The reason for this review of a 24-year old run of a 12 issue comic called The New Guardians all started because I found a meme about DC having a super villain in the 80s named “Snowflame.” The meme said the character used cocaine to become super powered. The picture was a white-haired man glowing in white flames in a red costume. I asked Jeff if it was true. He said he didn’t know, to look it up. So I found out that Snowflame was a character created by Steve Englehart and Cary Bates in 1988. He fought The New Guardians in Issue #2 (October 1988).
Jeff brought out his copy of the issue for me to read. (Does he own everything? Sometimes I think he does.) I paged through Issue #2, having absolutely no knowledge of any of the characters or back-story or DC history leading up to their creation, the Millennium 8-issue crossover series. I told him it was one of the dumbest things I have read.
To be fair, he brought me the 12 issues that were released of The New Guardians. He told me a small part of the events that led up to their creation. I started to read the 12 issues…
I am going to recap the plot and summarize these issues first since this is a 24-year old, third-tier title.
Issue #1 – Present day 1988
The Oans have chosen six heroes to be the New Guardians. The six arrive in L.A. as a team without a clear understanding of their higher purpose. They have not yet chosen a name for their group.
Gloss is from China. Her real name is Xiang. She draws from the dragon lines of power.
Ram is from Japan. His real name is Takeo. He is a human computer, encased in crystal.
The Floronic Man, aka Floro is from another dimension, a realm of plant-spirits.
Extraῆo is from Peru. His real name is Gregorio. He wields magic.
Jet is from the U.K. via Jamaica. Her real name is Celia. She can fire energy bolts, control light, sound and the electromagnetic fields around the earth.
Harbinger was raised on a UFO. Her real name is Lyla. She got her powers, similar to Jet’s, from the Monitor, but she does not burn with a green flame as Jet does.
(I could go back to Millennium #8 to explain their powers in more detail but I am giving the new series time to have the six heroes develop within the current story. If I must go back, then I will note it.)
Their first display of power is Jet and Harbinger testing their powers against one another, discovering they wield nearly identical abilities. Harbinger wonders why the Guardians would make a copy of her while Jet wonders why Harbinger was included when the team already had her.
Our villain of the story is introduced. Minister Janwillem Kroef and his team of scientists in Pretoria, South Africa have created the Hemo-Goblin. Minister Kroef explains to his minion that “the leftist ‘brotherhood’ [is] too blinded to realize that once the white race is swept into the multitude, the quality of life for everyone goes down the drain!”
Minister Kroef sends Hemo-Goblin to L.A. to “kill our enemies and become the savior of the world.”
Jet gets bitten by the Hemo-Goblin and Harbinger has the same wound appear. This is just a hint at the symbiotic relationship Jet and Harbinger have with each other. The team wins the battle and the New Guardians have found their name. However, the celebration is halted as the team learns from the autopsy that Hemo-Goblin had AIDS.
Issue #2 – A snake-infested jungle off the coast of Columbia
The New Guardians meet up with Snowflame in the jungle and Ram does battle with him. The men of the drug lord’s compound arrive and fire into the Guardians, apparently killing them all. Then we see that Extraῆo is not dead.
The next scene flashes back to our team at the hospital, receiving the results of their HIV tests, from the end of the last issue. Jet, Harbinger and Extraῆo are all negative but still within the time-frame for the virus to first appear on any test.
I had thought that when Extraῆo was attached by the Hemo-Goblin, the scratches to his throat would not be significant to the virus story. I was wrong. Apparently the only gay character in the series was going to be in the we-might-have-HIV group.
Ram concludes that Minister Kroef is at fault for the current situation so the team attempts to fly to South Africa to confront Kroef. They are stopped by Leon Twerlinger, an agent of the C.I.A., who offers them a deal. They will be sent to Columbia to “bust up” a certain drug ring. In return, he promises the C.I.A. with continue to keep up surveillance on Minister Kroef.
Now, back in the present, we are back in the jungle with our team, minus Ram, watching Snowflame fighting the human computer. Extraῆo is narrating the scene for us. Much to my surprise, he introduces another character. “Betty – my cosmic aborigine with whom I share my soul – has sensed approaching danger.” Betty was also one of the chosen to receive power from the Oans in Millennium #8. Because of these powers and extra senses, the team has time to prepare before being fired upon . . . and they live.
