New Guardians #1-12 (September 1988 – September 1989)
Written by Steve Englehart (#1), Cary Bates (#3-10)
Plot by Steve Englehart (#2), Carey Bates (#11-12)
Script by Cary Bates (#2), Kevin Dooley (#11-12)
Penciled by Joe Staton (#1-9), Pat Broderick (#10-12)
Inked by Mark Farmer (#1-4, 6-8), Pablo Marcos (#5, 8-9), Ralph Cabrera (#10-12)
Coloured by Anthony Tollin (#1-2, 5), Carl Gafford (#3-4), Gene D’Angelo (#6), Nansi Hoolahan (#7-12)
Spoilers (from thirty-three to thirty-four years ago)
In my last column, I wrote about Millennium, the 1988 DC summer event that saw a Guardian of the Universe and a Zamoran travel to Earth to jumpstart human evolution. They selected ten humans to teach, enlighten, and gift with great power, although along the way, that number changed and the final core group looked a little different from what they intended.
These Chosen were a multi-ethnic and sexually diverse group that included a plant-based supervillain (the Floronic Man became known as Floro), and the Guardian and Zamoran died after ensuring that they were ready to usher mankind forward, leaving them without a lot of guidance.
The concept was interesting, although the character designs and abilities didn’t really stand out compared to other new heroes in the DC line. A while after that event ended, the New Guardians was published, featuring these characters in their quest. I remember buying it because I’d loved Millennium, which was my gateway to buying a whole bunch of DC titles.
I also remember being disappointed with this book. Even though I was barely into my teens when this came out, I remember thinking that some of the portrayals were kind of pandering, and that the book lacked focus. It only lasted for a year, so I don’t think I was the only person who felt that way.
Curiously, the most maligned of these characters, Extraño, who was an uncomfortable portrayal of a Latinx gay man, is maybe the only character still showing up in comics, with recent appearances in a few DC series as an underground magician.
So, was this book as misguided and awkward as I remember it? I guess we’ll find out…
Let’s track who turned up in the title:
The New Guardians
- Harbinger (Lyla/Lily Michaels; #1-12)
- Jet (Celia Windward; #1-6)
- Gloss (Xiang Po #1-12)
- RAM (Takeo Yakata #1-12)
- Floro (fka Floronic Man, Jason Woodrue; #1-12)
- Extraño (Gregorio De La Vega; #1-12)
- Betty Clawman (#2-4, 7, 12)
- Nikolai Latikov (#2-3, 8)
- Salima Baranizar (#2, 8)
- Minister Janwillem Kroef (#1, 3-4, 8-12)
- Piet Broem (#1, 3-4, 8-9)
- Hemo-Goblin (#1)
- Snowflame (#2)
- The Cajuns (street gang; #3)
- Dr. Argolia (#4)
- Nurse Varlet (#4)
- Soltron (#4)
- Dr. Zarmakov (#5)
- Rocket Reds (#5)
- Okaarans (#6)
- Tom Kalmaku (fka Pieface; #1-5, 7-12)
- Terga Kalmaku (Tom’s wife; #1, 3-4, 8-12)
- Keith Kalmaku (Tom’s son; #1, 3-5)
- Kari Kalmaku (Tom’s daughter; #1, 3-5)
- Doctor Garth (#2-3)
- Doctor Bernard (#2-3)
- Agent John/Leon Twerlinger (CIA; #2-3, 5, 7-9)
- Kilowog (former Green Lantern; #4-8, 10-12)
- Arisia (former Green Lantern; #4-8, 11)
- Olga (Russian woman with no last name; #5-6)
- Agent Myers (Interpol; #10)
- Herupa Hando Hu (Guardians of the Universe; #12)
- Nadia Safir (Zamaron; #12)
Let’s take a look at what happened in these books, with some commentary as we go:
- It seems that some time has passed since the end of Millennium, and Harbinger has chosen to join the Chosen. The Green Lantern Corps has disbanded and left Earth. They are looking at buying a motel complex from the 1920s as their new Los Angeles headquarters. Gloss likes it because it has dragon lines, so RAM connects to whatever the internet was in 1988 to process the transaction, which costs them fifteen million. They haven’t picked a name for their team yet, nor have they really found their purpose. Extraño believes that if they are to help with the evolution of the human race, that means they have to breed, but neither he nor Floro are able to help with that, leaving it all on RAM’s shoulders, which Jet rejects. Gregorio decides to call Lyla ‘Lily’ because it’s less formal, and that sticks for the rest of the issue. Lily is being written as naive and unfamiliar with regular life; she worries about not being experienced with sex. RAM admits he doesn’t want to have sex with all of the women there, but Xiang flirts with him. Jet is curious about how she and Harbinger have such similar powers (apparently Harbinger can no longer split into twenty beings – maybe that happened in the issue of Teen Titans Spotlight that featured her and Starfire?). They fly around to demonstrate their powers, which are basically the same, except Jet can shoot green energy bolts, while Lily’s are yellow. Jet worries that the Guardians made her a copy. In South Africa, we see that Janwillem Kroef has been working with some scientists to deal with the Chosen. He meets Piet Broem, a former Olympian, who reveals that he’s more racist than Kroef. They’ve been working on a project, which has led to the creation of a creature called the Hemo-Goblin. This being, who was once human, kills and drinks the blood of a Black man as a test. Kroef meets the Hemo-Goblin, and talks about how their society is at war, spouting off standard white supremacist garbage (he almost describes the great replacement theory), and teling him he needs to kill their enemies. In LA, Tom Kalmaku plays baseball with his kids. When his wife calls them in to eat, he recaps Millennium in his mind, reminding us of his reasons for turning down the Guardian’s evolution. A couple of days later, Broem and Hemo-Goblin arrive in LA and check into their hotel, where an information package on the Chosen and a cat are waiting for them. Harbinger is in the hotel where they’ve been staying, and she worries that she doesn’t fit with the rest of the group, especially since she doesn’t know about sex (this is such a weird angle to use for this character). Gregorio chats with her, referring to himself as her “old auntie”, and tells her that sex is overrated, and that them hugging is not sex. Jet and Gloss go to a nightclub. Xiang wants to find someone to have sex with, and Celia points out that a man, who we know to be Broem, is looking at her. They start to dance, but Celia turns down some guy that hits on her. Jet decides to leave the club, and is attacked in the parking lot by Hemo-Goblin. In their fight, he bites her side. Gloss realizes something is happening and comes outside, and gets into the fight. They manage to chase off the Hemo-Goblin, pursuing him into an office building, but he gets away. They return to their new home, where Takeo tells them that Harbinger developed the exact same wound as Celia. The compare notes and decide that Kroef is likely behind this attack. Xiang tries to act like the group’s leader, but they argue against that. Floro talks about coming from a realm of plant-spirits, and uses his connection to plant life to see if he can figure out what Kroef is doing. He confirms it, and then asks LA’s salamanders to look for Hemo-Goblin. Tom watches the news coverage of the fight, and snaps at his wife, who kind of manipulates him. The team, dressed in street clothes, head to the hotel where Broem is staying. The salamanders tell Floro they are after two targets, and they decide to go find them. Broem is not in his room, but RAM and Extraño find the Goblin and start fighting him. Gregorio finds what’s left of the cat the Goblin ate earlier. The team all have to gang up on the Goblin, until Floro is able to trap him in his foliage. The Goblin escapes, and scratches Gregorio, but RAM and Gloss beat on him until he collapses. When the cops arrive, the team flees. Back at their motel headquarters, they decide to call themselves the New Guardians. Tom knocks on the door (how would he have ever found them when they just bought the place that morning?). He’s come to tell them what he saw on the news – the creature they captured has died. Floro is surprised because he seemed okay when they left. Tom explains that he had an accelerated metabolism, and that he died from AIDS. (There is no way that he could have been tested, and the results received and broadcast in the time it took the team to return home). This series is not off to a good start.
