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DF Interview: Joshua Dysart goes inside the mind of the world’s most powerful man in ‘The Life and Death of Toyo Harada’
By Byron Brewer
The Life and Death of Toyo Harada will place the planet's most powerful man in the spotlight as he strives to control the course of history. But with the menacing mastermind's resources dwindling after the downfall of the Harbinger Foundation and a target on his head, will the formidable psiot re-emerge as humanity's greatest hero...or its most dangerous villain?
Eisner Award-winning writer Joshua Dysart (Harbinger, Harbinger Wars) returns to the Valiant Universe to continue crafting Toyo Harada's controversial mission to save humanity from itself. Presented in an oversized format and featuring a lineup of all-star artists, including Mico Suayan (Bloodshot: Salvation), CAFU (Rai), and more. DF sat down with scribe Joshua Dysart to learn about this new limited series.
Dynamic Forces: Josh, tell readers how this great new limited series featuring Toyo Harada came to be. Are you just following the natural course of the Valiant Universe, or is this something that has been on the Dysart mental backburner for a while?
Joshua Dysart: I’ve never been very good at following the natural course of the Valiant Universe. No, this was originally a project I pitched probably four years ago, when I was in the middle of writing Imperium.
I originally saw it as our exit strategy out of that book, but instead, Imperium got cut off at the knees and so we started looking at this story (it wasn’t called The Life and Death of Toyo Harada yet) as a new beast, a kind of epic coda not just to Imperium, but to all of my work in the psiot corner of the Valiant Universe.
The current story is driven by flashbacks to other defining moments in Harada’s life, giving us a non-linear lens on Harada’s history and psychology and making it more new-reader friendly than if we had just written it as the final arc of Imperium. We thought that structure would provide a lot of depth and thematic density.
DF: Can you tell us the overall storyline of the limited series (without repeating its title, LOL)?
Joshua Dysart: You don’t want to know the story! That’s giving too much away. I’ll give you the setup. Harada’s third attempt to conquer the world has failed. This was the basis of the Imperium series. His resources are dwindling, the planet is turning against him, and he’s aligned himself with strange bedfellows – his non-psiot team – who are getting harder and harder to control.
His back is against the wall and failure, even death, seems more and more likely. In this dark moment, Harada begins to reflect on his past, on the choices and experiences that got him to this place.
In this drift through time, from the dawn of WWII to the present, where WWIII seems increasingly likely, the reader will come to much more fully understand Toyo Harada, his character, and his motivations.
DF: Presently, tell us the state the “ordinary world” is in after recent events, and how perceptions have changed to Joe and Jane Q. Public about Harada.
Joshua Dysart: Your perception on Harada depends, in large part, on where you live on the planet. Over the course of Imperium, Harada whipped the world into quite a frenzy. When we open on Life and Death, World War III seems inevitable, even though it’s the very opposite of everything Harada has set out to achieve.
If you live in a globalized, militarized, G8 economy, you might perceive Harada to be a profound threat to your culture’s safety. But if you’re in a country with immense poverty, or one which has little control over its own resources, you might be in favor of Harada’s global initiatives to recalibrate a broken, imbalanced society.
These are generalizations. With billions of people on the planet, there’s a lot of different opinions on Toyo Harada. But the odds are, whatever your opinion, it’s probably impacted by your regional political state and media propaganda.
DF: The planet’s most powerful man has become very associated with you as a writer, I dare say. Tell readers who Toyo Harada is as a character, who he THINKS he is at this point in time, and how things have changed after the downfall of the Harbinger Foundation and with a target on his head.
Joshua Dysart: As you’ve mentioned, Toyo Harada is the world’s most powerful psiot, a human being with almost immeasurable psychic and telekinetic abilities. Harada sees himself, correctly, as a huge spike of aggregate power in the human species and that gives him an incredible advantage over almost all other minds he comes in contact with.
Because of his unique position, he feels he’s burdened with the responsibility of correcting the path of our global society, which he believes allows for too much suffering. He has set out to end war and famine and increase equitable access to education and health. He is attempting this through the violent usurpation of resources, disruption of supply and demand, and ending global arms trading.
But it wasn’t always like this. For about 70 years, Harada operated in the shadows, using capitalism to amass a huge amount of wealth and control. His virtual armada of corporations assisted humanity in immeasurable ways (he was part of the moon landing, birth of the Internet, pioneering medical technologies, etc.), even as his unique powers allowed him to steal wealth, compromise sovereign nations, and maintain total market dominance.
In time, he became the most significant robber baron in the history of the world. One of the themes I explore through Harada is, “Is this what it takes? Is progress inherently tied to social theft?”
And all this time Harada was secretly studying the psiot phenomenon in human beings. Collecting potential psiots along the way, fine-tuning the science of activating their latent powers, and building a veritable army of individuals with abilities far beyond those of most humans.
This secret organization, buried both physically and virtually deep inside a complex web of thousands of shell corporations and shadow index funds, was called the Harbinger Foundation. The title of the foundation is all the evidence you need that he intended – and intends – to alter the very evolutionary course of humanity itself.
He was outed to the world as a superbeing by Peter Stanchek and the rest of the Harbinger crew with the invaluable assistance of a computer hacker called @x (this is all in my Harbinger run). That reveal was a bombshell that changed the face of the planet forever.
Not only did it shed light on the fact that virtually all wealth and tech was, one way or another, tied to a single individual, but that there existed in the world human beings with superhuman advantage over the rest of us.
