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Curse of the B-listers, or what went wrong with the New Warriors

by  in Comic News Comment

Marvel released its November solicitations, and as I’ve feared for a few months now, New Warriors by Christopher Yost and Marcus To is ending with Issue 12. This isn’t exactly a surprise, as anyone even casually watching its sales probably saw this coming: July’s Issue 7 sold about 17,000 copies, a few thousand below the traditional line of death for a Marvel title.

While the writing may have been on the wall, it’s sad to see such a fun and spirited comic go away. As a longtime fan of New Warriors, this fourth attempt to revitalize the property was the most true to the fondly remembered original series by Fabian Nicieza, Mark Bagley and Darick Robertson. The bright and energetic art was fantastic, the dialogue was pitch-perfect, and yet … it just didn’t click with enough readers.

So what’s the problem?

Unfortunately, the creators had an uphill climb for a number of reasons. Some are unique to the New Warriors and others are shared by non-marquee properties at Marvel, DC and other publishers. In February, when this New Warriors series launched, I celebrated the B-list characters and their comics. Now six months later, we’re staring down the barrel of cancellation. These B-listers are a double-edged sword, so now it’s time to look at the edge of the sword that we don’t like (or however that metaphor works).

The original New Warriors ended in 1996 during some lean years for Marvel. The creative team of Evan Skolnick and Patrick Zircher had valiantly carried the torch and produced some memorable stories, and legend has it that sales weren’t stellar but steady, with a fairly loyal base of readers. Even so, New Warriors, Ghost Rider and several others are said to have been targeted by someone who didn’t like the books, and they got the ax — despite turning a profit. I don’t know if that’s really true; The underdogs always seem to have tales of injustice associated with them. It’s entirely possible sales just weren’t good enough. Available sales estimate from that period aren’t that clear, so it’s hard to know for sure. Whatever the reason, New Warriors was gone, and every attempt to bring the book back has failed to recapture the original magic.

One of the problems is part of what made the original series so good. Because New Warriors was populated by B-list characters that weren’t tied to licensing, the creative teams had the freedom to allow them to evolve. They actually aged, changed their costumes, changed their names, developed new powers, lost powers, etc. Members came and went as the story needed it, a trait that continued after the original cancellation. In the process, the founding members that were so beloved grew up, and in some cases, grew out of the New Warriors. Firestar and Justice became full-fledged Avengers, for instance. And from then on, the characters from the height of the original series would never again be reunited. Every resurrection of the New Warriors featured only a portion of the old team. In one instance, there was only one returning member (who actually ended up being someone else, who had been more of a villain and uneasy ally). So the challenge has always been, how do you bring back the New Warriors when the characters most known as the New Warriors can’t be put back together?

The second challenge came later, and has turned out to be the most troublesome. In 2006, the team was sacrificed for the plot’s inciting incident of the big Civil War event. Their most high-profile appearance was as the trigger for some of the bestselling comics of the past decade. Most of the team was killed off in that scene, including original key members Night Thrasher and Namorita. In-story, the entire team was maligned as guilty of killing school children and other innocent bystanders in a bust gone wrong. The next year, a new series by Kevin Grevioux and Paco Medina tried to clean up the New Warriors name, despite featuring an almost entirely new cast. To date, it has been the most commercially successful and lengthy revivals, but after 20 issues, it too was canceled.

Seven years after Civil War, while not has much time has passed for the characters, most of the Marvel Universe has moved on. Not so for the New Warriors: It remains the modern defining moment for the characters. In New Warriors #6, Captain America and Iron Man express concern over Justice and Speedball reforming the team. “The New Warriors are a tarnished brand,” warns Tony Stark. If that’s not meta-commentary …

And that ultimately may have been the book’s undoing, which is unfortunate, because all of that is out of the hands of Yost and To. From the beginning, the book has had to handle distractions about the “tarnished brand,” from Civil War to Speedball’s tenure as the self-harming Penance. Not enough current readers actually remember them from the original series. Yost and To lovingly recall the spirit of those stories, but for most of the 45,000 people that picked up their first issue, it didn’t hold much significance. Only 26,000 returned with the second issue. By Issue 4, it had dipped into the danger zone below 20,000.

So is the New Warriors brand too damaged? Is there a way to rejuvenate a troubled property? Or is dumping their history the only way to recapture the magic of the original series? I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I suspect trademark renewal will prevent Marvel from giving up entirely on New Warriors, or any other series with cancellation tendencies.

Yost and To gave us a great ride while it lasted, and there are still three more months to go. Maybe within those stories will be a key to how to preserve these characters for the future.