Wednesday, February 5, 2014

NEW WARRIORS Annual #1 - August 1991

Kings of Pain Part 1 - Errant Knights
Credits:  Fabian Nicieza (writer), Mark Bagley (penciler), Jeff Albrecht (inker), Tom Vincent (colors), Chris Eliopoulos (letters)

Summary:  X-Force and the New Warriors battle until Cable calls a truce.  Two executives at Genetech swear that the Alliance lied about working for them, leading Cable to break into Frenzy’s prison cell.  She reveals that their true employer is AIM, who used them as bodyguards for Harness and Piecemeal.  Soon, a team lead by Marvel Boy breaks into a warehouse owned by AIM, discovering inside “humanoid shell casings.”  In Japan, Harness and Piecemeal absorb more energy, as Piecemeal grows more bloated.  Meanwhile, Cannonball’s team travels to Xavier’s underground bunker to cross-reference Cerebro’s mutant database with the information given to them by Genetech.  When the teams reunite, Cable realizes that Harness and Piecemeal are trying to revive Proteus.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Frenzy is being held in the Quebec Provincial Prison, which is a superhuman prison within the Marvel Universe that’s totally new to me.
  • Cable recognizes New Warriors member Chord (Chord?!) from his mercenary days (“North Africa, ‘73” to be exact.)  Chord knows Cable as “Winters,” leading him to respond “The name's Cable...this year. ”  “Winters” could obviously be seen as a play on “Summers,” providing another early clue that Cable is Nathan Summers.
  • Cannonball is able to use his blast shield to protect the entire X-Force team after Chord throws a grenade at them.  I don’t recall him being able to expand his shield in such a way on other occasions, even if the early issues of X-Force paid some lip service to his developing powers.
  • Shatterstar uses his energy channeling/sword-blast powers twice this issue, which is probably more than he ever used them during the entire run of X-Force.
  • The locks on the bunker under Xavier’s mansion have been changed.  Boom-Boom comments that “they” changed them, with “they” being X-Factor I assume since the X-Men are off in space until “The Muir Island Saga” begins.
  • According to Cerebro’s records, Proteus died on 10/13/1987.  That means the late ‘70s Claremont/Byrne run on Uncanny X-Men happened four years ago Marvel Time at this point in continuity.  Four years seems a bit much, in my opinion.  Considering how slowly characters like Kitty Pryde aged during that period, I would place it closer to two years.

I Love the '90s:  Boom-Boom understands the scientific jargon spoken by the higher-ups at Genetech…NOT!

Review:  X-Force and the New Warriors fight, which I imagine was a huge deal for at least some portion of the audience.  New Warriors wasn’t a book I followed as a kid, so the fight doesn’t mean a lot to me, but I know both teams had pretty hardcore fanbases in the early ‘90s.  As far as superhero fights go, this isn’t so bad, as Nicieza is able to explain who each of the characters are fairly naturally and work in a few decent jokes.  Having Mark Bagley pencil the fight doesn’t hurt, either.  He clearly knows how to keep the New Warriors on-model, and I like his interpretation of X-Force.

Once the obligatory fight is over, that means it’s time for the story to really begin, and it’s certainly one worthy of Nicieza’s reputation for…intricate plotting.  The New Warriors are working security for their friends at Genetech.  Genetech was hired by Ophrah Industries to “create a DNA matrix for a cellular mix…etc. etc. etc. ...blah blah blah.”  A front organization for AIM hired the Alliance of Evil to guard two of its associates (or pawns, maybe?), as they leech energy from various locations, which is somehow what Genetech has also wanted to do.  (What does that have to do with DNA?)  The Alliance (perhaps) lied and pointed X-Force towards Genetech, who swear they don’t know the Alliance, but surely they’re also lying to the heroes, right?  The Genetech exec stuttered before he gave an answer, and we all know people only stutter in comics when they lie.  Later, the heroes discover that AIM is working on shells similar to SHIELD LMDs that can contain energy and be controlled like toy soldiers.  All of this leads to the revelation that new characters Harness and Piecemeal are absorbing Proteus’ energy from all across the globe.  In the background, a shadowy figure that’s obviously Gideon is playing chess with an even more shadowy figure, laughing about how these pawns are being used.

