In the ever-evolving landscape of fandom, there are simply some things that should not have happened. In Retcon This!, we examine some of the more questionable aspects of our beloved geek properties.
Despite kicking off with one of the most popular teenagers in comic history, the Marvel Universe isn’t known for their extensive roster of teenage super-heroes. Sure, Spider-Man and the X-men continue to be top-level properties but they’ve long since packed their teenage angst into their lockers and left campus for bigger and better things. Without any legacy characters to speak of, opportunities to build up a new teen character were few and far between unless you started him in their own solo series (which can be a dangerous proposition, sales-wise) or you introduced her as part of a team (where they’d often get lost in the shuffle or used as side-kick comedy). As the Marvel universe got older, especially in the late 80s, new teen characters were either mutants or lost in the shuffle trying to establish themselves.
Then came the New Warriors.
In the midst of the Acts of Vengeance event, Thor fought the Juggernaut. This was good because A: They hadn’t fought before (and wow, why not, because those two are serious business) and B) It gave then Marvel Editor-in-Chief Tom DeFalco a chance to pull together some of the various teen characters that had been kicking around the Marvel U and have them become a team. Led by a new character, Night Thrasher (a black kid in armor on a skateboard. And yes, he was angry), the initial team was Firestar (the girl from the cartoon everyone knew but no one really cared about in comics), Marvel Boy (in the future, he’d become an astronaut and go way further in the future. In the present, he’s a giant nerd), Namorita (Namor’s incredibly irritating cousin), Speedball (he had a series and it didn’t work out) and Nova (he too had a series, and was even billed as “the Next Peter Parker.” He wasn’t.) Together this team proved that you cannot stop the Juggernaut unless you have Thor’s help. Thankfully they did and they survived the encounter to go on and headline their own book.
Yes, it was a fantastic piece of gimmickry: introducing a group of new characters in an established book during a crossover that’s getting people to read books they haven’t read before by having them fight villains they don’t normally fight. Then, when you’ve got ’em hooked, announce that these new whippersnappers (I mean “warriors.” Thor called them warriors. Even the crazy black kid who thought he could beat the Juggernaut by jumping on his back and punching him. Total warrior) were getting their own book. With a line-up of unproven losers and a leader that was a Frankenstein of bad ideas (did I mention he was a superhero because his parents were murdered in front of him? And that they were rich? Yeah, he’s black Marvel Batman. I don’t know where the skateboard came from. It’s not like they were killed in a skate shop) this series should’ve been a total bomb.
But it wasn’t. Charged with making the book work were Fabian Nicieza and relative new comer Mark Bagley. Nicieza clearly saw something in these characters, because he quickly went to work making each of them as rich and as in-depth as the original Marvel teenager himself. Speedball’s humor helped him cope with a dissolving home life. Marvel Boy’s home life was even worse thanks to an abusive father. Namorita was a political activist. Nova was a screwed up has-been trying to get his life back on track. None of them were perfect, all of them wanted to change the world. It was exactly the kind of optimism in the face of reality and their own problems that teenagers use to make it through their imperfect lives. Nicieza used Night Thrasher’s incredibly clichéd origin and turned into into bizarre, mystical lynchpin that was the overall story arc of the first 25 issues. After that, Mark Bagley left the title to become one of the defining Spider-Man artists of our generation and Darick Robertson took over on art duties.
Life was great for the Warriors until Nicieza left, the comics market crashed and titles were cancelled left and right. As time went by and the industry healed its wounds, the Marvel publishing roster slowly built back up and Jay Faerber and Jamal Igle began a relaunch of the Warriors. However, with key players Firestar and Justice being used on the Avengers and the addition of some unestablished new characters, the book had a slow start and was cut down after only ten issues.
Now we come to the point where we want to get into the Delorean and change publishing history.
