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Welcome back superhero enthusiasts, 1990s culture enthusiasts and comic book collectors! Today we go back to the early 1990s and explore a part of the Valiant Comics shared universe through the Harbinger monthly series.
In my previous review, Sting and new recruit Natalie (Stunner) were inside the stronghold of Kaliph deep within the terrorist state of Iran. Sting’s teammates went there on a high-risk mission to rescue the two even though they had no real resources to deal with Kaliph (first appearance in issue #19) and his private army, and they also had very little time to spare. Regardless, the dangerous mission proceeded and the rescue miraculously turned out successful. The success, however, came with a certain loss.
With those details laid down, here is a look back at Harbinger #21, published in 1993 by Valiant Comics with a story written by Maurice Fontenot and illustrated by Howard Simpson.
The story begins inside the New Jersey apartment occupied by Sting and his teammates. Although weeks had passed since the dangerous mission in Iran, Sting remains in weak physical condition and he had to be carried by Faith/Zepplin and Flamingo as his lover Kris checks out a letter that was hidden from her.
Even though he is obviously not feeling well, Sting lies to Kris that he is fine. Kris reads the letter which turned out to be medical results on Sting done by Doctor Heyward. Sting was diagnosed with Mononucleosis. The weak leader of the group then falls into sleep.
Sometime later, Sting endures a nightmare and wakes up sweating and feeling very troubled…
As a way of taking a change of direction following the previous two issues, this particular Harbinger story shifts the focus mainly on Sting and went ahead in explaining why he is such a flawed person, why he is reckless and even unworthy to be leading his teammates.
The core issue in this tale is Sting’s painful relationship with his father. Without spoiling the story details, I can say that the creative team succeed in not only dramatizing the strained father-son relationship, they also explored other elements from Sting’s past as Peter Stanchek – the young guy who had friends and lived a normal American life before his powers manifested and gradually changed everything.
More on Sting’s poor relationship with his father, the creative team came up with a pretty solid script and visuals that creatively emphasized the emotions, the pain and uncertainties on the part of the protagonist. More importantly, what they dramatized here clarified why Sting is immature, reckless and continues to live on with a distorted view of life that can be perceived as anti-family and even anti-social. Given the fact that he is unforgiving towards his father, the young team leader was revealed to be unworthy of not only of having super abilities but also unworthy of leading a group of friends who pretty much have faith in him. Sting is more than just a deeply flawed protagonist…he is also an unlikable superhero.
Harbinger #21 (1993) is a very power character study of Sting and the creative team deserve admiration for what is clearly the most in-depth development of the character so far in this series. It should be noted that the story, whether intention or not, clearly dramatizes that a person who rejects his or her father is often destined for frustration, pain, suffering and other negative elements in life. Even with super powers, the negative elements won’t disappear and the personal problems will continue to last long. If there is one thing that Sting could do to save himself and his family, it would be coming to his father with forgiveness and having the strong will to make peace with him and be willing to love him unconditionally. Ultimately, this comic book sets up Sting for a potential series of events that could challenge him personally as he continues to lead his team.
Overall, Harbinger #21 (1993) is highly recommended!
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