Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: 'New Warriors #5' by Christopher Yost and Nick Roche

I’ve written about comics a few times in the past but have mostly shied away from titles by the “Big 2” publishers, DC and Marvel, in favor of creator-owned books. DC and Marvel are in the public consciousness; they don’t need my help singing their praises. I also don’t read much from them these days. Still every once in a while a book strikes my fancy, and I was happy to have come across one in New Warriors #5 by Christophe Yost and Nick Roche.

New Warriors is on its fifth volume at the moment; I own every issue of the previous four volumes, so the title holds a special place in my heart. The original series was one of the most daring and creative books of its time, and while the subsequent series have had their ups and downs, they’ve all tried to do something original: the second attempted to relaunch a fan-favorite title, the third was an offbeat parody of reality television, and the fourth attempted to work within the framework of the House of M and Civil War storylines, making controversial choices with some beloved characters.

And so we find ourselves at the fifth volume. I’d picked up the first 4 issues, and they were good. I’m a longtime fan of Christopher Yost, especially the way he writes young characters (New X-men is a particular favorite of mine) and Marcus To has a fun but classic superhero style to his art. The issues were lighthearted, incorporated a mix of characters that the various series have been known for, and told traditional superhero stories that are missing nowadays. The weren't standout issues but they were very solid, and for someone already invested in the franchise I enjoyed them a lot.

Issue five, however, is where the series seems to have found its footing. It more or less wraps up the story arc from the first four issues while setting things in motion for the future. As far as plot goes it’s rather light, but it more than makes up for it in other ways.

The character work in New Warriors #5 is the best in the series to date, and some of the best in mainstream superhero comics in a long time. The featured heroes might not be familiar to many readers, as they are drawn from peripheral titles, but Yost makes sure you don’t need to know everything about them. We get hints at their pasts, including more than one mystery, but their personalities shine through in their dialogue. For example, on if Scarlet Spider is Spider-man, Hummingbird’s “No! And please don’t ask him. He gets all stabby about it,” encapsulates both her character and Kaine’s in one fell swoop.

Justice is trying desperately to keep a barely-formed team together, the eager hero that he’s been for nearly 40 years. Scarlet Spider provides fun antagonistic banter, and the running Spider-man joke is a nice thread throughout. The other characters are relative unknowns, but that gives Yost a lot of room to work. The new Nova makes an appearance from his solo series, which has been enjoying success for a while; Hummingbird is overeager, naive, and a source of comic relief; Haechi is a mysterious Inhuman powerhouse (and if anyone knows how to pronounce his name, drop me a line. High-chi? Hay-chi?); Sun Girl has a hidden past with villainous origins; and Water Snake has some connection for former New Warrior Namorita, which is fun for fans of past volumes.

And then there’s Speedball. Full disclosure, Speedball has been my favorite superhero character for a long time. I even own his wonderfully absurd series by the wonderful Steve Ditko. Speedball has been through a lot in the past few years: the once happy-go-lucky young hero, whose power was essentially bouncing and releasing multicolored bubbles in the process, was in the instigating event of Civil War in which many, many children were killed. He grew serious, his powers transformed into energy blasts derived from cutting himself, and he wore a spiked suit and rechristened himself Penance. He was dark and brooding and far from his original self until he was (mostly) redeemed in the pages of Avengers Academy.

With all of that, it’s hard to reconcile what the character had become with his journey back to his former personality, but that’s the strongest part of this issue. The telepathic Hummingbird asks about Speedball’s time as Penance, and there’s a nice conversation where he attempts to explain himself while telepathically warning his teammate against her actions. It’s a phenomenal character moment that adds weight to an issue otherwise filled with levity.

It’s also an example of Yost’s real strength in integrating continuity. As any good fan knows, comic book continuity can be an indecipherable, tangled mess. Even New Warriors takes pieces of Avengers Academy, Superior Spider-man Team-Up (itself part of a larger story), Infinity, X-men, and more. That he’s able to combine the characters and their stories into a much larger arc is great; that he can take something like Speedball’s messy journey and distill it into a single powerful scene is incredible.

The art also pulls its weight in this issue. As mentioned, To’s art has a classic, archetypal feel to it, but Roche’s is a little more stylized (although not as much as former New Warriors artist Skottie Young). This adds to the writing; the characters are young, the dialogue is quick, clever, and fun, and this issue in particular was silly in parts (spoiler: there’s a character named Jake Waffles), so having an art style that’s more energetic, lighthearted while still remaining explosive, is a strength.

Overall, New Warriors #5 is a great example of using often-complicated comic book continuity and characterization and making it accessible and effective for the reader. It’s classic comic book action made modern, supported by clever, tight writing and fun art. It’s a rare book and the best that New Warriors has been in a long time, and I hope it sticks around.

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