The second Trade Paperback (TPB) I would like to recommend is from Valiant Comics. Valiant was founded in 1989 by Jim Shooter and Steven Massarsky amid controversy and critical acclaim. Despite the controversies, Jim Shooter continues to be an exceptional writer that continues to demonstrate not only phenomenal storytelling ability, but also the prodigious skill of building a universe from scratch. (This is something he has done since he began his writing career at DC Comics with the Legion of Superheroes when he was 13 years old, as well as his time at Marvel as Writer/Editor/Editor-in-chief, on into Valiant, Defiant, and Broadway Comics.)
The story begins with the avid pursuit of two teenagers, fleeing the agents of an organization called the Harbinger Foundation. Pete Stanchek (Sting) is an extremely powerful psionic talent. (Psionic seems to be a mixture of both telekinesis and telepathy.) His girlfriend Kris Hathaway doesn’t have special abilities in the traditional sense, but she is still a very capable organizer/planner/strategist/leader. The Harbinger Foundation is attempting to recruit individuals with paranormal abilities (called harbingers in this universe) in a clandestine attempt to conquer the planet.
The teens attempt to thwart the plans of the foundation by organizing their own team to counter Toyo Harada, the founder of the Harbinger Foundation who also happens to be the most powerful psion in the world. Recruited to the cause are Faith Herbert (Zephyr, also called Zeppelin) who flies, Charlene Dupre (Flamingo) who is a pyrokinetic, and John Torkelson (Torque) who has superior physical strength.
The team audaciously enters the Harbinger headquarters to attempt to stop the plot for world domination but finds it a very difficult, almost impossible proposition. The team is captured by the “Eggbreakers,” Harada’s super powered answer to harbingers and in turn, their escape is facilitated by a technomancer.
There is more to the story, but suffice it to say that the story is rich with complexity and moral indignation, as ethical questions are posed, which is the main reason I recommend this TPB. There is always an inherent fear that we human beings feel when in the presence of the unknown or the different. It is this fear that is so fascinating when it’s explored because it is a fear that Toyo Harada means to perpetuate in the face of his own “otherness.” Harada should not feel this sense of fear because he himself is a harbinger, but he does. Sting is someone that has the Omega power which awakens that power in latent harbingers. Consequently, Harada is intimidated by Sting’s ability to self-perpetuate. The story is very X-men like, but has it’s own dynamic that is successful in its execution. There are some interesting plot points that bear examining.
The title of the book is both the name of the heroes as well as the name of the foundation. This apparent dichotomy lends itself to exploration where the reader is meant to question our understanding of good and evil. Do we call Harbingers good because the point of view of the writer seems to be that Harbingers are good or is it that these Harbingers are motivated by their own survival to fight against Harada, and if left to their own devices they might attempt to take over our minds, dominate humans simply because they can?
Some people may find aspects of the narrative offensive, as Faith is portrayed as a heavyset fan-girl who’s a bit of an airhead that is teased by those she cares about most. She wants to be called Zephyr and her friends insist on calling her Zeppelin. She makes several subtle references to iconic Sci-Fi mainstays such as Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica. She wears a Star Trek pin and swears by saying “Felgercarb!” and “Frak!” I like Faith and find myself thinking “Defend yourself!” However, I understand her. Generally, it’s those we love the most who make fun of us, and we allow them to because we know it’s for show.
The art is drawn by David Lapham, which is subtle and understated. You won’t see ostentatious full page splashes leaping from the page. You will see sequential art drawn in a format that builds the story in a linear fashion. The format may be dated, but it delivers a fantastic story. If you enjoy the intricacies of narrative, this is a TPB you should check out.