Special thanks to Doug Smith, who contributed additional reporting to this post.
Thirty years ago, comic shops were selling the first issue of a brand new comic book series starring a brand new Marvel Comics superhero team. The New Warriors starred a lineup of mostly forgotten and obscure characters by a creative team who had never launched an ongoing series before. Conventional wisdom at the time said the new series would fail. And yet, improbably, New Warriors not only survived, it thrived. At its peak, it was among the top 25 best-selling comics in North America and the United Kingdom.What was it about this underdog series that defied the odds?
Was it the characters? The book starred supporting characters like Namorita from Sub-Mariner and Marvel Boy from The Thing, and stars of previously cancelled comics like Nova and Speedball. Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief at the time, Tom DeFalco, assembled the team. He also included the abandoned co-star of the animated Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends TV show, Firestar, and a new character co-created with Thor artist Ron Frenz, Night Thrasher.
Was it the creators? Writer Fabian Nicieza inherited these characters and immediately embraced them as his own. The first two years of the book was tightly plotted out and featured sharp dialogue, humor, betrayal, adventure and surprise revelations. Artist Mark Bagley, initially inked by Al Williamson and later by Larry Mahlstedt, injected character-driven storytelling with fun action in every issue. After two years, Bagley was moved to Amazing Spider-Man and replaced with Darick Robertson, who brought his own dynamic and expressive storytelling visuals. Even 30 years later, the series is fondly remembered by fans and comic book professionals, even inspiring some of them to become professionals.
We reached out to a number of comic book writers, artists, retailers and others to hear in their own words what made the New Warriors so special to them. We also reached out to Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley, as well as the first editor on the series, Danny Fingeroth, and writer Evan Skolnick, who succeeded Nicieza as writer, to get their own thoughts on their time working on this secret classic.
I could go on and on about The New Warriors series. Specifically the first volume, which debuted the same year I graduated from college.
Dwayne Michael Taylor, the Night Thrasher, was both a fantasy and nightmare, to me. The rich, young independent Black man with wealth, physical prowess, and the means to create justice in an unjust world. And all it cost him was the lives of his parents. He was the means through which to be like Batman without having to want to be The Batman. An example of resilience and agency in the shadow of tragedy. Night Thrasher had the attitude, as well. That emotional armor of his, which was thicker than the ebony body armor he wore on his missions. Hell, he even had his own “Alfred” and “Obi-Wan” in Chord, his legal guardian, and Tai, his surrogate mother and sensei. All Night Thrasher needed was allies in his crusade, and he found those in an unexpected collection of young heroes from different walks of life, each with their own legacy.
Each issue was, to me, a challenge against the preceding issue on the part of the band of creators. An ante up to keep getting better, as the heroes kept encountering greater and more unexpected challenges. But the reason I loved the book deeply was not just the combination of all that. It was something underneath that I didn’t see. I could feel it, but I didn’t know exactly what it was.
In 1994, I think it was, I met Fabian Nicieza at a comic book convention.Fabian and I are buds now, and he probably doesn’t remember the geeky guy who rolled up to him and started talking his ear off about Nomad and The New Warriors. In that conversation, Fabian told me about ideas regarding these characters that never made it to the page in expository fashion, but found their way into the DNA of every issue. He told me what Night Thrasher really wanted, deepy wanted in his life. That’s when I knew why I loved The New Warriors series. I won’t tell you what it is, because it was told to me either in secret, or to give a talkative young man in his early 20s something cool to walk away with, but it was something very human, something many of us want, whether we know it or not.
In the final analysis, this world is going to be made better by young people, young heroes, young minds with brilliant ideas and the boldness of courage. The New Warriors was a monthly vehicle for this truth, and truly exemplary of the unique storytelling and pop culture ethos of a company that promised to marvel us every single time they dropped a comic book. Excuse me while I hold back the urge to go through my boxes, find the first 25 issues of this seminal series and disappear for a day in a reading binge.
–Joseph Illidge (MPLS Sound, Heavy Metal)
The New Warriors is probably my all-time favorite Marvel comic series, but this is the first time I’ve really tried to pin down WHY it spoke to me the way it did. I think it comes down to three things:
1) I had just graduated high school in 1990, so I was the same age range as the New Warriors characters. I identified with their struggles at that time in their lives. And unlike the various X-Men teams, the Warriors didn’t have a mentor figure they could turn to. I think this is key, for me. I LIKED watching them wrestle with dilemmas on their own, without some sage older figure to give them advice. Sure, they had Chord and Tai, but neither really functioned as a mentor.
