The year is 1988. Marvel's New Mutants, a team of young multi-ethnic super-heroes, has become quite popular. DC Comics, looking over its mostly-white starring line-up, decides that it was time for an Alternate Company Equivalent, just like the Global Guardians tried to be for the Uncanny X-Men. Thus came the Millennium (1988) Crisis Crossover. At the center of the story was a team of twelve special humans from all over the globe, chosen by the Guardians Of The Universe whose offspring would eventually come to replace them. Of course, like usual, the Guardians hadn't done their homework. One of the chosen (Terra), was already dead. Another was senile. Two more, KGB agent Nikolai Latikov and Iranian woman Salima Baranizar were killed by their own people. And one more, Janwillem Kroef, was a racist Afrikaner who wanted nothing to do with having to team up with other ethnicities. So, by the end of the Crossover, the group was down to seven and, surprise, surprise, they ended up with super-powers:
- Elizabeth "Betty" Clawman, an Australian aborigine granted vast and unspecified powers connected to the Dreamtime.
- Gregorio de la Vega (Extraño), a homosexual Peruvian magician, with energy powers and every gay stereotype you can think of. Presumably the Guardians had also failed in their research when choosing him for a breeding partner. Was eventually revealed to be HIV positive, possibly as a result of an attack by the AIDS-powered vampire Hemo-Goblin. Go ahead and read that last sentence again.
- Jason Woodrue, the Floronic Man (going by "Floro" at the time). An American villain of The Atom that had just been given a boost of popularity after appearing in Alan Moore's Swamp Thing, and went through a HeelFace Turn. Had the power to control plants, and, indeed, was made of plants himself, and y'know, unable to breed with humans. Way to go, Guardians.
- Celia Windward (Jet), a Jamaican woman living in England, granted powers over electromagnetism. Became HIV positive, definitely as a result of an attack by the aforementioned AIDS-powered vampire, Hemo-Goblin, and would later die from the condition. Would later pop up alive, several Cosmic Retcons later.
- Xia Po (Gloss), a Chinese woman able to draw vague energy from the world's "Dragon Lines". Disappeared for a while before showing up in One Year Later to be decapitated and killed by Prometheus.
- Takeo Yakata (Ram), a Japanese man turned into a robot somehow able to breed with humans and granted the ability to communicate with electronic equipment. Was last seen as a portrait in supervillainess Roulette's underground arena, making him presumably killed off-screen.
- Thomas Kalmaku, also known as Hal Jordan's Inuit friend. Originally resisted the Call, but eventually joined the team after he unlocked the power to "Bring The Best Out In People". After the team disbanded, he would go back to being a Badass Normal cast-mate in Green Lantern, and his supposed power would never be mentioned again.
- Also on the team was Layla Michaels (Harbinger), an agent of the Monitor from Crisis on Infinite Earths, apparently because she was a semi-popular character that no one was doing anything else with at the time.
The team faced off against a number of antagonists, including the aforementioned AIDS-powered vampire Hemo-Goblin; Snowflame, a drug kingpin with cocaine-theme and fueled super powers; Guy Gardner, who would attempt a hostile takeover of the group's leadership; and Kroeff, who had created a race of slave-beings to be his personal army, and would put The New Guardians under his mind control.
A dozen issues in, their book would be quietly cancelled. Though the team would pop up every now and again, eventually, a Cosmic Horror Story version of Krona would apparently kill five-eighths of the team, and leave the remainder (Harbinger, The Floronic Man, Tom Kalmaku), to return to the casts of Wonder Woman, Swamp Thing, and Green Lantern respectively. A couple of lines in Legion of Super-Heroes hand-waved the team's supposed destiny as a miscalculation by the Guardians, and the whole thing was quietly put to rest. While the team would never reform, Comic Book Death combined with Never Found the Body and the occasional Crisis Crossover meant that the "dead" members would pop up alive from time to time, without explanation, and usually to be killed soon after.
All in all, a genuine, even somewhat courageous, attempt to use a multicultural super-team explore the important issues of the late eighties in a super-hero comic, but fully undermined by stereotypical characters, laughable plots, and terrible writing. We're not likely to see another super-team that's 25% HIV+ though, at least without Judd Winick having something to do with it.
The name would later be used for a Green Lantern team with little connection to the original, and little or no acknowledgement would ever be given to the team in DC continuity. The villain Snowflame got his own fairly notable fancomic, but it transplants him into the Gotham mythos. In the main universe, he was referenced in a 2018 issue of Green Lantern and returned to comic pages in a 2020 Catwoman storyline after a 32 year bus ride.
Extraño was brought back with a complete redesign in 2016's Midnighter and Apollo, now using his real name Gregorio de la Vega. His past with the New Guardians is acknowledged, and he's not exactly fond of remembering the way he used to be, but he's also recognized as a powerful sorcerer and is currently married (to a male werewolf) with an adopted child.
Tropes Displayed in The New Guardians include:
- Addiction-Powered: The one-shot villain Snowflame was a crazed druglord in South America who literally got superpowers by snorting cocaine. His body would light up with white fire, he'd get stronger and tougher and faster—especially when he buried his face in the stuff.
- The Bronze Age of Comic Books: If any series was the Bronze Age incarnate, this series was its evil twin, embodying all the ways to handle the social issues covered in comics at the time in the worst way possible.
- Captain Ethnic: Nearly the entire team; most notoriously a Japanese man with the power of computers and a Chinese woman with the ability to call on the power of dragon spirits.
- C-List Fodder: The Chosen Ones of the Guardians of the Universe end up being... not that much special.
- Drugs Are Bad: Oh, Snowflame... Oddly enough, cocaine empowers Snowflame. The character doesn't last long enough to show if he's immune to cocaine's negative effects or not.
- Eight Token Band: The team in a nutshell.
- Light 'em Up: The aptly named Snowflame, who can generate light powers from cocaine.
- Magic is Feminine: The magic or mystically empowered members are either women or feminine men.
- Gloss is a Chinese woman with long hair and a revealing leotard. She has the ability to manipulate Ley Lines.
- Floronic Man is a Plant Person who possesses both male and female reproductive organs, something common in many plants. He draws his power from the Green, the mystical force which connects all plant life on Earth.
- Betty Clawman is an Australian Aboriginal girl whose powers revolve around the Dreamtime.
- Extraño is a Camp Gay man and a sorcerer.
- Mystical White Hair: Snowflame. Presumably, his pure white hair is a sign of his power.
- Not Quite Dead: Snowflame survived the explosion that supposedly killed him and used it to feign his death.
- Only You Can Repopulate My Race: Sort of. The New Guardians were supposed to breed until there were enough to watch over the universe. There were quite a few problems with this though, chiefly the fact that about half of the team members had rather serious barriers in way of them procreating (one member was gay, and quite a few of the others had no organic bodies), so how they were actually supposed to go about that task is not explained.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: When the basis of the plot is essentially an eugenics ploy, its kind of a given. Varies from teammate to teammate though, with Extraño being conflicted about this while most of the others aren't.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: Kroef, a South African white supremacist.
- Retool: "Extraño"note shows up again in the 2016 mini-series Midnighter and Apollo, as a distinguished middle-aged gentleman with a much better fashion sense, a werewolf husband, and an adopted daughter. His morals seem a bit ambiguous (the villain tries to recruit him against the heroes, and while he immediately refuses, he says he does so because going against them would be suicidal; on the other hand, he happily helps the heroes later, apparently mainly out of empathy or gay solidarity), but he's still a very powerful magician and ends up included in the heroes' circle of friends.