[This guest column comes from Michael Lapham, known to many around the shop as “Scratch.” Read at your own peril. – ed.]
It’s time for it to be said. I love the New Warriors. To some people that probably sounds odd, others get exactly where I’m coming from, and it is true. With the X-men grabbing up Starfire with their greedy little hands after 30 years of barely acknowledging her and New Warriors getting a new book this month it is absolutely time to say this.
To those who know my tastes, my love of the Warriors may seem a bit odd, after all I am not a very big fan of teenage/college age superheroes, not even when I was that age…with classic swinging 60s Spider-Man and any trips back to the era being a notable exception. Sure, I think Marv Wolfman’s Teen Titans run was great, but it never grabbed me like it did so many making it rival the X-Men in the 80s. Teen books always come off as trying too hard to be youthful, and as Back To The Past Customer #1 puts it, “Middle aged guys rewriting teenagers never comes off right,” and he is right. Aside from that, it often seems like the idea is to make them young first, and a character second, or they come off as idealized youth. The New Warriors were different.
The Warriors were characters first, and where as the Teen Titans always came off as the goody-goods that every parent told their friends they had the Warriors were more like who they came home to. The characters were fleshed out in such a way that an adult could relate just as well as a young person. These young people would feel overwhelmed, would be unsure of how to proceed, or even what they were going to do with their life. Yes, the Titans all had a plan, to live a good life, college, family, fighting crime, all they had to do was stick to it and there was their drama. The Warriors had to find out what their plan was…hell they had to find out who they were.
What’s more the Warriors hold an important place in comic book history. Most people think of the 90s as a dark time for comics, with early Image dancing around their head. To a certain extent these people are right. Image comics in the early days often lacked characterization and were overly violent just for the sake of being violent. This idea overshadows the works of the decade, like the Spectre (by Ostrander), Starman and Hellboy, partially because Marvel and DC did try to adopt it at times. The Warriors bore the torch though. They carried it through the era of style over substance to have truly enjoyable tales, that were pushed forward through characters. Okay a few times the eras art got in, but that is it.
So, before I proceed in saying why the book was great, just who were the Warriors? Well, there were quite a few, but the knowledge of just what the book was comes down to the founders:
- Justice – Vance Astrovik, was the ultimate geek in a way. He wanted to be an Avenger more than anything. He idolizes Captain America. He was created both in the 60s and 70s. Vance is the younger (and now alternate reality version) of Vance Astro of the Guardians of the Galaxy. Steve Gerber created this one in the 70s as part of a story involving the Guardians of the Galaxy in the Defenders. Even in his first appearance he is shown to have a strained relationship with his father. Eventually, it is revealed that his father beats him…because he is a mutant. Eventually this leads to Vance accidently killing him with his telekinetic powers. Through it all Vance remains a pure-hearted hero, even after being sentenced to prison, which he serves in full.
- Nova – Probably the best known of the Warriors, he finds himself in a strange place in the series opening. Richard Rider is back on Earth after the Nova Corps falls (the first time), with no powers and working at a fast food joint. He missed his High School graduation…as well as what he needed to do it…while off in space. He regains his powers in the first issue, but still lacks a future. The Warriors become the most important part of his life, and he becomes antsy being the seasoned veteran, who is taking orders. Throughout the series Rich’s story is not only returning to life as a hero, but redefining himself both in and out of the costume to become who he wants.
- Firestar – The girl next door. She is really the only one without any real baggage in the beginning. Sure, she is a mutant, but she is a fairly well-adjusted one. In a way this makes Firestar the most important member. She is the common person. She reacts to events much like the reader does. She is an ordinary girl who wants to do good. She just happens to be able to shoot microwaves. Firestar acts as the center of the team, something to rally around and keep them stable, as such she is the most affected by the teams ups and downs. When Firestar is affected, when she wants to lash out…things are really bad.
- Namorita – Cloned cousin of Namor. A warrior. The adult. Although not much older than the team, she is worldlier. She understands the world better than most, and has developed a world view reflective of it. Namorita always acts like a superhero in battle. She makes decisions and sticks to them. Nita, is not a caricature though. While determined she still has a playful side. She can be fun, and loving. She is without a doubt the best at separating the parts of her life, which is interesting since she does not have a secret identity. Nita also deals with the consequences of her actions.
- Night Thrasher – The founder and leader. Some say he is nothing more than a teenage, black Batman. Those people are right…sort of. Dwayne Taylor is very rich, and is very no nonsense, and is a driven by the death of his parents. This sounds very Bat-like. However, Dwayne actively seeks out a team. It is even suggested that his goal was to create the surrogate family the Warriors turned out to be, even if he didn’t know it. He is Batman, if Batman wanted to belong.
