By Joshua Dysart
Black and White?
Unlike the Fantastic Four, I went into Imperium with absolutely no frame of reference. It’s a series that I hadn’t heard of prior to this undertaking. Who’s good? Who’s bad? What is it about? I hadn’t a clue, which ties into one of the main reasons I wanted to do this. The point was not only to fill in the gaps of what I knew but also to expand my horizons by venturing into new territory as well as the familiar. Imperium deals primarily with Toyo Harada and his quest to better the world, by any means necessary. He’s essentially a terrorist using those like him, psiots (beings with various psi abilities unlocked) to push for his utopian vision. Whether that means launching an attack on the world’s leading manufacturer of anti-psi technology, or sending psi-talented children to the U.N. to speak in his place, he is constantly focused on multifaceted campaign as he strives to attain his goals. His recruitment techniques primarily involve implanting visions that cause a person to experience their life as it would be under his regime. Seeing all of the glorious possibilities. Despite his lofty goals, he definitely doesn’t fall into the “good guy” category, as he’s an “ends justify the means” kind of a guy.
The battle against him is led by Project Rising Spirit which I guess would technically fill the role of the “good guys”, but as its a covert military contractor whose eye is in that bottom line, it’s a questionable decision to see them as heroes. Their C.E.O is the typical money focused leader who will always look to maximize profits. He legitimately wants Harada to keep up his efforts in order to keep reaping the rewards of the continued dependence the world is forced to adopt to counter Toyo. Their response team, H.A.R.D Corps is almost a mix of the Suicide Squad and the Dial H for Hero concepts. They’re a very mercenary group who, through cerebral implants, can access an array of abilities one at a time as they’re loaded into the program by their handler. That same implant also happens to contain an explosive device in case one were to go rogue. Watching the Project capitalize in the fear and distrust in the global community, while deplorable, rings even more truly now than it probably did during its initial run in 2016. That in and of itself may be a large part of why I find Harada an almost sympathetic character that I continually root for despite in fact being the “bad guy”. I’m not saying he’s right, or going about it in the right manner but, at times, you can see where he’s coming from.
Shades of Gray
The supporting cast has a nebulous morality as well. Gravedog was a former Chechen terrorist who was conscripted into being H.A.R.D. Corps leader before executing them in a bid to switch sides, seeking to be free. Formerly archetypal good doctor Angela Baingana’s body was co-opted by a higher-dimensional intelligence, and now displays a much more ruthless and amoral personality. Joining Harada for the sheer challenge of realizing his impossible goals. An alien of the Vine species , Lord Vine-99 was genetically engineered to assassinate Toyo prior to being modified further by Harada. Ironically it’s the longest tenured associate of Harada, a.i. Mech Major, who has the strongest moral stance of all of the characters. As the first true a.i., Major was an astonishing creation of Harada’s, his expanding consciousness developed a deep sense of both compassion and sadness. Left to his own choice, Mech Major would live a life of pacifism under the name Sunlight on Snow, however he is subject to the whims of his maker and is thus denied.
That’s what makes this series such a compelling read, the characters individual personalities have deep underpinnings that realistically shift and play off one another in intriguing ways. There’s a handful of issues about midway through the run where they encounter the Divinity Entity which plays with the well-worn trope of placing the characters in false realities where their respective dreams are realized. It provides a nice insight into the motivations of each character while at the same time bringing Harada face to face with an opponent he can’t push past or bend to his will. In the end he is forced to let go of his pursuit of the Entity facing his first real defeat in the run.
Over the course of the closing chapters of the series, we spend some time being introduced to a psiot by the name Livewire. She was taken in and had her psi-abilities unlocked at an early age by Harada. The two were close for a long time, with a very father/daughter vibe defining their relationship, before she decided that he was in fact a monster who needed to be stopped and rebelled. Many times has she inserted herself into his affairs, and yet he spares her every time… until the series climax. After goading his enemies into attacking a shipment of industrial equipment, he causes them to focus on one ship in particular which they of course sink. However that was the one ship containing food and aid supplies for refugees in his domain, and it was broadcast to the world as their incessant warmongering, harming millions of innocents, thus swaying public opinion to his side while also securing the materials to help realize his dreams. All while letting the people go without the necessities of life, sometimes “you must pay the toll to cross the bridge.” It was a pitch perfect move for Harada, that I really appreciated.
And, that’s where we leave off. I felt it kind of rushed the ending a bit and I feel it leaves a lot of things unresolved. These are my two biggest complaints about what was otherwise a phenomenal and rather refreshing read. I’m aware that there are a number of other places where the story of Toyo Harada is told, but this is about merely these 16 issues, so I consider those to be valid criticisms. Imperium is
absolutely worth your time, as to where I’d place it on the list, I’m not sure, but I’ll have a better idea in 98 entries or so.
Our next stop will be Superior Spider-Man #1-33 by Dan Slott, all of which is available via Marvel Unlimited. This was wrapping up as I was re-entering the comics medium, so while I know bits and pieces of the story, most of it I’m coming into fresh. I’m definitely looking forward to this one. But thats next time, until then feel free to share your thoughts on the Imperium with us by:
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