Heightening the Conflict in Harbinger Wars II 2

by Drew Baumgartner

Harbinger Wars 2 2

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.

Valiant Effort

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?

One comment on “Heightening the Conflict in Harbinger Wars II 2

  1. That quote at the top explains why I hated the critical discourse around Infinity War so much. With a movie as bad as Infinity War, it should be easy to get some real discourse on Infinity War’s failings. Nearly everyone I know hated Infinity War, yet when it came to reviewing a movie whose strong points can be summed up with the word Mantis, it felt everyone instead lined up on their side of a culture war about whether superhero movies are a bane on existence. Too many of the negative reviews felt like complaining that pop culture cared about things they don’t care about and hownthey wished they were important again.

    I actually had to find critics with serious nerd cred to find any interesting discourse on the movie, whether positive or negative, because they seemed to be the only people willing to meaningfully discuss it. Which is a real problem, as sometimes I want to read perspectives from people who are different from me (even worse, the critic whose Marvel movie essays I love The most did an epic series on every Marvel movie leading up to Infinity War, then for The first time ever didn’t say a word about Infinity War. I really wanted to see what new perspective he’d provide). The movie fucking condoned child abusers and everyone is too busy discussing if superhero movies are bad.

    Also, we really need to put an end to the lie that familiarity with the characters from other books justifies the writing of the characters in events. And I’m not just talking about Infinity War, where that investment argument is used to distract from the fact that characters are so poorly conceived that they aren’t even consistent with the previous movies (honestly, if I was going to recommend the most satisfying way to watch Infinity War, I would suggest to avoid every other movie and just put on some episodes of Justice League Unlimited to get used to the idea of random heroes turning up without context. That way you don’t have to deal with the fact that Tony Stark and Peter Parker have randomly flipped opinions, or the explicit rejection of all of Thor’s character, or Peter Quill’s awful regression or Gamora and Nebula’s backstory being ruined. Or the way every other Phase Three movie’s ideaology is explicitely brouhtbup to be rejected as wrong or meaningless. Infinity War doesn’t work if you are invested with the characters, only if you are invested in the iconography)
    Any event, even ones with good writing, should have enough to the characters that you will be invested without needing to read about these characters beforehand. How many people watched Avengers without seeing any Phase One movie? Yet everyone was invested.

    Same applies to an event comic like this. Events sell. Events are high profile and what many people who don’t read a lot of comics go to first because of their high profile nature. I mean, Marvel’s best selling graphic novel of all time, I believe, is the original Civil War. Do you really want your highest profile book not to work for anyone who hasn’t obsessively read the Valiant Universe?

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