2) The Warriors also served as a nice cross section of the Marvel universe. Instead of having one common origin (like the X-Men), the Warriors had a lot more places to pull stories from. Firestar’s background with the X-Men… Namorita’s ties to Atlantis… Nova’s connection to the various space characters… the whole thing just felt like a much richer tapestry to me.
3) THE CHARACTERS! One of my favorite things about The New Warriors is how rich the characters’ lives felt. They weren’t just super-heroes 24/7. They had jobs to go to, classes to take, they had their own supporting characters. Because the creators went the extra mile like this, it really deepened our connections to the characters because there was so much about them that was relatable.
I’m still a fan of the New Warriors and every creator involved with the book. I still have to pinch myself that I got a chance to play in that sandbox, even if it was only for 10 brief issues. Happy anniversary, Warriors!
–Jay Faerber (The CW’s Supergirl, Copperhead, New Warriors vol. 2)
“All They Want To Do Is Change The World.”
There is no comic book series that has a greater impact on my development or my career than The New Warriors. My entry into the series was largely due to my nostalgia for Firestar — from her Spider-Man and Amazing Friends days — but I quickly fell in love with the characters in their appearance in Thor #411 … and that lead me to picking up the series, every crossover, and related merchandise, including original art from the series. To me, the New Warriors were pro-social, punk rock activists. And as a teen in the 90s, there was no message I need more than theirs. I hope their stories and legacy lives on generation after generation.
–David Gallaher (The Only Living Girl)
New Warriors is such a fun book filled with energetic and exciting characters. I needed that as a kid and later in life, as a creator, I was lucky enough to have some fun with those characters myself. Thanks to Fabian, Mark, Darick and all the other creators that filled our lives with a little more joy. Happy Anniversary.
–Skottie Young (Strange Academy, Middlewest, New Warriors vol. 3)
New Warriors happened along at the perfect time for me as a comic book reader. I was 13 in 1990, just starting to question authority, and very much interested in the idea that good people could stand up and do the right thing even when their ‘leaders’ were shitty bureaucrats upholding a crappy status quo (see, the OG Bush years). Add to that that I was going on about seven years of hardcore Marvel fandom, but had only seen characters like Nova and Namorita in issue of the OHOTMU, and you ended up with something that perfectly fit my interests. As time went on, and books like X-Force and Force Works proved to be all bark, and no bite, New Warriors began to stand out even more. It was subversive, intelligent, sexy and also, classically MARVEL. It was about young people with power questioning their place in the world, their relationships with each other, and it managed to contain one of the best issue 25 twists ever conceived of in the history of superhero comics. No New Warriors run has ever been able to capture the manic, abrasive and ambitious stories of the original Nicieza/Bagley/Robertson issues, and I suspect no one ever will.
–Tim Seeley (Bloodshot, Money Shot)
As a reader and aspiring comic creator the New Warriors encapsulated so much of who I was and what I was looking for in a comic when they came out. Diverse in ethnicities, personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. Marvel’s true answer to the Teen Titans, in my opinion. They’ve been a regular source of inspiration for me ever since and made me a Fabian Nicieza and Mark Bagley fan.
–Ray-Anthony Height (X-Men: Blue, Midnight Tiger)
The New Warriors.
One of my all time favourite Marvel comics superhero teams. Of course I liked the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men. But the New Warriors resonated with me, in a way that the others kinda didn’t.
Most of the X-Men and Avengers were adults that seemed to have it all together. As a teenager, the New Warriors, also teens and young adults were characters I felt I could relate to. They were characters who were trying to find their place and they were friends.
The mix of superhero antics and teen drama, which got quite dark in later issues, kept me hooked.
Funny story about New Warriors. The very first issue I found of the book was issue #3. Where they fight the Mad Thinker. That issue hooked me. And then I would go on to see adverts in other books and would track down all consecutive issues. It took me around five years before I found issue #1. Since we didn’t have any dedicated comic stores here. It was pretty much luck that helped me get the comic, especially ongoing issues.
Pretty much since then I’ve had a soft spot for this ragtag team. And anyone who read it at the time probably feels the same.
Long Live the New Warriors.
–Sean Izaakse (Fantastic Four, Stray)
I think I know why in the summer of 1991, staring at a spinner rack of comic books for the very first time filled with Batman, X-Men, Superman, and Spider-Man comics, I grabbed an issue of Darkhawk.