- Issue two is narrated by Gregorio, and opens with the New Guardians in a jungle in Colombia. Our six heroes are being confronted by a villain named Snowflame. He’s dressed in red with an icicle motif around the top of his boots, and around his eyes, and his body is covered in white flames. He declares that cocaine is his god, and attacks RAM. They trade blows while the others watch. RAM unleashes a string of body punches that have little effect. Snowflame’s speech gets faster and faster, while Floro talks about the plant that produces cocaine. Snowflame is joined by a group of gunmen who open fire on our heroes, seemingly killing them all, although we see that Gregorio is alive. As the gunmen start to dig a grave, Gregorio takes us on a flashback. He, Harbinger, and Jet were all exposed to the possibility of an HIV infection from the Hemo-Goblin, so the team went to see a doctor. They all tested negative, but the doctor pointed out it takes a few months for an HIV infection to become detectable. The doctor tried to reassure them that viable treatments exist. Gregorio felt more comfortable with this discussion than the two women, because of his community, but also still thinks that the Guardians are supposed to physically propagate, which would now be more difficult if they were HIV positive. The team wanted to head straight to South Africa to confront Kroef, but when they got to the airport, they were met by Agent Twerlinger of the CIA, who made it clear that they could not go to South Africa to attack a governmental minister. He basically threatened to make travel to any other country difficult for them, especially since there is no proof that the Hemo-Goblin came from Kroef. Instead, Twerlinger suggested that the Guardians help him out by traveling to Colombia to take out a drug ring in return for continuing to keep an eye out for Kroef’s activities. This brings us back to just before the shooting started. Betty Clawman, the Indigenous Australian woman who now lives in the Earth and talks only to Gregorio, warned him of the gunmen, so the team was ready when the shooting started. Now, they surprise the gunmen, who are digging a massive trench to bury them in. Gloss closes the Earth over them and the team checks on one another. They’re fine, but Betty is worried that Harbinger needs some self-care. RAM feels dishonored, so they head to Snowflame’s compound, which is a luxurious mansion and pool surrounded by a very low wall. Snowflame brags about how much money he earns, but then sees the Guardians approaching. They ask him to give up, but he inhales handfuls of blow and catches aflame. All the people that were hanging out around his pool attack the Guardians, who notice that the cocaine has made them unable to feel pain. When one touches Floro, he feels weird. RAM confronts Snowflame while Gloss figures out that Floro caught a contact high (it seems unlikely that Xiang, the Chinese Communist Party worker, would know what that is). She siphons the alkaloids out of him, and they start working together to de-coke some of the partiers, while Lily and Celia disarm the guards. RAM pushes Snowflame into the pool, but the water doesn’t extinguish his flames. RAM punches him and he flies into the chemical shed, which explodes. Gregorio is caught in the blast but he’s fine, aside from all the cocaine in his cloak. Lily feels sad about maybe having AIDS, and flies off. One of the guys from the party approaches and says that now that they all realize that cocaine and Snowflame aren’t gods, they want to worship the New Guardians. Gregorio also wonders how long his life is going to last. This issue felt disjointed.
