Underrated: Imperium

This is a column that focuses on something or some things from the comic book sphere of influence that may not get the credit and recognition it deserves. Whether that’s a list of comic book movies, ongoing comics, or a set of stories featuring a certain character. The columns may take the form of a bullet pointed list, or a slightly longer thinkpiece – there’s really no formula for this other than whether the things being covered are Underrated in some way. This week: the comic book Imperium

When Valiant Entertainment relaunched in 2012, one of the four books that the publisher started with was Harbinger. Arguably one of Valiant’s signature books, the original series launched in the 90’s with the publisher’s first incarnation. I have never read the 90’s series in full, but have dabbled in an issue here or there (specifically the two that contained chapters of the multi-book crossover Unity). I have, however, read the entirety of the modern Harbinger run, and own a smattering of individual comics and the three deluxe hardcovers containing the story; Harbinger Deluxe Edition One, Harbinger  Deluxe Edition  Two and Harbinger Wars 
Deluxe Edition. Until very recently, I had not read Imperium. While I have had access to the review copies for years, I had long decided that I would rather read the story in print form so I was waiting to pick up the deluxe hard cover edition of Imperium from my LCS. A couple weeks ago, I finally ordered it.

It cost me $65 before taxes and it was worth every penny.

There are easy comparisons to make between the Harbinger story and that of the X-Men, between Toyo Harada and Magneto; an incredibly powerful man who wants peace at any cost. The truth is when I was reading the book there are obvious similarities to the X-Books. Especially now that the X-Men have their own nation state, which is where Imperium finds Toyo Harada and his Foundation.

Joshua Dysart pulls the sixteen issue story in from various places in the Valiant universe, touching upon characters that will be familiar if you have read the previous Harbinger run that I spoke about (again) last week. If you haven’t read those books it shouldn’t be a big deal – the story is told in a way that it can be read alone, but you’ll miss out on some context here and there (and a great build up) if you skip what came before.

Watching Harada build his nation state free of scarcity while fighting the countries that are trying to stop him over the course of sixteen issues is fascinating. We watch him take some extraordinary measures to ensure that he is left alone, and we wonder whether the man is truly as philanthropic and good as his ideal seems or is he as self serving as he sometimes appears?

Although the book is told from Harada’s perspective Dysart never quite leaves you confident that you should be rooting exclusively for him. Should he be stopped? Or does his means justify the ends?

What makes this such a great story is that Dysart has balanced the antagonists so well that nobody seems to be explicitly evil aside from a certain corporation out exclusively for profit, which illustrates the nobility behind Harada’s ideal while underscoring the capitalist nature of our society. There are so many different aspects to this story; the concept of artificial intelligence becoming sentient, does anybody ever truly have free will, the balance of sacrifice for progression of the greater good. What devils do you have to make a deal with?

When it comes to everybody else in this book you have to wonder whether you should root for anyone.

Joshua Dysart’s writing will educate you, encouraging you to think and develop yourself all while delivering one of the greatest stories in comics. That sentence was as true for Harbinger as it is for Imperium. He has a unique ability to distill a greater political and ideological idea down into a story that will never overwhelm a reader but also leaves you thinking about the nature of the politics involved long after the cover has been closed.

Whether this story is one told from the villain’s perspective as he tries to achieve his goals having convinced his followers they are doing the right thing or if it is story about a hero who faces insurmountable odds as he tries to make the world a better place will differ on how you read the book.

And that, for me, makes it an utter masterpiece.

This series is the subject of today’s Underrated because I had long ehard how brilliant the story was from others who have read the book so I ended up reading the full run in almost a single sitting. And I realized that I seldom hear people talk about Valiant’s Harbinger comics, or Toyo Harada. I hope that changes.