I can’t imagine the bulk of the audience at this time really wanted to keep track of so many plot points.  Most of the kids reading this probably just wanted X-Force and the New Warriors to start fighting each other again by the time they reached the end.  (And I can't imagine what a kid thought about the abused, horribly bloated Piecemeal.)  Older readers who might have the patience to try and follow all of the plot details were, I'd wager,  just annoyed by the attempt to revive Proteus.  Having Harness and Piecemeal traveling all across the globe absorbing his leftover energy is automatically going to upset any continuity purist who remembers that Proteus never traveled outside of Scotland, for starters.  In fairness, Nicieza establishes that the energy wavelength is strongest in Edinburgh, where Proteus died, implying that his energy signature was so strong it reached out across the world.  That’s comic book science plausible, sure.  But spreading the energy out is yet another wrinkle that’s been added to an already dense plot.  It also complicates the opening with the X-Terminators from the last chapter.  So those kid mutants just happened to be living in a boarding school where energy from a dead mutant killed years earlier has accumulated?  But what’s really grating is just the concept of reviving Proteus.  The original story is a classic, in part, because people left it alone after it was over.  Nicieza toyed with the idea of reviving Proteus earlier in a Classic X-Men back-up, but he didn’t actually go through with it.  Now, he’s teasing the readers again, but this time it looks like he’s serious, and that’s not a good thing.

Origins of the New Warriors
Credits:  Eric Fein (writer), Tom Morgan (breakdowns), Marie Severin and Jeff Albrecht (finishes), Kevin Tinsley, Suzanne Gaffney, and Ed Lazellari (colors), Rick Parker (letters)

Summary:  The origins of the New Warriors are recapped in various stories.

I Love the '90s:  Namorita compares her family drama to Dallas.

Review:  Every New Warrior has his or her origin recapped in a different story, which probably wasn’t a bad idea since some of these characters have origins from the most obscure corners of the Marvel Universe.  The stories do the most basic job of conveying the information, which is all I really expected them to do.  They might not be too exciting to read today, but as a kid who wanted to know more about Marvel history, these kinds of recap stories were greatly appreciated.

To Bounce or Not to Bounce
Credits:  Dan Slott (writer), John Calimee (penciler), Don Hudson (inks), Kevin Tinsley (colors), Rick Parker (letters)

Summary:  Chord gives Speedball a serum that will allow Genetech to study his kinetic field.  While he waits for an hour for it to kick in, he tries to patrol the city, but is continually rescued by heroes when attempting to activate his kinetic powers.  Later, he discovers that the serum could temporarily cancel his powers.

I Love the '90s:  Speedball worries that the green serum will turn him into a Ninja Turtle.  On the very next panel, he also gives us the second “NOT!” of the issue.

Review:  It’s a comedy story by Dan Slott, a Marvel staffer destined to go nowhere in the comics industry.  The joke is that Speedball is trying to activate his powers by doing dangerous stunts, such as jumping off a building, but is continually rescued by various Marvel heroes.  On the final page, we learn that he actually could’ve died at any time since his powers were cancelled during the previous hour.  It’s funny, but here’s the real highlight…

I swear to you, there’s a joke in this story about Speedball adding spikes to his costume!  It’s there on page 58, I promise.  How did this not get scanned and posted all over the internet in 2007?  Sure, no one probably cares now, but Dave's Long Box could've made gold out of this had it been discovered back in the previous decade.


wwk5d said...

I didn't think it was that complicated to follow...and I was 14 at the time. Yes, the comic book science aspect of it is rather wonky, but it is still a good fun read, and easily my favorite part of the whole crossover.

And the character interactions are fun, though I'm surprised Nicieza remembered that Cannonball and Firestar made out once and remembered each other...but nothing about Warpath and Firestar being students of Emma Frost?

