By Don Alsafi. Marvel’s first version of The Champions debuted in 1975. It’s hard to imagine a weirder collection of heroes with no real reason to be a team: Angel and Iceman from the X-Men, as well as Black Widow, Hercules, and Ghost Rider. It’s almost like Marvel looked at its first team book of eccentrics, The Defenders (consisting of the Hulk, Sub-Mariner, Doctor Strange and the Silver Surfer), and thought: C’mon. We can out-weird that.

By contrast, the version of Champions that debuted in 2016 is a much more cohesive group, and one with a thematic reason to exist. After the disillusionment they felt at the end of the Civil War II event, these young heroes – Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), the Hulk (Amadeus Cho), Nova (Sam Humphries), the teenaged Cyclops from X-Men: Blue, and the Vision’s synthetic daughter, Viv Vision – banded together, with a youthful hope and optimism for the future.

Still: Half of them came from a short-lived stint on the 12-issue-long All-New, All-Different Avengers, and all of them are spinoff versions of other characters. Isn’t this kind of complicated character lineage the kind of thing bound to confuse to new readers?

Let’s find out.

Building a Better Marvel: Champions #16Champions #16

Written by Mark Waid.

Art by Humberto Ramos.

Inks by Victor Olazaba.

Colors by Edgar Delgado.

Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.

The Dream Team, back together again. Mark Waid first came to real prominence in the early ’90s, when he began his years-long run on The Flash. Over the course of that series, he created Barry Allen’s future teenage descendant Impulse, who quickly got his own book written by Waid with art by a hot new artist named Humberto Ramos. The new series took off, and Impulse became known for its fun kinetic energy.

In Champions, Waid & Ramos are teamed up once again – and that sense of boundless fun in the midst of all the superheroics is just as present as it was during their first collaboration. New readers might have up to a half-dozen characters to meet (not to mention the supporting cast, and guest stars) – but there’s an immediate sense of exuberance and whimsy that’s infectious. Heck, the recap page comes only after a single-page opening splash, portraying Nova about to get squashed by a giant red dinosaur foot, and the young Cyclops trying to stop it. The image is wordless, and ridiculous, and effectively sets the tone.

Interior page to 'Champions' #16. Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

Interior page to ‘Champions’ #16. Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

A perfect blend of drama and action. Having said that, the comic is far from light and insubstantial. As soon as readers meet the cast, we can immediately tell how much these young heroes really care about each other, and watch out for each other. In recent issues, Viv Vision was transformed by the High Evolutionary from her synthezoid form into a normal human girl – but other circumstances then led to the Vision creating a second, twinned version of his daughter in her original synthetic form. Both girls thus find themselves grappling with issues of identity and self-actualization, and we worry that at least one of them might find answers which could lead one or both of them to tragedy.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the other members of the team decide not to replace the now-powerless Viv with the newly-created synthezoid version, out of respect for Viv’s feelings. But they still need to shore up that loss of team power from somewhere – so they hold a bit of a membership drive! The current story arc, “Champion for a Day”, is an obvious riff on the 1978 story “Defenders for a Day”, which saw nearly twenty heroes (most of them firmly D-list) come out of the woodwork for an accidental day of tryouts at Defenders HQ. Similarly, several young heroes that the Champions check in with in this first issue include Moon Girl (and her Devil Dinosaur), the Patriot, and an overly ebullient new character called Red Locust. And there are bound to be even more guest stars in the coming months!

Interior page to 'Champions' #16. Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

Interior page to ‘Champions’ #16. Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, Edgar Delgado, and Clayton Cowles/Marvel Comics

The passion and joy we’ve been looking for. On the one hand, new readers who haven’t met any of these cast members before might be a bit discombobulated, or confused. After all, the entire team is completely made up of offshoots or different versions of other, more well-known heroes. On the other hand… that certainly never hurt the sales of DC’s The Teen Titans, now did it?

And true enough: Even though this is the beginning of the third story arc for these characters – or the fifth, if you count half the cast’s previous membership in the (also Waid-written) All-New, All-Different Avengers – it nevertheless remains completely comprehensible and accessible to someone who’s never even met most of these heroes before. Right now, sales charts could be seen as perhaps indicating a growing reader frustration with the event treadmill of other superhero books, where every crisis feels like a bleak depression fest with their constant “we’re all doomed” vibes. And yet in the midst of that dreary landscape, Champions shows us a superhero team book where its cast wrestles with deep and heart-wrenching issues – yet at the same time, they never give up on helping people, and they never forget just how much fun that should be.

Exciting superhero action, relatable teenage drama, and a sense of delight in this mad, mad world. This is exactly what we need more of from Marvel – and if there’s any justice to be had, it’s a book that will hopefully be around for a long time.

8 out of 10