Welcome to the second part of the Harbinger interview where we spoke with Joshua Dysart in-depth about Harbinger, the characters, and its future. In the first part of our interview from the Long Beach Comic Con, we talked about how he came aboard the title, how he decided to approach the story, and the universal issues he wove into the fabric of Harbinger.
Part two of our interview digs deep into how all of these issues play into the world building of Harbinger, while Dysart breaks down the characters of Harada and Pete Stanchek. Also, he explains where the story is moving and what’s in store for Harbinger with the first arc ending and moving into the Renegades arc.
In order to get a true appreciation for where Dysart is taking Harbinger, one should hear the way he describes his characters. There appears to be little distinction in his mind about whether they’re real of fiction.
When describing the generational conflict between the baby boomers and the current generation, it begs the question. How does all of this play into Toyo Harada and his place in the world of Harbinger? For Dysart, his answer is shockingly direct — “Vision at all costs.”
With not a hint of hesitation, Dysart boiled down the driving force of Harada, distilling his complex essence into something easy to understand. It’s that sort of response that lets you know that Dysart knows Harada like an old friend. He also has a clinical understanding of him fitting of a psychologist’s understanding of their patient.
“This pointed diatribe I’ve given you…my intention is never to demonize the baby boomers, and Harada is something interesting,” says Dysart. “I always have trouble answering this question. Harada wants a better world at all costs. All the things I’ve complained about, Harada feels the same way.”
Consider the way Dysart played his cards close to his vest in the first few issues. Harada didn’t enter the story wearing a black hat or announcing his nefarious plans to take over the world. He’s far more complex than that.
“The really shocking and fascinating thing about Harada is, despite his intentions, he’s going to be the problem, not the solution,” says Dysart. “Because of his hubris and the distancing nature of the power he has, that’s going to be something he can’t even realize until a lot of bad things have happened.”
By issue 5 of Harbinger, it becomes clear what lengths Harada will go to in order to fulfill his vision for humankind and their future.
“Harada is bad in the sense that when it comes time to make a hard decision, the compromises Harada will make are way beyond the compromises Peter will ultimately make,” says Dysart. “That’s why, even though this is a struggle of egos between Peter and Harada, and even though it’s a generational struggle and there is no good and bad — it’s only natural.”
By painting Harada in a neutral light, Dysart has managed to slow down what will ultimately become an epic struggle. He shows the moment where the situation, rather than the individual, dictates the moral components of the story, much like his observations about the current generational struggle in a snapshot.
“It’s not the baby boomers fault that they’re the most powerful generation,” says Dysart. “It’s the nature of the beast. It’s where we are in our time and our place. So this isn’t a struggle between good and bad. It’s not ultimately going to be a struggle between right and wrong. It’s two egos struggling for identity. When we look at it like that, it becomes less interesting for Harada to be a mustache-twirling villain.”
At the same time, Harada isn’t a misunderstood saint. While his mission is something to be sympathized with, his Machiavellian disregard for the morality of the means in achieving his vision indicate a character of an almost alien nature, especially when it comes to the death of Joe.
“There was no reason to kill Joe, and that’s something that’s going to be stated more plainly throughout the book,” says Dysart. “There’s no reason to kill Joe. They had all the resources. Why didn’t they just do for Joe the deal Peter struck with them? That’s because Harada is so disconnected from the human experience. Despite his desire to help people, he had no regard for Joe’s life.”
It might be easier to understand Harada in terms of being a man ruled by equations and logic rather than compassion and feeling.
“He’s obsessed with a macrocosmic view of the species — incapable of a microcosmic view,” says Dysart. “You’re not going to see Harada cry when somebody dies.”
Not even a single, solitary tear its turns out.
“Not even a single Native American tear,” says Dysart with a laugh. “But he will do everything in his power to make sure another atomic bomb isn’t dropped. He’ll do everything in his power to make sure the world doesn’t go to global conflict again. But even the way he’s doing it — acquisition of resources — Harada’s not even capable of imagining a world outside of capitalism…”
Harada is a man of ideology, which makes him a stark comparison to Pete Stanchek. He’s arrived at his answer, immovable in his ability to contemplate anything other than one path. Pete, while naive and full of youthful bluster, still has an openness.
