Harbinger Wars II Prelude 1: Discussion

By Patrick Ehlers and Ryan Mogge

This article contains SPOILERS for both this issue and Avengers Infinity War. If you haven’t read the issue or seen the movie yet, proceed at your own risk! 

Patrick: Every big superhero event story needs to kick off with some kind of world-altering, morality-testing incident. A kind of “what did you just do?” moment that our characters will spend the next however-many-issues sorting out. Hell, the climax of Avengers Infinity War happened like 15 pages into the first issue of Jim Starlin’s The Infinity Gauntlet. Where writer Eric Heisserer distinguishes his story is in giving that catastrophic action to our hero, and making damn sure we understand why.

The catastrophe that this issue builds up to is Livewire shutting down all electronics in North America, possibly the world, and forcibly grounding hundreds of satellites. This is a huge act of domestic and international terrorism. Heisserer and artists Raúl Allén and Patricia Martín lean away from how horrific this event would actually be. We don’t see any emergency rooms losing power, or any planes falling out of the sky. Instead, we’re focused on what Amanda’s perspective — and that is entirely peaceful.

This is a pretty stark contrast to Amanda at the beginning of the issue. Heisserer, Allén and Martín flood those first couple pages with information. Our introduction to the issue is also a perfect introduction to Amanda’s psychological state. She wades through the torrent of text, voice and email messages flowing through the streets of Los Angeles, and it’s enough to drown both the character and the reader in dour information. Every single one of the 30+ messages on the page are perfectly crafted to imply the dozens of messages that lead up to them, and the hundreds more to follow. Something like “Can you just listen to me without being patronizing?” implies a couple trying to work through their inability to communicate, while the text “Your mother and I care. Don’t do this.” is obviously a parent responding to a cry for help. This is what Livewire’s life is — like the 21st century equivalent of Superman hearing all of the world’s problems, only Livewire’s not able to zip around and fix everything.

And actually, we even get a little nod to the aforementioned Avengers Infinity War:

“Half of humanity” has got to be a deliberate nod to the Mad Titan’s famous act of genocide in the Marvel Universe. The team at Valiant must have been timing this issue’s release to coincide with Infinity War, and with the film’s original release date of May 4, would have been teasing MCU fans with something comic readers have known since 1991. With Avengers coming out a week early, the subtly is lost a little, but who really cares? The foreshadowing is stunning.

Even when she pulls herself off the streets and into a coffee shop that forbids the use of networked devices, Amanda’s still in information-overload mode. I honestly don’t see how Allén and Martín quench Heisserer’s insatiable thirst for panel-dense pages. That opening is followed by a pair of 16-panel pages. It is both overwhelming and incredibly efficient, telling us everything we need to know about what’s happening and how Amanda feels about it.

And the truth is: she doesn’t feel great about the state of things and neither should the readers. We’re being plopped into the middle of an on-going conflict between the US Government and the Psiots. It’s sort of your standard mutant narrative — the Psiots are doing their best to control their own powers and not hurt anyone with them, and the government wants to imprison and/or murder them. Rather than let us luxuriate in a distant X-Men fantasy, however, Heisserer uses specific language to evoke recent real world horrors, and the political responses thereto.

We don’t even necessarily need the agent’s “both sides” comment to draw parallels to how the government cruelly addresses populations it fears, but the phrase does throw up one hell of a red light. “Both sides” is a rhetorical device which implies an equality of ideas and an even distribution of power. This was obviously not the case in Charlottesville and it’s not the case in Harbinger Wars II.

What “both sides” demonstrates more than anything is that the US Government (at least, as depicted in this comic) is no longer acting in good faith. There’s a smile, and a lie that they’re seeking diplomatic solutions, but the truth is they’re already on the offensive. It may read like Livewire is snapping her be-guantleted fingers, but she’s really just fighting back.

I’m also stoked for this event because it’s got some strong characters that I love from Secret Weapons, and all kinds of opportunities for shipping them! Ryan, you picking up anything from Avi, The Stone Man*, and Lucia, The Unintentionally Exploding Woman*? Also! I think it’s possible I’m starting to ship Owen and Nikki. I never used to, but something about seeing Owen gain some kind of control over his summoning-objects power makes me think of them as equals in this world. So, like — that works for me! A radical act to protect four characters I care about? Yes please.

*Neither of these are their real code names. Also I love that they don’t have code names (yet).

Ryan: Patrick, thank you for bringing up the shipping so that I didn’t have to be the first to admit that I’m mentally pairing off these characters. In just three panels, the creative team has gotten me considering the possibilities.

We have one of my favorite tropes in two characters thoughtlessly touching in a dramatic moment only to get all self conscious when they recognize their behavior. At least, that’s how I’m choosing to read Owen’s expression in that last panel. Nikki’s hands are raised defensively, but she’s examining Owen, not Avi and Lucia’s embrace. As mentioned, each page of this issue is dense with information. In the same sequence, we have Lucia’s sweet expression as she rests her cheek on Avi’s shoulder. Outside of Amanda’s few moments of respite at the coffee house, this is the first expression of purely positive emotion in the issue.

Of course, there isn’t any time for these moments to breathe because the United States Government is out for blood.

Amanda’s act didn’t just exact revenge on the government that is hunting her people, she affected the millions of people whose daily texts, emails and phone conversations had plagued on her mind. Her move is not to quietly cut off the satellites. Instead, she performs a reverse of the intrusive interruptions on everyone at once. Heisserer casts an ambivalence about the root of Amanda’s choice. That she has to protect her people from the government is clear, but she is also giving herself peace at the expense of the greater society.

The structure of the issue puts the reader in the same situation. As mentioned, we know that instantly shutting down all electronics in a single moment will have dire consequences. We see the cars on the highway, parked in an eternal gridlock and the agents in their own blood spatter, but our knowledge of the world implies a much heavier toll. Is it worth it for Amanda to have a moment to lie down in peace, knowing that her people are safe?

The issue does a pretty good job of creating sympathy for Amanda. The world is constantly forcing her to carry the pain and angst of every break up text and tearful phone conversation. Plus, her own government is conspiring to kill her and all of her people. It doesn’t help that Director Martin is so clearly villainous and the soldiers read as one-dimensional killers. Amanda is correct to say that we needn’t consider both sides.

The moment where Amanda learns about operation Chimney Sweep is a great example of how the reader is encouraged to identify fully with Amanda’s perspective, literally.

We see Director Martin in the far background flat-out lying as Amanda process all the bits of information her hacking as offered her, all of it adding up to betrayal and murder. It’s another example of a page dense with information which makes it so rewarding for the reader to put it together and identify what’s happening right along with Amanda.

Amanda says that she did the wrong thing for the right reasons in the penultimate panel of the issue. She know this intellectually, but it will be really interesting to see her deal with the reality of the consequences, especially if she can have a clear mind while she does it.

For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?

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