The unexpected oddities of "Electric Warriors"
At this point, it should be pretty evident that I enjoy a bit of weirdness and obscurity in my comics. These things need to make sense with the narrative, of course, and just throwing random references into a story just for its own sake irks me as much as the next guy. When that weirdness works, though, I absolutely love it.
After all, I wrote a review of Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s The Green Lantern that was pretty much an excuse to talk about Volk, the Green Lantern who is effectively a volcano on a humanoid body. That’s amazing, and I adored it.
That’s why a series like Electric Warriors is appealing to me. It’s based off an obscure older property, for one, and the main promotional thrust used in the initial announcement was the presence of a talking octopus person. It’s that kind of weirdness that, at the very least, gets me interested enough to give the series a look.
Frankly, I’m glad I did, because this book has had some genuine surprises in almost every issue since it launched. This week’s fifth issue, the penultimate installment of the series, doubles down on that and has some appearances from completely unexpected characters along with some delightfully shocking surprises.
While I won’t get too spoilery here, there are certain aspects of the narrative that need to be mentioned, so go check the series out now if you haven’t already. There are aspects of the story that should be discussed, even just to tie into the theme of the unexpected. So yeah, turn back now until you’ve caught up.
In a broad sense, the concept of Electric Warriors is simple: it’s the far future, somewhere between the time of Kamandi and the time of the Legion of Super Heroes, and resources are scarce. Different planets have champions who participate in a sort of battle royale tournament, that doubles as a source of entertainment and a way to receive additional stores of food.
Initially, the story seemed to be about Ian “War Cry” Navarro, one of Earth’s two chosen warriors. He cheated and swindled his way into the tournament, taking his brother’s place as the bearer of the War Cry mantle. His is a story of redemption, as he felt his brother was too good to be forced to fight to his death in a tournament, and this drove the plot for the first half of the series. Along the way he met other champions, each of a different race with their own unique abilities.
On its face, it’s a pretty simple “scrappy underdogs rise up against their oppressors” story, and there are elements of that throughout. Eventually the heroes discover that the tournament is nothing more than a front for some shady black market dealings. It’s a twist that wasn’t at all unwelcome, taking the story in a refreshingly different direction and adding an additional layer of stakes.
What’s most appealing, though, is how obscure Orlando is willing to go, and how organic his deep pulls feel in the story. It’s no surprise that Steve Orlando would get pretty esoteric in his storytelling. He is, after all, the same guy who brought back Aztek in the pages of Justice League of America, and his excellent Martian Manhunter series goes deep into C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy to bolster martian lore. His cast of characters in Electric Warriors are as eclectic a group as you’re likely to find anywhere, with different alien races participating as champions of their worlds.
What’s most interesting, though, is that there aren’t many of the “usual suspects” here. Besides Ian representing humanity, there aren't many outright humanoids in the main cast. Kana, Earth’s other champion, is an entirely new creation (and her race has the gorgeous word balloons I mentioned in our year-end show, so kudos to Orlando and Travis Lanham for those). There’s a member of the Khund, a race I’d heard of but had little familiarity with up to this point, and even a Dominator. For me, the biggest surprise was in the most recent issue, where a large blue creature going by the name Fulminator from Kandor-of-Ceritak. Is Fulminator a descendant of Scorn? Here’s hoping.
Besides the deep cuts, though, there’s quite a bit of familiarity in the story. Familiar faces get a fresh spin, most evident in the series’ primary antagonist. The first issue ends with the shocking revelation the Firestorm is the organizer and grandmaster of the tournaments, which is a change from his typical status quo for sure. So, while he’s familiar in name, this isn’t the youthful and energetic Ronnie Raymond or Jason Rusch who typically bear the Matrix.
Most familiar of all is Superman, who is present… after a fashion. If he’s not present physically then he is there in the way he inspires others to do good. His torn and tattered cape is a sort of sigil for the heroes of Earth, and his legend is spoken of with an almost hushed reverence. I won’t outright spoil it for you, but Orlando also ties in some pretty overt references to Grant Morrison’s absolutely amazing DC One Million in the most recent issue, to the point that, well, this may as well be a Superman comic now.
Ultimately, Electric Warriors does what all good stories should: it makes you want to read more. There’s excitement, action, and intrigue, along with characters and ideas that will make you want to brush off an old copy of Who’s Who. In addition to being an action story with some heavier themes, it’s above all a love letter to the weird and obscure in the DC Universe.
And, yes, those octopus people are really, really cool.