The New Warriors Part 2: The Nicieza/Bagley/Robertson YearsA column article, Comics Bulletin Soapbox by: Kyle Garret
Tom DeFalco has never been hip.
Now, I say that as a guy who really enjoys DeFalco's work. I'm sucker for old school, hoo-ha, Marvel action stories, and DeFalco writes those like no other. But creating a new generation of superheroes? One that was supposed to cater to teenagers?
So Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley, and Al Williamson (who was eventually replaced by Larry Mahlstedt, whose inks worked better with Bagley's pencils) had a bit of an uphill battle when they took on a team featuring a guy on a skate board named Night Thrasher, who also happened to have an origin not unlike a certain grim and gritty character at the Distinguished Competition.
New Warriors #1-4
The first issue sets up the motivation for the team from the very start. No, it isn't fighting battles that other superheroes ignore (which is incredibly vague), it's Night Thrasher putting the team together. From the very start, we know this team was put together for a reason but we just don't know what exactly that reason is. But there is smoke here, so we know there's fire.
We get some substantial back story for Night Thrasher pretty early. We're also introduced to Silhouette, who would play a big part going forward, and her brother, Midnight's Fire. MF is the first character we meet that has an Eastern-style superhero name and he wouldn't be the last.
The third issue, with what can best be described as character analysis done by the Mad Thinker, is the perfect bookend for a story that appears four years later. It's also just a great issue and drives home how much thought Nicieza has put into these C-listers.
What is ostensibly the first arc ends with the introduction of the team's opposite number, Psionex. Yes, that's perhaps one of the worst names ever given to a super villain team. That said, it features the fantastic Mathemanic, one of my favorite Nicieza creations whose power was "math telepathy." I'd love to see him come back some day.
New Warriors #5-10
In the first straight up multi-part story, the team is divided in half in what is the first of a handful of environmental issues. This is also the first time the team is divided on an ethical issue, which leads to them being truly divided as one half goes to the moon. Guest starring the Inhumans!
Nicieza clearly had the environment on his mind during the first year, as the next story arc, "Hard Choices," features a trip by 5/6 of the team to the Rain Forest, where they face off against eco-terrorists who happen to count Speedball's mom as their newest member. Those team members with secret identities reveal them to the others and Speedball comes clean to his mom. While the Force of Nature has a lame team name, the individual members are actually pretty cool. We'll see them again later in the series, thankfully.
The other story involves Thrash trying to protect Silhouette from the Bengal, although he eventually discovers he was protecting the wrong person. The Punisher makes an appearance, which maintains the regular touchstones we got to the larger Marvel universe. We also find out what Thrash keeps in that funky back pack of his (hint: it's a gun).
If there were any doubts about Tai being up to something, they are gone with issue #10, as she and the White Queen (pre-Morrison Emma Frost) leave Firestar's fate up to a battle between the New Warriors and the Hellions. The Warriors win, of course. I always liked the Hellions. It's too bad Jim Lee and Whilce Portatio killed all of them off in a single page.
New Warriors #11-17
It's alternate reality time! Remember when comics used to do alternate reality stories and it was no big deal? Now any time something gets weird it turns into a crossover.
Anyway, "Forever Tomorrow" features the return of the long time Nova villain the Sphinx, who changes the world so that she -- and, it seems, Egypt -- rules the world. The problem is that the Middle East didn't seem to be any more hospitable towards mutants than the West was. In the end, the Warriors come together to defeat the Sphinx and set things right. Note: Namorita and Speedball have next to nothing to do in this arc, and only appear in a few panels, which was interesting, given they were not meant to be a part of Thrash's original team.
Namorita gets a spotlight issue in #14 since she was more or less left out of the previous storyline. We get another story involving eco-terrorism, this time tied to Nita's Atlantean heritage. It also underscores Nita's growing sense of isolation, as she feels she doesn't belong either below the sea or above it.
The next three issues comprise an ever escalating story which starts with the return of Psionex, but quickly moves to the return of Terrax and, eventually, a crossover with the Fantastic Four. It also marks the return of Nova's classic costume, which is a good, visual example of how the team is evolving.
New Warriors #18-25
And here we go. These issue make up one, long story that finally gives us answers about Night Thrasher and his two guardians, Chord and Tai. It's not a case of us finding out that "everything you know is wrong," so much as finally getting some gaps filled in. The beauty of it is that Nicieza and Bagley still manage to keep the series connected to the larger Marvel universe, first by bringing in X-Force villain Gideon, then later by involving the Avengers. In the end, Night Thrasher's life is rewritten and he becomes something of a new character, albeit one with a ton of baggage.
The only real downside to this arc is that Bagley was already hard at work on Amazing Spider-Man and he was clearly being stretched thin. More often than not, the inkers were stepping up to finishers, if Bagley was even able to provide layouts. He'd defined the look of the New Warriors from the start, so it was a shame to see him leave -- and at this point, the writing was on the wall.
