Friday, March 20, 2009

I'll Buy That For A Dollar?: New Warriors #22

Comics are my life blood, and current superhero comics make up a giant part of my daily interaction with the medium, but at the same time, even a guy like me can get pretty burnt out with the current crop of DC and Marvel books. There are plenty of good monthlies you can buy at the store brand new every Wednesday, but when you spend your days calling guys on the phone and asking about upcoming plot points in said books, some of the shine comes off that casual fan excitement you get from flipping through the weekly offerings (a real sympathetic complaint, I know, but stick with me here). With single issues of indie comics coming less and less thanks to shifts in the market like the new Diamond order threshold and prices rising on a lot of the big two titles I might be buying monthly, I've spent the past few months investing my meager pocket change on one of the remaining cheap thrills a grizzled comic shop veteran (har har) can find...dollar bins!

That's right. For anyone who's tight on cash and/or looking for a jump start in their reading habits, your average Direct Market retailer has a musty box in the back of the shop full of affordable potential gold. Now, some of these cheapo comics might cost as low as a quarter or as much as (gasp!) three whole bucks, but whatever the exact price, the point is that no matter how much random continuity you've pressed into your head, how many short-run mini comics you've hunted down or how many trade paperbacks you've lined your shelf with over the years, there are still tons of wild comics you haven't experienced that won't cost you more than a Jr. Bacon Cheesburger...or something else cheap. To help dig into this unique comics experience, I'm starting a new semi-regular review feature here called "I'll Buy That For A Dollar?" where I'll highlight some of the dollar bin picks I've dug up this year and whether or not they were actually worth the 100 pennies I threw down. So let's get the ball rolling with...

The New Warriors #22 (Marvel)
April, 1992
Fabian Nicieza (W)
Mark Bagley (P)

My brother bought the first issue of The New Warriors when Marvel's ubiquitous '90s teen team made their debut, and I remember liking it all right, but beyond randomly buying the issue where Rage's grandma gets horrifically murdered before him (which caused me to go, "That was intense...who is Rage?") I never got too deep into the series and its characters. When I told our fearless leader Ben I'd pick this up, his response was "That issue is the kickoff to the final arc of the Nicieza/Bagley collaboration, that paid off everything Fabian had been building for the first two years of the book, so if you dig that, you'll likely dig all that came before as well (and the villain of said arc still gives me nightmares)." After reading through the issue once or twice, I'm kind of wishing I would've started somewhere else.

Here's my best understanding of what happened: the Warriors' bad ass, street wise leader Night Thrasher has fallen in with an uber-90s team of villains led by the insanely-named, trench coat-wearing Left Hand of Darkness. LHD and the rest of the team (whose names range from the absurd Bloodstrike to the so nonsensical its kinda cool Smiling Tiger) want "Trash" to come to Cambodia to discover some stuff about his past and his parents and junk, but there's little more explanation than vague promises in between getting slapped around. Meanwhile, the rest of team is dealing with dueling crises as one of their own is on trial for murdering someone unspecified while another of their team got beat up in an alternate dimension after learning their benefactor is also her dad. Oh, and said benefactor is also nearly brain dead thanks to the actions of their old Chinese housekeeper lady who is apparently also super evil (or something). For some reason, this all ties in with whatever's happening to Night Thrasher, so the team recruits two new members – Rage (recruited by visiting his grandma's house) and Darkhawk (recruited by juggling cars in queens) – to help the gang steal a jet from the Avengers and fly to Cambodia. Once that's done, we shift back to Night Trasher and Co, who have reached The Temple of the Dragon's Breadth (not "Breath") where the so-called Pact that holds the secrets they want is guarded by dudes in armor really similar to Thrash's, even though his armor looks like a motorcross outfit with a skateboard glued on back.