- I’m not sure what happened behind the scenes, or how it led to the plans for this title, but with issue three, Cary Bates became the sole writer of the series. Takeo, Xiang, and Floro are hanging out at the motel when a tour bus drives by, pointing them out. They’re getting tired of this, which has been happening for the three weeks since they returned from Colombia, so Floro grows some foliage to help screen their home. Lily (no one seems to call her that anymore), Celia (this whole issue spells her name Cilia), and Gregorio (who now often gets called Gregor) have gone to the hospital, which is being protested by anti-AIDS jerks. We see two employees talking about how one of the three has tested positive, and learn they are there for the counseling offered by Doctors Garth and Bernard. Tom watches the news, which is covering the protest, and feels guilty for not being one of the Guardians, but also feels devoted to his family. The three heroes join the group session, which reads like a bit of a PSA on AIDS (which, given the year this was written, makes sense and is pretty progressive even if it reads as too manufactured now). A street gang called the Cajuns (which appears to consist of mostly Asian or Latino members) is hanging out at their headquarters. Someone has hired them to attack the New Guardians. Their connect arrives, and he pays them in cocaine and gives them some major weapons, including a bazooka. Agent Twerlinger meets with the three Guardians at the motel. He’s there to warn them that Snowflame’s associates are coming for them. Takeo accuses him of holding back information, and shares that he knows that Twerlinger’s considered deactivated by the Agency. He tosses the agent out. A man talks about his AIDS experience in the group, and harbinger freaks out, running down the hall and transforming her civilian clothes into her uniform. She flies through the wall above the protestors, and the other two Guardians go after her. Harbinger ends up in a thunderstorm, and Gregorio calls off Celia’s pursuit. Celia admits to feeling weak, possibly a side effect of her medication (thus confirming that she’s the one who is HIV positive, although I’m not sure how she would have gotten it from being bitten). Gregorio helps her rest, and says that Betty will take care of Lily. The Cajuns approach the driver on the celebrity bus route, asking about the Guardians’ motel. Betty makes contact with Harbinger, and they talk about her fears. Betty gives her a pep talk, and she seems fine. While the other three have dinner, the tour bus approaches the motel. We see that the Cajuns have the driver hostage, and they ram the bus into the motel grounds. Harbinger joins Celia and Gregorio. Harbinger admits to being ashamed by her actions, but Celia makes her feel okay, and they pledge to support one another no matter what happens. Betty warns them that the others are in danger. The Cajuns start shooting up the motel, and the three Guardians engage in a fight. Xiang controls the pool’s water, hitting them with it, while Floro animates and grows the cacti on the patio. He’s surprised to realize that they are only kids, and they are all high on cocaine. The others realize they are fighting kids too, but one of the Cajuns grabs the bazooka and shoots it at the motel, causing a lot of damage (even though the complex is made of separate buildings, one shot seems to destroy them all). The other three arrive as the fight ends. A reporter approaches the team, and Takeo tells her and the other reporters off before they all depart. Tom sees this on TV and talks to his wife about how he worries about them, but also feels lucky for what he has in life. He doesn’t know that Broem, the South African, is taking pictures of them from the bushes outside their home. In Pretoria, Kroef receives a fax of one of these photos. He talks to someone about how he wants Broem to focus on the Kalmaku family, and reveals that he knows that Terga is pregnant and wants to bring her to South Africa.
- Issue four opens at the Green Lantern Citadel. Apparently the Green Lantern Corps has been dissolved, and Kilowog and Arisia, stripped of their rings, are living in the Citadel. A trio of Japanese businessmen have offered Kilowog a large amount of money to buy the place, and the tech he’s designed in it, but he rejects their offer, going so far as to roll them out of the place on a cart. After they’re gone, Kilowog talks to Arisia, and it’s clear he’s having a hard time letting go of the Corps (his planet was destroyed, so he has no other home). Tom reads the paper, learning about how the New Guardians have lost their new home. Terga is at the doctor’s, and learns that she is indeed pregnant. Dr. Burke wants to run more tests, and she decides to wait before telling Tom. That night, Kilowog is woken by the Citadel’s intruder alarm. He rushes to the armory for a massive gun, and opens the door to confront the intruders. It’s the New Guardians, looking for a place to stay. Once inside, the Guardians talk about how they have nowhere to stay, and how they’re worried that wherever they go will become a target for their enemies. He and Arisia are happy to have them. Takeo brings up the fact that perhaps Kilowog’s tech could help them treat Jet’s AIDS (I thought she was only HIV positive before now). The next day, Kilowog runs some tests on Gloss’s powers, learning about the dragon lines of power, which overload his equipment. He uses a variety of weapons to test Harbinger’s invulnerability, eventually finding something strong enough to shake her confidence a little. He sets up a machine that allows him to talk to Betty through Extraño. He also watches Jet fly through a scanner of some sort, and learn that her body merges with the ‘Earth-ether’. Floro talks to him about how, as a plant, he contains both male and female reproductive organs. He also demonstrates his plant-growth powers. When examining RAM, he learns that he can contain a lot of data, and that Takeo is no longer troubled by human concerns. Later, Lily, Gregorio, and Takeo talk about Kilowog while he’s in the room, and Arisia explains that he’s been lost since losing his ring, but now has a purpose again. Xiang brings up the fact that now Harbinger and Extraño are HIV positive, and that Jet has full-blown AIDS (even though it’s been like a day since last issue). Terga tells Tom about the baby, and they are happy. She mentions that she has to go in for more tests. Piet Broem watches them from the bushes and tells the Minister that he’s right. In Japan, the three businessmen talk about delaying telling their Russian associate that they failed to buy the Citadel, instead choosing to send a robot called Soltron to get what they were after. Terga goes to the doctor to find that someone has replaced him. Dr. Argolia seems a little suspect, claiming that Burke was “incapacitated” the night before. When she tries to leave, Nurse Varlet grabs her, and Argolia gives her a shot, knocking her out. Kilowog has Jet, Harbinger, and Extraño on examination tables (I noticed that none of our heroes get called by their first names in this issue). They’re getting a little impatient, but Kilowog is determined to cure their HIV/AIDS, even though he’s finding the virus harder to cure than he expected. The intruder alarm goes off again. He heads outside, and finds Soltron – a large, very blandly designed Transformer reject. When he shoots at the robot, it fires back. It tosses Kilowog and proceeds towards the Citadel. Gloss, RAM, and Floro come out (this is two issues in a row where they are the only Guardians who fight). They are able to use their powers to knock the robot down. When RAM interfaces with it, he triggers a self-destruct, and they drag Kilowog away before it explodes. Later, Kilowog and RAM place the remaining parts in a storeroom, with plans to check it later for clues as to where it came from. After they leave, it starts to reassemble itself. Tom tries to find his wife by phoning Dr. Burke’s office, and learns that the Doctor was attacked the night before and is in a coma. They don’t know where his wife is. We see that she’s unconscious on a plane heading for South Africa. Broem talks to Kroef over videophone, but when he asks what his plans are for Terga, Kroef makes it clear he’s not to ask that question.