They approach Snowflame’s compound and attack. Floro absorbs the cocaine high from being touched by Snowflame’s followers while Gloss siphons it off using the dragon lines of power. Ram tosses Snowflame into the chemical shed while he burns with his own high, which ignites the explosion that kills him.
When the group rallies after the fight, Harbinger is still overwhelmed by her apparent death sentence as “victims of this incurable plague.” She flees from the group.
Issue #3 – Back in L.A. at the headquarters and home of the New Guardians (a bungalow motel)
Their home is now an attraction on the celebrity bus tours. The bus driver blares out his description of the New Guardians, to the disgust of Ram, Gloss and Floro who can be seen in the courtyard.
We now learn that one of the heroes has tested seropositive. The reader does not know which hero has HIV. Jet, Harbinger and Extraῆo agree to all go to group counseling at the AIDS clinic. The city’s populace is protesting the creating of an AIDS clinic and treatment hospital. Inside, Harbinger is not handling the news well at all. She is internalizing the protesters anger and fear. She cannot get past her own fear and the shame it causes her to experience.
The C.I.A. agent, Leon Twerlinger, shows up to let the team know that they have been targeted for death by the remains of the previously defeated Columbian drug ring. Ram appears and reveals that Agent Twerlinger is an inactive agent. Ram considers him untrustworthy and tosses him out.
Meanwhile the drug ring has hired some young street thugs to eliminate the three Guardians at their home. The young boys get high on their payment of cocaine and lay siege to the bungalow with their new weapons. The boys are defeated but not before their leader blows up the Guardians’ headquarters and home. Gloss and Floro are saddened to discover their attackers were just kids.
Harbinger has run off again but this time Betty comes to her in the “dream-time” to help her deal with the feelings she has over her exposure to HIV. Harbinger reveals that Jet was the one who tested positive for AIDS. She despairs that her “symbiotic link” with Jet might leave her “stricken with AIDS too.” Betty reminds her that she is one of the Chosen.
The end brings about a plot by Kroef to kidnap Tom Kalmaku’s wife Terga and her unborn child.
Issue #4 – Green Lantern Citadel
Once their home was blown up, Ram decided the team should go live “somewhere far away . . . from the incessant prying eye of the media!” They show up at the Green Lantern Citadel hoping Kilowog and Arisia will invite them to stay. Kilowog begins to run tests on their powers as well as tests to see if he can reverse the progression of the virus. Kilowog’s hardware burnt out and has little effect on our heroes.
The Japanese steal a microchip Kilowog designed and sell to the Russians while Minister Kroef in South Africa kidnaps Terga Kalmaku.
Issue #5 – Green Lantern Citadel
Kilowog discovers the theft and knows it is meant for the Russian Rocket Reds. He can track the microchip across the globe so the team prepares one of his prototype ships and they fly off to Russia. The team is working well together, except Harbinger, who keeps leaving to be alone to sort out her feelings about the virus. Kilowog was not able to do anything for the three heroes.
Tom Kalmaku arrives at the Citadel after the team has left and finds Agent Twerlinger. Now the agent is on the case to find Terga.
The New Guardians have a bumpy start to the fight with the squad of Rocket Reds. Kilowog and Extraῆo are knocked out and Arisia and Floro stay on the forest floor to help them. Harbinger, Jet and Gloss take to the skies to fight the Rocket Reds. They combine their powers and win the battle. Harbinger returns to the Russian lab in a disarmed Rocket Red suit and is welcomed as a “friend to Mother Russia.” The woman calls her “a harbinger of peace.”
Issue #6 – Moscow, Russia
The team is recuperating in Moscow when a news bulletin shows alien warships over China. The New Guardians race to protect the Chinese innocents, deciding to leave the severely ailing Jet behind. “We are disembarking,” Ram says. “Not wit’ out me!” Jet responds. She climbs into the ship, looking emaciated. We have already seen how weak the virus had made her.
