Robot 6

In defense of the B-list (or less) characters

New-Warriors-1-Cover-a8615In less than a week, New Warriors #1 by Christopher Yost and Marcus To will be in my grubby little hands. While everyone else will still be basking in the glow of this week’s new Wolverine and Punisher series, I’ll be resurrecting my dormant Marvel zombie for some much-neglected superhero nostalgia.

Most of my comic book-loving friends cite Spider-Man or Superman as their favorite characters, and the ones they read religiously as kids; they’re undeniably iconic. However, the superheroes that resonated most with me were those off the beaten path; the obscure characters have always led to the more satisfying reading experiences, even if it often meant tolerating missteps and frustrating gaps in time.

Maybe it’s a matter of rooting for the underdog, but I think generally there are more opportunities for exciting and entertaining stories when your main cast isn’t the star of several feature films and a merchandising empire.

I first encountered the New Warriors in 1990, not long after their debut. I was new to the Marvel Universe, and only Firestar was somewhat  familiar to me from her role on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, but she didn’t act the same as she did in the cartoon. She didn’t even have the same pet: Where was Ms. Lion? (Actually, that’s fine, leave Ms. Lion out of it. In fact, never mention Ms. Lion again.) Instead, Firestar had a pet cat named Pum’kin, which suited me fine — I was always more of a cat person anyway.

Having to get to know all of these new characters was part of the fun, and I couldn’t wait to learn more about them. Maybe I was used to getting dozens of new characters dumped on me every other month from reading Transformers and GI Joe comics, which were regularly featuring the newest toys. For whatever reason, I was thrilled to meet new characters.

What I discovered, however, was that almost all of these characters weren’t new at all: They’d been around for a while, some of them for as long as 10 or 15 years. OK, maybe “been around” is being generous. More accurately, they’d “sporadically shown up here and there.” And someone at Marvel decided these random, obscure characters would make an awesome team.

OK, maybe “awesome” is a bit generous, too. Legend has it, the team that was editor-assembled was seen as doomed, even a joke, before it even had a proper name. Who would want to write or draw what would probably amount to the New Kids on the Block as a superhero team? Nobody really wanted it except for hungry/desperate creators looking to make their mark. Enter: Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley. And when no one was paying attention, they put out a really entertaining comic.

Part of what made New Warriors so good is that the creators could get away with taking risks with characters that probably wouldn’t fly with marquee heroes. One of the main characters was sent off to jail for killing his abusive father in self-defense, which made for a really compelling story to a teenaged me. Of course, that’s probably the most extreme example. Nicieza and Bagley weren’t afraid to tackle politically tinged issues and admitting there were no easy answers to the questions they raised. They let their characters mess up, learn and actually begin to grow up. The stories generally had that feeling of not holding back for the sake of licensing contracts. To me, that is the real treasure of B-list characters (or C-list or D-list, or where ever you place them).

One of the most famous examples of this is the original “All-New All-Different” X-Men, when they were brought back from cancellation in the 1970s with new characters. Len Wein, Chris Claremont and John Byrne were able to take risks with those stories because they weren’t under the microscope. As a reward, we got the Phoenix Saga, still one of the most celebrated superhero stories.

Now obviously it’s possible for the big names to have great stories. They wouldn’t have become great without them. But to me there’s a little bit more risk and unpredictability to the so-called also-rans, and that’s what really appeals to me.

So while some people will complain about all the nobodies and discount heroes in the Yost and To’s grea- looking New Warriors, or any other series starring a new or obscure cast of characters, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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27 Comments

When the first New Warriors started, I knew Firestar from the Amazing Friends Cartoon, Speedball from his short-lived series, and Namorita from an episode of the 80s Amazing Spider-Man cartoon where Spidey teamed up with the Sub-Mariner. I loved those first 25 issues. I left when Bagley left, but I eventually got the back issues. I even loved the last mini-series where the New Warriors were reality stars. I’m glad there’s a “new” New Warriors, and I’m glad that Speedball and Justice are back in the New Warriors.

