The Valiant Tangent – Harbinger #1-4 (Children of the Eighth Day, Part 2)

Welcome back to The Valiant Tangent, the longest running column whose goal it is to chronicle the stories and characters of Valiant Comics and the things that made them not only cool, but some of the greatest of all time. After a very long hiatus we are finally back and ready to continue our look at these comics, and I hope you will join us.

This time we’re going to continue our discussion of Harbinger, Valiant’s team book about a group of superpowered teenagers. If you’ve never read Valiant Comics (or if you’re not old enough to remember them—Christ, just writing that made me feel old) you might not realize that these comics were ahead of their time. Valiant stories were set in a universe that was supposed to be “real”, and by that I mean “our” universe, the real world (or at least a very close copy). The books were filled with superpowered characters, but they acted as real people might act if they suddenly could fly or shoot energy out of their hands. There were no flashy costumes (although there were costumes, they all had a logical reason for being in the story), and the general populace was not aware that superpowered beings existed. There would never be anything like a Bat-Signal in the Valiant Universe.

Since it’s been so long since the previous column, it’s probably best to do a quick refresher course on what went down in the previous issue. (For a much more detailed description, just click the link to the last column on the right side of this page. While you’re at it, click the links to all the previous columns if you want to kill some time at work.) I’ll keep it brief, sticking just to the highlights, and catch you up along the way with anything I’ve missed. So Harbinger is about a group of teenagers that was born with special abilities. For the comics layman, think mutants. Harbinger is the name of the organization that finds and claims to help people exhibiting powers. It’s led by Toyo Harada, a very wealthy Japanese businessman that also happens to be one of the (if not the) world’s most powerful “special” person. He has appeared in previous Valiant Comics (See? Don’t you wish you clicked those links to the previous columns now?), and has almost limitless mental abilities. Five teenagers have joined together with the hope of destroying Harbinger, claiming that the organization is evil and must be stopped. These Harbinger Renegades are:

· Sting – 18-year-old leader with psionic abilities that could possibly rival those of Toyo Harada. These include telekinesis, telepathy, mind control, and many others. Harbinger agents killed his best friend, and now he is on the run because they want to kill him next. He is Kris’s boyfriend.

· Torque – Super-strong tough guy. He’s obnoxious and coarse, but loyal to his friends, and secretly loves the acceptance that they feel for him.

· Zephyr – a sci-fi, comic geek chick that flies. She loves having powers, and thinks the world is a comic book (specifically X-Men) but has a hard time dealing with the fact that real life, even a superpowered one like hers, isn’t all fun and games.

· Flamingo – A flirtatious southern belle that has the ability to control and cover her body in flames. Think the Human Torch but without being able to fly.

· Kris – Sting’s girlfriend and the only non-powered one of the group. She is levelheaded and keeps the team together. She loves Sting but has some sort of attraction to Torque.

Last issue, Sting and Kris sought out these kids one by one to join him in his crusade to stop Harada and the Harbinger Foundation. Once they were all together, Harada’s forces attacked them. After a difficult battle they emerged victorious, but Kris was shot in the crossfire. The issue ended with Sting and his team holding the injured Kris and planning on attacking Harada again. Issue #2 takes place not long after.

Enough talk. Let’s get right to it. This is Harbinger #2, and I hope you dig it.

Harbinger #2

Written by Jim Shooter, Penciled by David Lapham, Inked by John Dixon, Colored by Janet Jackson, Maria Beccari & Co.

This issue, as with most Valiant Comics, starts right in the middle of the action, and forces you to immediately jump into the story. It’s a full splash page, and the Harbinger kids are in lobby of a hospital, Torque holding the bleeding Kris, and Sting mentally levitating the woman behind the counter. “She was shot–! She’s bleeding–! That’s all you need to know! I don’t care about your stupid rules!” he shouts at her.

I’ve mentioned it before and I’ll mention it here: those Valiant guys sure knew how to start a story. I’m a writer and filmmaker, and I’ve noticed that when I work on a project, I like to start it right in the middle of something crazy and unexpected, something that will hook the reader (or viewer) and make them want to know not only what happens next, but what happened before. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate a slow build to set up characters and plot, but I think it’s important to grab attention immediately and not let go. As just a quick example, how about Reservoir Dogs? After the Madonna speech at the diner and after the credits, the movie really begins when we see a violently bloody Tim Roth trying to keep his insides from coming out in the backseat of Harvey Keitel’s car. There was no time to slow down…I was hooked immediately. This is important because you have to remember the time that Valiant came out. Back then comics were still mostly written with a monthly schedule in mind. Each comic had to be filled with enough of the things we like about good stories to last a whole month until the next issue came out. They weren’t written with idea that a group of issues would be collected into a trade paperback and sold in Barnes and Noble down the line. The pacing was different. There is more story in one issue of any of these Valiant books than you will find in many whole collected editions of your favorite current comic. It took time to read a single issue of a Valiant comic. Nowadays you can fly through most comics in 5 minutes. And I’m paying $3.00 for that privilege? Anyway, back to the story…

