Why do people love the New Warriors? Part 4: Can’t Fight Change

For many, Fabian Nicieza is the New Warriors. If it weren’t for the great work done by Darick Robertson, I think fans would have felt the same way about Mark Bagley. But while the book thrived after Bagley left, the same could not be said after Nicieza moved on.

Let’s be honest here: Evan Skolnik was facing an uphill battle. Nicieza had taken the core team through their paces. I would imagine that, in Skolnik’s eyes, there wasn’t much he could do with the same group of characters. So he decided to change it.

It wasn’t pretty.

Namorita was the first to go and the twists and turns that Skolnik goes through in order to keep her off the team are crazy. First she’s kidnapped, then she’s brainwashed, then she’s lost, and all over the course of multiple issues. There are times when she’s gone and the team is supposedly trying to find her but no one talks about it aside from a few panels of Nova freaking out.

If there was an obvious way to break up the Warriors, it was to create a rift within the team, and the most obvious rift to use was the one that had been there from the very beginning, the one between Night Thrasher and Nova. If it came down to picking sides, there was really only one character in the New Warriors who would go with Night Thrasher, and that was Rage. This was unfortunate for two reasons: 1) it broke up the, at this point, essential pairing of Rage and Speedball and 2) Skolnik’s first arc as writer ended with getting rid of the two black guys. Needless to say, there was some outcry over this, and more than a few people called Skolnik a racist.

I don’t believe that. I realize that what I’m about to say is tantamount to “I’m not a homophobe because I have gay friends,” but Skolnik made Turbo (who is Asian) a regular member of the team, and later added Timeslip, who is Indian. Like I said, he was looking to shake up the team, and he took the most obvious route to do it, which is a problem in and of itself.

As all this was happening, Night Thrasher’s regular series was ending and Nova’s book was winding down, too, although not before Skolnik jumped on to de-power Nova to remove him from the team. And while this is a perfectly fine story, it had just been done a year and a half earlier.

This left us with a team of Justice, Firestar, and Speedball, perhaps the least interesting combination of three characters you could have pulled out of the New Warriors.

I didn’t help that Skolnik didn’t seem to have any idea who these character were.  For example:

 

Besides the fact that Firestar would never say such a thing, it’s even worse because there was a long running story running through the series about her best friend who had been raped and slut shamed. It was an intense story and it was handled well and then this happens.

It would be impossible for me to pick just one or two moments in which Justice is out of character because most of the turmoil on this version of the team comes from Justice being a jackass. He turns into the typical Marvel Alpha male, pieced together from the greatest hits of Marvel stories past: he questions anyone who tries to help him lead (“just who’s leading this team?”) and he gets jealous whenever Firestar asks anyone to join. It is crazy.

And lest you think it’s just the characters he decided to keep:

That would have been a barely acceptable panel at the beginning of this series. After everything Thrash has been through and all the growth he’s shown, it makes no sense. It makes even less sense that Rage would stick with him if he feels this way.

The fine line that the Warriors walked between being self-contained and being a part of the larger Marvel universe fell apart. It became an either/or situation. Either they were insulated or they were forced into an event. The New Warriors fell victim to “Marvelution,” the decision by Marvel to divide up their comics into five groups and assign each group its own editor-in-chief. Where do you put a team like the New Warriors? With the X-books? With the Avengers? With “the Edge?” For some reason or another (possibly because it was the only line without a team book), New Warriors became a part of the Spider-Man family of books. To make this connection real, the Scarlet Spider was forced on Skolnik.

The Scarlet Spider joining the New Warriors didn’t have to be a bad thing, but it was, both for internal and external reasons. Skolnik spent a lot of time trying to create tension in the relationship between Justice and Firestar, using this as another opportunity to make Justice an ass. Adding the Scarlet Spider, who saw the red-headed Firestar as a version of Mary Jane, only caused Justice to act even worse. It was obnoxious.

