In "Retro-Stuffed" we blast into the past, before the turn of the millennium, rediscovering the geeky stuff of the 90s, 80s, 70s and earlier to see how it holds up in 2012! Have a suggestion or donation for "Retro-Stuffed?" Email us!
Stuffed Item: "Harbinger" #0-7 (the series ended June 1995)
Year: January 1992
Publisher: Valiant Entertainment
Writers: Jim Shooter, David Lapham
Artist: David Lapham
1992 Cover Price: $1.95
Geek Culture Factoid: One of Valiant's best selling titles was "Harbinger," which sold over 5 million copies in multiple languages. Also in January 1992, Marvel put out the spy thriller, "James Bond Jr." #1 and DC Comics released Gerard Jones and Mike Parobeck's eagerly-awaited "Elongated Man" #1.
In 1992, Valiant promised a dramatically different alternative to Marvel and DC's superhero lines. The company aimed to offer readers quality superhero comics sporting top-tier talent with an indie edge. "Harbinger" was one of the company's earliest releases, and in a sentence, it was a street-level superhero series with a splash of sci-fi, populated by teens who have supernatural abilities and a man who wishes to control them.
In the opening storyline, aptly titled "The Beginning," writer Jim Shooter and penciller David Lapham began their tale in the just-passed year of 1991. Kids with superior abilities, dubbed "Harbingers," are encouraged to train under the wing of Toyo Harada at his Harbinger Foundation to learn how to control their powers. A shadier version of the X-Men's Professor Xavier, Harada has discovered a particular teen with a superior telepathic skill set: Peter Stanchek. After repeated harassment from Harada and his hard hitting "Eggbreakers," Peter takes it upon himself to mount a small revolt against the leader of Harbinger, recruiting other super-powered teens to join his cause.
At one point, the Valiant Universe exceeded 20 titles, including books like "X-O Manowar," "Rai," "Archer & Armstrong" and even at one time the multi-media sensation "Turok: Dinosaur Hunter." The company eventually went bankrupt in the late 1990s, but is in the midst of what appears to be a successful revival in 2012.
Why Valiant Was Cool
Something today's new line of Valiant titles will be mirroring from their 90s counterparts is that they will all be self-contained, but will provide a nuclear experience when read as a whole. In the 90s, while each title had its own feel and genre, most somehow managed to effortlessly fit in to the same continuity. For instance, if you were to go back and read these opening eight issues of the original "Harbinger" run and the first issue of 1992's "X-O Manowar" or "Archer and Armstrong," the thread tying everything together is impossible to miss despite both series standing firmly on its own feet.
To top it all off, Valiant had top tier talent working on their titles. One man in particular, Barry Windsor-Smith, stands out for his artwork in the early issues of "X-O" and "A&A." That man was the very same Windsor-Smith who provided art for Marvel's initial, groundbreaking "Conan the Barbarian" run in 1970. In the 90s, Valiant was also picking up hot, new artistic talent, like David Lapham, who has gone on to make a successful writing career for himself today.
Why Go Back to "Harbinger" in 2012?
Valiant is publishing comics this year for the first time in almost 15 years. The new "X-O Manowar" #1 was met with praise by readers, as was the new "Harbinger" #1, written by Joshua Dysart ("Unknown Soldier") with art by Khari Evans ("Carbon Grey"). Having read all three of these new issues to date, it looks as though Valiant is coming back in full force. When I read the new "X-O" #1 last month, I couldn't wait a month for another issue, and so began the hunt for whatever older material I could find. "Harbinger" got the bid ahead of "X-O" as it was easier to track down.
How Does it Hold Up in 2012?
Thank goodness the new "Harbinger" #1 by Dysart and Evans is radically different from its 1992 predecessor.
David Lapham's "Harbinger" art is amazing. Unfortunately, the hardcover collected edition's production quality doesn't do his work justice. The book, published in 2007, is simple enough in its design, but is glaringly marred by grainy scans of the interior pages blurring Lapham's lively lines. His greatest strength is consistency, as he showcases his storytelling abilities throughout these eight issues, using a traditional panel layout but packing each one with plenty for the eye to take in. The sexual tension of his characters is believably portrayed, but their verbalized teen angst isn't exactly convincing. Lapham wrote and pencilled #0, and it's cool to note that he is absolutely killing it today as the gruesome writer on Avatar's "Ferals" and "Caligula" as well as Marvel's zany "R" rated "Deadpool MAX."
Jim Shooter's leading cast is riddled with stereotypes that would likely offend today's readers. If DC's New 52 "Catwoman" and "Red Hood and the Outlaws" upset you, the first chapter of the classic "Harbinger" should be avoided for similar reasons. From the ditzy, fire-powered stripper Flamingo saying things like, "Is that a crankshaft you got there or are you just glad to see me?" to the meat-headed, womanizing-himbo Torque, who frequently barks out such charming things as "Shut up, Flamingo. And get me a beer," it's easy to see why certain people might find this volume difficult to finish. With the often whiney lead character in Peter Stanchek and his righteously intolerable passive aggressive girlfriend Kris, the only character that's even remotely likable is Zephyr. She's the conclusively overweight one of the group, and the repeated barrage of "fat" remarks and jokes the other characters throw her way is uncomfortable to the modern ear, but she's unfazed by the insults each time. Her attitude is admirable, but makes the barbs no less annoying -- especially when Peter partakes in the teasing. More maturity is expected from the leading man. Reading Shooter's text today, he narrowly escapes coming off as a 41 year old man trying to write a group of teens. It's dangerously akin to Chris Claremont's two-dimensional, stereotype-riddled "X-Men Forever." Actually, it's dangerously akin to anything Claremont has written post-1992.
Shooter avoids this branding because while his "Harbinger" leads do have their glaring faults, almost to the point of unforgiving disgust, he somehow managed to make them feel like real, fallible teenagers. This is oddly endearing and keeps the reader engaged. Come the end of the seventh issue, rooting for Peter, Kris and the crew isn't as difficult as it was previously. Shooter certainly takes everyone on an emotional journey that gets darker as the acts progress, but is careful not to leave the action behind as each altercation further develops the characters and who they are, nicely complimenting the payoff at the end.
This opening storyline is collected in a hardcover edition, containing issues #0-7 with a $25 cover price. It also reprints the "Story of Harada" in color, which was originally found on coupon cards inside the original issues, plus a previously unpublished 8 page "Origin of Harada" story. It would be cool if Valiant re-printed this collection with higher quality reproduction. If you can't locate the hardcover collection, first printings of "Harbinger" #1 can be found online from $30 in decent condition. Later issues are dirt cheap, found for as low as 15-50 cents each. Issue #40 is valued higher at $5, and the final issue of the series, #41 is in the $7 range.
The Final Verdict
Let's call it 3 out of 5 Foil Covers: 1992's "Harbinger" #0-7 is far from a great read by today's standards, but is far from stinking up your collection. If anything about the relaunch piques your interest, it's worth giving the original a shot. If you already own these early issues, consider this run a worthy gift come Secret Santa Time. However, while this older "Harbinger" material is certainly dated, the fresh, new take on the old Valiant Universe currently going down should not go unread.
Next in Retro-Stuffed: We're traveling back to the 1980s with a little green bunny and evil toads from space!