The team battles the aliens and defeats them, but not before the alien crew calls in the entire battle fleet. While the rest of the team stands dumbfounded, Jet races off and uses the ships’ magnetic fields to cause a chain reaction of self-destruction. However, the level of magnetic force Jet absorbs kills her.
The rest of the New Guardians, along with Kilowog and Arisia memorialize Jet where she fell.
Issue #7 – China
Betty, from the dream-time, scolds Gloss, Ram and Floro, telling them they should be shamed by their thoughts of “doubt, indecision and self-pity!” She sends them each into a dream of their own to help them find their own way again.
Extraῆo returns to Peru and reunites with Paco, a former lover perhaps, telling him about the virus. Paco asks why Gregorio must fight this battle alone. “My fate was sealed when I became a New Guardian, Paco. From that day forward I have had a destiny to fulfill – a mission that must take precedence over all else . . . even if it means the sacrifice of my own personal happiness.” Extraῆo continues to explore the Peru he once knew, old clubs and a graveyard, when he is struck by lightning. The blast opens a cave wall, revealing a “crystalline skull.”
Harbinger discovers that Tom and Agent Twerlinger have met and left for South Africa to rescue Terga.
Betty reveals the dream-time has allowed Gloss, Ram and Floro to purge their demons and strengthen their resolve. Extraῆo arrives, revealing his new look and new understanding given to him by the crystal skull. Harbinger gathers the team from China and everyone heads to South Africa.
Issue #8 – Pretoria, South Africa
Tom Kalmaku and Agent Twerlinger make it past the local officials without arrest. Tom thinks back on his reasons for not accepting the power given to the other chosen. He thinks back on Janwillem Kroef being a chosen and refusing the powers. Although, Kroef’s passionate reason was the doctrine of white supremacy.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, Extraῆo explains to the team that while he is still infected with HIV, he has no symptoms. In flies Harbinger exclaiming “Have you heard the glorious news . . . I’m cured!”
So out of our six, no seven, Chosen we have one Jamaican woman dead from battle, although she was dying of AIDS. We have a gay Peruvian man positive with HIV. We have a blond, white woman completely cured. (The letters pages are full of readers upset over the stereotypes. I know how they feel.)
Extraῆo reminds the team that they have friends in peril and it is off to South Africa once again. Will the New Guardians make it this time? Tune in to find out!
Minister Kroef is running tests on Terga Kalmaku’s baby. He reasons that since Tom Kalmaku was one of the Chosen, this baby represents the first child of the new generation. He is determined to find out “precisely what it is that will make him and his kind so special!”
Tom and Twerlinger manage to get into the Kroef’s fortified complex but Tom is betrayed and taken into custody.
Success! Kilowog and Arisia provide a decoy as the New Guardians sneak in undercover. They have actually made it into Pretoria! Of course, they are taken into custody right away. They lose their disguises and do battle with the troops. Once Floro has the troops bound up, Ram questions the leader.
I have not yet pointed out Ram’s technique for questioning or subduing his enemies but I will now. He zaps them using his computer circuits. It makes teeth rattle, hair stand on end, everyone screams while he does it to them. In short, it is electric shock torture. Not one member of the team attempts to stop him or point out any moral dilemma with his methods. Since they seem to kill without regard, I guess this is how the New Guardians have chosen to operate.
Issue #9 – South Africa
Floro is now handling the questioning of the troop leader. He has the man on a large cactus, threatening to “be slowly punctured to death.” Once the team learns the location of Kroef’s fortress, Floro leaves the man hanging on the cactus, advising him not to squirm.
Minister Kroef questions Tom about the New Guardians. Twerlinger has a crisis of conscience. Kroef and his scientists did not find anything different or special about the unborn Kalmaku baby so he orders Terga and the child “exterminated within the hour.” Twerlinger saves them both and gets her to the New Guardians for rescue. Minister Kroef has flown off with Tom as a hostage. The fortress blows up as we get our first glimpse of Kroef’s colony.
Issue #10 – South Africa
The colony is a large, deep pit in the earth full of grotesque creations that look like mutated experiments. Minister Janwillem Kroef drops Tom into the pit, telling him to “Pray. Pray it is the fall that kills you!”
