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‘Harbinger’ Writer Joshua Dysart on Bringing Zephyr Back in the ‘Geek Chic’ Era [Interview]

Fans who read the original run of Valiant Comics’ Harbinger would almost certainly identify Faith Herbert, a.k.a. Zephyr, as the beating heart of the book’s team of super-powered teen protagonists. A fun-loving fan of all things nerdy, Zephyr was the character who seemed to have the most fun being a superhero.

So it’s great news that Valiant announced this week that Faith will return to comics in Harbinger #4, hitting stands September 12 as part of the publisher’s continued resurgence. We tracked down series writer Joshua Dysart to ask him a few questions about what effect 20 years or so have had on the character, who was once beloved for representing the outcast, overweight geek, and whether she’ll still be styling in her homemade costume. And after the interview, check out an exclusive five-page preview of Harbinger #2, out July 11, and your first look at character designs by David Aja.

ComicsAlliance: The world has changed a lot in the 20 years since the original Harbinger series was published. Nerdy kids aren’t quite as uncool as they were back then. Even Kris Hathaway, Pete Stanchek’s love interest, has transformed into a glasses-wearing semi-hipster with a “reading is sexy” button on her backpack. How has that affected your characterization of Zephyr?

Joshua Dysart: [Valiant Executive Editor] Warren [Simons] and I have discussed this quite a bit. It seems like the nerd has won, culturally speaking. So Faith’s proclivity towards nerd culture doesn’t alienate her like it used to. But at the same time, it’s important that Faith be an outcast. She can’t get a character remake that turns her into someone cool like Kris did and then end up serving the same purpose in the book. The fact is that none of these characters are being pushed away from their core. Kris is pretty and cool. That’s what she was always meant to be. Faith is less pretty — by normative weight standards; I think we’re drawing her quite beautiful — and less cool. And that’s what she’ll be here as well. I think you’ll find most of my alterations to character are cosmetic and not that far off from the original.

CA: You don’t see a lot of overweight characters like Zephyr in comics. She was probably the most likable member of the team in the original Harbinger series, but she also got ridiculed a lot for her weight, with other team members calling her “Zeppelin.” How will you address that, if at all?

JD: Of course weight is a huge issue in [the United States]. We’re either dealing with horrible socialized body expectations for women that result in a culture of diet-over-nutritional eating, low-self esteem and eating disorders which are manifesting at younger and younger ages, or, on the opposite side of the issue, the rising American obesity figures that are taxing our national healthcare system and ballooning the cost of medical care for all Americans.

I think that ultimately Faith, as a character, is a way to be honest about the very complex debate over weight in this country without slowing down the narrative in some ponderous-ass internalized debate. Also, the initial impulse behind Jim Shooter’s creation of her is still very, very relevant. Nowhere in above ground popular culture does the female form suffer more objectification than in comics. Faith’s body has always been about smashing that convention. That’s just as important now as it was then.

CA: Zephyr often served as the comic relief in the original comic, and seemed to be pretty good humored about things. Is she more serious now?

JD: No. Same old Faith. Faith is a good person, possibly the best, as far as content of character goes, in the book. She is full of charity and kindness. The hope is that she can serve the same role that Joe did in the first issue and we can use her presence to bring a lighter tone into the book. If I write her correctly, she should be a character that dissipates the darkness around her.

CA: In the original series, Zephyr was into Star Trek and Elfquest. What’s she into now? Anime? Webcomics?

JD: Firefly and Hunger Games. And yes, anime and webcomics. And video games and role-playing games. And nerdcore rap. She attends PAX once a year. But she’s no hipster. She’s not too cool for school, not like me. She likes what’s popular.

CA: I see you’re keeping the no-costumes approach of the original series’ first few issues. Will Zephyr create a costume for herself like she did in the previous series?

JD: Yes.

CA: Eventually, everyone had costumes in Jim Shooter’s Harbinger. What about here?

JD: To me the costume is a relevant detail only in that a uniform says a lot of things thematically. It can speak to everything from corporatization and loss of free will, to statements about duty and teamwork. Throughout the series the uniforms and superhero “costumes” will be used to discuss both a mindless lack of individualism and the idea of collective cooperation. Beyond that, you’ll just have to wait and see.

CA: One thing that really struck me about the first issue of the new series is the new way you, artist Khari Evans and letterer Rob Steen came up with for showing Peter’s telepathy powers on the page. Portraying Zephyr’s power of flight is probably pretty straightforward, I’d think, but have you devised any other plans for portraying other powers in cool ways like that?

JD: I’d like to, yeah, but we’re crafting this one solid issue at a time. We know where the story is going, but how we build the images for that story is something that must be attacked in the execution stage. Ultimately the point is not to come up with gimmicks, but to find the most effective visual ways of telling that story. Having said that, I very, very much would like to come up with a specific scene that handles Faith’s experience with flying in a new and really engaging way. I’ve been thinking about this a lot.

CA: Any crossover plans? It was a pretty long time before the team met Doctor Solar in the original book.

JD: I’m afraid talking about that would profoundly damage your enjoyment of the book as it stands now. Let it simmer, my friend. All will be revealed when the time is right.

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