Nobody remembers the back-up story about Speedball because the spikes are on the outside of the costume, not the inside ;)

cyke68 said...

Oh Jesus. No. This crossover.

Fabian Nicieza was doing A LOT of work for the X-office during this time period. Pretty much everything not written by Chris Claremont (which towards the end, WAS everything) seemed to land in his lap. He does the lead in these annuals plus the Freedom Force back-up, on top of already scripting New Mutants and handling clean-up duty on the Muir Island Saga. And it's not like these were inventory stories sitting in a drawer. I guess Harras liked him as a go-to guy.

That said, I have never understood Nicieza's penchant for deliberately obtuse plots and overly complicated macguffins standing in for rather standard genre tropes, but I guess it makes for some effective misdirection. Sometimes, this method leads to a satisfying payoff that wrings a lot of drama out of the serialized reading experience (his Thunderbolts circa 2001), other times... a convoluted mess whose threads never fully untangle once all is said and done (the Kwannon saga). Here, the competition between A.I.M. and Genetech/Ohprah (or A.I.M./Genetech... or A.I.M./Ohprah...or whatever... you see what I mean) does kind of help to artificially raise the stakes in what would otherwise be a standard boilerplate 4-parter of little consequence.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I do wish Marvel had taken better advantage of the annual format to tell accessible, standalone, iconic stories to highlight a book's core concepts and characters. It doesn't have to matter in the long run - something like an untold battle between a team and major villain would be perfectly acceptable. Fun, action-packed, and presentable to viewers new and old. There's no cover date or deep in-story connection to contemporary events, so retailers can display it year-round (shelf space permitting). As long as the story and art were GOOD, I'd buy that no matter how jaded I might be as a reader.

Setting aside the philosophy, this story does have some unusual quirks. I was also struck by how frequently Shatterstar used his sword blast mutant power thingee and Feral's more playful disposition. Nicieza must have been working from very rough/preliminary character outlines since he was scripting the same characters over Liefeld's plots. Interesting to see what direction he might have taken them without any direct input from Liefeld.

Piecemeal becoming increasingly bloated and grotesque as he "eats" more and more of the wayward Proteus energy is pure nightmare fuel. It takes a pretty sick turn towards the end that feels out of place in this kind of disposable story, and not just on a body horror level.

Aside: the whole deal with the competing factions as "pawns" of Gideon and his as-of-yet unrevealed Chess opponent seems mighty reminiscent of the Upstarts MO. And yet, I don't recall any subsequent efforts to tie Gideon or his opponent into that storyline. Coincidence or aborted subplot?

Harry Sewalski said...

Cable recognizes New Warriors member Chord (Chord?!) from his mercenary days (“North Africa, ‘73” to be exact.) Chord knows Cable as “Winters,” leading him to respond “The name's Cable...this year. ” “Winters” could obviously be seen as a play on “Summers,” providing another early clue that Cable is Nathan Summers.

Alternatively, providing another clue that no one knew who Cable should be back in the day and that the easiest solution was to connect him to every single character which he could plausibly have some connection to ;)

Jason said...

"Having Harness and Piecemeal traveling all across the globe absorbing his leftover energy is automatically going to upset any continuity purist who remembers that Proteus never traveled outside of Scotland, for starters."

Ummm, actually ... :)

That's a deliberate, and accurate, nod to the original story, which ends with Colossus ... I don't remember the exact narration, but it's something like ...

"In a sense, he short-circuits Proteus, scattering every fabric of the villain’s being, every scrap of consciousness to the four corners of the Earth."

I remember that last bit very specifically. Claremont meant it poetically, presumably, but I can easily see how a person could read that and go, "Hmm, so Proteus isn't dead, he's just scattered in pieces around the world. So, if someone ..."

... and eventually finding their way to a plotline like Nicieza's here.

Austin 'Teebore' Gorton said...

Man, when was the last time the regular penciler of a series actually drew a corresponding annual?

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