“When Peter calls him out — become Jesus, become Ghandi — there’s a deeper psychology at work there, says Dysart. “He wants humanity to achieve its goal, but he wants to acquire everything, control everything, run everything. There’s no room for another vision of the future. There’s nothing democratic about Harada at all. In that sense, if you want to root for somebody, I would hope people would root for democracy.”
Harada and Pete’s struggle seem to mirror the paradox posed by the unmoved mover against the unstoppable force.
“While Peter’s got his issues, and he’s filled with hubris and everything else, Peter makes terrible decisions unquestionably,” says Dysart. “Peter will in the end…he’s fighting for some semblance of democracy — the right for people to make poor decisions instead of Harada who says, ‘You have no right to make a poor decision. I make your decisions.’”
It’s in this particular aspect of Dysart’s storytelling that a lot is revealed about where he can take the two characters while telling a story that feels destined to transcend the stalemate between two generations.
“I’m probably going back to my Buddhist roots here, but when you transcend suffering, that’s growth. Harada transcended suffering a long time ago,” says Dysart. “Until the day Peter shows up, the acquisition of resources has been a relatively easy ordeal for Harada. What we haven’t had a lot of room for, and I wish we had, was how Harada Global Conglomerates operates with these Harbingers placed all over the world. It’s not hard for Harada to acquire.”
In a lot of ways, Harbinger can be seen as an allegory for the generational conflict, but that’s not the limit of Dysart’s vision or story. There’s a heavy component also examining the imperialistic nature built into the old generation and the never-ending quest for consumption.
“In the book, what’s happening sort of behind the scenes behind our main narrative is HGC’s Indian subsidiary acquired the entire Syrian oil reserve,” says Dysart. “I don’t have time to discuss how tricky or intricate that is, but it’s a huge, huge thing. What does that even say for Syrian independence if they don’t have their oil? I haven’t even gotten to touch on all that stuff, and I’m hoping that the reader’s just read that and go “Oh shit! It’s a big deal” and it is, but it wasn’t a hard thing to do for Harada. So when a homeless, pill addicted kid shows up and starts really fucking shit up…We haven’t seen it yet, but my hope is that shit’s going to really start getting fucked up.”
Faithful to the original incarnation of Harbinger, Dysart has crafted a narrative destined to have serious ramifications on the remainder of the Valiant universe. But it all comes back to a single trigger-point.
“Harada’s going to take an organization that was designed for peace and turn it into a war organization,” says Dysart. “You’ve got a man with one, single decision, which was killing a homeless junkie and ended up changing the very nature of the character and mission of his entire life by his involvement with this kid Peter, and that’s really what this is about. This about one single (moment)…(not) about a whole book. We could write 100 issues, but it’s because he killed this junkie.”www.comicbooked.com/joshua-dysart-mind-blown-the-harbinger-interview-part-ii/
Dysart’s set up of the narrative along with the characterizations he employs have an almost case study-like feel for how the flash of a single moment defines people more so than the opposite.
“It’s certainly something that’s easier to do in fiction than in life,” says Dysart. “That’s really it. Had Harada probably just killed Peter…I mean, Harada already approached Peter for a reason. We’ve shown that the Bleeding Monk has visions of Peter as a very destructive force. Unfortunately, it seems like Harada has done nothing but play into…like Harada seems to be an instrument of bringing those things to pass as opposed to…it’s going to be more complicated than that in the end.”
And with that, the ideas of morality Dysart explores become complex because of the interplay of logic and emotion. Ultimately, Harada is blinded by his hubris. First, the Bleeding Monk warns him of his mistake. Then, it comes into full display during Harada and Pete’s first skirmish in issue 5 as he refers to himself as the omega and Pete as the omicron or little o to his big O.
“The reality is that had Harada just had Peter whacked, which would’ve been fairly easy early on by his organization instead of bringing him in, instead of wanting to control that power, everything would’ve been fine and according to plan,” says Dysart. “We, ultimately as a species, would’ve been better off with HGC running things. It doesn’t match our concept and ideals of democracy, but I think it would’ve produced a better world. The problem was that Harada just has to own everything — even Peter, and that just didn’t work out.”