- Speedball – The joker, the clown, the symbol. Speedball, in the days of the Warriors, is going through something very familiar to young people, parental divorce. He was also a head banger. It was later revealed that he was a very well rounded youth who also appreciated classical music, he just pushed the head banger angle to give his parents something to hate together. When his parents do split, he moves in with his mother and although the too become closer, he still has a strained relationship with his parents. However, he has no real axe to grind. He is essentially just a guy hanging out with his friends, and forgetting his troubles.
- Rage – Okay, not technically a founder, but he is an honorary one. Rage, even gave up his Avengers status to aid the Warriors. A 13 year old trapped in the body of a 30 year old body builder with excess super strength. Rage might be seen as a take on Billy Batson, only he can’t revert back to a kid. This led to one very interesting story point where an older woman starts a type of relationship, and while the two never engaged physically, Rage did feel a responsibility towards the woman’s children. He was a child often forced to act as an adult, because even those who knew his secret would sometimes forget.
The New Warriors were the Avengers who became the Fantastic Four. They went from battle squadron to surrogate family.
With this group of interesting characters, and the tagline “All they want to do is change the world,” it should be no surprise that they had some interesting stories as well. While admittedly the start is a bit slow, it does pay off. Stories like Speedball’s mother joining an eco-terrorist group because they took advantage of her 60s idealism, was, to say the least, an interesting idea. As things build, though, we see things like Nova trying to restart the Nova Corps (again for the first time) and Rage reacting to the death of his Grandmother, and by extension his whole family. What could have been a traditional tale of a Superhero losing a family member it becomes something else.
Yes, Rage goes nuts and tries to get vengeance, but he goes through all the phases of grief in two issues, and all the time…especially at the end…we are reminded this is a kid who lost his whole world. A kid who is lost. A kid who is hurting.
We also see the New Warriors deciding to be proactive, and flying off to stop a war in another country. This war based on Bosnia, most likely, especially affects Nita. She is pushed into taking some extreme measures, and while it is not shown what she does, we do see how the war gets to her and we find out there is a temporary ceasefire. We also know Nita has to explain her actions to the U.S. government. Where as many books would simply make a point with this, no concrete solution is given, what was right or wrong to do in the situation is never stated, and the consequences of the actions must be faced.
We also have stories like Justice having to deal with anti-mutant protestors outside of his home, were the Friends of Humanity express their views in a way where you don’t agree, for the first time you can at least understand them. Remember how I said Firestar was a normal girl, while that was true, there was one exception…The White Queen. Firestar was a member of the Hellions, and because of this she has a sore spot for the White Queen being that she was manipulated. Issue #31, which every X-fan should read, shows just how Firestar feels as she and the other surviving Hellions get together to mourn those who stayed where eventually killed under the White Queen’s tutelage, in the pages of Uncanny X-Men.
If you want bigger stories, those are there too. A full FOUR YEARS BEFORE Age of Apocalypse, Nova’s old foe The Sphinx manipulates time and changes the present to a world where he rules the Middle East and they rule the world. Namorita is mutated and then eventually captured by a covert group leading to multiple failed attempts to save her. The Warriors at one point have the task of trying to prevent the visions of a clairvoyant member, who unlike Days of Future Past, is not quite sure what he problem is or will be…only that it means death and destruction. The first story, has at the same time Night Thrasher in Vietnam with most of the Warriors learning hard truths about his parents and guardian while trying to prevent some mystical doings, while at the same time Vance Astrovik faces a courtroom as he is put on trial for accidently killing his father, while defending himself from one of the man’s abusive rampages.
In the arguably biggest story, The New Warriors are sent through time, again by a Sphinx, The New Warriors have to be reformed with the part time members, all the while the main Warrior encounter past relations. These relations lay some hard truths on them, like Rage learning that African tribes sold other Africans to white slavers and Justice finding out his father was a victim of abuse by his father for things he did and was, by the grandfather who showed him nothing but love.
Also, Speedball was blackmailed by a chubby computer geek with no powers into letting him join.
So, if the New Warriors was so great, did it see a rise in popularity? The New Warriors had multiple stories in Marvel Comics Presents and even led to the second volume of Nova. Night Thrasher got a mini-series and even an ongoing. A mini-series starring Justice even revealed his own deep seeded fear that he would abuse his own child. All of these projects added depth to their characters. There was even talk of a second New Warriors series starring the backup team. The problem was Marvel sort of imploded in the mid-90s. Many books were cancelled that were doing well if they didn’t have the legacy factor, or were the absolute top of the selling list.