It was a cool cover, but there’s more to it than that. I knew Spider-Man and Wolverine from the Marvel trading cards I bought from the sports card store down the street from the book store I bought my very first comic book from. I knew the Fantastic Four from the reruns of the Hanna-Barbara cartoon. I knew Batman from the 1989 movie, and Superman, well, because he’s Superman. But I didn’t know Darkhawk. He was a mystery to me. Who was behind that armor? Who was he fighting? What was this comic book about? That was intriguing to me.
Flash forward a few months later, and I was knee-deep in comic books. My $5 allowance a week got me 5 comics a week (no sales tax in Massachusetts on comic books!), and a drug store down the road had a bunch of “old” comics for 25-cents each that I would grab if I didn’t find five new comics I wanted. Flipping through some new issues, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Darkhawk was in another comic book! Who are the New Warriors? Who’s Namorita? I knew Namor because of the Fantastic Four, but I had to buy this comic because of Darkhawk.
It’s possible that if I found the New Teen Titans or Legion of Super-Heroes first, I would have skipped The New Warriors, but who knows. Something about the younger aspect of the characters spoke to me. They were kids, like me. (Well, older, but still). It wasn’t the same heroes and villains I knew–it was, like Darkhawk just months before, something new. I took instantly to Nova and Speedball. Somehow I’d never seen Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, so Firestar was brand new to me. Night Thrasher and Silhouette were very different than most characters I’d seen in comic books up to that point. Justice…well, he was never my favorite, but he was interesting enough! And Darkhawk was working with the team? I think I found my new favorite comic book.
As the years went on, my interest in superheroes–especially Marvel–waned, but New Warriors was always on the top of my reading pile. Even as I got “older” and Vertigo and the indie comics became more important to me than what Iron Man was up to these days, I kept reading about the adventures of this rag-tag group of little-known characters. Tracking down back issues of the series before I started reading became my primary goal when I found my first comic book store and conventions. I’ll never forget buying a stack of comics off someone because they had New Warrior #2, and I guess I’ll take this copy of Giant Size X-Men #1 as well. I was an early internet user, and emailed the creators and talked with other fans on an old AOL message board. I moved from the east coast to California with my father, and I found a new shop to keep buying New Warriors from. The book wasn’t quite the same as those first 50 issues or so, but it was still one of my must-reads.
And then, like that, the book was over at issue #75.
I’ve kept reading the newer takes on the team, I’ve followed the characters on all their adventures, but nothing has quite worked for me quite like that first run. What Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley, and Darick Robertson did on that original series spoke to a teenage Ryan more than any other comic at the time. Nostalgia is strong in all aspects of pop culture these days, so it’s no surprise that a generation that grew up on these characters (remember, the book actually sold VERY well for quite some time!) has tried to bring them back through the years, but at this point, they’re “old” characters, especially Nova and Namorita who had already been around for decades when the original series launched, but were barely used. The new generation of characters–Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, Kate Bishop–speak to today’s younger generation the same way these characters spoke to me.
At 30 years old, the New Warriors are hardly new anymore, but that doesn’t make the original run irrelevant. There’s great social commentary, especially in those early issues. There’s tons of very big superhero action. There’s fun characters, romance, heartbreak, crossovers, die-cut covers, guest stars, and, most important, good stories and art. I’m sure Marvel will keep bringing back the team every few years to try again, and while they might never quite hit the highs of that original series, I’ll always pick it up because, hey, it’s the New Warriors!
–Ryan Higgins (owner of Comics Conspiracy in Sunnyvale, California)
I have to say the first incarnation of the New Warriors was probably the BEST new series to come out at that time since the new X-Men. This was old school comic book drama and action and excitement at its level best. Fabian’s writing and Mark Bagley’s art provided the perfect tandem for this title. My favorite storyline was when the female Sphinx created that alternate world, but I think the excitement of the series was codified for me that that single devastating punch Speedball administered to Terrax in issue #16. Just the energy of those panels and the characters’ subsequent reaction to it is the stuff of quintessential comic book storytelling.
–Kevin Grevioux (Underworld, I, Frankenstein)
New Warriors by Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley, Darick Robertson, and company was the book that cemented me as a comic book fan. I had read Justice League and X-Men as a younger kid and become enchanted with super heroes, but encountering New Warriors around the age of eight or so encouraged me to never look back.
