My favourite characters are superheroes that just love being superheroes. This can translate in a couple of different ways; Superman is a superhero that loves being a superhero, but he loves it because he’s got a compulsion to do it and he couldn’t be doing anything else. This is a great reason to love being a superhero, but it’s not what this article is about. The other half of the coin are superheroes who love being superheroes because it’s rad as hell and that brings me on to the topic of one of my favourite Marvel Comics characters, Roberto Da Costa.
Roberto debuted in 1982’s Marvel Graphic Novel #4 by Chris Claremont, Bob McLeod, Glynis Wein and Tom Orzechowski and is one of the founding members of the New Mutants. The son of a Brazillian millionaire, Bobby had a relatively easy life in Brazil but even in his earliest appearance he’s shown to have struggles of his own and Claremont highlights the racism that Afro-Brazillian people encounter among their peers when during a soccer game, Roberto is referred to as a “halfbreed” and told he “has no right to be be here” by players on the opposite team.
It’s during that match that Roberto’s mutant powers manifest; Roberto can absorb and manifest the power of the sun, giving him heat based powers along with super-strength, flight and invulnerability. The manifestation of his mutant powers caught the attention of both Donald Pierce and Charles Xavier who each sent representatives to Brazil in search of him and during an initial clash, Bobby’s girlfriend Julianna was killed when she jumped in front of a bullet meant for him. Roberto, wanting revenge, teamed up with Xavier and two other young mutants, Karma and Wolfsbane, to track down pierce and get justice for Julianna and afterwards, Roberto agreed to join Xavier’s squad of New Mutants.
As his powers suggest, Roberto was very much the hot-head of the New Mutants at first — in part due to the grief and responsibility he felt towards Julianna’s death — but his time among his peers softened him and instead he grew to enjoy using his powers to help people and defeat bad guys. One of the key factors in Roberto’s recovery was his unlikely friendship with a good ol’ Southern boy from Kentucky named Sam Guthrie aka Cannonball and despite coming from vastly different backgrounds, Sam and Bobby went on to form one of the strongest and most enduring friendships in superhero comics.
One of the biggest milestones of Roberto’s journey at this time was the New Mutants’ adventures in Asgard, because while mutants fought to protect a world which hates and fears them on Earth, on Asgard he was hailed as a powerful warrior and could live out his dreams of being a hero. This incarnation of Bobby had the end-goal in mind already — that he wanted people to love him because he’s a hero — but he didn’t have the motivation in place yet and it wouldn’t be for another twenty years in real world time that Bobby would finally live up to his potential as one of the greatest heroes in the Marvel Universe.
Flashing forward to 2012, in the wake of Avengers vs. X-Men, Captain America and Iron Man decided that the Avengers needed to be bigger than ever in order to tackle bigger threats that no-one could anticipate. Old friends like Falcon, Hawkeye and Black Widow joined the new team alongside new allies such as Hyperion, Captain Universe and Smasher but among the biggest Avengers roster ever were two New Mutants getting their biggest break yet. Cannonball and Sunspot were now Avengers.
This was partly because Sam and Bobby are two of Avengers writer Jonathan Hickman’s favourite characters. He wrote the pair for one of his earliest Marvel works in the anthology Astonishing Tales and after Avengers he came back to them as a co-writer on the first arc of Ed Brisson’s New Mutants during the Dawn of X era. I think it’s fair that if you write the Avengers, you can throw a couple of faves in there; it worked for Brian Michael Bendis with Luke Cage and Spider-Woman. However, I also think Sam and Bobby being on the team, along with other mutants like Wolverine and Manifold, served as an example of the success of Xavier’s dream far better than the PR stunt of the “Avengers Unity Squad” led by Havok over in Uncanny Avengers which was published contemporaneously.
Mutants that get their education within the Xavier ecosystem only ever become faculty at an Xavier institute, but Sam and Bobby breaking free from that and becoming Avengers on their own merit rather than the actual quote system of the Unity Squad. As members of the team just called “Avengers” both Sam and Bobby got to serve as members of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and that’s something that really ended up meaning something to Bobby in a way he probably didn’t expect when he agreed to join the team.
Towards the end of Hickman’s run on Avengers and New Avengers, the two series jumped forward eight months as part of a story called “Time Runs Out.” Within this story, the Avengers had been fractured following Captain America’s discovery that the universe was dying and not only did Iron Man and the Illuminati keep that from him, he actually already knew it but they mindwiped him to make him forget. When we skip forward eight months, Captain America is leading a SHIELD sponsored Avengers team to hunt down Iron Man’s Illuminati but when they finally come to blows, they’re interrupted by the arrival of Roberto Da Costa himself and his own Avengers team.
In one of my favourite moments in Marvel Comics history, Roberto chastises Captain America and Iron Man for falling into old patterns and doing another Civil War against each other and tells them that they’ve forgotten what it means to be Avengers. This surprise involvement causes the bickering heroes to realise they’ve been pissing around when they should have been working together and when the Avengers were at their very lowest, it was Roberto Da Costa who reminded them what it meant to be an Avenger.
I love this so much because it’s really the sort of endpoint to a character’s arc that you don’t get to see in shared universe superhero comics. Roberto starts out as a hotheaded angry guy who evolves into a bit of a gloryhound but eventually he learns to channel that energy into something good and something that matters. Sunspot finds a purpose beyond Xavier’s school and it’s something that fits him to a tee; if his yearbook had “Most Likely To Be An Avenger” he would have won that accolade and twenty years later, he earned it.
However, this wasn’t the end of Roberto’s journey as an Avenger and instead it was just a new beginning. In the wake of Secret Wars, Roberto took the teammates who stood by him during “Time Runs Out” and used his vast resources to turn AIM — which he purchased during Hickman’s run — from Advanced Idea Mechanics to Avengers Idea Mechanics. Roberto now lead the Avengers, or at least an Avengers, but he wasn’t comfortable doing things the way they’d always been done.
Ultimately, I think that’s why Roberto stands out to me as the best Avenger because he’s inspired by what the Avengers stand for but he doesn’t get caught in the tradition trap and instead he leans into what the Avengers could be. Across two volumes (New Avengers and USAvengers) and under the pen of Al Ewing, Roberto lived up to the great potential he first showed in those early New Mutants stories and set an example of what an Avenger could be. I do think it’s a bit of a shame that he went back to being a New Mutant — even if it was under Hickman, who is probably a bigger Sunspot fan than me — because to me Roberto Da Costa is as much an Avenger as Captain America, Iron Man or Thor and he deserves to be spoken about in the same conversations as them when it comes to the best avenger ever.