Harbinger Omegas #3 by Joshua Dysart & Rafa Sandoval
When readers first met Peter Stanchek two years ago, his life was an utter mess. Fresh from a mental institution, he was living off the streets with friend and fellow inmate Joe. Peter was confused, overwhelmed by abilities he could barely understand. Instead of trying to master them, though, he numbed his senses with drugs. Along the way, he briefly used his telepathic powers on a former classmate, Kris, making her think that she loved him. Not a lot to recommend in him, right? Yet, in typical comic book style, a mysterious super-powered benefactor by the name of Toyo Harada took an interest in Peter, offered a chance to guide him to a better path. At the time, these initial issues appeared set Peter down the standard journey of growth and redemption. The arrival of Omegas #3 demonstrates that Dysart had something much less conventional in mind.
This week marks the conclusion of the Harbinger Omegas limited series, and along with it the current volume of the Harbinger revival which debuted in the summer of 2012. Since then, Peter has rejected Harada’s mentorship, and gathered other like-minded individuals to his side. Under the name of the Renegades, they set out to tear down Harada’s secret empire. The costs have been great; both Joe and Renegade Charlene have died as a result of the conflict. These loses have weighed heavily on Peter, weakening his resolve to fight any further. The death of Charlene in particular is a burden that Peter is unable to shoulder. Walking away from the conflict, from his friends, he deliberately cuts himself off from the rest of the world, deadening his senses once more through prescription drugs stolen (along with money) from pharmacies. Despite the whole world pleading for him to reemerge to counter Harada’s recent seizure of land within Somalia, Peter simply wishes to be left alone.
He does surface briefly in order to break Kris out of prison. Together these two characters have traveled many miles both physical and otherwise. If anyone could measure the distance Peter has come, it is she. Only she sees none. Revolted by the sight of him using again, acting irrationally, disinterested in the bigger picture, Kris turns her back on him. In her eyes, Peter has regressed back to, if not fallen further, than the low he was at when the series started.
Or has he? As readers of Dysart’s Unknown Soldier are aware, the writer has long been interested in questions of violence and its consequences. This has been true of Harbinger too; Dysart’s Valiant work has never shied away from the horrific side of combat. All of the members of Peter’s Renegades have been affected emotionally by their combat experiences, though their responses vary widely. For his part, Peter walks away. Readers expecting a final big smack-down between him and Harada will be disappointed. That already happened back in Harbinger #24. The story Dysart has been telling since then is the fallout, as everyone attempts to find their footing in the new status quo. Peter’s decision is to turn his back on conflict, concluding “that the last possible heroic act left is simply to do nothing at all.” Is his choice cowardice or a brave rejection of the cycle of violence? Is it both?
Dysart intercuts Peter’s prison break-in with Harada’s forced entry of the White House. What follows therein is a sequence in which Harada delivers a rather stark set of terms to President Obama. Africa is off limits. It is Harada’s responsibility now. He will rebuild the continent so that for the first time since the coming of colonialism, it will truly be able to stand independent once again. If that means he must rule as a temporary dictator, so be it. To resist him, to try and invade his territory will only cause ruinous retaliation. He leaves the president (and reader) with a very poignant set of questions: are all dictators inherently bad? If so, should all be resisted, even if the cost of blood and treasure is incalculable? It does not take much imagination to apply the dilemmas embedded in this scene to the non-fictional crisis demanding the president’s attention.
In many ways, Harada is the same man he was at the beginning of the series two years ago. Powerful, arrogant, convinced that he alone can guide mankind to a brighter future. He also remains driven by his memories of World War II, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and all the brutality which flowed through the following seven decades. At the same time, he seems to have grown with the experience. Despite the fact that Harada has triumphed over all opposition, Dysart ends the issue with a gesture of humility from Harada. I am not arguing that all of sudden he’s become Mother Theresa, but, still it is striking. The reader is left with the impression that the “villain” has achieved more emotional maturity than the “hero.” Of course, another lesson from Dysart’s writing is that these labels are rarely as clear as the conventional super-hero narrative would lead us to believe. Our world is largely defined by hues of grey, not black/white distinctions. By embracing this truth, Dysart closes out this volume of Harbinger in a memorable, if unconventional manner.
He also leaves me excited for Imperium and the next phase of his narrative.