Zeb Wells and Skottie Young had a New Warriors miniseries where some of the core group and more new characters became reality TV stars. It was an interesting concept from two talented creators, but its sheer peculiarity and brazenness made it the perfect flashpoint for Marvel’s Civil War. The New Warriors, after about 96 comics issues pull a rookie mistake and kill a bus-load of kids! Whoops! And themselves! Double whoops! Well, not all of them. As part of the build-up to the event in his weekly Newsarama interviews, Marvel Editor in Chief Joe Quesada began teasing that Speedball is the most useless character in the Marvel Universe. This was all hucksterism, of course, as Speedball was the only original New Warrior present to survive the blast (which he caused!) and had his powers radically altered (and oh, the survivor guilt!). Now Speedball is really important, and now comes with deep psychological scarring action!
With that, the New Warriors became the poster children for untrained super-heroes and super-hero fuck-uppery.
A handful of events later it’s all sort of worked out for the original Warriors. Nova is headlining his own series again, and its an anchor to the Marvel cosmic titles (oh wait, those might be getting cancelled. But hey, they somehow stole Namorita from the past and she’s alive again). Justice (nee Marvel Boy) has been hanging about on the periphery of Avengers teams. Speedball is Speedball again and not the crazy spikey emo-goth kid Penance (although he’s still a little messed up in the head). Firestar is around, going from Marvel Diva to retired grad student to member of the Young Allies.
There was a brief attempt to revive the franchise in the wake of Civil War, where the original Night Thrasher’s half-brother Donyell gathered together many of the techno-weapons of Marvel super-villains and gave them to depowered mutants so that they could build and time machine and prevent to Stamford Incident from happening. That’s all well and good, but while it had a side character from the original series and the same name, there wasn’t anything “New Warriors” about this series.
How do you replicate the success of the original New Warriors? In many ways Marvel already has in two very different ways: the Young Avengers, a new team of teen heroes that’s somewhat legacy-based doing straight-forward super-heroics and the Runaways, a group of all new characters that, while they have powers aren’t really concerned about “super-heroing” and are focused mainly on the matters that plague the teenaged heart and mind. With these two titles, Marvel has finally created a generational structure. That’s all well and good, but where does that leave Marvel’s second wave of teenage heroes? Much like Saved by the Bell, things have not gone great for them since they left high school (thankfully, there have been less sex tapes). Sure, they’re around, but as bit players in larger schemes (Nova is totally Zach Morris).
I’m not saying pull the Warriors away from the well-performing established connections they have now, but why have them function separately when they worked so well as a team? There are plenty of Warriors characters that aren’t being used or are just background characters propping up other books. Why not get them together and have them face the post teen-super heroic afterglow like a real group of friends would? Yes, CB Cebulski covered a lot of this ground in his Loners miniseries, but since then not much had been done with the idea or those characters. Bring them back and get them in the game! Sure, the whole point of Loners was “no heroics,” but given that we’re now in the bright, brand spanking new “Heroic Age,” why not have these characters try to find a way to get heroic?
While they may not have the peppy, cocky young optimism that they had in their youth, you can reforge them into a group that can be dissatisfied with the direction of the 1st generation of heroes (how they were scapegoated at the on-set of Civil War, how the turbulent times post-CW were more disastrous than any of the time since they started their careers) and want to put forth real change in the world tackling real-world issues (Not just changing the players, but the entire game, to paraphrase our current president who has a little bit of experience mobilizing the just old enough to vote for the first time crowd). They can try to influence the new generation of heroes to follow their own path (do things for yourself! Just the way I did them!) and not just blindly follow the established, older heroes.
Now that Marvel has a generational structure to their universe (which is going to happen to any super-hero universe over time) without legacy characters or “families” to group them into (like DC has with the Bat, Super, Wonder, Flash, Green Lanterns & Arrows, etc) it’s easy for this middle generation to be forgotten in favor of the “new hotness” and the tried & true mainstays. These characters worked because they were taken seriously and written authentically, telling character driven stories that reflected the real hopes and obstacles of kids that age. Plus, they were pulled together from existing characters and ideas that hadn’t worked before but were given a second chance.
Do it again, and Marvel may just have another winner on their hands.