Valiant Universe's Harbinger: ...You Sure Harada's not the Hero?


I started reading Harbinger along with the rest of the Valiant Universe about a week ago, and I've mostly gotten through what Valiant fans would call "Phase Two", having finished up everything leading up to The Armor Hunters.   As someone who's always fascinated by how shared comic universes are capable of enriching all of the titles published within, I've found Valiant's shared world pretty awesome.   It's rarely ever overwhelming, instead just shading in these characters with more layers and development who would otherwise be merely background fodder in a different character's story.


Anyway.  Just over thirty issues later of this series as I just finished reading the three-issue Harbinger: Omega mini-series and I can't help wondering...are we sure Toyo Harada isn't the protagonist?   It sounds crazy, but I mean...

When we start the Harbinger ongoing, we're introduced to our protagonist: Peter Stanchek.  Because of his unique abilities, by the time we've met Peter he's already a drug addict.  His powers have been nothing more than a hindrance to him: his family saw him as a freak, he couldn't make any connection with the kids at school, and eventually he just places himself in an asylum so he won't have to hurt anyone.   His origins are both pitiable and noble...until one day he decides the asylum can't help him and breaks out, his buddy Joe by his side.  But all that is just the development we're given later--when we first meet Peter, he's this guy:

He's a burnout--just someone abusing his powers to get free drugs and money to keep surviving.  It's sad, sure--but that doesn't really make him standout from Electro or whoever.  It blows that bad things have happened to you and people certainly shouldn't keep doing bad things to you, but it never excuses the bad things you do to other people.   Of course, that's not the only bad thing he does--even in the first issue:


So now we've gone from Electro to Purple Man, abusing powers out of weakness to make a girl fall hopelessly in love with him.  And yeah, by the end of issue 2 he's totally undone it--but that's after having sex with her while she clearly wasn't able to give consent.   It's something he spends the rest of the series attempting to make up to her, but it's not really something you CAN make up.

Now, before I get carried away by bringing up Toyo Harada and acting like he's some pinnacle of humanity, let's be clear: Toyo Harada is a murderer.  By the end of issue three, Toyo Harada has murdered Peter's best friend Joe in an attempt to manipulate him into having loyalty to the Harbinger Foundation.  He brain-washes Peter Stanchek's team, The Renegades, and submerges them into a false reality so he never has to deal with them again.  And by Harbinger: Omega, he's gone full-on dictator and wages war on all the governments of the world, and even personally refers to himself as a fascist.  Only...


That's not the whole story, is it?  Until I read the issue where it's revealed Harada's actions are totally self-serving, that every altruistic act is negated by an act equally as monstrous--like all his medical tech being funded by a powerful drug trade--he's not just another bad guy.  With one notable exception (surrounding Peter Stanchek), he's only murdered people who's been a threat to him or the people in his organization. To be certain, at best this makes him just another jerk who thinks the ends justify the means.
 
But in his case, the ends are a bit different from most super-powered jerks with dreams of world domination.  Toyo Harada is a Psiot who realized his special abilities granted him powers unlike 99% of the planet, or even that of other psiots. And while he definitely used his abilities to turn himself into a billionaire, near as we can tell he's done far more good in the long run than bad.  Because his goal isn't world domination, it's world peace.  His first act after having his existence and crimes exposed?  This:


Creating a post-scarcity society doesn't usually rank very high at the top of a psychopath wielding massive power.

It could just be me, but I identify far more with Harada than I do Peter Stanchek, because Stanchek has no purpose.  Initially he wanted to wander around and pop pills with his buddy Joe.  Then later he wanted revenge on Harada for getting Joe killed.  He got that, but it came at great personal cost--costing him the life of one of his teammates.  By the end of his adventures with his team the Renegades, he's turned into this:


The classic "If I don't do anything, no one will get hurt" argument!  It's so unique, but only because it's so facile.   If Harada had never done anything at all with his abilities, there would certainly be hundreds of people across several decades still alive.  But the Psiots he collected would've eventually been scooped up by Project Rising Sprit, a gang of jerks seeking to abuse psiots as living weapons of mass destruction.  If he'd never done anything at all, there would be no Harada Global Conglomerates to create all those advances in technology and medicine he talked about when he first brought Peter into the Harbinger Foundation.  It's pointless to attack the evil Toyo Harada has done without acknowledging all the good as well, which is something nearly everyone in the series seems to ignore.

