Interview: HARBINGER Writer Joshua Dysart Kills His Darlings
By Charles Webb on May 29, 2014
In Harbinger #23, out this week from Valiant, one of the Renegades gets a very brutal, very final on-panel death thanks to writer Joshua Dysart. The Renegades, for those not in the know, are the teen superpowered heroes out to stop billionaire esper Toyo Harada from increasing his grip on other Harbingers – and the world at large.
Last issue saw the Renegades launching a multi-pronged assault on Harada’s digital empire with things going largely in our heroes’ favor. So why the bodycount?
“I don’t think that it makes sense that they can get out of this conflict without loss,” Joshua Dysart explained when we talked about the book recently. Dysart says that without someone from the heroes’ side dying, it just wouldn’t feel real.
Keep in mind, his villain has a sprawling industrial-technological empire spanning the world with thousands of people in his employ alongside highly-trained and loyal Harbingers. Dysart says this move against Harada – and its repercussions – are things he’s been planning out since the book’s debut nearly two years ago. Still the writer wasn’t keen on killing off one of his characters.
“I’ve been reluctant to do it – because I don’t really want to do it,” Dysart said. “Already, we’re sort of straining credibility by having these teenagers pull this off. But it’s always been there – that loss and consequence are part of the narrative. I didn’t know when we were going to do it. A lot of the stuff in this is stuff my editor Warren [Simons] and I talk about a lot, and one day, this conversation that we’ve been having for two years, it’s now time.”
Dysart admitted he wasn’t sure which of the Renegades was going to the superhero graveyard until he started writing the arc. In fact, he’d had it narrowed down to two, decided on one, and halfway through, realized it should be the other.
“I think writing #22, I had an epiphany and realized it had to be this other character. They were all on the chopping block for a long time until it dawned on me who it had to be for this arc to work.”
Let’s not forget that in spite of losing one of their own, Valiant has been selling this arc as the one where they effectively “win” against Toyo Harada, stripping his facade away and revealing every dirty trick and secret he has to the world. When I asked Dysart how this fit into 2014’s seeming overall theme of revelation and breaking secret organizations in the Valiant U, he confessed that that might have been part of the genesis of this arc – shedding some lights on the many, many secrets across the line.
But what does that mean for our bad guy? What does that mean for the Valiant universe at large?
Dysart promises something big, likely touching every other title going at Valiant.
“We get to reset the universe,” he teased. “It’s the thing in comics that people are always trying to pull off – you always want to try to change the status quo without changing the status quo so the reader gets a sense of change. All of the relationships are the same; who’s against whom, the motivations, the characters and who’s ‘bad’ and ‘good.’ And yet, we’re shaking everything up, the shape of all of those conflicts change.”
Harada, on the other hand, might come out of this story feeling diminished having been “outed” by the Renegades. According to Dysart, the struggle for the character is what will he (or can he) do next, now that he’s not restrained by 40 years of secrets, after suffering a defeat at “the hands of a bunch of high school dropouts and a former drug addict” as Dysart lovingly described our heroes.
“I think that ultimately, he has a very noble vision for himself, and this really upends that. Instead of being humbled, he’s going to be angry. So in talking about psychology, we’re going to see someone with a vision and it’s collapsed. Harada with a plan is more dangerous than Harada without a plan.”
And it’s not just Renegades and Harada who’ll be dealing with the consequences: “When you start dealing with human mortality and not just superhero mortality, that really changes the culture. That’s stuff that I want to explore.”