by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS! If you haven’t read the issue, proceed at your own risk.
How do we feel about prologues? On the one hand, I can understand why the specific circumstances of the world the story takes place in might need to be laid out ahead of time. On the other, I think stories work best when they find a way to integrate that exposition into the narrative itself. I always feel like prologues take my interest in the story for granted, even though the story hasn’t even begun. It kind of flies in the face of the conventional wisdom that a writer must grab hold and retain the attention of the reader from the very first sentence. More than anything, I’m often frustrated at the fact that, because a prologue essentially exists outside of the narrative, it doesn’t have to play by the rules of good storytelling, drawing me into the world of he story through relatable characters, interesting circumstances, or some kind of clear-cut inciting incident. Or maybe I just encounter a lot of bad prologues (I’d love to hear some examples of good ones in the comments). Either way, Harbinger Renegade 0 definitely frustrated me in those same ways, effectively turning me off to a narrative that ostensibly hasn’t even started.
While I won’t defend all of Red Letter Media‘s arguments against the Star Wars prequels, one of their best points is that The Phantom Menace lacks any real protagonist, flitting aimlessly between characters so poorly fleshed out, a viewer can scarcely describe them. That’s a particularly remarkable feat, since all it really takes for an audience to latch onto a character is for that character to be shown. According to Dan Harmon, “You’d have to go out of your way to keep the audience from imprinting on them. It could be a raccoon, a homeless man or the President. Just fade in on them and we are them until we have a better choice.” It’s that “better choice” bit that trips up The Phantom Menace and Harbinger Renegade 0, as neither can muster a likable, relatable character.
The issue opens “years ago,” as Alexander Solomon interrogates a bloodsoaked monk to find the location of “the Stormbringer.” We understand that he’s attempting to save “billions,” but because we don’t know exactly what he’s talking about, we can’t really evaluate the veracity of his claims. Are his prophecies correct, or is the monk’s assessment of those prophecies more accurate? Is Alexander the hero of this story, or the misguided villain?
Before we can settle that, we’re whisked to the present, where a group of corporate mercenaries is preparing to capture and kill Solomon. But, because we haven’t established whether Solomon is the good guy or the bad guy, we don’t have any frame of reference for their motivations. “Corporate mercenary” doesn’t exactly sound like a sympathetic hero in my book, but I’d probably take that over a bona fide supervillain. Is this the story of a misunderstood good guy being persecuted by the government, or a bad guy rightfully being brought to justice? I’m all for moral ambiguity, but this issue doesn’t establish its own stakes thoroughly enough for me to make any kind of evaluations on moral compromises or the lesser of these two evils.
It’s probably for the best that I didn’t invest too much in any of the mercenary characters, though, as virtually all of them are killed or captured when their mission goes sideways. Apparently, the whole mission was a trick by Solomon to get those mercenaries to release “the Stormbringer.” That thing sure seems like a monster, which I guess is a knock against Solomon as the hero of this story, but reserving that reveal for the last page (the “epilogue” of this prologue) seems a little late to drive that point home.
I have to imagine that these points are likely all incredibly remedial to a well-read Valiant fan, but as someone only peripherally familiar with its mythology, I found this issue to be nearly impenetrable. It might be my mistake for jumping in with the zero issue — I do think a more traditional introduction to the world (possibly through the eyes of the character depicted on the cover of this issue, who never actually appears within) would do a better job of drawing me in — but this issue seemed all but determined to turn me off.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?