And that's why I can't acknowledge Peter Stanchek or the Renegades as anything more than an annoyance.  They never actually have any real goals, they're just trying to "take down the Man".  But Harada isn't really The Man, he's just someone that's carved out enough power for himself to be a threat to the systems The Man has erected to control society.

Harbinger: Omega has a line in it that sums up everything you really need to know about Harada. It's near the end of the mini-series, where Harada confronts President Obama and says his Foundation Zone isn't going anywhere--that he's going to expand it, and claim Africa as his own.  And Obama says, "Africa belongs to the Africans!"    Something that should absolutely be a true statement.   But the more accurate statement is Harada's response: "Yes, it should.  But the last time that was the case, it was the sixteenth century.  That's exactly what's going to change."

As I watch my country tear itself apart over "ideological differences", even as people suffer, and see their needs go unmet right up until death, I can't help but identify with Harada. When it comes to certain issues, if you had ultimate power like him and you're just watching the most powerful spend every waking moment trampling over the small and the helpless...why wouldn't you use your powers to stop it?  Why offer them the opportunity to continue to do wrong?  Why are they being given a fucking choice when you could just lay down the law: live in peace, or get fucking fried.  Help other people, or get fucking fried. 

(Of course, I understand the real answer--free will is the most important of all human traits.  But I get how someone else could have that kind of power and be tempted to ignore something like that.)



The worst thing is, no one ever has any "real", substantive answer to Harada's methods.   Even the ones who can think on a larger scale than Stanchek--it's all just a bunch of "give the power back to the people" nonsense.  But more often than not, "the people" are either too uneducated to make a proper decision on what should and shouldn't be done--or they're too selfish, too short-sighted.  They're often incapable of thinking about things outside of a "me and mine" mindset. 

And ultimately, I get that my theory is bunk.  I'm just pointing out why Harada is so compelling to me: as a bad guy who has the intentions of a good guy, he's probably the first time I've ever connected with a villain.   And Peter Stanchek is basically dull as dishwater--his goals are always selfish, always focused on who wronged him or how he can help someone he's already close to.  He's so short-sighted that when matched up against a guy like Toyo Harada I can't take him seriously.

Plus if we're being honest, Harada's true "opposite" has always been Livewire.  Rescued and trained by Harada yet moral enough to resist his..."darker" commands, able to think about more than herself or her "vengeance", and willing to place herself in organizations meant to actually work towards the good of mankind.  No matter what, she continues to make the noble, moral choices that raise her to the level of a "true" hero.  Livewire is the protagonist we deserve, just the one that (at least where I am) we've not been given. 

Still, Harbinger is easily the most fascinating version of X-Men I've read in over three or four years and I can't wait to delve deeper into Valiant's world.

Comments

  1. I've always felt the same way, actually. It's so frustrating because it seems, on the surface, that Toyo has the right idea but just makes some bad decisions: if he hadn't killed Joe in an attempt to manipulate Peter, what has he done that is Wrong?

    But that's the problem, isn't it? When you're sure that you're doing what's right, you start to make compromises in the name of the greater good if there's no one to stop you. This is a common theme in Imperium (which it sounds like you haven't gotten to yet, so I'll avoid spoiling anything): eventually you compromise one time too many and there's no turning back, or there will be no end to justify your means.

    So, are good intentions always sabotaged by the ambition that it takes to implement them?

    I asked Joshua Dysart about this when he did an AMA on Reddit a few months ago (https://www.reddit.com/r/comicbooks/comments/4ydajw/im_joshua_dysart_comic_book_writer_harbinger/, but look out for spoilers) This was his response:

    "I think that Harada has some absolute character flaws that make his ambitions far, far more difficult to achieve than they have to be. We could talk about that all day, his hubris, his belief that his vision alone is the only path, etc.

    But make no mistake, if Buddha or Jesus decided to upturn global supply and demand and force resource reallocation towards the most impoverished people on the planet, they would also meet extreme resistance from those who benefit from the current systems.

    Those in power use the means of power to stay in power.

    Take Gandhi. His struggle was real. A single man with no real political power on day one, and certainly nothing comparable to far more ethically compromised Toyo. Gandhi was beaten and jailed and his movement was subject to massacres in which thousands of people who chose to struggle along with him died. So, you know...
    In the end, I don't know if struggle and violence works at all, or if it is the only possible way. Writing Harada and Imperium is part of how I try to answer that question for myself."


    Anyway, loved your analysis, I hope you keep enjoying Valiant!

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