Written by Al Kennedy.
In the far-off digital sci-fi year of 2017, the world is captivated by the smash hit TV sensation The Running Man. Families gather around their holovid sets to watch crims run the gauntlet of deadly hazards and hunters. The show is their first priority, food their second, shelter their third. The Marvel Comics series The New Warriors barely scrapes into most people’s top 20.
In late 1991, though, the series was in its first flush of success, with writer Fabian Nicieza about to make the leap to regular scripter of X-Men and penciler Mark Bagley less than a year away from taking on art duties on Amazing Spider-Man. As a reasonable sales success, the first couple of years of New Warriors is made up of issues which don’t tax the back-issue hunter too strenuously. What better place to begin looking at this series, than with issue 17, from November 1991, one of the issues which can most frequently be found bulking out the quarter boxes? Let’s tear our attention away from the murderous antics of Subzero, Dynamo and the other slaughter-Gladiators and check it out.
The issue begins, as is the custom, with its cover. One of the core cast, Nova, stands shoulder to shoulder with the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, each of them clutching an oversized future-gun of prime 1991 vintage. The Thing chomps on a glowing stogie as Nova blows a perfect pink Hubba Bubba bubble, and both men wear the self-assured expressions you would expect from certified superheroic badasses about to bring it, if by “it” we mean “discharges from parodically large weapons”. The cover features speech balloons, a technique which doesn’t get as much of an outing as it should these days, with the Thing announcing that Terrax (a former Herald of Galactus and/or popular brand of garden wall grout, depending on context) is about to arrive, and Nova spoiling for the fight.
The cover also has a top-line banner announcing that the Fantastic Four feature in the issue, and a smaller box-out in the bottom right corner proclaiming the presence of a further surprise guest-star. It’s a busy cover, but a well-designed one – beginning with the book title and the FF announcement, the eye is drawn down to the Thing and his speech balloon, then further down to Nova and his balloon, then the additional box-out in the corner enticing the reader to turn the page. Bagley is an artist who attracts a fair amount of stick these days, but here he’s put together a cover which melds a variety of different elements and is a memorable image in its own right.
What’s within the covers could be called a story of two halves, but more accurately it’s a story of one half and a smattering of smaller story shards, like a dropped tube of Pringles. An opening splash of the FF and Nova, each clutching one of these highly impractical guns, begs the question of why people like Johnny Storm and Nova need projectile weapons when they can fire energy from their actual human hands, but it’s dynamic enough and provides space for a “Previously…” summary of almost Morrisonian terseness.
The following pages establish that the New Warriors (Nova aside) have been fairly handily kicked around the block by Terrax, and Nova’s brought in his FF buddies to help even the score. Page on page, the Warriors get back in the fight, beginning with skateboarding Junior Batman Night Thrasher and telekinetic future Guardian of the Galaxy Vance Astro. Namorita, the crimebuster of the sea, quickly follows, together with paraplegic teleporter Silhouette and ricocheting dork Speedball.
While the big guns and their big guns take the battle to Terrax, the Warriors occupy themselves with smaller concerns. Vance rescues a woman who’s going into labour, Night Thrasher catches a young fella who’s falling to his death, or at least to his potential long period of reconstructive surgery and physiotherapy, Speedball pyoyngs around with a couple of kids under his arms (presumably as part of a rescue rather than for larks). Eventually the Warriors get in on the action, as microwave blaster Firestar unleashes her full-force radioactive smackdown and Namorita brings her punchiest punches to bear on Terrax’s unpleasantly bearded face.
Even all this liberally-applied ultraviolence isn’t enough to tame Terrax, though, so Reed Richards essentially just waves a hand and reveals that he’d previously hit up the Silver Surfer for a bit of assistance. The Surfer swoops in, scoops Terrax up, swans off to space with him and drops him on an otherwise uninhabited planet (the old ones are the best), and… that’s about it. 18 of the comic’s 30 pages are taken up by a fight in which the stars of the comic are at best crowd scene players and in respect of which they don’t have a lot of involvement in the outcome. It’s a fun issue of Fantastic Four, and a slightly weird issue of New Warriors.
The rest of the issue busies itself with incrementally pushing forward the Warriors’ own stories. We see Nova’s parents, in a set of matching smoking jackets, tell Nova that they’d prefer he move out, ostensibly because his superheroing is a bit dangerous, but clearly because he’s impeding their libertinous lifestyle. We get a reminder that Speedball’s mum knows he’s a superhero though his ornery dad doesn’t. Night Thrasher’s housekeeper Tai glowers ominously at Silhouette, while a mysterious bad guy calling himself the Left Hand recruits a super-powered criminal enforcer to his team (these two plotlines are related, though readers won’t find that out for another six months or so). Finally, Vance is reunited with the woman whose life he saved earlier, who names her child in his honour.
It’s all solid character work, and seemingly intended to act principally as that rather than as any forceful furthering of the book’s simmering subplots. See, it says, we lured you in with the Fantastic Four and gave you a slammin’ slugfest in the Mighty Marvel Manner – now here’s why you’ll want to hang around and read next month’s instalment. It’s alternately sweet and intriguing stuff, but there’s no killer hook here to drag you back for issue 18.
That’s not to say there’s not a lot here to enjoy – Bagley makes the fight scenes sing, and even taking into account the ropey print standards of the day, Yanchus’s colours have zip and vigour. Nicieza works the Warriors into the Terrax fight in a way which feels appropriate for their relative power levels, and gives the cast distinctive voices in the quieter moments that follow. As an introduction to the team, it’s not the clearest (for that, you’d probably want to have them front and centre during the battle more than they are), but it gallops along and there’s not a panel wasted.
Not an issue that cries out to be Masterworked, then, but definitely one that’s worth a read if you can tear yourself away from the telly and all the deadly arena combat and whatnot. What simple escapism they had back then, what guileless joys.
New Warriors #17
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Colorist: Andy Yanchus
Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Al Kennedy is a writer and podcaster best known as one half of the House to Astonish podcast. He’s been writing about comics since the turn of the century, originally on nearby cave walls but nowadays more usually online. You can find him on Twitter here.