By Jared Cornelius
Welcome back to Valiant Effort, where we look at press smaller titles. It just occurred to me that if I want to continue this column it won't work with anything other than Valiant Comics, oh well I'll press on. The way this works is, I pick a title and then recommend you try it based on other pieces of media. This week we look at two series that often find themselves intertwined and produced Valiant's first big crossover, Bloodshot and Harbinger.
Harbinger revolves around the life of Peter Stanchek, a young runaway living on the streets and struggling with burgeoning psychic abilities. We find out that Peter has been on the run for years from a shadowy government organization that wants to exploit his powers. While cornered, Peter is saved by another mysterious group called the Harbinger Foundation who want to train Peter in the use of his abilities for the betterment of powered individuals called psiots. So you'll like Harbinger, if you like X-Men.
Marvel Comics' favorite mutants have been around since 1963 with iconic runs in the 70's 80's 90's & 00's. Created by Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, the mutant race was an allegory for civil rights at the time, focusing on Professor Charles Xavier's dream of peaceful co-existence between man and mutant kind. Mutations came in all shapes and sizes, from laser beam eyes to psychic abilities, and new mutants would penetrate every corner of the Marvel universe. Characters like Wolverine, Kitty Pryde, and Deadpool currently have fan favorite status with multiple series and beloved story arcs. The X-Men have been arguably the favorite super team across all of comics, spawning 108 comic series, 6 movies, 4 television shows, and a huge slate of video game appearances. The world of Harbinger and X-Men share more than a few similarities. Both series have themes of fear and hatred from a world that doesn't understand them. Series mainstays Toyo Harda and Charles Xavier share the role of powerful mentor with tremendous psychic abilities, and Peter himself seems to be a mash up of Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Wolverine. If you've ever had an affinity for the X-Men give Harbinger a try.
Speaking of people suddenly gaining powers, you'd like Harbinger if you liked Chronicle.
The Max Landis penned story revolves around three friends who find themselves with telekinetic superpowers after an encounter with a strange object in the woods. While the three originally only use their powers for pranks and magic tricks they eventually devolve into violence and super-powered battles. The super hero found footage film was critically acclaimed and a commercial success as well, earning $126 million worldwide after spending only $12 million to make it. Chronicle brims with teenage angst, much like Harbinger both series feature characters coming to terms with their powers and how those powers affect those around them.
Harbinger's themes of powerful psychics and shady organizations runs almost parallel with another movie as well. So you'll like Harbinger if you like Scanners.
The 1981 horror sci-fi movie was never a critical or commercial success, but has maintained a cult status for the last 34 years. Anyone familiar with the head exploding meme, has seen a small piece of the David Cronenberg directed film. Scanners revolves around psychic and telepathic humans being used by ConSec, a weapons and security firm hoping to make the next big thing in war. Michael Ironside leads a rouge Scanner underground fighting the ConSec Corporation for Scanners freedom and vows to take out both ConSec, and its sympathizers. Scanners and Harbinger share a remarkable number of similarities. The shadowy corporation, the themes of psychics in distress, the misunderstood nature of those powers, and the fight against those who would use them as weapons. I wouldn't be shocked to find out that Harbingers original creators Jim Shooter and David Lapham were inspired by the film when first creating the series. Scanners certainly looks and sounds like a film from the 80's, but if you've enjoyed Cronenberg's other films like The Fly, Eastern Promises, Videodrome, or Crash, there's no reason you won't enjoy Scanners or Harbinger.
Harbinger's themes of teenage rebellion and escape contrast sharply with its sister book Bloodshot. Bloodshot is the ultimate in super solider technology from the shadowy government agency chasing Peter, Project Rising Spirit. A skilled tactician, proficient in hand to hand combat, a master of firearms, and an incredible healing factor, Bloodshot is a one man army. Believing that he's an everyday family man doing retrieval missions for the government, Bloodshot is actually PRS's favorite means of abducting psiot children for use in their weapons program. Bloodshot happily lives in his fake memories until his programming is broken by former PRS scientists and goes rogue.
Bloodshot has plenty of skills, powers, and works in espionage. So you'll like Bloodshot if you like Marvel Comics.