So yeah...a little ridiculous and totally confusing for the uninitiated. Although, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's really fun to read a comic where a LOT of shit happens in 22 pages. And while most of what was going on was either confusing or unintentionally funny, there were still parts I enjoyed. Left Hand's crew reminded me of the Immortal Weapons from Matt Fraction's Iron Fist run but instead of taking their cues from creepy kung fu lore, they took them from Youngblood, which is more fun than it sounds. Plus, the over-the-top nature of the plot and especially the violence in the issue is entertaining in that "Holy shit...seriously?!?" kind of way. At one point when the team is stealing a jet from the Goddamn Avengers, Namorita takes the time to make a joke regarding Nova and premature ejaculation. THAT was unexpected. But overall, Nicieza's script was trying a little too hard to be cool for my tastes, and one thing that really struck me as off was the idea that these were supposed to be teenage superheroes. The Warriors never felt like they were out of their depth or juggling crazy hormonal situations amongst the action adventure or any of the other situations I dig about comics featuring young heroes. Mostly, the team just made comments like, "The Avengers would never help us because they think we're just a bunch of kids!" or "We can't do anything to help support Marvel Boy's battle for acquittal because the public thinks we're just a bunch of kids!" I don't know. This might be too harsh a criticism to drop after reading one issue, but there's a lot more to being a teenager than thinking all adults are dicks.

But as far as Bagley's art goes? Zero complaints, man. I've always loved his cartooning in general, and here his work fires on all cylinders. The layouts are fun, panel compositions are unique and dynamic, and there's no shortage of off-kilter dramatic close-ups along the way. Even his weirdo villain designs really pop despite their period trappings. Plus, I know that in recent years, Bagley's work has gotten a bit sketchier and more personal on books like Ultimate Spider-Man and now Trinity, and maybe those series have a bit more of his own passion in them, but damn it if I don't love the really slick, bold lines he and finisher Larry Mahlstedt drop here. That really finished look gets highlighted by Joe Rosas colors too, and not in the "thematically serves the story" way but in the "damn, that shit is loud!" way. I remember that issue of Mighty Avengers Bagley did where they colored the flashback with the once cool but now over-used four-color dot printing pastiche, and I thought it just didn't work because that's not what comics from 10 or 20 years ago looked like. Comics from the '80s on used a lot of the same basic separation techniques as they do today but with less computers and attempts at "realism" so the final product rode that fine line between Crayola and neon. I'm sure a lot of people hate the final product, but I like my superhero comics a little more hyper.

So, in the end...was New Warriors #22 worth a dollar? I'm going to go ahead and say "Yeah. Yeah it was." Bagley's art alone won me over, and while the story wasn't super hot, it was a fun dip back into nostalgia territory for me that's almost more entertaining for not having aged well. I'm not sure I'll be going back and picking up a lot more of the series, though.


Ben Morse said...

Ahhhhhhh! I love this comic, this story and this issue and I LOVE reading commentary from an intelligent adult on shit I fell in love with when I was 10. For real!

The Left Hand and the Folding Circle were 100% the most 90's team of villains ever. Even as a kid I knew those dudes were lame. Kiel, you forgot to mention that Bloodstrike had those John Lennon round sunglasses but had extra lenses on them for no apparent reason!

I actually never really thought of the Warriors as a traditional "teen team" like you describe, but that may have been a function of my own age at the time. I always saw them in their early 20's and the Avengers, X-Men, etc. as in their late 20's/early 30's. I definitely saw Nova and Namorita as being older than Superboy and Supergirl. They were, to me, less a team of sidekicks or students ala the Titans or Generation X, and more just a bunch of younger heroes who knew they were never getting on the Avengers, so why not hang out together.

And to be fair, they also didn't get along with the Avengers because they had run-ins with them in the Avengers book.

Tai (the old lady) freaked me out like crazy back in the day both because I had never seen an old lady/seemingly harmless supporting cast member go batshit before, and also because Bagley just drew the shit out of making her terrifying.

I think this issue probably doesn't stand alone too well if only because the payoff stuff won't matter as much to you if you're not invested in Night Thrasher and/or Marvel Boy. If you wanna start New Warriors from a point other than the first issue, I'd recommend atroun #14-15, when they were fighting Psionex and Terrax (but really you should start from the start).

Love these, Kiel! Want more!

Bob Temuka said...

I also have a deep-seated fondness for this series, because I was 16 when this issue came out. I honestly thought they were the coolest superheroes around at the time and liked Bagley so much that I was terribly disappointed when Darick Robertson took over the art with issue #26. The series wasn't the same after that.

I have come to appreciate Robertson, although I still don't really like his superhero art.

KP said...

I do recall the moment from issue #1 where Marvel Boy and Sunfire get rejected by the Avengers as being really well done. And yeah, Bagley's art on Tai (does she get an awful '90s villain name later?) is sufficiently freaky. We'll see if I find more of these issues for a buck and revisit later.