- Tom has a dream that the New Guardians bring Terga home to him, only for them all to be attacked by unseen enemies. He wakes up yelling, and his kids come to comfort him. He takes them back to bed and reassures them that the Guardians will help him. His daughter’s name is misspelled. The Guardians and Arisia surround Kilowog and Jet as he tries to irradiate her AIDS into disappearing. While this happens, the remains of Soltron reassemble and start scanning the store room. Kilowog admits that his treatment didn’t work, and Harbinger makes things about herself before taking off. The new version of Soltron finds what it’s looking for, and drills out of the Citadel, flying off into the night. Kilowog finds the hole it leaves, and realizes that the Japanese businessmen from last issue stole something. He figures out it is the physio-micronics prototype, a small microchip that was originally built to help the Rocket Red Brigade. Kilowog is able to track the microchip, and sees that it’s headed to Japan. It arrives, and the businessmen examine it, and prepare to sell it to a Dr. Zarmakov in Russia. The Guardians and Arisia help Kilowog build an eight-seater jet to take to Japan. Somehow, it makes sense that people like Floro and Extraño can complete complex aeronautic tasks, based on their previous lives as an extra-dimensional plant person or barfly in a Peruvian barrio. Harbinger returns to the group, and comments that it seems pointless to have eight seats on the jet, seeing as Jet is going to die soon. Gregorio shames her. The team is finally ready to depart, now heading for Russia since the microchip has moved there. Kilowog admits that he never gave their jet a test flight. In Russia, Zarmakov places the microchip into a Rocket Red suit, and then pays the Japanese for bringing it to him. He gives Misha, the Rocket Red with the chip, a special test mission. The Japanese men drink sake in their helicopter, but then learn that Misha is their pilot. He blows up the helicopter and flies off with their briefcase of money. Tom goes to the Citadel, but no one is home, so he cuts a hole in the wall (the art is not clear here). Once inside, he’s tackled by Agent Twerlinger, who I guess has also broken in. Twerlinger agrees to help Tom find Terga. A couple of days later, Zarmakov has replicated the chip so now he has five upgraded Rocket Reds. When he sees Kilowog’s unidentified vessel approaching, he sends the Reds to destroy it. He reveals to his assistant Olga that the microchip gives him control over the wills of the men in the suits. They attack the ship, but Kilowog has given it a repeller cocoon feature, which turns away their energy blasts. Three Reds fire at once, bursting the cocoon and hurting Kilowog. Harbinger has to take control of the ship, crashing it into a forest. Floro tries to help Gergorio, who was hurt, using plant medicine, which he learns he can’t do for Kilowog due to his allergies. Jet, Gloss, and Harbinger take to the air to fight the Reds, smashing them into one another. Zarmakov tracks only one Red, which returns to him. He orders him to kill Olga, who is disagreeing with him, but instead, the Red punches him out. It’s Harbinger, wearing a stolen suit. Olga hugs her and accepts her as a harbinger of peace.
- Issue six is the first of two issues that tie into Invasion!, the summer crossover that saw aliens from across the DCU trying to take over the Earth. In the beginning, the Guardians (with Kilowog and Arisia) are hanging out at Olga’s home in Moscow, where it seems they’ve been her guests for a little while. Their evening of board games and Hollywood bootlegs gets interrupted when they learn that a large fleet of alien ships is crossing China, killing thousands as it heads towards the Soviet Union. The Guardians are surprise to learn about this, but Xiang makes it clear that they have to act. Olga suggests they leave Jet with her, as Celia’s been getting weaker and weaker. As they say goodbye to their Russian friend, who appears to be on the precipice of becoming more to Kilowog, Jet insists on joining them even though she’s weak (there is some very ableist treatment directed towards her). Staton does a good job of showing that Celia is wasting away. The team flies their jet into China, and finally spot the trail of destruction caused by the aliens. They land in the smoking rubble of a village, where everything living has been vaporized. Xiang realizes that the aliens are heading towards Ning Po, the village where her parents live. They decide the best way to get there is to walk, to avoid detection, and Gregorio scrounges some cloaks from a “Chinese laundry” (as if there would be a non-Chinese laundry in China). As they walk, they see that the alien ships aren’t moving. In Ning Po, some Okaarans hold people at gunpoint. Kilowog attacks them, joined by Floro. Soon they are fighting off a half-dozen Okaarans, while the others choose to maintain their disguise. The lead vessel demands peace, and threatens to kill everyone in the village. Kilowog and Floro stand down, and the Okaarans, recognizing them as aliens, give them the chance to leave the village, which they accept. On the outskirts, we learn that the cold is affecting Floro. The Okaarans leave Ning Po, heading for their camp. The rest of the Guardians (and Arisia, who does nothing in this whole issue) stick around. Xiang spots her elderly parents, who are not impressed with the changes she’s undergone, especially as they don’t approve of her clothes. They suggest she leave so the heroes don’t get the village killed. Kilowog has a laser pistol which he uses to warm Floro. The Guardians chat. Celia tells Gregorio that she’s not afraid of dying but is afraid of having not made a mark on the world. Some locals have a plan. They want to deliver the wreckage of an Okaaran shuttle to the Okaaran base, but have hidden a lot of dynamite in it. RAM and the others interrupt them, disputing the effectiveness of their plan, but liking its general idea. The next day, we see the tractor delivering the wreckage to the Okaarans, but it’s Gloss that’s driving. She taps into the dragon lines to blow apart part of the base, and the other Guardians (minus Floro) attack. They do well in the fight, and do even better when Kilowog and Floro join them. Gregorio realizes that an Okaaran has called in the fleet, ordering them to kill everyone in China. The team has most of the Okaarans stacked in a pile when they realize that reinforcements are coming from the air. Gregorio explains, and Jet flies up to meet the alien fleet. Again, being kind of ableist, the others think she’s got dementia, but she uses her powers on a massive scale to mess with the electromagnetics of the alien ships. Many ships crash and the rest retreat, but Celia is not able to shut off her power. It’s suggested that the overload she experiences makes her explode; we only see the horrified reaction of her friends. Later, Gregorio speaks to everyone about how Celia was a hero. RAM tells them that he’s received a message from Captain Atom, and that the team needs to go to the United States. This story is continued in Invasion! #2.
