I’m reading The Champions today, a comic book about a team of teenage superheroes. It’s a popular book and has been well received by critics. When it was released, there was an article and interview in Entertainment Weekly, and The Hollywood Reporter, which hints at it being something special.
The writer says the team are intended to be very socially conscious, very activist-minded, and very positive about being superheroes, which I much prefer to grimdark interpretations of superheroes, like the recent DC movies. The comic is intended to reflect the world around us, to be evocative of the feelings people are feeling.
I was excited to read this book and the first thing that impressed me is the organic and interesting way it starts. We start with Ms. Marvel, who is Kamala Khan in her secret identity. Khan is Marvel's first Muslim character to headline her own comic book. Kamala quits the Avengers, disillusioned at the goings on during the latest comics crossover event, Civil War II. This event sees Captain Marvel and Iron Man form opposing factions of superheroes. The whole thing received mixed reviews from critics, to say the least.
It is a nicely written parting of the ways, where we see Ms. Marvel’s disenchantment with the Avengers, and also see a hint of the direction she would like to see a superhero team go in. Like any teenager, her first move is then to go to her phone and start messaging. She contacts Nova and Miles Morales, who have both quit the Avengers already.
The post continues below. If you are enjoying it, why not check out the sci-fi novels I write. They belong to a series called Dark Galaxy, which starts with Galaxy Dog. Here is some of Galaxy Dog's blurb:
What starts as an ordinary invasion of an alien planet brings to light an ancient archeological site of huge importance. A young man called Knave makes a life-changing discovery there and rises from a lowly position as an infantry trooper to become a player among the powers of the galaxy.
The entire series is ripsnorting space opera in the style of Doctor Who and Blake's 7, and they are available to buy from Amazon. Just click the link and take a look.
Miles Morales is one of the characters who goes by the identity of Spider-Man. He’s an Afro-Latino teenager with powers similar to those of the original Spider-Man, which were derived from the bite of a spider genetically engineered by Spider-Man's nemesis Norman Osborn in an attempt to duplicate those abilities.
When they meet, Ms. Marvel tells Spider-Man and Nova that she spent five days in a funk, eating potatoes chips and writing fanfic. There is plenty of good dialogue in the book, but this is the first that made me smile in amusement. I also looked up Stinger, the character Spider-Man is afraid Ms. Marvel is shipping him with.
The three agree to form a team, and then we get to see the next recruit, the Hulk, in action. This is the Amadeus Cho version of the Hulk. When not being the Hulk, Cho is a 19-year-old Korean American genius who is one of the eight smartest people on Earth. In contrast with Banner, who found his Hulk powers to be a burden, Cho is a confident character who revels in his newfound abilities. When we first see Hulk in this book he is helping with a cave in at a coal mine in Kentucky that he says was improperly vented. An unusual and interesting situation for a superhero to be involved in, but perfect for the Champions.
Maddy Cho, his sister, is in radio contact with him, giving him support, but I’m not sure she is actually a member of the team.
The dialogue continues to be natural and funny, such as when Miles Morales uses the word embiggen. It comes from Lisa the Iconoclast, an episode of The Simpsons, from way back in 1996. Embiggen has since been used in several scientific publications. Apparently it’s now Ms. Marvel’s catchphrase, which is very fitting. It’s a while since I’ve heard it, and I smiled at it like an old friend.
The four heroes sort things out then call on the vision’s suburban home and ask if his synthezoid daughter Viv can come out to play. Another delightful scene in this clever first issue.
The first issue ends with the core of the team in place, surrounded by hashtags and Viv is reading them on her hand, while the humans have to use cell phones. Issue two starts with the new team going into the woods on a team-building exercise. Kamala says she wants to learn what everyone’s powers are so they can put together some sick combo moves.
We get a good chance to get to know the characters a little, and they also have some fun, such as when they do trust falls. Viv drops Nova instead of catching him when he does a trust fall, because she instinctively phases and he passes through her hands. In the middle of this relaxed interlude, Time-Displaced Cyclops turns up and asks if he can join the team, after being inspired by a viral speech made by Ms Marvel. Cyclops emits beams of energy from his eyes, described as optic blasts, which have the appearance of red light and deliver massive concussive force.
The team let him join, before almost immediately, in issue four, being captured by Atlanteans. The actual capture happens off screen, in a tacit admission that a bunch of Atlanteans would never really be able to capture this team of heroes. This sort of thing is one of the reasons I like superhero comic books though, I don’t have to worry my head about inconsistencies like that. In comic books you are just supposed to accept only vaguely explained occurrences, they’re part of the medium.
The encounter is over just a few panels later, after the characters remember to use the powers that should have made them impossible to capture in the first place. Even the characters themselves comment about how lame the whole thing was, but don’t worry because the very next issue features Gwenpool, and it’s a great one.
Gwenpool has a vast knowledge of the Marvel Universe from comic books in her universe, such as every secret identity of both heroes and villains. She is able to exploit her fourth-wall knowledge to her advantage, understanding when comic-book tropes will allow her to avoid unpleasant or life-threatening consequences. Gwen has repeatedly demonstrated that she can't be arrested for long due to her superhero status and has also, on several occasions, survived falls that should have killed her. Gwenpool's knowledge of the Marvel Universe and its unique, fictional nature makes her reckless and irresponsibly violent. It is fun seeing Ms. Marvel trying to explain her team’s more realistic world to her, when she is used to the most ridiculous of comic-book tropes.
The team meet Gwenpool in a country run by a corrupt and racist sheriff. It’s great to see them stand up to character like this, unafraid of his power in a way that ordinary people can’t be.
It is then that Gwenpool arrives and blows up a bunch of the sheriff's police cars. Things suddenly get to hit, and Ms Marvel yells chexit, which is Champions Exit, a cool little code word for the fliers and jumpers to get everyone out of danger, and a play on Brexit.
Gwenpool, as an expert in comic book plotting, says that corrupt cops always turn out to be mind controlled or something similar. Ms. Marvel tells her that people can be racist ass hats without being mind controlled, but Gwenpool then guesses that maybe it's something in the air, or the water. She even suspects it may be Mentallo.
And then Viv confirms that some intangible force is indeed in the air. There is then a nice scene where Hulk confronts some kids spraying racist graffiti. “Do you think the color of your skin makes you superior to me?” Gwen then assumes the kid is a Skrull and starts yanking on his face. I was already really warming to Gwenpool by then, and I decided I loved the concept when she called Viv, Clanky.
Champions is something young, and fun, but diverse and with the intention of taking on big issues. I’m enjoying it. Before we wrap up here, just a reminder that the best way to support this blog is to buy one of my books, so why not go over to Amazon, or Kobo and see if there is one that catches your fancy.