I’m a couple days late on this. Yesterday was Speedball’s 32nd birthday, and as anyone who has heard or read me for long enough knows – that is my all time favorite superhero.
30 years ago I had read Speedball until he was cancelled. I moved on to Avengers and loved West Coast first, then Solo and original Avengers were tied for second. Thus, when the Acts of Vengeance story started I had to read it all. This was a huge Avengers crossover that spilled over into other books. And that worked. I wanted to see more of this story and started buying comics I had never read before. Captain America, Spider-Man, and more featured tie ins to the tale. Even Thor, who I only read once before because there was a Daredevil appearance, had the Acts of Vengeance logo in the corner. A battle between Thor and the Juggernaut took place. Great battle. I’m new to comics and sure that there’s no way Thor wins. Suddenly help comes out of no where. Who are these teen superheroes? I’m new to comics so I have no idea if these are brand new characters to everyone or just to me. OMG, there’s Speedball! Speedball is on this team! What’s happening?! Tune in for the next issue! Every day I looked at magazine racks and spinners for a new issue. I didn’t want to risk missing this. No way I could have. That’s a hell of a cover. The New Warriors help Thor win and at the end there is an editorial announcement to follow this new team in New Warriors #1. Again the waiting game.
I bought every issue of New Warriors because I loved Speedball. As time and time again went on, I fell in love with all of the members. I didn’t know Nova from the 70’s nor Firestar from the cartoon. This team connected me to the entire Marvel Universe. Namorita to Namor to Fantastic Four. Marvel Boy to Guardians of the Galaxy. Connections to X-Men, Avengers, all corners of the connected universe.
These teenage super heroes were fresh. While some history was there I could still follow everything happening. New supporting casts and villains were introduced. Most of their stories were self contained. I could experience the entire universe through this small piece of it.
Likewise, I was experiencing a larger world through the comics. I had yet to explore the world or even a large city in real life. I had school friends but looking back we were all very similar. While I may be a straight, white, Christian male I was an outcast because I didn’t like sports and read comics. People will always find a reason to push aside those they find different. The Warriors had freaks, mutants, geeks, and the first leading black man I ever read in Night Thrasher.
This isn’t a thing I was aware of when I was younger. Later in life I became more aware of the lack of not white male leads across all the entertainment I loved. Now, some seem on purpose. There were racist wrestling promoters, for example. But others were people just not thinking of having a character for every audience.
Speedball was my introductory character. Teen, he had problems, he is unaware how to use his powers, he’s uncomfortable, goofy, but wants to try to do the best with what he has. He was my representation on the page. Just like Spider-Man was. Just like why every golden age hero had a kid sidekick. To put the reader into the story.
Night Thrasher was cool. Self made, rich, confident, strong. Made his armor. Had tech and a support staff. Had a tragic personal enemy that he loved story. Had a woman he actually did love. Made mistakes while trying to make the world better. He was also a strong black teenage man. In a time where there weren’t many in comics. Not that many in my cartoons either. Black Panther was benched for awhile. The Avengers had more green people than black people. Milestone was nigh.
As New Warriors went on the biggest message, more so than super heroics, was to provide a voice. Your feelings matter. Your stories matter. It matters that you as a teenager/young adult are experiencing things and are allowed to express those emotions. New Warriors addressed crime, racism, pregnancy, abuse, and more. Never once making light of it. It helped young readers to feel their feelings are valid and worth finding someone to listen.
Here I am at forty and I think some of the lessons still ring true. We tried doing things your way. That didn’t work. Now lets try our way. Lets fight like a family but stand together like a team. I don’t care where you’re from, you’re here now.