Brian from Canada

February 7, 2014 at 12:51 pm

A perfect encapsulation of why team books exploded in the early 90s: X-Men, Avengers, Justice League and more got spinoffs derived from the wealth of B- and C-list characters that had been created for stories and/or short lived solo books and left pretty much undeveloped.

Today’s team books try to do the same thing, but they miss one key point: books like New Warriors went their own way instead of adhering to part of a larger franchise. When they DID meet with other teams, it was because the circumstances led them too it, such as X-Force & Gamesmaster, or the Infinity crises that brought all these other teams back.

And in those days, the publisher had the belief in the teams to keep them around and keep trying to make them better, as opposed to launching them, running them for a year or so, and then relaunching them with new lineups.

Send in the B team! With the heavy-hitters (Spider-Man, Superman, etc.) it’s inevitably going to revert to the status quo. Like you said in terms of licensing and as a product, there’s just too much at stake, so while you may get some great arcs, one-shots, etc., nothing changes in the long term. I agree with you 100%. With the B-list (and lower) characters, anything can happen. That’s what made Annihilation so great. It brought all these has-beens together and you didn’t know if they were going to make it out alive. I’d argue that it’s also what made Giffen’s Justice League in the 80′s so great. And to some extent, the Suicide Squad. New Warriors definitely fit that underdog bill.

Maybe some day we’ll get a Defenders book that can embrace some of the lessers as well (Gargoyle, Moondragon…) The comic book world needs a Dirty Dozen.

*cough* Secret Six *cough*

Primal Force Forever!!!
Pre-Young Justice/couldn’t talk Red Tornado, Claw and Jack O’Lantern. In the ’90′s I was also reading The Comet, Firefly and The Crusaders from DC’s Impact line – they were licensing Archie super-heroes. Why? It was the ’90′s!

Primal Force was a gem. A brilliant mix of obscure super heroes and early-70s-DC-horror feel. I think I will go reread some now. Thanks AirDave817.

I was always drawn far more to the Defenders over Avengers as a kid for this reason. While it could be argued that some of the Defenders themselves were “A list” (Hulk, Surfer,Strange) it was characters like Devil Slayer, Gargoyle and early Luke Cage that caught my imagination. I just didn’t know their life stories the way I knew Cap or Spider-Man. Also loved The Champions for the same reason.

And DC’s Primal Force yes! (As mentioned above).

Great article. It perfectly describes my feelings for the New Warriors (and somewhat less so, other B, C, etc characters and teams).

yes. I was also reading New Warriors. The new creative team seems promising. & Primal Force was also a good title!! well done guys!

@Citizen-V, Exactly. My first intro (a little late) to the Defenders was issue 152 (the last issue!) With characters like Interloper, Valkryie, Manslaughter and Candy Southern, I had no idea what to expect (especially since some of them died as well.) It was after that issue that I began the hunt to find out more.

Even with the Avengers, I gravitated towards characters like Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wonder-Man and Yellowjacket. I knew they couldn’t do anything with Cap or Thor outside of their own comics.

I miss the Slot & Gage characters from Avengers Initiative, last week I commented on how I wish dc and marvel would take old comic titles mainly associated with their top tier characters and create anthology books with 4-5, 20 full page’s main features starting characters close that top A-list Character or Team.
Here’s what I’d love to see from marvel two anthology books centered around the Avengers and X-Men consisting of 4 team’s each staring the teen age character’s.

Avengers Academy staring: Avengers Academy, Young Avengers, Avengers Initiative, Young Allies.

X-Men Legacy staring: Young X-Men, Generation-X, New X-Statix, (here’s a fan-fic title x-corps) All “New” New Mutants.

This is what I would like to see in stead of constant re-numbering and over saturation of franchise named books.

A perfect encapsulation of why team books exploded in the early 90s: X-Men, Avengers, Justice League and more got spinoffs derived from the wealth of B- and C-list characters that had been created for stories and/or short lived solo books and left pretty much undeveloped.