Sting is trying to find a doctor that can help Kris, but it’s not like the movies; you can’t just barge into a hospital and have surgery performed on an injured friend. Besides, Sting and his team are all minors so the hospital needs parental consent, and gunshot wounds have to be reported to the police anyway. Finally a doctor comes out to see what the ruckus is all about, and Sting threatens to rip his lungs out if he doesn’t help Kris. The doctor isn’t scared by Sting’s threat and refuses, so Sting then goes into the doc’s mind to force him to operate on Kris. Almost immediately, Sting pulls out of the doctor’s mind and stops his mental attack. He’s afraid that he might impair the doctor’s ability to operate, and besides, Kris would never approve of Sting using his powers like that. So he decides to help Kris himself. Using his powers he levitates Kris onto a gurney, flips her onto her stomach, mentally tears her shirt off, and prepares to take the bullets out. He is clearly struggling and says, “I can feel ‘em…just like if I was touching them…man, they don’t go in straight. How are you supposed to do this?” After a few tense moments two bullets fly out of Kris’s shoulder. But she is still in a lot of danger, so the doctor, Doctor Heyward, agrees to help her if the kids promise to back off and behave. He can’t stand by and just watch a person die if he can help it.

Hours later Kris is out of surgery and stabilized. Sting promises Doctor Heyward that one day they will come back, pay their bill, and tell the doctor all about how they can do the amazing things they do. Not wanting to be around when Harada’s men show up, Sting mentally grabs Kris, and he and the team leave the hospital. They are immediately attacked by snipers. Sting uses his powers to shield them from fire while they look for a car to steal and escape in.

Doctor Heyward tosses them his car keys from the hospital door, so the Harbinger kids get in and fly away (Sting makes the car fly away, that is). While inside, the car phone rings, and it’s Doctor Heyward on the line. He gives them the address to his summer home and tells them to go there and wait for him. Once there, the kids manage to get some well-deserved rest and food. Kris finally wakes as Doctor Heyward arrives. What follows is the classic plot device of having a character in the story (in this case Dr. Heyward) asking, “What’s going on and who are you?” in order for another character (Sting) to explain everything. It’s called exposition, and Jim Shooter did it perfectly (and by perfectly I mean that he does it in a way where you might not even realize that he’s doing it…and that is the best way to do exposition). We also get another great scene that not only describes but also demonstrates what Sting’s powers are. Heyward asks Sting what he means when he says he can force his way into somebody’s head. Sting tells him to try very hard not to pick up an ashtray. The Doctor laughs and thinks it’s a ridiculous request, but is shocked to see the ashtray in his hand! Then he experiences the brain ache that happens whenever Sting leaves someone’s mind (the ache that “stings”, and that gave Sting his nickname). Then Sting demonstrates how he can make things fly by lifting the water out of the pool and making it hover. Kind of like when you see astronauts playing with liquids in space. When he does this, he says, “This is pretty hard, by the way…” I love those little insights into how it would feel to actually be doing these things. It’s a small, but very effective, touch. By the way, I must mention again that when Sting uses his powers, you don’t see any blue or purple energy aura coming out of his head. In Valiant comics there are no sound effects or other stereotypical comic devices. This is all to make the comics seem more like the real world, and less of a cartoony place. If this were an issue of X-Men, you’d see Jean Grey covered in energy while she mentally lifts a steel beam. In a Valiant book, you would just see the steel beam move and Sting concentrating really hard.

So after everyone is settled in, Zephyr flies to the abandoned textile plant where she and her friends fought Harada’s forces. When she gets there, she sees that all evidence of a fight has been removed. In fact, all evidence of any kind has been removed. It’s now completely abandoned and looks like it has been for years. Suddenly Zephyr is attacked by two of Harada’s men. They are carrying weapons and armor and are not superpowered. Before the guards can take her away, Sting comes flying in and rescues her. He levitates the strike team and uses his powers to get whatever information he can out of their heads before dumping them in a vat at a sewage treatment plant.

Sting got an address out of their heads, so he and Zephyr go to that location. It’s a storefront filled with sewing machines and fabrics. They find boxes of clothing with the Harbinger Foundation symbol on it and an invoice made out to “Eighth Day, Inc.” that includes the address to the corporate headquarters. Sensing that this corporation is a cover for the Harbinger Foundation, Sting and Zephyr head back to their teammates to tell them the news. Zephyr takes the clothing and tells her friends that she modified the suits so they can all look like a team now. (She’s a comic geek and feels that a team should have a uniform…like the early X-Men, of course.) What’s of interest here is that in Valiant Comics the characters don’t really wear your typical superhero costumes. Sure, they might wear things that certainly look like costumes, but there will always be a reason behind it, and not just because it looks cool.

