Jun 26, 2018

The New Warriors Revisited, with Fabian Nicieza

I read more New Warriors when it was serializing in the early 90s than I realized at the time. There was always a lot going on, but I was never lost. A superhero team book, it constantly felt like it was moving forward somewhere, that it was branching out in stories that counted towards something. It felt kid-friendly and just on the edge of being “adult.” Rather than fictional nations, Cambodia showed up and seemed, at least to me, newly in doubly digits, plausibly Cambodian. There were mixed race characters. Silhouette was mixed-race and not something and white. Not a thing in superhero comics, not back then, not really even now.

Legal Thriller, Political Thriller, Teens on the Edge
Fabian Nicieza and I Revisit New Warriors
Travis Hedge Coke


Silhouette, young, female, mixed, disabled, learning the world and a badass. Silhouette could have come from Kids or Do the Right Thing, more than she was likely to have debuted big in Fantastic Four or X-Men.



The arc that first got my attention involved the Sphinx altering the history of the world, creating an afrofuturist present where familiar elements were echoed, but in a new style, with new politics, as North Africa and nearby regions were given a prominence and preferenced the way Anglo culture and pillaging was in traditional superhero books and our Anglo-colonial culture.

“A tremendous amount of work and research went into the Forever Yesterday storyline,” said Fabian Nicieza, who wrote the arc, and for over four years, what became the bulk of the original New Warriors comic. “It was pretty obvious that if the world had been expanded based on Egyptian influence, that absolutely everything about it would have to be different than our more Euro-centric existence. So that meant everything from architecture to fashion. We tried to maintain naming conventions that would be more recognizable to readers so that we didn’t make the transition too much of a struggle (so Captain Assyria automatically connoted Captain America for simplicity’s sake).



“That storyline exhausted Mark, but unlike today’s artists who need six months off after a challenging three-part story, Mark was right back at it without missing a beat!”

Looking at it, now, crystalized in that initial fifty-plus issue run, written by Nicieza and drawn primarily by Mark Bagley and Darrick Robertson, encapsulated the best of its decade. It was Goldeneye, Spike Lee and Gregg Araki; John Grisham and Michael Crichton in their most exciting time. It was Public Enemy and Alice in Chains.

To me, anyway.

When, I asked Nicieza if any of that was an influence, or intentional, he said, “I had none of those particular genres influencing me when I wrote it. I really just wanted it to be what it was meant to be: Marvel’s version of Teen Titans. I wanted to tell fun, exciting stories grounded in the Marvel Universe using these great untapped characters that had a world of potential.”

Can I write off my interpretation to zeitgeist? A spirit of a time, moving my interpretation, my perception, even if not Nicieza's scripts?

“I had no say in the original line-up,” said Nicieza, “Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz had put the team together and a basic working bible for who they were and what the dynamics would be. Once I was offered the book, I inquired about changing Night Thrasher and Kid Nova’s names, but that wasn’t going to fly.

“We knew that the Kid Nova name was solely a trademark and duplication issue. Frankie Raye in the Fantastic Four had assumed the name at that time, though we assumed that wouldn’t last forever. We weren’t going to need to call him that in the book, just any cover copy so you could trademark the name.”

"It was far less of an issue for me than it was for readers, since outside of a joke within the book, he was never called anything but Nova. I also knew that gave me a good opportunity for the logical story arc, which was Rich Rider reclaiming and ‘earning' the name he thought he didn’t deserve anymore. The fact the original blue and gold costume went along with those story plans was icing on the cake.”

And, of Silhouette, “I also wanted to add depth to Night Thrasher so you see the creation and introduction of Silhouette very early on. I wanted to see how comfortable Mark would feel drawing a character who needed braces to function but was also very acrobatic, and once I did I knew I’d make her a regular part of the team.”

I am fascinated with how stories come together, narrative art. There are always changes, always fait accompli elements and negotiations. The Nova/Kid Nova deal bugged me back then. There is a light hand wave  in the comic, and that explains it fine, but that they kept putting in on the cover or in the indicia… I took indicia so serious as a kid.

I took comics seriously. When Marvel Boy went to trial for killing his father, I was shocked that the trial did not get interrupted after a page or two. It kept going. I had never seen a trial in a superhero comic keep going. Dude! Someone could get convicted!



He was convicted. Of manslaughter.

“I knew all along I wanted him to go to jail for what happened,” Nicieza said, “because I knew that would differentiate it from other court trials in comics. I had a lot of research help from lawyer/comic industry writer Bob Ingersoll at that time. I sent him a list of things I was hoping to do, details on the crime, etc. and he advised me every step of the way to try and make it as realistic as feasible in a comic.

“What helped that entire storyline as much as the ‘realism’ of it, I think, was the fact that we were running two lead stories at the same time. This allowed us to cut away from the trial to more action-packed stuff going on with Thrash in Cambodia, which only helped maintain the sense of suspense and scene cliffhangers that propel a legal story in more interesting ways than if you are ONLY focusing on a trial.”

Those dual plots made things seem so huge as it was going on, and it does not dampen in rereads. Nothing But the Truth and other arcs blew up what could have been a very provincial New York superteam comic into something international, generational, something that genuinely ran the gamut of class.

When I asked him, at what point Cambodia entered the picture as a setting, as something integral to a major plot line, Nicieza told me, “I knew that the Nothing But The Truth storyline would deal with Thrash’s past, along with Chord and Tai, and for all of them, it was the Vietnam War that brought them together. I forget why I decided to set it in Cambodia other then it was a fun, ‘exotic’ location and a logical extension of our military operations in the region. I might have seen a National Geographic article on Angkor Wat or something that appealed to me visually and that’s why I went there.”

Of the poetic, unusual and alluring super-names new characters, developed for this comic, could have: “I never thought of them as ‘poetic names,’ I just thought they were kind of cool. I was looking to come up with interesting names. Naming comic book characters is one of the toughest things about the job, so you are always looking for differentiators. I thought names like The Left Hand, the Spearmint Dragon (for Tai) and the Smiling Tiger had an exotic, Asian, ‘cult-like’ fantasy feel to them. I still like those names to this day!”

They are the best thing. Smiling Tiger — that there is a character, who looks completely different from anyone else, called Smiling Tiger is cool as cool gets.

The comic wrapped up, in part tying-in with solo titles it helped launch for two of its core characters, throwing the cast through time and space, pitting Marvel Boy against the father he killed, when his father was closer to his own age, and dealing with issues like homophobia and systemic self-recrimination that were not to be expected in a Marvel (or DC) superhero book at that time, without some form of “this is for adults” labeling.

New Warriors never stopped developing its characters, its world, the entire time Nicieza wrote the book. And, he wrote the book on the New Warriors. Every take since has echoed his, drawn from his, even if the cast wasn’t his, or the basic conceit slightly different. What may have started as a preassigned cast and an attempt to ape the better parts of New Teen Titans, Nicieza’s New Warriors quickly became its own animal, and has since spawned or encouraged an entire species of comics. Descendants of the run come in the same name, they come without any commercial connection. It was a smart book, cool and strong, worldly and timely in ways that make us want to label, “before its time.” Others, who never really read an issue or an arc, might write it off based on the presence of a skateboarding hero or an infusion of real world maturity with superheroics as par for the course or too much of its time. Both are true, and neither is accurate. New Warriors was the best of its time.

And, New Warriors is a damn good, and relevant read today.

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