April 14, 2024

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Slightly Misplaced Comic Book Heroes Case File #109: The New Guardians

Combining the bad idea of half-assed racial inclusion and half-assed "bold new team created by a company-wide crossover event!"

DC Comics had some rather event big crossovers in the mid to late 80s.  Crisis on Infinite Earths reset pretty much all of the company’s continuity and eliminated the multiverse.  Legends set up a new Justice League on that same Earth and a new Suicide Squad, two of the hallmark DC team books from that era.  Invasion set up the concept of “metahumans,” the catch-all term for people with superpowers and how they got them.

But then there was Millennium, which gave us the New Guardians.

Does this look like a good idea to you? Me neither.

Now, normally, a new crossover creating a new superteam made up of new or existing characters that fall to catch on isn’t something worth commenting on.  It happens all the time.  Just on the DC end, Bloodlines gave us a host of forgettable characters only one of whom, Hitman, did anything worth noting and that was due to having a high end creator doing his own thing while doing his best to ignore everything going on around him.  Likewise, Day of Judgement whipped up the Sentinels of Magic, a superhero team made up mostly of DC’s magical characters that all promised to be there if the need arose and then were never there regardless of whether or not the need arose.  Why make a note at all about the New Guardians?

Well, possibly because you get the impression the people who tried to do something with this team were working really hard to be all-inclusive and then ended up creating something even more racist than what they were trying to avoid.

This sort of thing happens.  Back when I wrote up the entry for Tyroc, I made a note of the phenomena where someone tries to create something that isn’t racist and instead does something that, especially to a modern audience, is actually pretty racist.  Now, Tyroc himself may have been partially created by a possibly racist editor, but I also noted the “Legends of the Superheroes” comedy special that came out in the late 70s and included the minority superhero Ghetto Man.  Ghetto Man (probably) wasn’t intended to be racist, but he sure looks that way today.

As it is, the New Guardians were created in a time to try and be more inclusive but resorted to stereotypes for most of their membership.

Where did these guys come from?  Three were existing characters.  The deal was this:  in the Millennium crossover, the Guardians of the Universe (AKA the guys who handed out the Green Lantern rings) were leaving with the Zamorans to do whatever it is ancient beings of immense power do in another dimension.  They opted to leave behind a team to take care of the universe for the next millennium (hence the name) and their original peacekeeping force, the Manhunters, popped up to capture or stop the new group being put together on Earth.  Sounds OK so far.

Of the team put together, as stated, three were existing characters.  One was Harbinger, who acted as an aide to the Monitor during the Crisis and needed something to do since then.  Another was the Atom’s old foe the Floronic Man, now transformed into a plant-based heroic figure.  And finally, Hal “Green Lantern” Jordan’s old pal Tom Kalmaku was there.  Kalmaku had, for decades, the unfortunate nickname of “Pieface” because he was an eskimo.  He also said “Great fish hooks!” a lot when he was surprised in the Silver Age.  So, really, off to a great start with racist characters, though to be fair, Kalmaku was greatly rehabilitated since his creation and the Pieface nickname is mostly unused.

But hey, this bunch doesn’t seem so bad.  A rehabbed sidekick, a rehabbed villain, and another rehabbed sidekick.  Who else was there?

Well, the idea was the create a team that represented the many peoples of the Earth.  And the bad thing there is, when creating heroes from other cultures, the lazy thing to do is give those heroes powers that reflect stereotypical aspects of the culture they came from.  That gave us the likes of:

  • Betty Clawman, an Australian aborigine.  What did she do?  She became one with the Dreamtime.
  • Gloss, a Chinese woman.  What did she do?  She could access the Dragonforce.
  • Ram, a Japanese businessman, because all Japanese men were businessmen in the 80s.  What could he do?  Technology stuff.  So, he was good with computers.
  • Jet, a Jamaican-British woman.  She could manipulate electro-magnetic fields.  That doesn’t sound too bad.  Her dialogue, apparently, was another story as it was filled with the sorts of bad accent work that would make even Chris Claremont wince.  She later got AIDS.
  • Extrano, a Peruvian man.  He was the team’s magician.  And he was, like, flamboyant.  Like, really flamboyant.  He was intended to be the first gay superhero, but he never really said as much out loud.
Someone’s idea of what a gay superhero must look like.

Oh, there was a white guy.  His name was Janwillem Kroef.  He was from Apartheid-era South Africa, and he didn’t like the multiculturalism going on, so he immediately quit the team and started a white supremacist group.

Yes, dated supervillains were also a part of this team’s activities.  So, while their not-quite-one-thousand-year reign was going on, they faced off with the likes of Hemogoblin, the vampire with AIDS who, of course, infected Jet.  There was also Snowflame.  Who was Snowflame?  He was the cocaine-powered supervillain.

This may be the most 80s villain ever.

Forgettable crossover spin-offs are nothing new, but when they come out like this New Guardians team, they aren’t just forgettable.  They’re kinda embarrassing.  It should be worth noting that DC tried again with that team name, but they went about as far from the original concept as they maybe could and just whipped up a group made up of one member from each of the various Lantern corps.  And since most of them were aliens, there really was no need to worry about stereotypical portrayals that DC might regret later on down the line.

They might regret many things from this group, but accidental racist stereotyping isn’t one of them.