The world still needs heroes – and there are heroes all over the world!
The Champions have undergone a massive expansion, growing from a group of teenage superheroes frustrated with how the adults approach their problems into a proper system with dozens of young superheroes doing what they can to save the world. Jim Zub has turned the Champions into a global legion, a natural evolution from the club of teenagers they started out as under Mark Waid’s pen. Led by Ms. Marvel and with the original core of the team serving as a center of leadership, this new and improved iteration of the Champions is poised to make a real difference in the world.
The beginning of the volume matches this new scale and sense of expansion. The Champions have dozens of new members: From some more established heroes like Power Man, Falcon, and Bombshell to brand new characters like Pinpoint. The team is global, diverse, and highly effective, and Kamala is showing herself to be an excellent field leader and strategist from her narration and the performance of her squad. Unfortunately, this sense of optimism towards a bright future is quickly undercut by a splash page of a scene of carnage and wreckage, with casualties everywhere. It’s not explained at first, but the first issue does end teasing that something terrible happened that only Miles and Amadeus know about, and that Mephisto was involved. It rapidly becomes apparent that this is not the story of the Champions coming together — it’s the story of them falling apart.
The second issue contains the flashback that gives the jarring tonal shift some context. During a team mission in Dubai, the Champions failed. Completely and utterly. The villain destroyed the city, killing countless civilians alongside core team members Viv Vision and Ms. Marvel. Miles and Amadeus are both distraught over this in the midst of the wreckage when Mephisto appears, offering them a free do over of the mission — allegedly with no strings attached. While Amadeus is hesitant, Miles quickly decides that taking the deal is far better than the alternative, and time resets. The mission plays out far better this time around, as both Spider-Man and Brawn know exactly what to do, and the day is saved — but not without a casualty. A girl who Miles was able to save the first time around went unnoticed in the second iteration and died without anyone noticing. This entire incident is the driving force behind Miles, Kamala, and Amadeus’ character arcs for the rest of the volume, through the end of the arc and beyond.
This incident serves as an effective reasoning for why characters act out and why the overall tone of the book is so grim, but is not without problems. The entire core premise of it is built on fridging — first Kamala and Viv die with very little agency in their story, which requires Miles and Amadeus to save them. Their corpses are shown as a way to drive home the horror of what has happened, but it is also a scene of two women who died to provide emotional angst for the men around them. On top of this, the girl who Miles saves the first time but dies the second time has zero agency in the story. She’s a prop to make Miles feel bad, and it doesn’t sit well on top of the issues with Viv and Kamala.
Kamala does get agency in the story as it continues, which is what saves the story. The characters that Zub focuses on get good development, as Kamala steps into her role as the team leader and all the duties that entails, Miles wrestles with his guilt over the choice he made, and everyone else deals with personal issues that get less page time. Sam Alexander, for instance, leaves around halfway through to get his Nova helmet back, and Amadeus Cho leaves the book between #4 and #5. The new entrants to the team such as Pinpoint and Power Man get some good moments and personal development, but they are very much side characters to Miles and Kamala.
The art throughout the volume is great. Cummings is a great penciller for the first arc, and Juanan Ramirez does a good job with the rest. Characters are expressive and emotive, and the action scenes especially pop. Big splash pages feel bigger than they are, and the layouts are designed to let character beats hit the way they were intended to. Marcio Menyz’s colors make the book a lot more vibrant, even during the more somber scenes. The Champions are a visually exciting team, and the art does an excellent job portraying that.
The biggest problem with this volume is that it’s not at all a good introduction to the Champions. It’s a deconstruction of the team that ends with almost every original member of the team leaving, and never gives new readers a proper look into what the hook of the Champions is. It’s an interesting continuation of Zub’s run that started with #19 in 2018, but it’s very much Act 2 of the Champions, which makes the fact that it is a volume 1 ill-fitting. Even more frustrating is that the end of the volume is a two-part tie in to War of the Realms, which mostly relies on continuity from outside of this volume. It explains everything well enough, but is still a frustrating ending to the trade.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some great parts of the volume. The first part of the War of the Realms tie-in brings back Cyclops for a bit, which leads to his incredibly emotional reunion with the team after the events of Extermination. The second part gives Power Man a really great moment to shine, given his power of getting stronger with culture. Pinpoint gets some definition to his character during a side excursion with Miles, and the relationship drama between Viv and Riri is entertaining at the very least. The character writing as a whole is incredibly strong throughout the volume.
All in all this volume is well written with great art, but some flaws that get in the way. Zub’s relaunch of the Champions definitely redefined the team and what they could be, but ultimately did not establish a groundwork before tearing it apart. It would work a lot better if Zub either spent bit longer establishing the status quo or used the team’s status from before the relaunch.