Many men have had delusions of grandeur during the more than 4 billion year history of Earth, but relatively few have had the means, or perhaps more importantly, the will, to carry out their visions. When it has happened, though, the results have generally been paradigm shifting. Toyo Harada is a man of extraordinary will as well as means in the Valiant Universe.
Issue three of Valiant’s series takes place just after Gravedog slaughters his team of H.A.R.D corps soldiers and surrenders to Harada. Following that surprising development, the leader of the Harbinger Foundation is understandably suspicious of his new Chechen prisoner.
The largely telepathic exchange between the two idealists is the stuff of comic legends. Harada-sama establishes himself as a peerless manipulator as he “scrapes” Borz Umarov’s mind. In contrast to that, Umarov, a man shown to be exceedingly ruthless, displays a level of humanity that we haven’t before seen from him. It is a fascinating dichotomy of characterization, and one that allows Dysart to flex a little storytelling muscle.
While I enjoyed the tug of war between Harada and Umarov, this issue focuses more on Sunlight on Snow’s history. It’s a peek into the past of a unique A.I.; one that raises more questions than it answers. The many layers in this book are where most of its appeal stems from – nothing is ever quite as it seems to be and trying to figure out what’s “really” going on is a lot of fun.
For instance, we finally learn why Sunlight on Snow chose its poetic name, but also discover that the memory of that event is, well, misleading. The robot also continues to experience a significant disconnect from the people around it, but that alienation becomes more pronounced, and now we begin to understand some of the causes for it. Seems that S.o.S. is suffering from a Ghost in the Machine-style crisis.
Book three is a developmental issue in the arc; the seeds of future conflict are planted in some inventive, and other times, obvious ways. LV-99 is going to be a problem for sure, but the rules of engagement have yet to be dictated. The assassin has been cut-off from its hive mind, effectively nullifying its sense of purpose, but what may become a new ally reveals itself to the alien, purposely, in Harada’s presence.
This is a dark story, but to paraphrase a line from Nolan’s “The Dark Knight Rises”, it is a necessary darkness. The story forces readers to confront concepts that tend to remain abstract in the real world; things like justice and morality, the ever-thinning line between human and machine consciousness – notions that carry huge emotional implications but that are rarely properly articulated. All great fiction does that, or so I’m told, and if that is the case, then Imperium succeeds in not only being a great comic book, but indeed a great work of artistic expression.