New Warriors #26-31
Aside from the incredible good fortune in landing Darick Robertson to replace Mark Bagley, the next era of the New Warriors was impacted in a big way by what initially seemed to be a minor story: the addition of Rage.
Rage first appeared in the pages of the Avengers and seemed to be an attempt to ground and diversify the team, but he mostly came across as a bad cliché. The costume didn't help, either (that said, Rage has never really had a decent costume). For whatever reason, Nicieza decided to add him to the New Warriors and the results were amazing.
Aside from the obvious bond that ended up forming between Night Thrasher and Rage, we got to watch an unbelievable buddy movie evolve on the page: Speedball and Rage. I have no idea why they worked, no idea how they worked, but they did. Their friendship added something that had been missing from the New Warriors this entire time. They became that grey area between the darkness and light. They were the symbolic glue that kept the team together.
These issues saw Marvel Boy locked away for the murder of his abusive father, a story that would lead to his eventual return as Justice. We also meet Turbo, part of the next generation of New Warriors, as well as the Cardinal, one of the better new villains introduced in the '90s.
New Warriors #32-39
The Robertson era of New Warriors was, unfortunately, marked by a couple of storylines that went on longer than they really should have. The main culprit was "Forces of Darkness, Forces of Light," which spanned 3 regular monthly issues and an oversized annual. Not much really comes from the story, aside from a boatload of characters from other Marvel books appearing in the New Warriors. At this point, though, I don't think the series was in sales trouble, so it didn't really need the guest stars.
The more important story is the "Poisoned Memories" arc, which sees major upheaval on the team. Nicieza had a real knack for shaking up a team without killing off any characters, which is something of a lost art. The Poison Memories are a gang who target the Warriors' family members using information their leader stole from Namorita after a one night stand. The end result is that Rage gets a new, extreme costume and crosses the line into murder, everyone's surviving family members find out who they really are, and Namorita runs off to find herself, although not before planting a long over due kiss on Nova.
This is when the Warriors really become a family - shared misery will do that for you.
But, really, the first 10 pages of issue #37 are intense.
New Warriors #40-46
Okay, fine, the Nova/Supernova story only lasted 3 issues, but, man, it felt longer. All you need to know is that Rich Rider lost his powers in his solo series (he and Night Thrasher both had spin-off titles at this point) and in this arc he got them back.
More importantly, it's during these issues that we follow Namorita as she investigates her heritage. To a certain extent, she comes to peace with it, although she has no choice now that she's, well, blue. Her will they/won't they relationship with Nova continues to progress.
As Nicieza was writing X-Force at the time, we get another crossover with them (the first being in New Warriors Annual #1). It's interesting to compare the two teams. Nicieza didn't create either, but it seems like it was much easier for him to break out of what DeFalco and Frenz had given him than what Liefield had. The X-Force characters seem like caricatures compared to the New Warriors.
New Warriors #47-53
Just like Bagley, Robertson's time on the New Warriors caused his star to rise, and soon he needed help on art. Fortunately, the "Time and Time Again" is broken out into multiple threads featuring each New Warrior in a different time period, so each character gets a different art team, giving Robertson some breathing room.
"Time and Time Again" is a classic story: the old team disappears, a new team is formed to find them. The next generation consists of Turbo, Powerpax (Alex Power with all of Power Pack's abilities), Cloak & Dagger, Darkhawk, and Bandit (more on him later). The new team was actually supposed to get their own book, as at the time of the story's creation New Warriors was selling well enough for yet another spinoff. Unfortunately, the same couldn't be said for when the comics actually came out, so Nicieza had to find a creative way to shuffle most of the New Warriors 2.0 off panel.
Nicieza does take this opportunity to drop Silhouette from the team, although she'd always been something of a part time member, anyway. She runs off with Night Thrasher's secret half-brother who you'd only know about if you read Thrash's own book. This wouldn't be the last we'd see of Bandit in a Warriors related comic, though.
Issue #51 is a bookend to issue #3 and, of course, features the Mad Thinker analyzing the team. It's a nice cherry on top of Nicieza's run. I actually wish that a) this had been Nicieza's last issue and b) it had been drawn by Bagley and Robertson. Instead, it's drawn by Richard Pace, who has a brief stint on the series. Pace's art is actually quite nice, but because he's new, it lacks the sense of closure you'd expect from such an issue.
But, like I said, Nicieza isn't done yet. His final two issues feature Psionex. They're fine in their own right, and Pace makes the anti-heroes (as they now appear to be) his own. The focus on Mathematician is nice. It makes me wonder if Nicieza had hoped to give Psionex their own book.
And that's it for Fabian Nicieza. He piloted the New Warriors through 53 issues and 4 annuals. He took a group of two dimensional C-listers and made them complex, exciting characters. It's a truly impressive run on a superhero comic.
It's a run of New Warriors comics that no one has been able to top.