Anyway, Sting wants to infiltrate the headquarters and destroy Harbinger once and for all, but Torque doesn’t want to go. He says he’ll fight the bad guys alone and that he doesn’t need Sting and the rest. At that moment Kris, finally on her feet after being shot, really tells Torque what she thinks of him and convinces him to join the rest of the team. Basically she sees through his crude behavior and sees a good person underneath.

It certainly seems like Kris has some sort of feelings for Torque, but just what are they? Stay tuned. Her feelings for Torque, whatever they are, play a huge part in shaping the future of her friends, as well as the entire Valiant Universe.

So the team goes to New York (in the flying car, of course) and finds the corporate offices of Eighth Day, Inc. The offices are empty, but they find a hidden elevator that takes them to a secret lower level.

As soon as the doors open, everyone but Sting faints and collapses unconscious on the floor. A voice booms from up above on a catwalk. It is Toyo Harada, head of the Harbinger Foundation! He has incapacitated Sting’s teammates and tells Sting that he is too dangerous to survive and that he must be killed. Harada then has his entire force (human soldiers and superpowered agents) attack Sting while Harada himself mentally attacks him. Sting tries to protect himself, but the force of Harada’s mental attack, alongside everyone else’s, is taking a toll on him, and it is very hard for him to focus.

In a desperate, move Sting mentally levitates the unconscious Flamingo, pushes himself into her head, and turns on her flame powers. Then he flies her flaming body all over the room, using her to attack his attackers. Sting must be desperate because he would never normally use a person like that, essentially purposely assaulting their mind.

I’ve said it before: Sting is my favorite Valiant character, and he has the absolute coolest powers ever. You know the question: “If you had a power, what would it be?” Usually you get “flying” or “super strength,” but for me it would be mental powers like Sting. And I love the way he uses them in this comic.

So he is using Flamingo’s flames to keep everyone else back away from him, but it starts to get to hot, and his friends are starting to get burned, so he finds a pool (conveniently enough) and douses his team with water. This wakes them up from their Harada-induced nap, and they join the fight. Torque starts punching his way through the security force and then fights another superstrong Harbinger hand-to-hand.

Torque isn’t as strong as this one but manages to hold the guy’s head under water until he drowns. Sting, now able to concentrate a little more, flies up to where Harada is. He says, “Want to try me one on one without all your troops distracting me, Mr. Harada?” This panel is really what this whole series is clearly setting up (at least when this book originally came out). It’s kind of like knowing that eventually Vader and Luke would fight, each one a master of the Force. Harada versus Sting. Clearly Harada is the more powerful at the moment, but what is also clear is that he at least respects, if not fears, Sting’s powers. Before Sting can reach the catwalk, one of Harada’s Harbinger agents tries to attack Sting, but he easily mentally shoves her aside. When he turns back, Harada is gone, and the rest of the bad guys leave as well. Sting rushes to Flamingo and apologizes to her. “Flamingo, are you okay? I’m so sorry–! I had to push my way in and use you–!”

“Ev…everybody does,” she says.

“You saved us all!” he tells her.

The kids go back into the secret elevator and hit the top button, hoping that it will take them to the roof. They wind up in a penthouse office that seemingly belongs to Harada. The gang starts searching the office for whatever they can find, while Sting heads towards the window to levitate their car to pick them up. The fight with Harada’s people has taken a toll on Sting, and he starts to question his resolve. He’s scared. We have to remember that he is only 18 years old, and although when I was 18 I thought that I was an adult and completely in control, now that I’m a little older I can without a doubt say that 18 is still a kid. Don’t forget that…Sting and his team are still children. The world that they found themselves in is an adult one, and they will have to grow up very fast if they want to survive. And before this series is over, they will have grown a lot. You’ll see why in future columns. So Sting waits for the car and says, “I think we should just get out of here. Go home. Quit while we’re ahead. Man, I can’t believe it. I’m starting to shake…” I think Sting is finally starting to understand exactly what it is that he has gotten himself into. And trust me when I say that this is just the beginning.

Torque finds a safe in the wall and tears the door off. It’s loaded with cash! The issue ends with Sting, Torque, Zephyr and Flamingo in their car flying to Heyward’s summer home. They are on the phone with Kris and are singing “We’re in the money” while the front seat is overflowing with cash.

There you have it—the second issue of Harbinger. A lot happened, and many things were set up. It’s still fairly innocent when you think about it, but very soon things take a turn for the worse, and life becomes extremely serious for these kids. Will there be more revealed about Kris and her feelings for Torque? Yes. Will Sting continue to fight Harbinger and Harada? Yup. Next issue, the kids meet another Harbinger, one that becomes a much bigger player in things to come. Plus, they go into space! And Flamingo finally lets loose… (get your mind out of the gutter.)

As always, thanks for reading.

I hope you enjoyed this, and I look forward to you checking out the next one as well as all the old articles. Thanks and take care!

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Stephen Pakula lives in the Bronx.

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