Pete and Harada are worlds away from each other. Even though Pete has these amazing powers, he lives a transient existence similar to a street kid. Dysart’s experience living in Venice Beach, where there’s a large homeless population that he engages with on a daily basis, comes into play with the story.
“The only reason why Peter and Joe weren’t panhandling is because Peter can acquire what he needs in order to survive, but their existence is essentially the same,” says Dysart. “One of the frustrating things about comics is we’ve got to get this story moving… At the same time, I could have easily written twelve issues about Peter and Joe on the road homeless. A homeless psychic and his junkie friend? Come on dude! I’ll write that shit all day. It’s the great American novel.”
The pace of monthly comics provides a unique challenge that Dysart acknowledges the influence of on where the Harbinger story is going.
“One of the things that Harbinger keeps doing for me, I notice, is bringing up these situations that I want to explore more and more, but we’re on a runaway train, man,” says Dysart. “That’s frustrating.”
So where is this runaway train headed? Dysart is committed to building the title into “a book that’s heading towards something.” But rather than speculate on how long he could spend writing the title for the foreseeable future, he has strong focus on how the first part of the story moves into the next arc.
“Both Peter and Harada have declared war on each other,” says Dysart. “What Harada might have expected after the beating is that Peter is going to be running away, and Harada’s basically saying ‘There is nowhere to run. I own the world. You’re not going anywhere.’ What Harada’s not really expecting, but he’s going to be able to put together in his head, is Peter’s not running away. They’ve declared war on each other. So that’s where the book is going.”
Touching back on some of the Buddhist-like qualities present in the story, Dysart looks to the journey ahead of Pete more so than the end of it.
“For Peter to combat the most powerful hyper-psychic in the world and the largest corporation that he runs, Peter’s going to need help,” says Dysart. “That’s what the next five issues are — Peter acquiring, co-opting people into this struggle.”
Since this is a retelling of the original story, the character’s up on deck are hardly surprising. However, the tweaks and wrinkles Dysart has added make this next story arc something to look forward to.
“Kris returns in issue 6, which is a very, very big issue for us because of the events that happen in issue 1 between Peter and Kris,” says Dysart. “So this is the book and the character I have to I have to sell the most to justify what I did in issue 1. She’s got to be both adequately furious and yet, by the end of the issue to throw in with this kid who did a horrible thing to her. That’s been an interesting thing for me to write, so I think we I pull it off, and I’m really happy with six a lot. Then we bring in Flamingo. Eventually, our cast of characters by issue 10 will be a hyper-intelligent punk rock chick, Peter, who defines himself, a true super hero in body or at least in spirit…Faith, a stripper (Flamingo), and an over compensating, male douche bag (Torque).
Seeing this band of misfits come together sets the stakes high on a lot of levels.
“This is the best army Peter can pull together,” says Dysart. “How that goes up against one of the most meticulously organized organizations in the history of the species we’ll have to see. That’s what issue 11 is about.”
Before we get ahead of ourselves, the question of the Bleeding Monk’s role in the remainder of the story looms large as the first story arc begins and ends with him like the alpha and omega.
“Bleeding Monk is a long play,” says Dysart. “I’m dying to get to it. I’m dying to make him more relevant to the narrative, but you’re going to have to wait awhile. Bleeding Monk is one of the most important characters in the Valiant Universe, but the Valiant Universe is young.”
Striking a strong sense of impartiality up until the end of the arc, his departure from Harada’s possession marks an interesting turning point in the story in a grand scheme kind of way.
“I don’t want to give away too much about Bleeding Monk because I want it to be a nice reveal when it happens, but I’ll say this,” says Dysart. “He’s a bad Buddhist… If impermanence is a fiction, which it is with him, then ultimately Buddhism becomes a fiction, right? That’s a big, major part of Buddhism, so I think that gives the Bleeding Monk something…becomes a very interesting person when you look at it like that. So he’s our bad Buddhist. So whatever happens, I don’t mean a bad guy, he’s just not very good at being a Buddhist”
Harbinger 6 comes out from Valiant Comics on November 21st, beginning the Renegades story arc. Look to Comic Booked in the near future for another feature interview with Joshua Dysart on the inspiration and craft of writing.