The planet was shook by the resulting manhunt for Toyo, the race to create anti-psiot technologies to keep non-psiots safe, and the global economic collapse caused by the effort to untangle the financial knot of Harada’s empire.
But Toyo didn’t go into hiding. He did just the opposite. He doubled down. Usually a man of tremendous forethought and far-flung vision, he began to operate improvisationally instead. He took control of the U.S.S. Bush, a nuclear-powered supercarrier, and settled on the coast of Somalia where he embraced the refugee crisis in the name of building a post-scarcity utopia. He began to pursue his war against global inequality out in the open.
When Life and Death picks up, he’s at the end of this recent effort for global dominance and it hasn’t gone well. So this is Harada’s last hurrah.
DF: What other VU characters will be making an appearance during this monumental LS?
Joshua Dysart: The last of Harada’s Harbinger Foundation, Darpan, Ingrid, Stronghold, and Law, are still with Harada, as well as the A-team he built in Imperium. They include a technologically empowered terrorist called Gravedog; a trans-dimensional mad scientist called Angela (aka Broken Angel), a human remotely controlled from another plane of existence by an unknown entity; a murderous alien sentient biological weapon called Lord Vine-99; and the world’s first true general AI robot, Mech Major, who has been petitioning for years to have his name changed to Sunlight on Snow with no success.
DF: Talk if you will about all the great artistic talent that will accompany you on this series’ journey. And wow, WHAT talent!
Joshua Dysart: Sure. The bulk of the art is being done by Carlos Alberto Fernandez Urbano, better known as CAFU. He and I did a book tour of France last year and bonded quite a bit. He loves Harada and team Imperium and when I told him about Life and Death he petitioned hard for the gig.
Now he’s doing the work of his career on this book. It’s astounding. I went to visit him in Spain to watch the magic happen. His dedication is inspiring. His process is designed to create the best results, not to be the most efficient. I respect that. I really love that guy.
He’s also one of the kindest and most nurturing guys you could ever meet. I got really sick when we were in France. I think I’m lactose intolerant, or whatever, but they shoveled cheese into us because, well, it’s France. I got so messed up that I sh*t my pants at a dinner that was held for us. He nursed me like a mama duckling.
Then there are the other artists. The structure of the book is designed to showcase as much unique art as possible but always making sure it serves the story. We really jumped in and tried to pull together the best and the brightest at Valiant.
First, Mico Suayan. Way back in Harbinger #0, Mico defined the look of Harada’s childhood. There was no one else who could do Harada’s life as a newly activated psiot child in post-war Japan. The detail and sense of place in Mico’s work is amazing. It makes you feel like you’re inhabiting that place and time.
I don’t want to say anything else about what the other artists are drawing without giving too much away, but...
Adam Pollina literally took my breath away with his clean, gorgeous lines. Diego Yapur is just out of control, what an art beast that guy is. I’m once again overjoyed to be working with the great KANO who I did The Fall of Harbinger with, one of my favorite single issues I’ve ever done at Valiant. And my dear friend Doug Braithwaite, who created the entire look and feel of Imperium and designed all the Team Imperium characters, is back!
That’s not even all of the artists. The book is going to be a stunning collaborative work.
DF: Away from the series for a minute, can you mention just a little about something I certainly admire: the comic Living Level-3: Iraq and the real-life research you did spending time in Iraqi Kurdistan interviewing refugees fleeing ISIS? Fascinating.
Joshua Dysart: Thank you for mentioning it! Yes, I was in Iraqi Kurdistan in 2014 during the rise of ISIS (I prefer the more regional term “Da’esh,” for reasons that we explain in the book). With the assistance of the World Food Programme, I interviewed refugees fleeing both the Syrian conflict and the Mount Sinjar massacre.
You can read that book entirely for free online. Just Google Living Level-3: Iraq, or read it as a free download on Comixology!
And if you like it, there’s a sequel, Living Level-3: South Sudan. I traveled with a WFP team the length of South Sudan in 2016 as the government was turning to vapor all around us. We ended up in the middle of a perfect storm of famine and civil war in the northern part of the nation.
That’s free to read as well. Just Google Living Level-3: South Sudan.
DF: Josh, what other projects, inside or outside comics, are you working on that you can tell us about?
Joshua Dysart: TKO just released my newest and most personal work, Goodnight Paradise. Drawn by Alberto Ponticelli and colored by Giulia Brusco, the full story is now available in both trade and in single issues. The single issues come in a collector’s box that fits beautifully on your shelf. You can get the book digitally, too.
You can read the first issue completely for free, along with all the other TKO launch books, at www.TKOPRESENTS.com.
Goodnight Paradise is the story of a homeless man in Venice Beach, California, who finds the murdered body of a runaway in a trash bin while looking for something to eat. In the midst of mental illness and an alcoholic haze, he accidentally manages to solve the murder.
I’m very proud of it. I ask everyone to please take the time to read the free first issue. If it’s not your bag, I get it, but at least give it a shot. It’s the culmination of all my work on displaced humanity and cultures in crisis, and also of my attempts to fuse pulp narratives with social realism that I started way back with Unknown Soldier.
I lived in Venice Beach for 17 years. Everything in Goodnight Paradise is based, to one degree or another, on real events that I either witnessed or overheard during my time living right on the beach.
Dynamic Forces would like to thank Joshua Dysartfor taking time out of his busy schedule to answer our questions. The Life and Death of Toyo Harada #1 from Valiant Entertainment hits stores March 13th!
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