The thing that always hooked me with Nicieza’s take on these characters was I felt like they were normal young people who happened to have super powers. They weren’t geniuses but they weren’t idiots–they were smart and capable, but they made mistakes. I wanted to hang out with them. The art being consistently excellent helped too.
I constantly marveled–sorry–at the inventiveness and range of New Warriors storylines. One minute they were fighting street criminals–the next they were the last hope against an omnipotent Egyptian who had reimagined reality. They were just as relevant waging war in outer space as they were storming the kingdom of a cruel dictator. Hard choices and a struggle for the truth defined those first 50-issues-plus of this brilliant series.
I’m forever grateful to New Warriors for showing me what comics could do. That original series occupies a place in my heart and in history that can never be upended. Thank you to everybody who contributed to this book.
–Ben Morse (visiting lecturer at University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Editorial Director of New Media at Marvel Entertainment)
New Warriors was my first (and, ultimately, only) gig as the regular writer of an ongoing, monthly Marvel super hero comic series. I felt very fortunate to be able to stand on the shoulders of Fabian and the incredible writing work he did over the first 53 issues. (I’m not the tallest guy, so any time I get to stand on someone’s shoulders, I’m gonna do it.)
At the same time, though, it was a very difficult act to follow!
When news broke that Fabian was leaving New Warriors, many readers immediately decided to drop the series – and some were quite vocal about it. While that was frustrating for me, I also admired their loyalty, and understood their skepticism that anyone would be able to maintain that same level of quality. I don’t know if I did, but I gave it my best shot.
It was only a couple of years of my life, but I look back on that time very fondly. Just a fantastic experience. Thanks to everyone who was a part of it!
–Evan Skolnick (New Warriors, Video Game Storytelling, Cuphead, Star Wars: Battlefront)
While Fabian always came in with more ideas than could be fit in any hundred comics, and Bagley is as innovative, dynamic, and thoughtful an artist as has ever drawn a comic, one scene that the three of us collaborated on (that, of course, I can’t find a copy of right now, so this is from memory), from an early issue of New Warriors, always brings a smile to my face. The scene:
Some highly dramatic thing has been going on in the Warriors’ lives and an argument breaks out between two of them. In the middle of it, Speedball for some reason leaps out the team’s skyscraper HQ window, as he was in the habit of doing. (Hey—he bounces off stuff, he isn’t gonna get hurt!) Yet, as the emotion-laden conversation is unfolding in the foreground, Speedball, for some reason unable to control his bouncing (“Jane! Stop this crazy thing!”), bounces across the background of each wide, horizontal panel, from and to a different direction in each one, calling out to his teammates for help. But so focused are the arguers that they don’t notice him until—I think this is how it ends—he comes crashing through the window! Played for laughs, the scene never fails to crack me up.
Fabian and Mark did truly brilliant work on the series, but I suppose the reason that I remember this one scene after all these years is that, while, yes, the Speedball-out-of-control gag idea was mine, it was Fabe and Bags who made it work! In other hands, this “editorially-mandated” piece of business could have just laid there like the proverbial lox. Thanks to them, it did not.
Like I said, Fabe and Mark were never at a loss for ideas and made every issue a must-read. But every once in a while, I’d get to play in the sandbox with them, and that was just plain fun.
–Danny Fingeroth (original New Warriors editor; author of the biography A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee, from St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan)
Fabian was an ass. Kidding! I was just so thrilled to be working in comics…at MARVEL comics. I was putting in 80 plus hour weeks and loving every second of it.
Danny Fingeroth and Fabian Nicieza (yes, I had to look up the spelling) were the best to work with, and both guys are two of my best friends in the business. My inkers, Al Williamson and Larry Mahldstadt were wonderful.
–Mark Bagley (New Warriors, Ultimate Spider-Man, Justice League of America, Spider-Man: Life Story)
Hard to believe it’s been thirty years, but here we are. I wouldn’t be a professional writer if it hadn’t been for New Warriors. It remains my favorite assignment ever and it remains the book, the characters, and the readers who gave me my career. I’m indebted to Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz and Mark Bagley and Danny Fingeroth and Darick Robertson and Larry Mahlstedt and Rob Tokar for a wonderful time and wonderful memories.
–Fabian Nicieza (New Warriors, X-Men, Outrage, Suburban Dicks)
The first 25 issues of The New Warriors is available in New Warriors Omnibus Vol. 1, which is getting reprinted by Marvel in December. The first 36 issues and more are available digitally at comiXology and Marvel Unlimited.
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