THIS REVIEW OF ‘CHAMPIONS’ #1 IS SPOILER-FREE.
by Clyde Hall. Rebellion is natural for young people. Dissatisfied and underwhelmed with the established norms and the Establishment that normed them, they’re driven by the burning optimism of youth. Each generation has a responsibility to make a better world than the one they’ve inherited. But it takes more than heartfelt rhetoric to launch a new ship. Before the bottle of bubbly smacks prow, architects, designers, and builders work vision into reality. After that, crews labor continuously at maintaining and keeping the vessel afloat. In the 2016 Champions series from Marvel, three dissatisfied young heroes chucked their Avengers memberships and announced to the world that they would adhere to a higher standard. They grew weary of seeing their superhero elders battle among themselves, so they did something about it. Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man Miles Morales, and Nova swore to prevail the right way, not the easy way. By their deeds, humanity could rely on heroes once again.
The Champions quickly attracted other youths to their roster and set about transforming those words into action over the next 2+ years. The new Champions #1 is a continuation of that process, and a logical next step in the team’s growth. Once upon that first series, they were young supers exploring their powers, establishing camaraderie with peers, roistering about opposing wrongs and developing understandings. But in the premiere of their new title, these Champions have settled into their roles more firmly, humor and thrills of the early days giving way to The Great Responsibility. Leader Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) labors formulating ways for the team’s expansive roster to be both proactive and reactive. To achieve maximum results in concert with simultaneous, multiple operations. The kids, especially Ms. Marvel, have now seen the high stakes and have traded the excitement and thrills for precision and safety.
Despite unqualified success in their expanded operations in this #1, writer Jim Zub threads the story with a sense of foreboding. Three teams with emergency backup, three simultaneous deployments, three successful missions, and yet for all the prep and planning, the reader cannot shake the sensation that all is unwell. By the end of the issue, the source of unease is made known. Discovery only dials up the dread.
If you’ve followed the earlier adventures of Champions, you should feel at home. Familiar faces, considerable action, and an ongoing investment in these characters smoothly transitions you into their 2.0. Seeing them mature may stand in contrast to some expectations.
In 2016’s Champions #1, I recall many chuckles as I read. Not with the first issue of 2019’s Champions. As Zub promised at the end of the previous series, this is a different sort of narrative. Then, the team read like a modern, comedy/combat movie romp. Now, it’s closer to an authorized dramatization of a Special Forces op with a few peeks behind the covert curtain.
If you’re a new reader, you may find the fast pace and throng of characters confusing. Zub does what he can, giving each member mini-dossier introductions, but there’s not enough time. He cleverly reveals that some members don’t yet know each other’s made-up names to keep the reader in the loop. Which also underscores how their new heroing approach leaves less time for the interactions needed for a team support system. This phase concentrates on smart young heroes living up to their own standards, but having their mettle tested. It’s where tread meets pavement, where the duty ceases to be fun compared to the cost. Where the price of your eloquent, rebellious words comes due. The crossroads of Stark Plaza and May Parker Memorial Drive where you take the devil’s deal if it means doing good for the largest number of people. If it means keeping the dream alive.
Artist Steven Cummings deserves the Dick Dillin Award for wrangling the entire fifteen-member roster (yes, we include Sparky) effectively. His skill allows us to track many costumes, many characters across large and small group scenes. Cummings’ action sequences achieve moments of dramatic poise, but his close-ups of individuals at work and at rest add a much-needed personal contact with the heroes.
It’s a natural progression, witnessing Marvel’s newest generation maintain their momentum as a new voice amidst the cautious droning of older generations. There are other Marvel titles where young heroes caper about distributing quips and power beams galore. This first issue comes across as an Anti-West Coast Avengers. The struggles of living up to their team convictions carry weight, while changing the fundamental tone. That’s always a gamble. A worthy gamble, but not a guaranteed success. The creative team has done what it set out to accomplish and did it well. Now they face their own second act, where revelations in the next issues can secure a place in the hearts of fans or leave them pining for the Champions that were.
Written by Jim Zub.
Art by Steven Cummings.
Colors by Marcio Menyz with Erick Arciniega.
Letters by VC’s Clayton Cowles.
7 out of 10
Check out this three-page preview of ‘Champions’ #1, courtesy of Marvel!