By Al Kennedy
For any superhero book, while there’s mileage in examining the themes that the writers are interested in raising, interrogating the choices inherent in the resolutions of plotlines, and noting the aesthetic choices which are made in costuming, colouring, layouts and sound effects, eventually you do kind of have to ask “yes, but who do they fight”? A book like New Warriors, which often seems to have been created with the intention of tackling socio-political issues as much as getting four-colour adventure yarns out there, isn’t immune from this. The first three issues see the team tackling Terrax, the Mad Thinker and A.I.M., and while they also introduce Night Thrasher’s nemesis Midnight’s Fire, by the time issue 4 rolls around it’s really time for the Warriors to get their own bad guys.
You can see the thinking behind Psionex. The New Warriors are a team, and heroic teams work well against villainous teams, if for no other reason than that it makes for a bit of variety in a fight scene. Not for nothing did Lee and Kirby introduce the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants early (and wheel them out often) – there are only so many different ways a group of characters can throw their powers at Magneto. Psionex are the New Warriors’ opposite numbers, and are going to crop up over and over again, to varying degrees of creative success, for the next couple of decades. They’re a squad of (relatively) young people who have been genetically mutated by Genetech, which in turn is a shady R&D company who were introduced in New Warriors #1 and who will appear a few more times to cause problems for the team. Let’s run down the card.
The team at this stage doesn’t have a leader per se, but the most imposing presence is the shadowy Asylum, whose shapeless form can cause people to experience their worst nightmares if she envelops them in it. There’s Coronary, a medical student with a new glass body, who can control people’s physical and biometabolic processes (in practice, this means he can make you point your arms where you don’t want to point them). There’s Mathemanic, who wears what appear to be a prototype of Spider Jerusalem’s two-tone glasses and whose powers make him a “math telepath”, which the issue’s own narration happily admits is a power which makes no obvious sense and which is best dealt with by way of coughing loudly, looking at one’s watch and moving quickly on. There’s the super-fast Impulse, who is apparently not a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen with DC Comics, but is actually a savage fighter with long claws on each hand, making him a copyright lawsuit waiting to happen with Department H.
Finally, there’s Pretty Persuasions, a former exotic dancer who wears a fishnet bodysuit and who can both weaponise people’s sexual stimulation and turn her own (copious) sexual appetites into energy whips and suchlike. There were quite a few of this kind of female villain around in the early ‘90s, and they all seem to have been based around a weird confusion between kinkiness and evil for the purposes of titillating boys in their teens. The reveal that the one obviously female character (Asylum is also female, but is also a walking vape cloud and so you’d be forgiven for not noticing) is the one who’s sex-obsessed is an eye-roller of a moment, and is part and parcel of the unrealistic and unattainable portrayal of women in comics in the early ‘90s. Pretty Persuasions is a unicorn, in that she doesn’t exist, and also in that she can kill with her horn.
The issue is largely made up of a pair of fight scenes with a chunk of exposition dropped in the middle. First, the Warriors break into Genetech to discover why their genetic material has been stolen by the corporation and end up getting their butts fairly easily handed to them by Psionex, who for the most part are kept off-panel. Then the ageing CEO of Genetech gives the caged heroes the lowdown on why they’ve chosen to create Psionex in the first place – he was one of the original candidates for the Super-Soldier process, but his haemophilia disqualified him at the last hurdle, and he wants to give others the power he was denied.
Speedball turns up (having missed the initial call to action) and knocks out a generator which is connected to the power-dampening cage. The combined Warriors and Psionex then fill out the rest of the issue with a massive slugfest in which our heroes, now having the measure of their new foes, make short work of them. There’s an epilogue which sows the first seeds of the Forever Yesterday storyline that will see out the first year of the book, as well as a little foreshadowing as to what’s going on with the team’s mysterious housekeeper Tai (which we’ll come to soon), but otherwise that’s your lot.
As an issue that’s designed to introduce a new set of archenemies for the New Warriors, this does the job in a way that’s perfectly fine, even if some of the members of Psionex are better in concept, execution or both than others. There are some nice touches here too, like a solo Speedball using his kinetic energy powers in a novel way which he immediately realises none of the others will ever believe he did, and an internal breakdown of the issue into four chapters, which gives it a pleasingly retro feel (even in the 1990s, this technique had fallen out of favour stylistically).
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this issue, though, comes towards the end, where Nova and Marvel Boy have to restrain Night Thrasher from beating Impulse into chunky salsa and stabbing Genetech’s haemophiliac boss in the neck. It’s an early sign that Thrash has deep-seated issues when it comes to his parents’ deaths (which Asylum made him relive earlier in the issue and which he screams at Impulse about as he’s pummelling him). This is going to be a foundation stone of Bagley’s swan-song story on the book, and it coming up as early as issue 4 shows the long-term planning that was a hallmark of Nicieza’s time writing New Warriors.
Bagley’s work has rarely looked better than it does here, and it’s a testament to the work of inker Larry Mahlstedt that the book looks orders of magnitude better here than it did just two issues previously. There’s a weight to Mahlstedt’s line which brings out the personality Bagley gives each of the characters, and it’s this that carries the issue forwards when what’s actually happening from page to page strays occasionally into the perfunctory.
Psionex would make multiple return visits over the years, and while most are more satisfying than the pretty uncomplicated pie & chips punch-up we get here, for someone getting into the New Warriors it’s worthwhile from a historical perspective if nothing else.
New Warriors #4: “Genetech Potential”
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciler: Mark Bagley
Inker: Larry Mahlstedt
Letterers: Joe Rosen and Michael Heisler
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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The first 25 issues of New Warriors make up one of my favorite runs in superhero comics. I’m currently downsizing and getting rid of most of my back issues, but New Warriors is proving a hard one for me to let go of.
You should keep them!!