The Warriors lived on, though. Justice and Firestar became members of the Avengers in Kurt Busiek’s much heralded run. There was even an issue where the two played catch up with the old team. In this series they were not only valued members but remained interesting characters who continued to have interesting plot points like Firestar’s powers causing possible infertility and Justice trying to live up to being what he had wanted for so long…being an Avenger. The two even got engaged in the course of the run.
A second series was started a mere three years after the first ended. Despite the team having half of the founders (Speedball, Namorita, and Nova), fan favorite second-tier Warrior Turbo, X-Men cult Fave Bolt, and an interesting new character, the series wouldn’t last a year. Even a team up with Generation X couldn’t save them. The series was not really bad. One might even argue that it suffered from youth culture changing so much in those three years, going from Nirvana and They Might Be Giants to N’Sync and Britney Spears. Really though, it just couldn’t quite capture the feel of the original series. And without that spark or anything else brought to the table, it was just another generic team book.
The next few years were rough for the Warriors. When Busiek left the Avengers, so did its New Warriors connection. They all more or less lived on in occasional guest appearances, until eventually a holiday special ended Justice and Firestar’s engagement and relationship.
Then came volume three. A series where the New Warriors (this time Namorita, Nova, Speedball, Night Thrasher, and a new character named Microbe who looked a lot like Blob) are the stars of a reality show. This was most likely intended to be a comedy pure and simple. A satire of what was at the time a major part of American (and British) culture. However, this led to the darkest points for the Warriors…Civil War.
The event known as Civil War, started with the New Warriors stupidly causing the deaths of a few hundred kids. A stupid mistake that a pragmatist like Night Thrasher would never have let happen. A mistake that was caused by three veterans and a rookie. The one who really caused it having been a trained warrior by Atlantis. Almost all wound up dead, in writing that didn’t seem to know anything about the characters, and basing it off one small point of their long history. Needless to say for me and many other fans of the New Warriors, this was not a great way to start off the event.
In the wake of this, Speedball goes nuts. His powers mutate to a point where the once fun loving bouncing masked man was now more or less Emo-Boy. He joined the Thunderbolts and was more or less devoid of who he was. Night Thrasher and Nita were dead, Firestar had quit, and after the dust settled the New Warriors were a joke.
Justice, who had fought with Captain America against the Registration Act, was now helping train the new young guns, which included Rage. While there the term New Warriors was often used by Gauntlet as an insult for those not making the grade. Don’t know who Gauntlet is? Neither did I. He was introduced like a half year earlier. So this guy who had been a superhero for all of 10 minutes was bad mouthing a group that had saved the world time and time again, the two who were there were even Avengers! This was Avengers: Initiative, and it was tough to read.
Then, around the same time came New Warriors volume 4. This book was about a group consisting of the new Night Thrasher (formerly New Warrior Bandit, the original’s half-brother), and a whole host of former Mutants who had lost their powers in a big X-Men event a few years earlier. This group openly rebelled against the Registration act, and the Avengers: Initiative specifically, which in both books was becoming increasingly sketchy and fascist looking. The idea was great. The execution was not. The plus side was that the former New Warriors left the Initiative, largely because of the events in this book.
The one bright spot was Nova. He had avoided the Civil War problem by partaking in a good event…Annihilation. This involved the fall of the Nova Corps (real original) and ended with Nova the only member (again), now super powerful, doing the job of the whole corps, war torn, and with his own series. That series was great too. Rich was the same as always, but he had also evolved as a character. It was a must but for the whole run. Rich then died in another event.
There was also a book called the Loners, which was not really a New Warriors book, but two of the six characters had been, and one was the sister of a Warrior. And while I do have my gripes for what it did to Phil Urich, it is a good read, and had the interesting premise of “superhero rehab.” It also came the closest to capturing the feel of the New Warriors.
Firestar eventually got back in the game with a new short lived team of young folks. Speedball became speedball again, and he joined Justice as a teacher for the new Avengers Academy. They eventually left, though.
So, now, here we are. Firestar is an X-Man. And on Feb. 19 a new New Warriors book will hit the stands. I am optimistic about that too. Yost is a talented guy. The only question is whether or not the New Warriors can survive. Can they be brought back, or are they like The Defenders, Man-Thing, Master of Kung Fu, and a whole host of other comics that no matter how good following attempts are at reviving them, it was just a “right place right time” kind of thing that is forever doomed not to catch the lightning it once had?
Well, that’s my two cents. You may not care that much about the new New Warriors, when it hits the stands, but if you’re looking for some reading that is well worth your time, check out just about any local comic shop‘s dollar bins for early volumes of the New Warriors. You’ll thank me!