- With the alien invasion having been routed, and Kilowog and Arisia returned to the Citadel, the remaining five New Guardians gather in China to pay tribute to Celia, their lost teammate. Harbinger (her first name, or her nickname, never get used anymore) and Gregorio seem to have accepted her death more than the others. Betty appears in the sky to all of them, and chastises Gloss, RAM, and Floro for having doubts or self-pity. They admit that they were thinking of taking a break from their New Guardian duties (which still aren’t very clear). Gloss leaves to visit her parents in their village, while RAM prepares to fly to Japan in their jet, promising to drop Floro off along the way. Harbinger says she can fly Gregorio back to the Citadel, and the team splits up. Later, RAM drops Floro off in the South American rainforest. Xiang visits her parents and saves some kids from being hit by a bunch of steel beams that fall off a truck. An old man calls her cursed for using the Earth’s energy. Takeo presents himself to his father, a rich businessman (even though Takeo’s first appearance in Millennium referred to him being a self-made man who launched his company out of a repair shop). His father rejects him since he’s no longer human. Floro is attacked by a leopard who doesn’t realize that he’s not meat. When Floro fights the beast and saves himself, the Parliament of Trees is upset that he has contempt for carnivores. Gregorio arrives in Peru (even though we just saw him heading for the Citadel) and finds an old friend. He shares his HIV status with him, and then walks around his old neighbourhood, where many of his old haunts have closed and been boarded up. Harbinger arrives at the Citadel in the jet (something is odd here) and doesn’t bother Kilowog and Arisia, who are testing some weapons. Instead, she decides to organize vid-tape data-banks (whatever that means). She’s sad to see Celia’s face. In China, Xiang appears to lose control of her powers while she sleeps, and ends up destroying her whole village. Takeo, walking down the street, gets snatched by an odd looking vehicle. The Parliament of Trees judges Floro and decides he should be eaten by insects. Gregorio ends up in a cemetery, visiting friends who passed from AIDS. A bolt of lightning strikes him, and then flows into the mountain next to him. He discovers a crystal skull, and when he looks at it, energy beams flow from its eyes into him. Arisia and Kilowog discover Harbinger, who has found surveillance tape of Tom and Twerlinger talking in the Citadel. She’s learned that Terga was kidnapped, and uses the Guardians’ satellites (why would they or the Green Lantern Corps have satellites?) to learn that Terga is in South Africa, taken by Kroef (who is oddly only called by his first name in this issue). RAM finds himself strapped down, prisoner of rivals to his father who want to take him apart. Floro, who is in tatters, feels sorry for himself. Gloss feels guilt over having caused so much destruction. These three Guardians wake up and realize that Betty had taken them into Dreamtime to show them their fears. She contrasts them to Gregorio and Harbinger, who have accepted their fate. Just then, Gregorio, looking very different in a skimpy vest, carrying his crystal skull, flies up to them and tells them that he has newfound knowledge. Harbinger also arrives in their jet to show them a photo of Tom and Twerlinger being taken prisoner by Kroef’s men in South Africa. The figure they can’t use their own craft, so they decide to disguise themselves using Gregorio’s magick and fly coach. As they approach their boarding gate, the metabomb is detonated, everything goes black and white, and we see that the story is continued in Invasion! #3 (I’d forgotten that this was a tie-in).
- Issue eight opens with Tom and Twerlinger being surrounded by gunmen in a township in South Africa. Twerlinger provides them with papers and they are let go. They surveil Minister Kroef’s base on a mountain (it’s worth noting that Kroef’s name is spelled Kroet throughout this whole issue). In Atlanta, some of the Guardians are speaking to two doctors. They learn that the gene-bomb explosion had no effect on RAM, Floro, or Gloss. Gregorio joins them and tells them that while he has no symptoms of AIDS, the HIV virus is still in his blood. Harbinger also enters the room and says that there is no trace of HIV in her blood anymore, meaning she’s cured. They figured that it’s because of the strange symbiotic link between Harbinger and Jet, so they figure when she died, it took the HIV away (this makes no sense, but okay). Gregorio reminds them that they were going to go looking for Tom’s wife. In a massive complex in South Africa, Kroef expresses irritation that Broem and his people still haven’t learned what he wants from examining Terga and her fetus. He expects that, as the first offspring of one of the Chosen, there’d be something different about the child that he can use. Twerlinger and Tom are climbing the side of the mountain that Kroef’s facility is on top of, and they don’t notice that they trip an infrared security device. Tom asks Twerlinger about how he was fired from the CIA. He explains that he was involved in something called the ‘starscam’ scandal, which was kept secret from the public. He was chosen as the fall-guy and was fired. A pair of helicopters approach them and order their surrender. Tom tells Twerlinger to jump with him, and they leap down to a ledge below them. Tom spots a cave, and they are able to hide without the helicopter’s searchlights spotting them. The Guardians’ shuttle approaches South African airspace, and is interdicted by a pair of jets who order them away. The shuttle turns back, and we see that only Kilowog and Arisia are onboard, working to create a diversion for their friends. The Guardians, meanwhile, are driving through the country disguised as Black South Africans. They are stopped by a military patrol, who demand their papers and rough them up when none are available. The soldiers use racial slurs, and pull their guns on our heroes. Twerlinger helps patch Tom up from injuries he got in the fall, and Tom shares his regret that he turned away from the New Guardians to protect his family, yet still got his wife and child involved in this situation. Kroef learns that his people haven’t found Tom yet, and goes to see Terga, telling her that he rejected his “Chosen” status because the other Chosen weren’t white like him. He tells Terga that he intends to dissect her child. The soldiers drag the disguised Guardians behind a tank, but Extraño’s spell wears off, revealing their true selves. They stand against the soldiers, who recognize them, and Gregorio uses his crystal skull to destroy their tank’s weaponry. Gloss opens a crevasse beneath them, and Floro plucks the soldiers out of it. RAM interrogates them. As Twerlinger and Tom move around on the mountain, Twerlinger discovers a lever that opens an entrance into the mountain. Kroef and some guards are waiting there, and we learn that Twerlinger is working for Kroef, and led Tom to him. Kroef says something that makes it sound like Terga and their baby is dead.
