By Al Kennedy

I wish I liked Batman. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Batman, he fulfils an important public service and has an important role to play as an example to Gotham’s police department of how to effectively balance civic-minded crime prevention with extracurricular brutality, but he’s not my thing. Imagine if he were, though. It would be so easy to keep up with his adventures, month in, month out, as he takes on plant ladies, cat ladies, bird fellas, mud dudes, guys who make icebergs, all the major biomes. But no, that would be too easy. I had to be a New Warriors fan.

I’ve written here on Shelfdust about the New Warriors before. A team of teen heroes, five of whom were drawn from an archaeological trawl through the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, with their leader being a new character created for the squad. Debuting in a Thor two-parter where they fought the Juggernaut, the New Warriors (initial roster: private school mutant blaster Firestar; FF supporting character and future spaceman Vance Astrovik/Marvel Boy; rocketeering lunkhead Nova; catch of the day Namorita; human pachinko Speedball; halfpipe-frequenting vigilante Night Thrasher) were quickly spun off into their own series.

I’m not sure what it was about them that particularly drew me to the New Warriors, but there are a few things that probably factored into it. At a time when half of all team books seemed to revolve around being “proactive” and “taking the fight to our enemies”, but actually just involved “the same thing as the other teams but with guns and knives”, the New Warriors actually walked the walk. They took on illegal rainforest clearing, oceanic pollution and gang crime, and managed to get entertaining superhero stories out of them. They behaved more like teenagers than most other teen books’ casts did, frequently getting huffy with each other and acting like hormonal idiots. They had links to all sorts of corners of the Marvel Universe, with X-adjacent characters, cosmic heroes, Fantastic Four ties and beyond. And despite their disparities, the characters clicked – these kids who had been created over several decades for use in wildly varied strips somehow fitted perfectly as a unit. Whatever the reasons, they were enough to turn me into a devotee, tracking down every appearance of the team and every spin-off and guest appearance I could lay my hands on.

Which brings us here. Shelfdust’s benevolent overlords have sought to get something useful out of my inexplicable devotion to the New Warriors, and that has led to The NEWWARRIORROULETTE, in which creators who have worked on the series are asked to pick a number between one and 75 (the original run of the series) and I’ll write about the comic that corresponds to that number. Simple? Simple.

We begin with the writer most identified with the New Warriors, Fabian Nicieza. Probably best known to the wider world nowadays as the co-creator of Deadpool, Nicieza was the first person to write the Warriors’ book and the one who wrote it the longest, and is one of the key reasons why the series was as successful as it was in its early years (its later years are a different matter, but those were dark years for a lot of books, and we’ll draw a curtain on that period for the moment). He’s chosen issue 13, so let’s jump in and see what that means for this project.

New Warriors 13 is the last part of a three-part story, the warped-reality epic Forever Yesterday. Quick recap: one-time Fantastic Four and Nova baddy the Sphinx has passed on his power to his girlfriend, who has reshaped the world to create a version of Earth that’s subjugated under her shiny leather boot. All of the major heroes have been replaced with versions inspired by ancient Mesopotamian cultures (to the extent that the Hittite Empire had an Iron Man, at least), and the only resistance to her comes from an underground faction of (mostly) mutant heroes. In this world, Captain Assyria and Horus attempt to quell Magneto, the White Queen and Cyclops’s insurgency, while the New Warriors slowly come together to strike at the root of the problem and try to restore the world to its rightful state.

This was the first time the series had done a three-part story, and the extra space afforded to it (and the necessary scene-setting having been done over the prior two months) means that there’s room for a genuinely large-scale action sequence. The issue opens with just such a slugfest, with the Sphinx standing at giant size over the battlefield, laughing at the heroes’ attempts to take her down with a frontal assault. The mutant forces, supported by the Vision, the Hulk, Sandman and others, fare poorly (as is to be expected – it’s only the first few pages of the issue, after all). The Human Torch is turned into artisan, small-batch charcoal briquettes with one blast from her hand. And there is a truly amazing incidence of spectacular facial hair. Fans of Age of X-Man may wish to note that this was first time the Blob was shown with a beard and moustache. Marvel Boy has stubble (that’s you know things are going badly for the heroes).

