Originally posted here.
Theme is always an important aspect of a story. It is the base way for an author to communicate his or her intentions or message to their audience and serves as a foundation upon which everything else sits atop. Having a strong central theme and other recurring themes can create a powerful story. In regards to what we’ll be looking at, Valiant Entertainment’s Imperium #1 written by Joshua Dysart with art by Doug Braithwaite, colors by Brian Reber and Dave McCaig and letters by Dave Sharpe, there is a theme that is woven throughout that is central to the story and it’s “protagonist”, Toyo Harada. That theme is “trust”. As we examine each pages to this strong opening, we’ll discuss that theme and how it impacts this interesting cast.
Naturally, because this is an annotation, there will be spoilers. If you want to follow on, you can purchase Imperium #1 here or you can find your local comic shop here. It is $3.99, but worth every penny.
A striking image created by Raul Allen and logo developed by Tom Muller. The image of the powerful Harada is almost inhuman, in spite of the not-so-human character images that accompany him. It also has the air of a propaganda poster in some ways (a decently common choice for someone like Harada, going by previous variant covers that focus on him).
Will say, I am glad that Valiant seems to be moving away from the solid black bar at the top of the cover to show creator credits. While it wasn’t as distracting as, say, Marvel’s bright red bar, but it always was an irksome thing.
Okay, some background information on Toyo Harada.
Harada is an insanely wealthy Japanese industrialist. He was a child when the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the trauma of which activated his latent abilities as a Psiot (think “mutants”). Disgusted by the use of the bomb and what came after it, he has been playing the long game to shift humanity to a more peaceful state. However, he has recently been exposed for what he is and now his war for utopia has been brought out into the open.
A look at the world, not as it could be, but as it is. Dysart has always taken a critical look at the horrors man can bring upon each other (check out his work on Vertigo’s Unknown Soldier) and he continues that here, Braithwaite pencils painting the scene of the desolate.
And fast forward the clock. It’s 2115 and all of the great slums have been transformed into a verdant and clean metropolis. I am always curious as to how artists envision the future and Braithwaite has created quite the scene, with otherworldly architecture and domed forests.
This is Darpan, who was a child ward to Harada during Harbinger. He is older. He shall henceforth be known as Grandpa Darpan.
Future Technology Is So Lovely.
So we learn that Grandpa Darpan is a highly respected psiot, partially for also being an associate to the great Harada-Sama. It also provides a bit of world building and where psiots stand in this great utopia. More on that later.
Interesting how Grandpa Darpan seems familiar and unfamiliar with his surroundings. Sure that’s just the mind going away with age.
More world building as Grandpa Darpan meets one of his psiot students. We receive a brief understanding of Darpan’s abilities that made the boy in Harbinger so dangerous.
“My Life is Service”.
Combining this with the Hyper-Psychics in previous pages, we’re starting to get a feeling as to the position of psiots here. And even more, Grandpa Darpan feels detached from his surroundings.
I loved the layout Braithwaite chose for this page, especially at the end with Grandpa Darpan talking about Harada’s methods and the cost of Utopia, making none-too-subtle similarities in appearance between the two.
Now we begin to get further into that theme of trust as the role of psiots. They volunteer to receive their power, but at a cost, they are essentially tasked to maintain this utopia. They trade their equality away to ensure others have it. They are trusted with enormous power.
And now Grandpa Darpan is suffering gaps in his memory. Hmmm.
Back to 2015 with the truth was revealed. What we saw of Utopia was a dolled up model. A faux-future created by Harada for his soldiers to fight on for. Grandpa Darpan is gone, but we still have little Darpan.
Here it is that we are introduced to our “protagonist” for the first time in the issue. Harada is using telepathy to convince his troops of the vision he has planned. A vision worth dying for.
What I found amazing about this twist was that very few people were able to see it coming and I have an idea why. Valiant has done such an amazing job of keeping its continuity and timeline consistent, even to the farthest reaches of the 41st century, as depicted by Matt Kindt and Clayton Crain’s book Rai. As such, few Valiant fans would have reason to question a look at the world a century from now.
I also have to give massive respect for the decision to change colorists. The peaceful, bright, hopeful, fake utopia was called vibrantly by Brian Reber, but once the illusion was gone and reality settles in, it is depicted through the much more muted (in a good way) colors of Dave McCaig.
The horrors of reality are shown wonderfully, in a depressing way, as Harada continues his pep talk of his troops.
This page (also my favorite page of the issue) has two of the greatest examples of this theme of trust and lies at work. Let’s start with the smaller one first: Harada’s visions of utopia being custom fit for each of his troops. Like a good salesman, Harada knows what each of his troops want or even needs, and manipulates his pitch as needed.
Then we have the bigger one. The greatest lie Harada tells because it’s the one he tries to sell to himself. The greatest precog in history, the Bleeding Monk, has told Harada that his task in pushing humanity forward has ended when the Harbinger series ended and that if Harada continued on his path, it would just bring more pain. But a will and ego that Harada has, the strength to make or break the world, simply cannot fathom it. It is this type of complexity that makes the character fascinating and Dysart shows it masterfully.
Oh hi, Stronghold. Nice to see you not wounded and such.
And so we’re introduced to one of those characters on the cover: Mech Major. He’s a robot. As such, he gets no sweet dreams of utopia. As we’ll see in further pages, Mech Major may be a double-edged sword for Harada since he can’t psychically manipulate artificial intelligence like he does fleshy one intelligence.
Psiots, Move Out.
Wonderful fight scene from Braithwite and McCaig demonstrates the benefits of Mech Major. With the reveal of psiots to the world at large has increased the demand for technology that can dampen psiot abilities. Such tech is no match for the cold steel hands of the giant (and surprisingly flexible) robot.
We end on three character moments that all tie back into the theme of trust. We have Mech Major’s surprising deal of humanity and disgust at what needed to be done. We have Harada, trying to bring his brand of order, which is having everyone and everything knowing its place and purpose in his vision. Finally, we have our little narrator Darpan, watching the scene. The most innocent member of this group has finally been to the front line of what is to come and is shaken by this moment.
At the end, these monsters, these soldiers, these children have put their faith and trust in a man that spins the truth for his own vision, which may have become outright delusional. To call this opening issue strong is an understatement. It is very focused on the personality of the central character of Harada, even when the man himself isn’t in the majority of the issue, but never sacrifices the conflicts of its other cast members. This is our first real plunge into Valiant’s villain corner and it promises to be even darker and more fascinating in the months to come.