more can you possibly bone my life?"

So it seems Dysart is stepping back from the implication that Peter raped Kris, which is wise, I suppose, if we're ever supposed to give a shit about his lead character. What will also help is the new setup for the future, which seems to have Kris taking control of the situation, using Joan Osborne's "One Of Us" as her rationale for dealing with Peter.  "I've got a flying girl and a bastard god who's desperate for my approval. That means I've got something so very few people in this world really have. That means I've got power." The brief TV mention of the Occupy movement makes me think Kris might use this new power as a social crusader – she's already used Peter to rob a bank to pay off her parents medical bills, and pick a fight with Harada to get blackmail footage and set a trap for him. 

This could be interesting if written skillfully, although the whole rape/not rape debacle makes me doubt the adverb will apply. The flying girl, by the way, is Faith, a portly woman who was brain-zapped by Peter a few issues back in an attempt to unlock superpowers at the behest of Harada, and who we initially thought was dead. Instead, she now can fly and calls herself Zephyr. Initially, I was annoyed that they killed her off and was happy to see her back, but if they play her as a goofy dope all the time, it could get old or condescending fast. As of now, she's got enough going for her to be sort of fun. Also, if Dysart actually allows the tin-foil hats they wear to be effective in blocking telepathy, I'd find that amusing as well.

Everything's still very tentative about Harbinger, though (although the Phil Briones art is mostly lamentable when it comes to human faces). It could be interesting, it could be acceptable, it could, it could, it could. But it's six issues in and still all about could. I'd been waiting for Kris to return so I could pass a verdict, but it seems that jury is still out, or maybe they're just hung.