Masters of War – An Interview with Joshua Dysart on Harbinger
Joshua Dysart‘s political sensibilities fit Harbinger about as well as fans and Valiant could hope for. Well studied on global and social issues, he’s found the perfect storytelling device to accentuate his strengths as a writer.
Hanging around the Valiant booth at WonderCon, fans of Dysart fit one profile – diverse. His work on Harbinger has found a varied audience with its inclusive appeal by taking on issues that matter to people. Currently, there doesn’t seem to be a mainstream title that tackles the issues of globalization, conflict, and American social issues the way that Dysart does.
At the same time, it’s important to point out that Dysart doesn’t necessarily have a political agenda. He simply places himself in the world of his characters and develops an understanding of what’s shaping it.
By and large, Harbinger tells the story of Peter Stanchek and his misfit cast of Harbingers “who could give two fucks really” about politics says Dysart. However, their worldview is bound to be expanded because of one key character to Harbinger’s narrative – Toyo Harada.
“I don’t really sit around and think what’s the next hot zone,” says Dysart. “I think about what would Harada be doing right now…The germ of all of the politics in the book is the very fact that they gave me a book where a primary character, and really the antagonist and maybe even the villain if you want to use that term, is a head of a major corporation.”
The way this has been playing out goes back to a previous interview done with Dysart in which he discussed the generational conflict at the core of Harbinger between Harada and Peter. Many of the old ideas or ways of doing business are illustrated in the way Harada conducts his affairs throughout the story and their wide-ranging influence on other aspects of the Valiant universe.
Valiant’s first big crossover, The Harbinger Wars, finds itself deeply rooted in the soil of American history and informed to a degree by Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech warning Americans of the military industrial complex. This warning continues to echo, resonating topically with a lot of politically engaged persons like Dysart, even if it’s not the specific seed of the story he’s telling.
“Whenever we’re talking about why I’ve chosen a theme, or an issue in this instance, it’s rarely because I woke up thinking this hadn’t been discussed,” says Dysart. “It’s mostly because it just rears its head in that moment when you’re writing. What people don’t know, and they are about to learn with Harbinger Wars, is that Rising Spirit Securities is a private organization that has been intricately tied with the United States government.”
Based on the Pinkerton Agency, who holds a dark place in American history being hired muscle serving corporate interests, Rising Spirit embodies the most ruthless and greedy aspects of the military-industrial complex coupled with the unbridled ambition of the robber barons of the industrial age. It also happens that everything going into Dysart’s development of Rising Spirit makes for prime comic book ingredients in a rather natural and organic way.
“In that same way, it’s obvious to me that a company like Rising Spirit…if we were to…it’s obviously a very comic book idea that one company provides all this tech and stuff,” says Dysart. “Once we go to that natural, we make the comic book leap. Then it’s understandable that it would be in their best interest to keep conflict institutionalized.”
This leads back to the current snapshot of America and its currently unsustainable ability to wage war despite being involved in multiple conflicts around the world. Dysart has a knack for using a documentarian’s perspective with the way he conveys conflict in his work on Harbinger.
Think of Harbinger as an allegory for the current state of the American dream. You have Harada representing the baby boomer generation while Peter and his renegades encapsulate the current generation dealing with the fallout from American exceptionalism, even if Harada isn’t necessarily an American.
Despite this, there is a lot more to the character of Harada and his true place within the Harbinger story. Taking Harada out of the story and into the real world, Dysart entertained a hypothetical on what Harada would do if cold fusion was available instead of buying the Syrian oil reserves like he did in Harbinger #0.
“Harada’s villainy is not his inflexibility,” says Dysart. “Harada’s villainy is his lack of faith in the democratic process. I think that if Harada saw a clear and true path to fusion or some other way to make energy cheaper, I think that he would take it. I don’t think he’s as locked into that mindset.”
With that, Dysart offers a very clear look into the thought process of one of the most compelling and grayish villains in recent comic history. Harada has a utopian vision with a Machiavellian moral compass.
“We have such an interesting dynamic in this book,” says Dysart. “The villain is a utopian. We’re not the first to do that, but when you do that, you’re giving your whole self to that notion, then it’s impossible to do that and not have discussion about utopian ideas, and to have discussion about utopian ideas is to have progressive discussions about how the species moves forward.”
For Dysart, he’s “riffing on stuff” that interests him as he continues to write this complex and deeply layered story. It’s not always going to be about politics with the main cast focused on survival in Harada’s larger game, but Dysart knows that it’s Harada that keeps this world interesting.
“Before I fell in the love with the other characters, when I was first given the book, we talked about just doing a Harada book,” says Dysart.’ Valiant was like “no, that’s not really what the readers want.” That, to me, is a book.’
Bringing things back to Harbinger Wars, which was the impetus for this continued conversation with Dysart on Harbinger’s explorations of social and political issues, he notes that it is “our big summer movie.” However, Harada continues to be a major player of how this will all take shape.
With that said, there’s no escaping the fact that political discourse will continue to work its way into the narrative of Harbinger as much as Faith’s geek culture or Peter’s persistent struggle for purpose. Having signed an exclusive two-year contract with Valiant, Dysart will have plenty of space to provide compelling narratives and engaging discourses whether they’re political or not. In the meantime, make sure to pick up the new Harbinger Wars series and judge for yourself.