- Floro grows a cactus around one of the soldiers the Guardians captured, so he opens up about where Kroef has taken Terga. They walk towards Kroef’s stronghold, and RAM steps away to think for a bit. Tom has been given a truth serum that causes him to have a terrible dream about Kroef experimenting on his unborn child. Kroef interrogates Tom to see if he’s there with the Guardians. Twerlinger speaks up to protect Tom, and Kroef calls him out for developing a conscience after doing all the things he paid him to do, including sending the Guardians to Colombia for him, and convincing Tom to trust him. The New Guardians try to figure out how to infiltrate the compound, but then RAM shows them a hologram of the building he was able to discover after hacking their computers. They find a ventilation system at the base of the hill, and plan to enter through there. Twerlinger comes to Tom in his cell to explain things. Tom isn’t interested in hearing him, and tells him off. The art draws our attention to a small fly in the room. Twerlinger feels very bad. Broem explains to Kroef that there is nothing special about Tom’s fetus, and Kroef takes that as a sign that it was conceived before Tom was Chosen. He tells Broem that he’s going to take Tom with him to “the Colony” and that Broem is to kill Terga within the hour. Twerlinger is shown eavesdropping on them. The New Guardians find the ventilation grate, and RAM disables its security. Tom feels guilty about his choices, and is tranquilized by some guards. Broem helps Terga out of the examining table that she was being held captive on, and apologizes to her for the fact that she’s going to die. Twerlinger knocks out a guard to steal his uniform. The Guardians enter the facility but trip a pressure alarm. They split up. Tom is loaded into Kroef’s helicopter, as a guard tells Kroef that the Guardians are inside the building. He tells them to take care of them, but once his chopper is in the air, sets the building’s self-destruct for ten minutes. Some guards gas Gloss, but their gas doesn’t work on Extraño, who takes them out and helps Xiang stand up. Twerlinger, who is not wearing a guard’s uniform, saves Terga from the guards that were going to shoot her, and refers to himself as Leon, even though an earlier issue named him John. He puts Terga in a golfcart like vehicle and they drive off. Floro gets into a fight with a trio of guards. Other guards shoot at RAM and Harbinger, but have no effect on them. Twerlinger takes Terga towards RAM and Harbinger, but gets shot in the process. When the rest of the Guardians arrive, Xiang calls Twerlinger Leon as well, and he dies asking that they pass on his apology to Tom. Broem tells them that the building is going to explode in five seconds, and we see the whole building explode. Kroef lets Tom know that his friends and wife are dead, and that he is going to be joining them. The helicopter flies over the Colony, which appears to be a clearing full of misshapen and mutated humans.
- Pat Broderick became the series artist with issue ten, which is a bit of a surprise. Kroef tosses Tom out of the helicopter into his Colony, which swarms all over him, while he wishes he’d accepted the Guardians’ power. As Kroef’s facility explodes, Extraño manages to conjure a shield around his friends, saving Terga in the process. She freaks out about whether or not Tom was inside the building, so while Floro makes her a bed out of some bushes, the others start to search the rubble for a trace of Tom (weirdly, they don’t seem to find the bodies of anyone else that was inside the place). They do find a VHS tape, which RAM is able to read by looking at it, and it surprises him. Kroef has sent a couple of his guards into the Colony to bring back proof that Tom is dead. The guards are frightened off by the creatures who swarm their car, so they just grab some random bones to claim as Tom’s. Kroef’s video tape contains him complaining about the New Guardians being mostly non-white, and he admits to his efforts to stop them. He brags about having caused Jet’s death through the Hemo-Goblin, and talks about his growing army of mutates that he’s hoping to let loose in parts of the world he doesn’t approve of, to kill native populations. One selling feature of these mutates is that they worship him. The Guardians are watching this tape at an Interpol office (in South Africa?) with an agent named Myers (probably not South African). On the tape, which they think was sent out to potential investors in his scheme, Kroef brags about his island retreat, and RAM tries to interface with the computers in the office to locate it. The guards on the island claim to have Tom’s remains, but Kroef is too busy on the phone to talk to them. He’s working out some sort of exchange. Interpol has one of Kroef’s men, but before they can use truth serum on him, he eats a poison capsule and dies. Gregorio rushes into the room and, using his crystal skull, is able to extract information from him. He learns of this exchange Kroef was figuring out – a shadowy group is sending him weapons as a way of being part of his movement – and now they know where they need to go. They call Kilowog, who flies their shuttle to them, and then they use it to force down the arms shipment plane. The Guardians take out the guards on the plane, and then prepare to fly it themselves. Floro has Kilowog stay behind to look after Terga. Later, the Guardians land at the arranged meeting place, and seeing Kroef’s armed guards, realize he was never going to honour the arrangement. They fight the guards, taking them out quickly. Xiang wants to keep going, in Tom’s memory. We see that Tom is not dead, though – he’s glowing, and sitting in a circle of mutates, teaching them about his inner light.
- Kevin Dooley joined Bates with writing this issue. The Guardians are in an Interpol facility in Europe at night, and hear Terga calling Tom’s name. They all rush to her aid, and find her sitting in her bed. She tells them that he came to her in a dream, and now she knows he’s still alive. The Guardians don’t believe this news, and plot revenge on Kroef. In South Africa, Kroef examines the bones that were given to him as Tom’s, and can tell they aren’t authentic. While he waits for the guards that gave them to him, he watches a screen and sees that the Guardians hijacked his arms shipment. When the guards arrive, he reveals that he knows they lied, and appears to grow in size as his rage grows. He hits them, killing them both with a single blow. Another guard points out that Tom is visible on his viewscreen, walking around the Colony. We see that the mutates, who are now being called Neo-Hybrids, are following Tom. Kroef, who is still drawn as bigger than the others, enters the Colony in an armored truck, and starts firing a mounted machine gun at them. Tom is able to use his new blue aura to make the bullets disappear. He starts to fly away, and the New-Hybrids fly after him, being dragged by his energy. Kroef and his men keep shooting, but it doesn’t do anything. Tom is shocked by his new powers, and while he’s confused, wants to just let things unfold. Kroef thinks back to why he rejected Nadia and Herupa in Millennium, and how he and Tom are opposites. When a guard speaks to him, we see that Kroef has grown horns, fangs, and longer fingernails. He is upset that the guard suggests he negotiate with the New Guardians, and his words make them all turn on one another and start shooting. Kroef returns to normal and realizes what he’s done. Gregorio uses his crystal skull to channel Tom’s spirit, and learns about him falling into the Colony, and how the creatures there first surrounded him. Gregorio fears that Tom was killed after all, and the team falls silent. Gregorio suggests they go confront Kroef. Kroef feels he should test his new abilities. The Guardians are now in the Green Lantern Citadel in California (I’m not sure when they left Europe). Kilowog and Gregorio talk about how to get to Kroef’s island, and Kilowog asks to come with them. The others speak to Terga, and Arisia promises to look after her while they’re gone. They all board their shuttle and take off. Kroef uses his new powers to get some more guards to fight each other, and he realizes he can use these abilities on the New Guardians. On the shuttle, the Guardians argue a little. As they arrive at the island, they fire missiles at it, maybe destroying its defenses. They approach the door to Kroef’s bunker, and prepare to break in using Gregorio’s skull. RAM argues with him, and Gregorio blasts him. Gloss and Harbinger start fighting too, and then Gloro gets involved. Kilowog asks them what they’re doing, and they all turn on him, blasting him. Kroef, transformed again, appears and the Guardians, clearly under his sway, bow to him.
