I’ll raise the spoiler warning here for those unfamiliar with the previous events of Harbinger: Renegade, Generation Zero, Harbinger Wars, etc.
Here’s a short summary of what happened in Harbinger: Renegade issues 1 to 4.
Renegade started with The Renegades apart after having leaked the details of Harada’s potential Psiots to the world. These potential Psiots were doing dangerous things to unlock their abilities. We saw Toyo Harada’s former protege, Alexander Solomon, pleading with Kris as a way to recruit Peter Stanchek, who was in space-seriously-getting clean and honing his abilities. Peter’s ability to safely activate Psiot capabilities makes him extremely valuable to Solomon. Solomon is working with a group known as The Consortium and their attempts at replicating the technology that Harada used to activate Psiots has not worked. Those who have attempted the activation through The Consortium’s tech have died in gruesome fashion (even Harada’s tech could only activate one in every four). The Renegades reunited once again to battle Solomon’s men and came away unified as a team. With Solomon’s ability to predict future outcomes, we are led to believe this is all part of his plan.
This issue starts with the H.A.R.D. Corps team ready to invade the free city of Rook (formerly Detroit), Michigan. Rook is under the control of Generation Zero, which is a big issue for Omen, the current employers of H.A.R.D. Corps. As its listed in the title, so I don’t think it can be called a spoiler, a Massacre ensues. Valiant has been promoting the death of a major character for this book, which is good marketing but feels a bit gimmicky. Valiant has made its name by focusing on a cohesive universe and an easy to consume quantity of quality stories, so I hope they don’t delve too far into this type of promotion for their event books.
Rafer Roberts’ writing is excellent. It captures the initial macho level of H.A.R.D. Corps, but once “The Massacre” begins, the dialogue is realistic and emotional. The pace is staggering and doesn’t let up until the very end. You are grabbed from the start and not let go of until the final pages. He includes some controversial touches such as having President Trump included to give what would be considered a PR spin (by way of a tweet) to the story.
Darick Robertson’s art is impressive in how it manages gory, violent action, with dynamic splash pages, yet grounds it with realistic, emotional consequences shown by the supporting characters. The cover is outstanding. The expression on Palmer’s face depicts the chaos as well as the solemn tragedy of it all.
“Massacre” is an apt title for this series. The level of violence and brutality is extremely high. However, it doesn’t dare come across as cool or “extreme”. It would be insensitive to relate what happens in this book to real life tragedies and war, but I believe it does have some parallels. Mike Tyson had a saying, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. I imagine it’s the same with bullets flying at you. Both sides truly believe what they are doing is right and best plans to keep casualties to a minimum, etc. go out the window early. The opening pages manage to give you enough of a back story for why Rook is important to Generation Zero and how those new to the team are not soldiers. Generation Zero feels they are fighting for a cause. The soldiers themselves are simply doing their job and believe that the Generation Zero kids are terrorists. Both sides are shown to have the closeness of a family. I’ll admit my first pass reading through this issue was not satisfying. I was so shocked in what I was seeing that I couldn’t catch my breath to take it all in. Why? I know what I was seeing will have consequences in this Universe, unlike most mainstream books. In typical Valiant fashion, the issue has depth. On the surface, it is a simple story, but on closer inspection, you can see the layers.
I give this issue 4.5 out of 5 stars. Why is this not a perfect 5? I have a few criticisms. My first criticism is, despite being marketed as an “all-new jumping-on point”, I don’t feel this book is a good jumping on point for completely new readers. We have so many characters depicted that it would be hard for a newbie to have a proper emotional attachment to these characters. It’s possible we will get dialogue from other characters explaining the scope of what occurred later in this series (a live vlog was capturing the events to the public), but it would be hard for new readers to fully grasp the weight of this massacre. I think to make this a limited series (Harbinger: Massacre?) and having a prelude, catch-up issue would have helped new readers to get up to speed. If you are new and do want to get into this, you will get a surface enjoyment of it and will likely want to follow-up. I’m sure reading various wiki articles and such could prepare you, but I would recommend at least Harbinger Renegade issues 1 to 4 and the Generation Zero series. Reading Harbinger Wars would also be recommended. I urge you to catch up and jump in. My other criticism is that outside of Solomon being teased at the very end, this feels like more of a “H.A.R.D. Corps” or “Generation Zero” book than issue 5 of a Harbinger series. The continuity from issue 4 of Harbinger: Renegade to issue 5 is a bit jarring. However, due to how cohesive the Valiant universe is and how overreaching these characters are, this is a minor complaint.
This is an explosive debut in “The Road To Harbinger Wars 2”. I’m looking forward to where this leads to. Given that it is Valiant, we can be sure that the effects will be long-lasting and affect the entire Valiant Universe in some fashion. It is rare for a story to unsettle me like this one, but I relish stories like this that can grab me on an emotional level.
Written by Rafer Roberts
Art by Darick Robertson
Published by Valiant Entertainment