The external factor was that the book was now saddled with crossovers that broke up any kind of momentum that Skolnik and Zircher could create. They even got sucked into the infamous “Maximum Clonage” crossover which could not have done much to improve their stock. Ultimately, a character as of the moment as the Scarlet Spider, with so much baggage from decades of other comics, just didn’t fit, although Skolnik and Zircher tried their best.

The New World Order

Issues 54-60 contain three different story arcs, but they work together towards the goal of revamping the Warriors’ line-up.

The first arc involves the New Warriors trying to deliver humanitarian aid to refugees in a country in Africa. Thrash and Rage are off on their own in Thrash’s series at this point, so Namorita is in charge again; it works out as well as it did last time.

We meet Protocol and the Soldiers of Misfortune, although Protocol was introduced in shadows at the end of #53. I don’t know who created him or the Soldiers of Misfortune, but I can say that none of them are particularly memorable. Their goals are vague and their designs are uninteresting. They’re really just there to kidnap Namorita, which they do.

When the team returns to New York, Nova confronts Night Thrasher over his absence, blaming him for the fact that Nita was taken away. Is that a valid complaint? Maybe? It’s good enough for the team to start bringing up old baggage and in a matter of moments Nova is demanding everyone choose whose side their own, his or Thrash’s. As I mentioned earlier, it’s an ugly look.

This also begins a string of issues where the New Warriors don’t seem to actively look for Namorita aside from leaving it up to Hindsight Lad. Nova is the only one who is really concerned and to get around that he just disappears for a few issues.

That leaves it up to Justice, Firestar, and Speedball to guard the Israeli Prime Minister in a two part story whose reach extends far beyond its grasp. The book has always addressed real world issues, but generally through a fictional reality: the countries were always made up, the organizations stand-ins for real life. But these issues deal with peace talks among real Middle Eastern countries, including Israel and Syria.

Imagine trying to distill the conflicts in the Middle East into the backstory for a two issue comic book story. It’s just not possible.

Issue #60 concludes the story that Skolnik began in Nova and officially removes him from the team, as he is now depowered. The team also gets fancy communicators (poached from the Avengers by Hindsight Lad who also decides to drop the “Lad” from his code name) and Turbo and Powerhouse are officially made full time members.

Marvelution’s First Victim

I’d love to know how the New Warriors ended up being a part of the Spider-man line given that it’s arguably the one line of comics at Marvel that it had no connection with. X-Men? There’s Firestar and, technically, Justice, since he’s also a mutant. Avengers? Rage was an Avenger. Namorita could be vaguely connected via her cousin, which would also connect her to the Fantastic Four. And Nova would easily fit with the Fantastic Four, too.

The only case you could make connecting the Warriors with Spider-man would be the fact that Speedball first appeared in Amazing Spider-man Annual #22 and was co-created by Steve Ditko and the fact that Firestar was one of Spider-man’s Amazing Friends.

I suppose the deciding factor was that the New Warriors wouldn’t have been unique in those other lines and the apparent goal of Marvelution was to create 4 small Marvel universes.

So to actually make the New Warriors a Spider-man book, they had to take on a Spider-man character, and as you might remember, the Spider-man books were deep into the Clone Saga at this point. The Warriors got pulled into the horrible Maximum Clonage story and soon after Scarlet Spider became a member.

It’s during this story that we meet Helix, a man who was somehow given powers when the Jackal gassed an entire park full of people. He now has the ability to adapt to any attack, but he has lost his memory and doesn’t speak English, so the Warriors end up fighting him, as these things go.

Helix is a strange case in that he appears to be a new addition yet only really works with them for a single story, then leaves. Most of the time he’s spent locked in a room while they try to figure out how to talk to him.

Next, Namorita returns, now brainwashed by Protocol and answering to the name Hard (all of Protocol’s brainwashed superhumans come in pairs with opposite names, like Left and Right). The Warriors fight her and Protocol only to lose her again, which leaves them more or less where they started.