- Kilowog lies on the ground, recovering from his injuries, and recapping what’s happened. We learn that the Guardians took Kroef somewhere, and that Kilowog thinks he’s dying. He sees Tom Kalmaku, wearing a floor length gown of some sort, approaching him, but thinks it’s a vision caused by his impending death. Kroef, who still has horns, is in the Green Lantern Citadel with the New Guardians. He’s ranting about how Tom is his enemy, and the Guardians commit themselves to killing Tom and advancing the white race. Some of the Neo-Hybrids bring Kilowog food, and are healing him with plants. He talks to them (they don’t appear to talk) about what happened with the Chosen in the Millennium series, and how Tom turned the Guardians down, but Herupa (the Guardian of the Universe) gave him latent powers. Tom, wearing his gown, comes to talk to Kilowog. He explains that when Kroef threw him out of the helicopter, the Neo-Hybrids caught him and were going to kill him, but his power manifested and he realized that Kroef had only taught them to hate. He was able to bring their goodness out, and they stopped following Kroef. Tom wants Kilowog to help him rescue the New Guardians. At the Citadel, RAM sets up a television broadcast for Kroef. He has a special transmitter that will let him cut into broadcasts around the world, in the language the viewers speak (and I guess he brought it with him to California?). He starts talking to people everywhere about how he wants to remove anyone who isn’t white from the Earth, and house them in orbiting space stations. He brags that he controls the New Guardians, so he’ll be able to do this (honestly, this is more deranged than a Trump rally). Tom appears on a viewscreen telling Kroef that the world doesn’t agree with him (this feels obvious). Tom challenges him to return to his island and face him. Kroef orders the Guardians to their shuttle. As they depart, we see the faces of Herupa Hando Hu and Nadia Safir, who I guess hope that the Guardians will fix things. Tom and his Neo-Hybrid friends wait. The Guardians arrive, and dive bomb their shuttle right into Tom. The Guardians and Kroef are protected by Gregorio, but Tom manages to protect his friends too. Kroef yells about strength, and has the Guardians start to fight the Neo-Hybrids. The Guardians sound like Kroef, talking about freaks and power and stuff like that. Kroef keeps ranting, putting down his own creations, and, as he grows more horns, how he is better than everyone. Tom stands before him, his blue aura growing, and decides to meet Kroef’s darkness with his light. It’s Tom’s turn to talk now, and he mentions how Betty Clawman showed him inner truth, and how it’s stronger than hatred and fear. He mentions how all of the Chosen, including those that died, contributed to the light, and as his aura expands, the Neo-Hybrids are transformed into beings of light. Now they all float in front of Kroef, who claims that Tom is using cheap fireworks. Tom’s light washes over the New Guardians, freeing them from Kroef’s control. Kroef’s powers (and horns) disappear, and he’s left realizing that his hatred kept him from looking at his own ugliness. He rips off his neo-fascist uniform and sits looking sad. The Guardians surround Tom, who explains that the Neo-Hybrids are the true Chosen. Herupa and Nadia appear in the sky, with Betty, to tell them that they’ve succeeded, and that everything that’s happened is something they planned. Now Tom’s taught a dozen of the Neo-Hybrid to love and teach by example, and the visions leave. Gregorio insists that the New Guardians are still the Chosen, and that these are the New Chosen. RAM insists that they are still important for evolution to take place, although Floro wants time to think about things. Terga appears in as a projection or something, and tells Tom that she loves him. The book ends with Tom declaring his love for everyone.
Yeah, that series was a mess. I’ll try to be fair, as it’s clear that there were editorial and staffing issues with this comic from the beginning, and it was explained in a letter column that sales weren’t good, so the book had to end. I’m not sure what caused Steve Englehart to leave, but his departure quickly changed the tone and direction of the book. Then, at the end, Cary Bates was joined by Kevin Dooley to wrap things up, and I don’t know what the circumstances around that were either.
This was always going to be a hard sell of a series. Basically, the premise is that a group of regular people from various countries and backgrounds were transformed into pretty conventional and unremarkable superheroes with the goal of ushering in the evolution of all of humanity. What do you do with a concept like that? How do you make human evolution a compelling subject for a superhero series?
At first, it looked like Englehart was taking this book into strange directions, with the discussion of whether or not it was the Guardians’ job to procreate. This was, of course, made difficult by the fact that RAM was the only heterosexual male in the group, and he was no longer human (I think deeper examination of Floro’s hermaphroditism would have been interesting). The scenes with Harbinger showing fear of sex were cringey.
It made a lot of sense for Janwillem Kroef to be set up as the big villain of the series, given that he was both one of the Chosen and an unapologetic white supremacist living in what was then considered a much-reviled nation because of its apartheid policies (unlike today, where another apartheid state gets a free pass from world leaders). It took them a while to really set him up as a serious problem though, and that involved some Island of Dr. Moreau plot points, and for him to have powers of his own.
At the beginning of this series, it started to look like an “issues comic”. The use of an intentionally diverse cast, and the inclusion of the most openly gay character in comics to that point felt like a mission statement at times, and it’s hard to remember to consider this book in the context of the late 80s instead of today. I’ll talk about Gregorio in a bit, as I want to leave distance between the topics of a gay character and the AIDS crisis, something that were not divorceable at that time.
This book was bold in its portrayal of three heroes dealing with their HIV, and then AIDS, status, but it never focused quite enough on it. The timeline feels very strange, with Jet moving from original infection to death in a short span of “story time”. I like that Bates had the characters going to support groups, and how he used the book to try to de-stigmatize the disease. I’m sure this was incredibly important to some readers, and this topic dominated the letters column. Sadly, the AIDS plot fell away quickly as the book raced to its conclusion.
The other “issue” dealt with early in the book is the Drug War, with the character of Snowflame, who worships cocaine as his god, being perhaps the worst villain of the 80s. Maybe it’s because his issue was so bad that Englehart got removed (I’m joking – he was already half out the door, as he only plotted that issue).
