Champions #1 kicks off the new series starring some of Marvel’s most popular teenage superheroes as they work together to help the world in ways that they feel their adult counterparts are neglecting to do themselves. It’s written by Mark Waid, penciled by Humberto Ramos, inked by Victor Olazaba, colored by Edgar Delgado, and lettered and produced by VC’s Clayton Cowles. Is it good?
Champions #1 (Marvel Comics)
When it comes to superhero comics at either of the Big Two these past several years, the way we think about first issues has changed. Much of the time, a shiny new “#1” on a cover simply marks the shift from one creative team to the next, but other times the creative team remains exactly the same, with the #1 signifying a new jumping-on-point for the series (Mark Waid himself has been guilty of this with his Daredevil run with Chris Samnee et al. It remains one of my favorite comic book runs, and is perhaps my single favorite superhero comic run ever, but it’s hard to deny that that series did not need two first issues).
Regardless, a #1 on a cover continues to send at least one message: that if you’re a new reader looking to hop on board with a series, this is a place to start. As such, despite the fact that Champions picks up threads from Brian Michael Bendis’s massive universe-spanning crossover Civil War II, Waid’s own All-New, All-Different Avengers, as well as featuring characters from a number of other books, including Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Nova, Totally Awesome Hulk, and The Vision—none of which I am currently keeping up with—I approached this issue with the hope, if not necessarily the assumption, that I’d be able to follow along. Though I have some reservations, I’m certainly glad that I gave it a try.
This debut did make me regret the fact that I haven’t been following the other books that the starring characters of Champions are featured in, but that nagging feeling of “damn, I’ve been hearing such great things about The Vision, so I’ll definitely pick that up as soon as it’s fully collected” or “man, it’s a shame that life circumstances (which have since improved) forced me to drop Ms. Marvel a few years back, that was such a great book” is not the fault of Champions itself.
Yet at no point did I feel like I was missing any crucial information. Granted, I can’t promise that someone who is completely new to the current Marvel Universe wouldn’t feel a bit lost. I read enough Marvel news online, not to mention plenty of actual Marvel comics, to understand enough about the current status quo, but I’d imagine that even somebody who has been away from Marvel for a few years, let alone somebody who’s never picked up a comic before (“Wait, why is Spider-Man a teenager again, and why is he black?”) Still, superhero comics being in the constant state of change that they are, Waid does his best to plant Champions firmly within the confines of current continuity without making the mistake of spending the entire issue explaining what everyone’s deal is.
Instead, Waid establishes an exciting hook from the get-go. Recently-minted teen Avengers Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), Spider-Man (Miles Morales), and Nova (Sam Alexander) have all gotten fed up with the adult members of the superhero team and decided to quit. But this isn’t just some Marvel version of the Teen Titans. The idealistic Kamala and her somewhat-reluctant teammates recruit The Totally Awesome Hulk (Amadeus Cho) and The Vision’s daughter, Viv Vision, to form a team that actively seeks ways to save the world in ways that go beyond merely punching supervillains into submission.
It could be too early to tell, but Waid may have taken some thematic cues from Ryan North and Erica Henderson’s The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl in the way in which Champions seems to be about finding progressive, compassionate solutions to modern problems instead of simply resorting to violence. Knowing Waid’s political leanings, though, it seems more likely that this is simply a reaction to the current American political climate. In the past, Waid has occasionally been guility of being just a bit too on-the-nose with his political commentary in superhero comics (see also: that brief arc in which the Fantastic Four’s presence in Latveria after taking down Dr. Doom is compared to American military presence in a recently Saddam Hussein-less Iraq during an otherwise wonderful FF run with Mike Wieringo), but for the most part here, he shows rather than tells, and even somewhat self-consciously avoids having characters speak in platitudes.
Beyond merely being a piece of political commentary, though, this is a fun comic that’s built upon the interactions between its young protagonists. For a straight white cis man in his 50’s, Waid still knows how to write a diverse cast of teen characters, as anyone who has read his current Archie run can attest. He doesn’t try too hard to use contemporary slang that would quickly become outdated, and he certainly doesn’t play into any stereotypes. I look forward to seeing how the relationships established here develop as the series moves forward, especially once young Cyclops gets introduced. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that he doesn’t show up here, despite being on the cover, but it should be interesting to see how the other teens react to a time-displaced mutant in their ranks that they know will soon grow up to be a jerk.
It would have been nice to have a younger voice on the art side to add some authenticity, but Humberto Ramos gives the book such kinetic, youthful energy that you’d never guess he was born in 1970. I understand that his style can be a bit divisive so if you haven’t liked his wild lines and somewhat inconsistent figures and faces in the past, nothing here will change your mind. I thought it was excellent for this kind of story, though, and Victor Olazaba’s inks helped smooth out the rough edges. Colorist Edgar Delgado shines, too, particularly during an early flashback sequence that called for a more subdued, painterly style. To top it all off, VC’s Clayton Cowles doesn’t give us any reason to believe that he doesn’t deserve all of the work that Marvel gives him.
Is It Good?
While Champions #1 perhaps tries to accomplish too much in one issue, it looks like it’s shaping up to be yet another winner from one of the most consistently impressive superhero writers in comics. I don’t think I’ve ever read a comic by Mark Waid that I didn’t like, and I’d be shocked if that changed with the next issue.