RETRO REVIEW: Psi-Force #32 (June 1989)

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Or – “A Strange Relic Of A Bygone Era…”

Often times, the conventional wisdom is taken as pure fact and repeated as though it were the only possible truth…  This is doubly true in comics fandom, where conventional wisdom takes on a whole new meaning and common knowledge is the coin of the realm.  Thus, many of you are going to scoff when I say this:

The New Universe?  It was actually pretty cool.

PSI-FORCE #32
Writer: Fabian Nicieza
Penciller: Rodney Ramos
Inker: Chris Ivy
Colorist: Nel Yomtov
Letterer: Rick Parker
Editor: Howard Mackie
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.50 (Current Near-Mint Price: $2.00)

Previously, in Psi-Force:  Jim Shooter’s tenure at Marvel was the source of much controversy and unrest, but it (some say coincidentally) also marked Marvel’s true ascension into the big time, as well as a period of great creative work and the advent of royalties for the creators.  It was also a time that led to the spawning of ‘The New Universe,’ an attempt to create another successful comic book franchise, this one meant to be a more realistic take on super-powers.  It was a mixed bag with high quality books (D.P. 7, much of Psi-Force, portions of Spitfire) existing side-by-side with bottom of the barrel drek (Mark Hazzard: Merc), but it was in many ways the precursor of today’s comic book philosophies.  Psi-Force was initially the story of five runaways, each of whom had their own extranormal power: telepathy, telekinesis, astral projection, pyrokinesis and healing.  (One of these things is NOT like the others…)  Thanks to a mystical talisman they inherited from their mentor, a Native American CIA agent, they could combine their powers into one being, the Psi-Hawk.  The book eventually fell under the writing of a young Fabian Nicieza, who took things in the comic-book version of ultra-realism.

As this issue begins, the Psi-Force has begun working for The Medusa Web, an international group of mercenaries, and we open in the fields of Afghanistan as a group of Mujahedin freedom fighters attack a Soviet outpost.

Sedara quickly reveals herself to be a paranormal, teleporting her comrades away before they all get cut down by the Russian gunnery emplacements.  They get away (barely), but the commander of the mission, an American mercenary, realizes that there’s a mole in his little group.

What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with Psi-Force?  Well, pretty much not a thing, even though it’s a pretty cool sort of Tom Clancy bit of storytelling, and aside from the standard adventure-story cliches, is relatively “realistic,” especially for comics of the 80′s.  Shortly thereafter, a Medusa Web chopper arrives, and drops off their troubleshooters (Wait, wrong New Universe book, sorry), the four teenagers known as Psi-Force!

Wayne, the leader, is the only survivor of the original five-person Psi-Force team and has telepathic powers.  The readhead is Thomas Boyd, an energy vampire who started out as the team’s first super-villain.  Wayne’s lady-friend Lindsey has psychometric powers like Longshot, while “Johnny” is an autistic pyrokinetic from Russia.  (Yes, I’m aware of the irony that they pushed this world as more realistic.)  Fabian’s dialogue is always fun, especially with young headstrong kids who have just enough power to be dangerous…

I also like the reference to the events of a previous issue, when the Psi-Hawk “died,” and telepathically contacted all the members of Psi-Force, past and future.  Either way, Boyd and Johnny are much more successful than the rebels in overtaking the Russian base (although an enormous wall of flame is a pretty big advantage), and Lindsey used her powers to reveal the identity of the traitor.  Sedara believes that it is Stryker, the American mercenary, but she is mistaken…

Sedara collapses in tears, and Boyd can’t understand why, until Wayne reveals the truth.  “Bakut was her father.”  The end of the New Universe was somewhat of a surprise to the creators, from what I understand, but Fabian at least gets to wrap up things for the last remaining members of his cast.  Wayne, initially the tough-guy loner on a quest for acceptance, takes the final step towards a real adult life…

As for Boyd, the other tenured member of the cast, he went from being a soulless bottom-feeder to a jerkass-with-a-heart-of-gold to a devoted adoptive father, and gets his own moment of wonderful…

I’m pretty sure that this sequence is the origin of the nonsense word “frassum,” one of my many meaningless interjections, now that I read it again.  Having read all of Psi-Force, it’s pretty amazing to see not one, but TWO very complex character arcs come to fruition after three years of stories, and it’s certainly the reason that I remember this book so fondly.  We close with the patently 1980′s non-ending-comic-book-ending technique, another reason why this series resonates with me…  It never actually ended.

“The Beginning.”  Heh.  Love that bit…  The text pages at the beginning and end of the book are even more fascinating, being an excerpt of Wayne’s Playboy interview from 10 years in the future, talking about Psi-Force and what they became, and even revealing the ultimate fates of a couple of characters who fell off the grid during the book’s run.  The end of the New Universe was a pretty sad affair, with only 3 of the original 8 titles limping to the barn, but this final issue gives the book, the New Universe and Psi-Force more of a legacy than they probably honestly deserved.  It’s ironic that this book ended as the 1980′s did, what with it’s “Red Dawn” overtones and gritty Cold War subtext, and Fabian Nicieza would continue building on similar themes in New Warriors, a book which epitomizes the 90′s for me.  All in all, Psi-Force #32 is a darn good book, one of the very best that the New Universe had to offer, and earns a totally radical 80′s 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why in the world did we ever accept the ‘grim & gritty’ trend as being more realistic?  More exciting, more dramatic, in some ways more fulfilling than Silver Age silliness, but realistic it ain’t.