I don’t know if I’ve ever read a team book (outside of a Big Six or Seven version of the Justice League or Avengers) with less character development. Really, I feel like Gregorio was the only character in this book, and even he left readers wanting. I want to discuss each of the Guardians for a bit.
RAM – Takeo was a successful businessman, who turned into a silicon-based being who could interface with electronics and computers. He appeared to be pretty strong. He maybe had some issues with his father. That’s it. In twelve issues, we didn’t learn anything more about him, and I’m not even sure that his personality was depicted consistently. He was pretty quiet.
Gloss – Xiang drew her powers from the Earth, and talked about it like she was a Chris Claremont-created member of the X-Men. She had parents in a rural village in China who didn’t like her outfit. In Millennium, she was depicted as a Communist True Believer, but here, she wanted to go out and meet men, at the beginning, and then went whole issues without speaking. Her powers might have been impressive, but we never got to explore them. She and RAM, the two Asian characters, were basically ciphers.
Jet – I thought that Celia had the most potential of any of these characters when we first met her. She had a bit of attitude, and wasn’t easily impressed by the most incredible things. I thought she’d be interesting, but then we learned she was somehow symbiotically connected to Harbinger, she got sick, and she died. Even her big death scene ended up being pretty underwhelming, as all her potential just wasted away like her body.
Extraño – Gregorio was clearly the main character of this comic, and he moved from being a bit of a homophobic stereotype into the strongest and most compassionate character on the team. We knew from the start that he was gay, but his sexuality was largely subsumed by the fact that he was more familiar than everyone else with HIV/AIDS, and then took his own status stoically. In Englehart’s issues, we saw him trying to support Harbinger, but as the book progressed, and no one was really friends, the focus became more about building up his powerset. I have no idea what the deal with his crystal skull was. Perhaps that would have been explored more had the book continued, but I’m not sure why he needed an external source of power. It’s interesting that (with the possible exception of Woodrue) Gregorio is the only character from this book that has shown up in the last few years with any regularity, as a bit of an underground magician and gay icon.
Floro – Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man, was the most established character here, although I’ll admit that I was a little surprised to learn he was from another dimension, but also was a human that once worked with Alec Holland before he became Swamp Thing. Floronic Man was a villain type, but in this book, Floro was a friendly oddball member of the team. There was no mention of the fact that he’d escaped Arkham Asylum, and he never really fit with the rest of the team. I’m not sure why he was chosen for this book.
Harbinger – Of all the characters in this book, I think that the portrayal of Harbinger was the most messed up. She was introduced in Crisis on Infinite Earths, and we knew that she was an immensely powerful individual who had spent her entire life on the Monitor’s space station. Now she was on her own, and had lost her main power, which was to divide herself into twenty perfect copies. I’m not sure how she lost those powers (I think her only appearance between Millennium #8 and New Guardians #1 was in an issue of Teen Titans Spotlight, so presumably it was there, as was her decision to join the team), but once she accepted her place as a New Guardian, she basically decided it was her role to embrace her position as the team’s token white person. And she exemplified that role. When people talked about propagating, she made it all about her. When three of the team were exposed to HIV, she made it all about her, to the point where she wrecked the wall of a hospital. When Celia died of AIDS, she managed to make that about herself too. There was a weird moment in the first issue where Gregorio decided to change her name from Lyla to Lilly, and after that, no one ever referred to her by either name again. I think that might be because, in their heads, they were all calling her “Karen.” I’m just not sure what the point of this character depiction was. I assumed she was meant to be the character that drew people into the book, as she was the most established, but her entire personality changed, and then she just got as quiet as the rest of them.
Tom Kalmaku – If I had to pick a second main character of this book, I think it would be Tom. His journey from suburban dad to cosmic messiah was one of the most consistent throughlines of this series, but it was never really handled in such a way that I became interested in knowing him. I’m pretty sure that Tom and his family are Indigenous to the land we call Alaska (I don’t want to use the slur that would have been used to describe him back in the day, and don’t know what nation he is from), but their culture was never put on display in this series at all. Tom’s kids just kind of disappeared, and his wife became nothing more than a plot point. I’m curious how Tom has been used since this, and if his powers got retconned away.
Betty Clawman – Of all the original Chosen, Betty was the most interesting. Indigenous to Australia, Betty joined the Earth, and was supposed to speak to the team through Gregorio, but she didn’t show up very often, and was given no character development. I think that her point of view would have been really interesting, and I would have liked to get to know her better.
Janwillem Kroef – Kroef could have been a nuanced and interesting villain for this team, but he quickly devolved into a temper-tantrum throwing minor dictator. His apartheid era white supremacy wasn’t shown to be the insidious threat to freedom that it is, as he became more cartoonish, ranting about sending all non-white people to space. This was another missed opportunity, but perhaps his being a foil for the team counts as an 80s version of virtue signaling.
Kilowog got more character development than most of the stars of this book, as he struggled to find his place after the Green Lantern Corps was disbanded, and apparently, Hal Jordan was killed. It often felt like Bates was trying to make him into DC’s answer to Ben Grimm, and that got a little awkward at times too.
In the end, this book was deeply flawed and poorly executed. There were tons of basic errors, like the way that characters’ names were misspelled (Celia became Cilia, and Kroef spent a whole issue being called Kroet). If there was an original vision for this book, it was quickly altered, bastardized, and then rushed to an unsatisfactory ending, before the characters were more or less written off forever. I guess we haven’t evolved.
Joe Staton’s art on this book was better than I remembered it, and I started to understand why he was popular, something I didn’t get at the time. Pat Broderick’s issues were rushed, and not as good as the work he was doing with Batman at the same time (was he drawing two issues a month then?).
In the end, New Guardians kind of pissed away the opportunities that came out of Millennium, a line-wide crossover that served to introduce these characters to the world. You kind of have to wonder what the point was. These weren’t terrible comics, but they did not live up to their potential.
For my next set of columns, I want to dive into a series that I’ve been wanting to reread since I started doing this. I finally got access to the last of my longboxes from storage, and now I can’t wait to tear into one of Marvel’s best titles that has never been collected (and likely never will be). I can’t wait!
If you’d like to see the archives of all of my retro review columns, click here.