by Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
What is the collective noun for superheroes? An immodesty of superheroes, perhaps? A bluster, a cluster bomb, a swank? Somebody ought to settle the issue soon, if we’re going to be showered with films like “Avengers: Infinity War.”
Anthony Lane in The New Yorker
That quote comes from my least favorite culture review in recent memory. I’ve heard enough variations of “superheroes are dumb” over the years to keep my eyes rolling all the way to Anthony Lane’s door, but what’s particularly frustrating about his review is that it never bothers to support his dismissive attitude. It’s not a critique so much as a list of characters and events in the movie and the smug assumption that we all agree that that list is too long. To be clear, I think there is plenty to critique about that movie, not the least of which that it almost certainly would ring as paradoxically overstuffed and hollow without at least some familiarity with these characters — if we’re not already invested in Tony Stark’s worst fears or Thor’s grief or Doctor Strange’s sense of duty, they’ll read as pretty thin in the movie. Like most summer crossover events, Infinity War is mostly plot machinations, cashing in on the character work developed in its respective solo series. Such is definitely the case with Harbinger Wars II 2, which heightens the drama of the impending battle, but does relatively little to draw me into that drama.
It’s here that Lane’s inane comments start to feel somewhat understandable — it does feel like there’s a lot going on, at the expense of me getting to know any of these characters — but I also understand that that problem is 100% on me. Harbinger Wars II may not be a great jumping-on point, but it was never designed to be. This is the culmination of the past few years of Valiant mythology, not a primer on this universe. Even so, writer Matt Kindt manages to find room for character development in this issue, giving us a glimpse into the life and times of Charlie Palmer. It doubles as a demonstration of Peter Stanchek’s powers, which was also essential in grounding me in this world — Peter’s abilities clearly extend far beyond activating other psiots.
The rest of the issue feels a bit more disposable. Not that the events don’t change the narrative, but that they might as well have been part of the initial premise, as far as my own familiarity with the universe is concerned. Peter is now captured, Tito is (unintentionally) wreaking havoc in Ohio, and Bloodshot has just discovered…somebody inside H.A.R.D.’s flying fortress.
Again, I’ll own my unfamiliarity with the Valiant Universe. I suspect this is a great twist for longtime readers, but it falls totally flat for me. There’s not even enough for me to google — “Valiant character in moccasins” doesn’t turn up anything useful — so I’m stuck on this until the character is named in the next issue.
Which leaves me with only a slightly different conclusion than Lane’s. This didn’t work for me as the easy entry point into the Valiant Universe I need, but I suspect it’s probably a lot of fun for longtime readers. Indeed, it looks like enough fun to keep me around through the end of this event, but I’ll need to get used to not always knowing what’s going on.
The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?