Even though Secret Wars hasn’t quite reached its conclusion, Marvel is going ahead and releasing a bunch of brand new number ones that take place after the event. Contest of Champions from Al Ewing being one of them. Is it good?
Contest of Champions #1 (Marvel Comics)
Contest of Champions #1 is split up into two stories, a main one and a backup origin tale (probably to justify the five dollar price tag). As such, let’s split it up and look at both tales:
The Life I’ve Left Behind Me
This is the main story for the comic, focusing on Nigel Higgens, the former British Punisher (sometimes known as the Outlaw). We get to know a little about Nigel, a little about his past and then he’s kidnapped and dropped right into the metaphorical fighting pit of the Contest of Champions. There’s not much else to grasp onto here other than yet another story about character versus other characters and you don’t learn anything about the contest outside of who is running it and some of the people involved; this is a little frustrating, but also fitting in the sense that we’re in the same situation as Nigel. Nonetheless, if you’re not familiar with the majority of these characters, this might be a difficult first issue to dive into.
Speaking of which, there’s a lack of characterization for most of the cast and most of the heroes and villains don’t really do much (again, it may help if you are familiar with a lot of these characters). The exception to that is Nigel, who is characterized fairly well. He’s an interesting version of the Punisher, having given up the fight and wanting to settle down and live peacefully in his new environment. However, he’s still always on edge and it worries him. Now that he has been dropped into this big contest and forced to fight for his life, it’s going to be very interesting to see how he deals with the situation.
Excuse me sir. You’re blocking the exit and I need to get this costume party.
Besides the possible confusion, Ewing’s writing doesn’t really have any problems; his pacing is good and he keeps the story moving, though the narrative could benefit from slowing down to let the characters talk and develop for a bit in the future. The dialogue and narration are solid and there’s a lot of good lines throughout the issue; Nigel calling everyone a pirate being one such example of the chuckle-worthy dialogue. I’m not familiar with a lot of these characters, but I’m sure they serve as good fanservice for longtime Marvel fans who know them and will be happy to see them here.
Paco Medina provides the artwork for this tale and he does a pretty decent job. All of the characters look great, are visually diverse in color scheme and design (solid lineup of characters that Ewing has picked so far). Some of their facial reactions are a bit silly at points, but it’s not a frequent problem. The layouts are constructed well and make the book easy to follow, the action looks exciting though a bit static, and the colors are nice and vibrant at times. Overall, “The Life I’ve Left Behind Me” is a good-looking story.
L’avenir, C’est Moi
This backup tale features the origin story for a character called Guillotine, a person briefly shown at the end of the previous story. It’s a very quick tale about her family bloodline and where her powers came from that’s efficient and interesting. Guillotine’s power is one that’s dangerous and bloodthirsty, but she has to both live with it and find a way to control it.
The artwork is provided by Thomas Labourot, who is also good here, though the double page spread involving the history of the people who had the Guillotine identity was a bit tricky to follow at points. I like his design for Guillotine as well, reminiscent of a red version of the Assassin’s Creed outfit (though with a bit more armor). That’s not a lot to say about the short story, but it was good for what it was in the end.
Well I don’t know about you, but that sword with a skull emblem stuck in a pile of bones seems trustworthy to me.
Is It Good?
Contest of Champions #1 isn’t a bad book and features plenty to enjoy, but there’s also a distinct lack of characterization or setup for most of the comic. It has good writing, a neat lead character, decent artwork, and an enjoyable backup story; however, at a steep price point of five dollars and not a lot happening story-wise, I think you could wait on this issue a bit until you can get it cheaper — or see what we say about issue two, of course.