Trade Paperback Review: HARBINGER RENEGADE VOLUME ONE
HARBINGER RENEGADE VOL 1: THE JUDGMENT OF SOLOMON TPB (Valiant Entertainment, 2017) Collects HARBINGER RENEGADE #1-4 from November 2016 - February 2017. Writer: Rafer Roberts. Artists: Juan Jose Ryp (prologues, all issues), Darick Robertson with Richard Clark (main story, all issues), Art and Lettering: Raul Allen and Patricia Martin (introduction, issue #1). Colorists: Frankie D’Armata (prologues, all issues), Diego Rodriguez (main story, issue #1, 2), Diego Rodriguez and Brian Reber (main story, issue #3), Brian Reber (main story, issue #4). Letterer: Dave Lanphear (all issues).
HARBINGER RENEGADE started out amazing and maintained that consistency throughout the first four-issue story arc. The first HARBINGER series (written by Joshua Dysart) was, in my opinion, the very best of Valiant’s return to comics publishing. I also called it the best re-boot series of 2012.
Now, I’m giving serious consideration to nominating HARBINGER RENEGADE for the new RINGO AWARDS (on the fan ballot, see previous articles on the award). The timing couldn’t be better to review the first story arc, considering what else is happening this week. On New Comic Wednesday, HARBINGER RENEGADE #5 is released, beginning a new story arc that leads into the upcoming HARBINGER WARS II. Issue #5 also includes the death of a series character, but let’s not get melodramatic just yet - - let’s talk about the book so far.
What makes HARBINGER and HARBINGER RENEGADE a special read for me is how it deals with several issues and situations:
- How do individuals react and respond to extreme power? How does it change them? How do they cope? Do they handle it responsibly or recklessly?
- Super-powers are not necessarily the privilege of normal, well-adjusted individuals. Peter Stanchek, leader of Harbinger Renegade, is a low-esteem, drug dependent and mentally disturbed young man. John Torkleson is a physically disabled boy, until he activates his power and envelops himself within the physique of Torque. Faith Herbert is an orphaned fangirl with weight issues, who becomes the ever-optimistic Zephyr and works hard to keep it positive at all times. Those three come to mind. There are and will be more. I’m sure, in the stories to come, we will meet other unlikely psiots (humans with enhanced abilities, made manifest through a life-risking special procedure) with new abilities.
- Both series portray emotional scenes with realism, and normal reactions. Things are never depicted in a forceful or contrived way. Rafer Roberts takes us inside the head of these characters and shows us exactly how they feel. Artist Darick Robertson is skilled and creative at detailing those emotions and expressions.
The trade paperback (a bargain at $9.99) is a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. The three-page prologue that opens Issue #1 does a clear and concise job of summarizing the story so far.
At the conclusion of the first series, the Renegades broke up following the death of Flamingo. The team succeeded in busting up the Harbinger Foundation of Toyo Harada, but that victory came at a costly price to all of them. Zephyr and @x were the only two members still active and working hard to protect and prevent harm to other psiots.
A further unforeseen consequence of the Renegades making all of Harada’s secrets public, all the names of potential psiots are common knowledge. It doesn’t take long before the NSA, other agencies, and independent rebel groups of psiots try to apprehend and recruit in order to activate their psiot powers for their own purposes. The Renegades team needs to get back together to try and undo the damage, and most of the first story arc is dedicated to detailing those efforts to reform, led by (who else?) Zephyr and @x.
I’m not going to spoil your reading pleasure by re-capping everything that happens here. It would also require an extremely long review. I just want to bullet-point a few of the high points for me.
- The introduction of Solomon, a bad ass character from Harada’s past come back to make his life difficult.
- The consequences of psionic activation attempts when they lack a few essential ingredients and safety precautions.
- New character Jay Tucker, an unactivated psiot, who fits in with the team quickly and has a well-developed background story.
- That Roberts doesn’t try to soften the rough edges of Torque, and keeps him the asshole that he was in the first series.
- Kris Hathaway’s new lesbian relationship, presented without fanfare and in a mature fashion.
- Kris’ emotional turmoil and soul-searching when asked to get involved with the Renegades again, knowing it could put her back in jail but not wanting to turn her back on her friends.
- The big reveal about who is directing the efforts of the low level upstarts The Consortium.
- Great line from Alexander Solomon: “Everybody’s a gangster, until a ganster walks in the room.”
- More feelings of guilt from Kris and a heartfelt rooftop conversation with Tamara.
- Torque gets a beat down.
- The prologue provides more background on why Solomon broke off from Harada’s group and explores in depth both their ideological differences as well as differing opinions on how to achieve agreed-upon goals.
- Peter returns from his cosmic vacation looking like Jesus H. Christ, but perhaps due to the amount of drugs he ingests to control the voices in his head - - he’s having a hard time separating reality from waking dreams.
- Solomon gets another great line: “Kris, when did you start believing what was on the news?” (You had to be there for proper context.)
- Solomon’s master plan is revealed. Activate every single psiot on the planet.
- All the dire stuff ends on an optimistic note when a new member joins the Renegades and they all put aside their differences to work together.
Which brings us to the promotion for the upcoming HARBINGER RENEGADE #5, the new story arc about to debut amidst a lot of hype about the death of a hero. Who might it be? I’ve got some ideas, even though I have an advance release copy and could take a peek. That would be unfair. Think about the team and who the weakest member is. There are actually two, one male and one female. I could see either one falling in a real battle. They would both have an impact on the team—but I believe one of them would have a devastating effect on how the team functions. However, in the first series there was a death and it was one of the stronger members, Flamingo, who was killed in battle. Her death was not treated casually, and the following issue handled the subject delicately but not without impact or repercussions. So, who’s to say Roberts may pick a more prominent member. Or, maybe the newest member - - that would be a shocker. I’m just hoping the treatment is done properly and not superficial. See you on Wednesday 7/12!
BC RATING SYSTEM
STORY: This is the best introduction to a revived series that we’ve seen in a long time. Roberts unloads a lot of information on the reader, but manages to keep things moving, entertaining, and engaging at a regular clip. The inherent danger of these events and the heart-breaking effect on those who conscientiously feel responsible is realistically portrayed. Very well done. 3 POINTS.
ART: The images that illustrate the text of the introduction are perfect. Ryp does a stellar job on the prologues. His art is different than Robertson, reminding me of Paul Gulacy (a favorite), but compliments it very well. Getting the incredible creative talent of Robertson to illustrate the rest of the book is like placing a giant scoop of ice cream on top of our favorite cake. 3 POINTS.
COVER: A plethora of wonderful covers across the first four issues. That’s why I recommend picking up the Trade Paperback — so you can enjoy them all without breaking open the piggy bank. 2 POINTS.
READ AGAIN? Yes. Every time I re-read this I find something else to appreciate.1 POINT.
RECOMMEND? Yes. This is better than I ever expected. 1 POINT.
TOTAL RATING: 10 POINTS out of 10. Perfect score. A classic.