After that there’s a spotlight issue on Speedball as he returns home to find that all the bizarre villains he fought in his short lived solo book (before the Warriors) have joined together to replicate the process that gave him his abilities. It’s a perfectly entertaining story, mostly because of how off beat and simple Speedball’s rogues gallery is. It’s an odd story to tell, though, given what we’re about to learn about him.

Issue #67 is part of another Spider-books crossover and brings the Scarlet Spider era to a close, however brief it might have been.

Future, Present, Past

Issue #68 is the first part of “Future Shock,” a seemingly significant four part story that featured some really nice covers by Patrick Zircher and Andrew Pepoy.

This is probably a good spot for me to mention that the evolution of Zircher’s work on the New Warriors is probably the main reason to read this run. He’s a solid storyteller from the start, but his layouts get more dynamic as he gets more confident in his work. “Future Shock,” I think, is where it all comes together for him.

As for the story, it involves time travel (as you would imagine) and includes many of the do-overs you’d expect, which means that many of the shocking moments aren’t all that shocking because you know they will be reversed.

The big reveal is that the Speedball that returned from the kinetic dimension in issue #50 isn’t really Speedball but a perfect duplicate that houses the brain of a kid from the future. The fact that Speedball has been missing all this time (if he were real he’d probably be very thankful for this fact) is supposed to mean something, particularly with regards to the fact that he turned his back on Rage when the team split in two. But he tells Rage that his duplicate was supposed to have behaved exactly as he would in any situation, so nothing changes.

Issue #72 features two things: the Avengers realizing that the Warriors are stealing from them and Skolnik taking shots at Ron Perelman, who many point to as having forced Marvel down the road to bankruptcy in the mid-90s. Skolnik also drops in a reference to a certain Image founder with a questionable grasp of anatomy:

Mother of Pearl

Issue #73 starts the the last story line and picks up the pieces of one of the better stories that Skolnik and Zircher had teased out over the course of their run. The armor that Turbo wears was originally worn by a hero named Torpedo, who was ultimately killed fighting Dire Wraiths with Rom. The Dire Wraiths have returned to get the suit and have been tracking it over the course of the last year or so.

The Dire Wraith in question kills Turbo’s best friend and gets the suit back. She then steals Friday, Powerhouse’s sentient spaceship, and takes off with a device that will rob all of Earth’s superheroes of their powers, making it a much easier planet to conquer. The Warriors, of course, go after her, with the help of the current last remaining Nova, Garthan Saal.

Meanwhile, Night Thrasher decides the only way to get back into the good graces of the rest of the Warriors is by rescuing Namorita. He and Rage are put on this path by the Mad Thinker, which is a nice touch. In many ways, this last arc is the best Skolnik has produced.

That gets undermined a bit when we learn that the Thinker’s nephew has powers that are out of control, powers he got while watching his uncle experiment. The Thinker has been interested in the Warriors because he thought they could help his nephew learn to control his abilities. Now he just wants them to get the device the Dire Wraith has so he can take those abilities away. It’s a sadly pedestrian explanation for the Thinker’s actions which, frankly, didn’t need to be explained.

The Warriors fight the Dire Wraith. They nearly destroy Friday to do it, which leaves Powerhouse angry at them. Timeslip fixes the device so that when it goes off, the blast radius is small and the loss of powers is temporary, but since she was at the epicenter she thinks her powers are gone for good. Turbo gets her suit back. Garthan Saal sacrifices himself and transfers the Nova power back to Rich Rider who becomes Nova again. Night Thrasher, Rage, and Namorita arrive just in time. The Dire Wraith is defeated.

The main team is quickly pulled back together, while the second generation (Turbo, Powerhouse, and Timeslip) all seem to have issues that could prevent them from sticking around. In the end, Skolnik at least left the book how he found it.

And that was that. Seventy-five issues later and the New Warriors were done…for not quite 3 years.

But their return left an awful lot to be desired.

 

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