And Cyclops… oh wow, Cyclops. He’s sporting a moustache and hairdo combination that marks him out as this reality’s most successful Angar the Screamer tribute act (every Saturday upstairs at the Slug and Phoenix).

The Avengers manage to occupy the attention of the heroes for a short while, but it’s the Sphinx – who punches the Hulk into the air on page 5, only for him to land, miles away, on page 15 – who’s the clear overall threat. Only Nova, a former member of the Avengers who’s been dragged back to his real self by ambulatory raincoat and self-described “embodiment of truth” Sayge, knows how things should really be, and it’s only when he connects with mutant heroes Marvel Boy and Firestar that plans start to come together.

At least, that’s the theory. In practice, what happens is that Nova, Marvel Boy and Firestar stand around on the battlefield doing what any of us would do, which is to exasperatedly question Sayge as to what he actually means when he says that the Sphinx can only be defeated with the truth. All too often, a gnomic utterance from an enigmatic bloke in a robe is enough to set heroes on the path to victory. Here, it’s like watching a group of hungover teens try to do a cryptic crossword. Luckily, at the same time as all this is going on, Dwayne Taylor (aka Night Thrasher, voted Most ‘90s Name 1991-2018) has infiltrated the Sphinx’s HQ posing as an IT technician and is busy looking for a way to take her down from within the heart of her empire. Eventually, he lucks on the answer – the Sphinx has a cat, made immortal by the first Sphinx as a symbol of their love, which is the only creature on Earth she really cares about. When the Sphinx senses Thrash wandering around de-alphabetising her blu-rays, she beams back home to take him out, and it’s only then, as her base pulses with her energy and power, that the other Warriors twig that they should probably go after her.

In the end, it turns out that Firestar and Marvel Boy’s contribution to the final confrontation is only to keep Night Thrasher safe long enough for Nova to come steaming in and convince the Sphinx to restore reality under threat of kittycide. That’s right, when Sayge told the Warriors that they could only win by showing the Sphinx the truth, he didn’t bank on that truth being “if you don’t undo all this we will literally murder your pet”. But hey, what works works, right?

Reality is restored, but – Twilight Zone twist – the cat was dead all along, and could only live in the perfect reality the Sphinx had made for herself. She gets understandably miffed and flies off, swearing vengeance on the New Warriors (which she would eventually have, though not for a good long while). The Warriors are reunited, and live to hassle housepets another day.

As an issue, it hangs together well. Given it’s the last part of a guest star-heavy large-scale story, it brings the reader quite comfortably into a place where they’re up to speed early on. Each of the New Warriors is introduced in such a way that their place in the story is clear (the only ones who aren’t are ones who don’t have a major role – Namorita is entirely absent, and Speedball’s appearance is limited to a one-page gag explaining where he is). Bagley sells the Sphinx’s gleeful megalomania and her grounded terror at the potential loss of her beloved cat without any apparent difficulty, and the one-two tactical pairing of Night Thrasher’s quickness and intelligence and Nova’s just-smash-it straightforwardness is shown to be a reliable way of resolving complex problems. The solution to the world’s problems being as simple as a knucklehead in a helmet threatening a domesticated animal is at once admirably out of the box thinking, an interesting question as to whether Nova would actually have gone through with it, and genuinely hilarious all at the same time.

The iffy element that hangs over the issue is the fact that aside from Nova, all of the Sphinx’s forces are shown to be people of colour – while it makes sense for the Sphinx to place people from the Mesopotamian region in the position of the ruling class, given her motivation, it does mean that the initial battle scene ends up being largely the good guys (white) against the bad guys (brown). It’s something that could have been avoided by having some prominent characters of colour on the mutant heroes’ side, or white characters fighting on the Sphinx’s side. (I’d note that in the scene where Night Thrasher infiltrates the Sphinx’s lair, we’re given a heroic black character taking on a white guard, but that comes later in the issue and doesn’t have the same impact as the opening rammy). That’s not enough to derail the issue entirely, though, and is doubtless something that would be handled differently if this story were to be produced today.

It’s an ambitious and high-stakes story then, with a resolution that few would have seen coming, though not without flaws. As an intro to the series it’s not the best, given it’s an alternate reality tale that only features some of the team, but there’s a lot here to enjoy, and it sets the stage for more large-scale stories to come.

 

New Warriors #13
“A World For The Winning”
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.

 

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