Today’s team books try to do the same thing, but they miss one key point: books like New Warriors went their own way instead of adhering to part of a larger franchise. When they DID meet with other teams, it was because the circumstances led them too it, such as X-Force & Gamesmaster, or the Infinity crises that brought all these other teams back.

And in those days, the publisher had the belief in the teams to keep them around and keep trying to make them better, as opposed to launching them, running them for a year or so, and then relaunching them with new lineups.

__________________________________________

Quoted for the truth.

That’s what made books like Suicide Squad in the 80s, New Warriors, the Peter David X-Factor, Justice League International v.1 (which relied mostly on second stringers), Booster Gold, Andreyko’s Manhunter, and even the first set of Marvel Knights books, such great reads. Because they were on the fringe. They could take risks and there was little interference from stakeholders.

My favorite comic character is the Creeper.

I always have a soft spot for Speedball…his original series coming out when I was a teen…before he took up a “cowabunga dude” persona.

Great Lakes Avengers.

@Citizen V: I am with you: i had more Champions and Defenders issues (and love) growing up. Some of my favorite team ups, too, were Spidey or Thing with a B-lister.

The Outsiders and Thunderbolts (although not this new, in name only, group) are my all time favourite C and D list characters. I’d prefer to read their adventures, then the JLA or Avengers any day.

I’m in a similar boat. New Warriors was on of the first titles I followed as a kid. The characters were relatable and I loved that they hang out with each other even when they weren’t trying to make the world a better place.

I read the Omnibus collection issues 1-26 last year and they hold up pretty well. Looking forward to the Yost series.

Fantastic. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool NW fan and I’ve been (increasingly im)patiently waiting for this for years! This is definitely a creative team we can put a lot of faith in, and the line-up looks exciting.*

*As for my own introduction to the Warriors, it was through a rifled-through comic book collection belong to my older brother. I read the Hero Killers annual and a NW-Darkhawk team-up around the same time, and got hooked on both immediately. To be honest, aside from DH, I think Speedball did it for me. What an unabashed joy for super-heroing in that character! Just good, goofy, fun.

Always liked the ‘secondary’ teams, like The Defenders, The Champions, The Outsiders etc. because of the greater room for character developement and plotting, but I also preferred the No. 1 teams when they had a larger cast and the spotlight could fall more easily on the ‘B’ characters. Gerry Conway’s Justice League, with 12 members, left plenty of room for smaller teams each issue, with perhaps one or two ‘A’s a few ‘B’s and a ‘C’, and plots that revolved around the ‘B’ and ‘C’s – it never made sense to me why Conway threw that away to introduce a team of ‘B’s and non-starters, when he could have just narrowed the focus to the ‘B’ and ‘C’s not being featured elsewhere.

With the Avengers, I was always more interested in what was being done with Scarlet Witch, The Vision, the Pyms, Ms. Marvel….everytime I hear the Justice League and The Avengers are being relaunched with the Big Guns, I know the comic will become plot driven with little to no emphasis on character developement; which only keeps my attention for a limited amount of time.

With the return of a new Moon Knight series (god, how I love Moon Knight) I am hoping for the revival of two of my other favourite Z-List heroes, The Shroud and Sleepwalker.

I was incredibly pleased by Sleepwalker’s appearance in Superior Spider-Man Team Up last year.

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February 10, 2014 at 2:14 am

I picked up New Warriors for Speedball (whom I got with his first issue) and Vance Astro (who was the Thing’s sidekick briefly during his prowrestling days).

Loved the New Warriors, love the smaller heroes, especially given how many minor heroes (Luke Cage) eventually get promoted, it’s nice to be able to say, oh yeah I read them back in the day.

Right now, I’m just waiting for someone to do something great with Boulder (Butterball), but I may be waiting a while, since at the moment he’s relegated to Forbushian background shots for the most part..

Speaking of B list characters…what the hell happened to the Black Knight and when is he going to to appear in a current Marvel book??

If you watched Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, or followed Scarlet Spider or Yost’s other books, you’d shut yer yap. Wait and see before you judge. Also, Marvel has had a few well written teen teams of late, Runaways, Avengers Academy, etc

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