Kroef wants proof that Tom is dead so while his troops go into the pit to retrieve bones, the New Guardians find a video tape cassette. (If you have never seen one, I’m sure wiki has an image.) The video is Kroef’s master plan and propaganda for “the glorious new order” that he has “long envisioned for the world.” From the video, the team learns the location of Kroef’s “secret island retreat.”
A man on his way to meet with Kroef was taken captive by the team and before he is questioned, the captive uses a poison capsule to commit suicide. Extraῆo jumps through the glass window and uses the crystal skull to extract the knowledge they seek from the dying man’s mind.
The New Guardians race to intercept Kroef at the meeting place, hoping to capture Kroef. They are met instead by his troops. Our heroes win the battle but still think Tom has died in the explosion.
Deep in the colony pit . . . Kalmaku ascends.
Issue #11 – Nighttime at an Interpol facility in Europe
A safe and still pregnant Terga wakes up screaming, bringing Floro, Extraῆo, Ram, Harbinger and Gloss running to her aid. Terga tells her friends that Tom is not dead, that he came to her in a dream and is safe. “Tom is alive!” The team thinks she is delusional and not dealing with the loss of Tom.
Kroef has examined the bones his troops brought as proof of Tom’s demise. His anger is a living thing within him. He crushes a skull in his bare hand and kills the two soldiers with one blow of his fist. Before he can question this new strength, Tom is seen on camera from the pit, leading the mutated creatures. Kroef takes an armored tank into the pit and tries to kill Tom and the creatures no longer loyal. Tom’s manifested powers dissolve the bullets and no one is harmed. Then Tom “rises, melding with the air – a complementing of man and nature.” The creatures “follow, gladly . . . impelled by the same joining.”
Kroef’s anger causes his own latent power from the Oans to manifest physically and psychically. “People will always unite against a common enemy! Them! Why do they always get ahead? They steal our jobs. They never work for a living. They manage our money. They have too many children. They infect our society! Prejudice and discrimination are fair . . . if the right people gain! Hatred is hatred.” As he screams out his frustration, he grows horns from his head and fangs in his mouth. He forces the soldiers with him to “share the darkness” which forces them to kill one another.
Extraῆo uses his powers, focused through his crystal skull, to see what has happened to Tom. Extraῆo sees enough to think that Tom has “succumbed to the creatures.” Extraῆo announces the “time has come for a day of reckoning.” The team leaves to seek out Janwillem Kroef.
Kilowog and the New Guardians fly to confront Kroef at his secret island retreat. Kroef uses his psychic powers to turn the New Guardians against one another and unite them against Kilowog. The New Guardians blast Kilowog unconscious and turn to Kroef. Our villain screams “See yourselves as you were always meant to be . . . kneeling to a white man!”
Issue #12 – Outside the secret island retreat
Kilowog regains consciousness and has a vision of Tom.
Kroef and the New Guardians have taken up residence in the Green Lantern Citadel. Kroef forces them to believe Tom is their enemy. They plan to kill him on site.
Tom and his friends from the pit nurse Kilowog back to health while telling him of the plan to save the New Guardians from Kroef.
Ram helps Kroef use television to broadcast his message of white supremacy and hatred to the world. “Why television? People respond better to the spoken word. I can reach the great, stupid masses through its most popular medium.”
Tom appears on the video screen inside the citadel and informs Kroef that his message to the world has been met with disgust, to join him on the island for the final battle. As the forces converge, the Oan and the Zamaron appear in the mist and explain that they are helpless to interfere. “We must wait to see what the color of dawn will be . . . wait and hope.”
Kroef and his minions, the former New Guardians, arrive and make short work of the mutated creations that Kroef had hoped to use against the Guardians in battle. As he claims his victory, the victory of “the knowledge that there are superiors and inferiors – the truth of darkness’” Kroef taunts Tom with his own darkness within.
Tom rallies. His inner light begins to overcome Kroef and his darkness.
“Hatred is not inborn! Distrust is learned. Fear is taught. We begin in the white light of innocence – not the white of race – but the white of the entire spectrum of color. It is always inside us . . . stronger than the darkness which feeds on itself – hates its own self. The strength is the light of others.”