Now that's a broad spectrum, but Bloodshot shares similarities with quite a few Marvel mainstays, like Captain America. Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941 the star spangled Avenger may be the most iconic character created in the 40's. While Caps origins are firmly rooted in Hitler punching, a long time theme of Cap books is a crooked government trying to control him. With the second solo film adaptation based around Ed Brubaker's critically acclaimed run this should be fresh for everyone, with Bloodshot maybe being closer in tone to the Winter Solider. James "Bucky" Barnes was the World War 2 sidekick of Captain America until he was believed to have been killed in action. Found by the Soviets and reprogrammed as the ultimate assassin, the Winter Solider, Barnes killed his way through history until being confronted by Captain America. With Barnes and Bloodshot sharing a similar skill set, along with mental tampering, and use by corrupt governments, fans of the legendary run of Captain America comics will feel right at home.
Themes of technology and tampering continue, because you'll like Bloodshot if you like Robocop.
Not that 2014 remake, not the two sequels, and not the cartoon, I'm talking about the 1987 original. In the near future crime is plaguing the beleaguered city of Detroit. With few options the city has turned to the OCP Corporation to fund their police force in return for building rights. When Officer Alex Murphy is killed in the line of duty, his remains are used to create a crime fighting cyborg for OCP. But true to form, members within OCP are corrupt and have secretly programmed Robocop not to interfere or harm them, while they run the cities drug trade in secret. In 1987 Robocop felt like he was on the bleeding edge of technology, not unlike Bloodshot. Bloodshot is Project Rising Spirits top of the line in software, including hive minded nanotechnology, which provides him with a means of hacking networks, a healing factor, and enhanced senses. Both characters walk in shades of grey in terms of the ethical uses of modern day technology for the purposes of crime fighting and warfare. Both characters also have a theme of being used for what the corporation deems the greater good. If you enjoyed Paul Verhoeven's original Robocop film, I can almost assure you, you'll like Bloodshot.
The theme of Bloodshot as the top of the line in military technology made me think of another genre completely, so you'll like Bloodshot if you like video games.
I know, there I go again speaking about a genre in a really wide sense, but Bloodshot is sort of an amalgamation of video game concepts. Halo was the first game that came to mind, the story of military super solider Master Chief doing battle with the alien Covenant. The first person shooter highlights Master Chief's regenerating health, imposing visage, and prowess over weapons and came to me immediately when thinking about Bloodshot.
The Metal Gear franchise was another game with similarities to Bloodshot. Based around the character of Snake in all his incarnations over roughly 50 years, Metal Gear deals with themes of military industrialism, the plight of solders, and international warfare. Huge government conspiracies, colorful military themed villains, notes of espionage and infiltration also echo Bloodshot and the Project Rising Spirit organization. The technology in Bloodshot also gave me allusions to the world of cyberpunk, which drew me to the Deus Ex franchise. Taking place in the near future of 2052, where the line between man and machine are being blurred by cybernetic implants. Deus Ex has elements of many different games including role-playing, first person shooter, and puzzle solving. Deus Ex's world of man being turned into machine links right back to Bloodshot.
That's it for this round of Valiant titles, I hope you enjoyed the recommendations. If you have any of your own thoughts on media with similar themes please leave them in the comments. The first trades of Bloodshot and Harbinger are currently available for $9.99 a piece, and the first two story arcs are available in attractive hardcovers as well. Both series are also available on Comixology in their entirety too. In a bit of housekeeping news Harbinger is being canceled in July and relaunched as Harbinger Omegas and Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corp will be canceled, and replaced with a miniseries. Even though both series are coming to an end of sorts I'd whole heartedly recommend them, maybe if one of those big two books are disappointing you pick up one of the trades and see if you might like a Valiant book on your pull list.
As for me, you can check out my two regular columns, Typing on The Dead: Bleeding Cool's Walking Dead recap, and Live(ish) From The Games Shop where I look at the weeks new video game releases. I also do other random features during the week which you can find out about by following me on Twitter @John_Laryngitis where I act as my own hype man.
Jared Cornelius is some guy from New Jersey's coast who's ready to rumble. If you'd like to make dated Michael Buffer jokes contact him on Twitter @John_Laryngitis