REVIEW: Life and Death of Toyo Harada #5 works toward a thoughtful ending

Life and Death of Toyo Harada #5 is out now.

By Nick Couture - Writer and Godfather of the Valiant revival, Joshua Dysart, along with Cafu and Kano on art, Andrew Dalhouse on colors, and Dave Sharpe on letters, continue to reach for a crescendo with Life and Death of Toyo Harada #5. It’s an issue that lets the story breath a bit while revealing key moments from Toyo’s past. Over several years of development, Dysart has written a character that fits in perfectly with the likes of Magneto or Vader, and that is no small feat. All that’s missing is an iconic costume, though that black suit is killer.

This issue deals with the fallout of Toyo’s supposed death. Stronghold is chief among the crew wrestling with a world without Toyo. Stronghold was a young psiot that Toyo helped raise and really put under his wing. In some of the best sequences in the book, we see Stronghold reflecting on some pretty messed up things he witnessed in his youth. From an unstable psiot, to a truly disturbing birth sequence, Stronghold is left wondering if the man he’s been following is flawed to his core. Another member of the Harada crew, Lord Vine--99, a grotesque and powerful creature raised and indoctrinated into the Harbinger Foundation, struggles with the loss of Harada. However, he goes about dealing with the loss in a more direct fashion. 

The book really seems to be hitting its stride with #5. Dysart seemingly brings the stories of characters he has built up for years to an end or at least to a defining moment that will alter who they are going forward. It’s the “point of no return” moment in the hero’s journey. The moment when everyone is sullen, when some choose to run, while others reflect. 

Dysart writes thoughtfully and beautifully. I really feel the weight behind these moments and I see some larger themes being scratched at. Dysart, a known humanitarian, is no stranger to international politics. His Vertigo book Unknown Soldier, told the story of Moses Lwanga, a doctor turned vigilante who sought to do right in a nation rife with internal conflict. That book is deeply rooted in African politics and really portrayed Africa with a keen delicate eye. So given Unknown Soldier, it’s no question to me why he has found so much success with the Toyo Harada character. It feels informed by global politics. Toyo is a world leader. He has sway and can affect real change in the world. While not a driving force in the story, immigrants play a role in the setting of the book. As a young child, Toyo was a victim of the bombing at Hiroshima. That was a political act that mattered deeply, and I don’t think Dysart ever forgets that. Toyo has used his powers to manipulate countless people in horrific ways for his own gain. He is a powerful elite. He can essentially do anything. He is a god, but as Kanye West put it, “No one man should have all that power.” Dysart let’s us wrestle with his history, then makes us question ever feeling one way or another.

The art is the only thing that continues to hold the book back for me, if only slightly. I think Cafu is a competent draftsman but this really doesn't look much different from the Valiant house style we’ve seen over the years. Kano, taking over art duties on the flashbacks, does bring the look of the book up a bit and I can’t help but wish he drew its entirety. 

Cafu does succeed when scene aren't just people talking in a room. This is especially true for non-human characters. For example, the opening sequence with Mech Major, the resident battle robot, is breathtaking. A later sequence with Lord Vine--99 is another standout. It’s one I'll likely still be thinking about long after my weekly stack of books. He really knows how to give these large characters weight on the page, and when the action stops, we feel their isolation. 

Overall: Dysart and company work toward a conclusion with beautiful, quiet moments that let the book breath. It’s all working toward a thoughtful ending to a story that's been told over many years. 9.0/10

Life and Death of Toyo Harada #5
Joshua Dysart
Artists: Cafu and Kano
Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse
Dave Sharpe

Nick Couture is a video producer living in Lansing, Michigan with his wife and daughter. His first love is film but comics have been a constant source of creative fuel for him for many years. He loves drinking coffee and long-distance running.