“The light is an unceasing wave – expanding, embracing those who accept it. People are tired of the dark controlling their lives, of living in fear of what the hatred will do. They take a stand for the light of truth . . . that we all come from one light and under one light the world must live.”
The light can “dispel fear, reveal knowledge, let reason grow, illuminate paths, spark hope and clear the dark.”
Kroef is finally defeated by these words. He is undone.
The New Guardians rally around Tom and the creatures that were transformed by his light. He says they are the Chosen. Extraῆo explains that as the New Guardians were Chosen, so these transformed beings are the New Chosen, they are all an integral part of the next step in evolution.
Floro will return to the green and Tom heads home to sort out his new calling with his family.
End of plot summary
What have I learned? Never to judge a book by its weakest, shortest-lived character.
The series was well-written and excellently drawn. The characters did not get fleshed out as much as I would have liked but each one did evolve in their own ways. The 12 issues brought the story arc to a close but the smaller sub-plots were left unfinished. Several of the issues the readers (through the letters page) voiced were concerns over stereopytyping the main characters. While that was truer with the first issues, the later issues had erased the broader generalities. Some of the actions and dialogue were now just part of the character without being over-played.
I liked the parallels my mind drew from the political and social issues addressing in the story arc to what can be seen in our own society today. I thought the use of television was particularly relevant now. No matter your political, religious, etc. views, there is someone out there crafting a message to get you to buy something, believe something, support something or fight something. Not all of it is negative but I can feel overwhelmed at the most vehement of it. Kroef and his message of rightious hatred for anyone not like himself, anyone not willing to blindly follow his lead left me with the same feeling of revelation and sadness for what we as a society, as a nation, have become.
I am glad that I took the time to read the series. I was left with the same feeling of hope I feel
whenever I experience a people becoming better, doing better for themselves and others.
I rather liked this series. This is one of those that I figure will come around again, the way Invasion and Millennium did with their TPBs a couple years back. It would make a great thick volume of late 80's goodness.
Harbinger was from Crisis On Infinite Earths, supposedly to become a major character like Lady Quark and Pariah. Things didn't go as planned.
Floro AKA the Floronic Man AKA the Plantmaster AKA Jason Woodrue was a longtime DC villain, battling the Atom, Green Lantern, the Justice League and even Swamp Thing.
The New Guardians were supposed to diversify the DC Universe but none of them were designed to be "stars".
I thought it was a missed opportunity with some team members having too little backstory and some having too much.
Maybe it could in this new day and age. I'd like to see characters like Ram, Gloss, Extrano, Jet, and Harbinger get a new lease in the New DCU. As you can tell by my recent posts, I'm not without hope. At least give them a go in the GL titles, anyway...
As Tracy explained above, she was inspired to read this series after her random discovery of the cocaine-snortin’ villain “Snowflame” while surfing the web. I feel compelled to point out that, yes, I have all 12 issues in my collection but, no, I hadn’t read them until last weekend. This is not one of the series which led to my “Don’t buy what you don’t read” rule, however, but rather one of four long-boxes of comics I bought back in the mid-90s when my then-LCS opened up its legendary backroom for a quarter sale. (From time-to-time I’ll mention a series I bought at a “quarter sale”; chances are every time I say that it’s the same one.)
I may have held on to this series for 15 years before reading it, but we spent an enjoyable weekend both of us reading and discussing this series as she wrote her post. That’s a pretty good value for only three bucks! I purposefully didn’t give her any more information regarding the background of this series than she asked for, allowing it to rise or fall on its own merits. I told her a little bit about the Millennium crossover series from which it spun, and told her about the Invasion! series which crossed over with a couple of issues. I was a little disappointed that (what I felt to be) the most entertaining parts of our discussion didn’t make it into her final draft. She was particularly annoyed, for example, with “last issue” footnotes. (“Do editors really think readers are too stupid to realize something may have happened in the issue before the one they’re currently reading?”)
If I were to have recommended a series for my wife to read, The New Guardians would not necessarily have been it, but I’m always pleased when she chooses to read something I already own, unlike her newest comic book interest, Funnyman by Siegel and Schuster.
I was going to comment on this, but from reading Tracy's review, I realized how much of this series I had forgotten.