Slingers

[5 November 2009]

By Randy Romig

With the economy in as bad a shape as it is, it is nearly impossible to look around and find something that is not affected in some way, even comic books. It seems like series are getting relaunched to boost sales, or worse yet, cancelled more frequently now than ever. There are lots of new series on the stands, but only as limited series, and if these limited series sell well enough, then maybe they can have a longer lifespan.. Through the past few years, a few great series have fallen off; series such as The Irredeemable Ant-Man, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E., and Spectacular Spider-Man. Thinking of these cancelled series, always seems to lead back to one of the best: Slingers.

1999 was a year of mixed feelings. On-again, off-again paranoia filled the media in anticipation of Y2K. The airwaves were plagued by the year’s top five albums by The Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Shania Twain, ‘N Sync, and Ricky Martin. However the box office was in slightly better shape, with Fight Club, The Matrix, and Office Space. Even the Cleveland Browns’ return to the NFL, which brought much happiness to northeast Ohio, was met with mixed feelings by their 2-14 final record.

1999 was fairly uneventful in comics. In Marvel, The Amazing Spider-Man re-launched while the Avengers, past and present, did battle with Kang the Conqueror. Over in DC, Hal Jordan became the Spectre, and Batman was battling for No Man’s Land. All the while, somewhere in 1999, Slingers fell through the cracks.

The premise was not anything special. Four misfit college students, gathered by a mysterious benefactor, become a team of costumed crime fighters. The main draw of this series was the origin of these heroic personas. The year before, Spider-Man had a mini-series known as Identity Crisis in which Norman Osborn placed a reward on Spidey’s head. In order for Spider-Man to continue fighting crime, he created four new identities: Prodigy, Ricochet, Hornet, and Dusk. Once Spider-Man’s named was cleared, he abandoned the four makeshift alter egos, and returned to being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.

Right out of the gates, Slingers asked a lot of its fans. The preview issue, #0 (which was far too important to the storyline to be a ‘preview’) was only available with the purchase of Wizard. Next, the first issue had four variant covers: each one featuring a different member of the team. Nothing wrong with that. However, the covers were not the only difference among these four variants. Each one contained sixteen pages exclusively on the cover-character. So, if you wanted each character’s full story, it would cost you almost $12. For someone to invest in four variant #1 issues, plus the #0 preview issue, with only the knowledge that these costumes were once worn by Spider-Man… Marvel was asking a lot.

The series however, despite these obstacles, is not easily forgotten. Joseph Harris, in his only writing away from the X-Men Universe, performed superbly. He absolutely defined these characters and their interactions. Through the series, the characters have obvious growth. Which is difficult, given the twelve issue lifespan of the comic. The series tackles personal struggles, such as pride, loneliness, guilt, and personal weakness. The stage was set for the long haul. Plans were put into motion, despite the fact they would never see the light of day. Harris did everything he could for Slingers. Supported by the artwork of Chriscross, Greg Luzinak and Javier Saltares the series became more fleshed out and in a sense more real. While Chriscross’ artwork pops, Luzinak and Saltares bring their own unique touches. Still Chriscross’ style evokes that fun, college-esque sensibility of the book.

Overall, the plotlines are solid. Nothing seems outside the characters’ personalities. The situations they face, the way they react, all match-up. Cancellation might explain why the final story arc proves to be the exception to this. Even in the series’ last stretch (and that arc’s plot does stretch) the characters are themselves. In the end, Harris shows his mastery over these characters by having Ricochet “assist” him on the final page of the mailbag (titled SlingShots), in saying goodbye to the fans.

It bears repeating that the true strength of this series is its willingness to deal with inner struggles. In addition to those struggles, the series has the constant theme of ‘hope’. Despite the trials and failures, the characters always find hope. Even in the premature finale of the series, there is hope for the future, and maybe more importantly, hope in growing up.

Since the series’ end, the Slingers have made cameo appearances throughout the Marvel Universe. The pages of Wolverine, Ms. Marvel, Civil War, Secret Invasion, and more have all been graced by the erstwhile series leads. Random appearances by the team, provoke a, “Hey, I know that guy” response in hardcore fans.

If you have not read Slingers, you are in the majority. But you are missing out on one of the greatest books that never made it. I think the series’ final frame says it best. The phrase “Slingers were here”, graffitied on a billboard for all to see. And yet the Slingers themselves are nowhere in sight. Ten years have passed. Y2K was not the end of the world. The Backstreet Boys have fallen out of the public eye. The Matrix trilogy has come and gone, and the Cleveland Browns are still sub-par. Even though they may have been glossed over and ignored, you cannot deny that Slingers were here.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/115753-slingers/