O Say Can You See: The Greatest Patriotic Super Heroes of All-Time
In 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.