Champions by Zub & Cummings

The world still needs heroes! But… does it need so many of them? In the first issue of the new volume of Champions, writer Jim Zub and artist Steven Cummings double down on the expanded roster of teenage superheroes, immediately showcasing the breadth of characters in Marvel’s junior varsity ranks. The book opens with team leader Ms. Marvel coordinating the efforts of three different squads, each working to tackle a different crisis in a different part of the world. In addition to members of the original lineup, as envisioned by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos when the second volume of Champions debuted in 2016 (minus Kid Cyclops), Kamala’s charges include other next-gen heroes introduced to the team in recent months, like Ironheart and the new Wasp, as well as brand-new or nigh forgotten kid crime-fighters like Pinpoint and Bombshell.

That’s a lot of heroes.

I’m not complaining, although I can understand how an already marginally recognizable team might suffer further complication by including ever more unrecognizable faces. In fact, I’m glad Champions exists. The success of the X-Men in the 80’s and 90’s birthed a glut of mutants and as many team books as a spinner rack could hold. In the 00’s and 10’s the same was true for the Avengers brand; those guys even needed their own planet to base operations. But Champions, both in the fictional world and in the retail environment, exists because the world needs heroes. And good superhero teams. Sure, there might be a little bit of cashing in happening in the immediate future thanks to the presence of Miles Morales, but Marvel hadn’t been banking on Sony’s fantastic Into the Spider-Verse achievement when they first put this book out. This book was engendered because some very talented creators gave life to some very compelling characters, and a few other very talented creators decided they could pull these kids together for some very compelling stories. And that’s exactly what they’ve been doing for almost thirty issues now.

This could be an admittedly confusing issue for newcomers. Zub brings up various plot threads from the previous volume (Viv Vision planting a kiss on Riri’s lips; Nova losing his powers; Ironheart getting Thanos’d) with only slight contextual tie-in, and the rapid-fire introduction of characters seems like it could be as off-putting as that time I tried jumping into the New 52 edition of Legion of Super-Heroes with zero preparation. But if one accepts the concept — that a few core members are coordinating a worldwide superhero peacekeeping initiative — then it probably doesn’t matter. And if you add in the fact that the core heroes in question — Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales, and Ironheart — are intriguing enough in their own right, then I have to imagine that even the casual fan is going to get excited about the directions this book is taking.

With the obvious exception of the final-page twist, this first issue is all about setting up the status quo, and, despite a big supporting cast, focusing the spotlight on the aforementioned key characters, with just the right amount of teenage angst to shake up the team dynamic.

While Jim Zub and prior Champions scribe Mark Waid have made valiant efforts at adding to this beautifully diverse multi-ethnic team with creations of their own (Snowbound, Red Locust), the characters of Tom King (Viv), Greg Pak (Amadeus Cho), Brian Michael Bendis (Miles and Riri), and G. Willow Wilson (Kamala) steal the show. And while most of those creators have moved on from Marvel, the characters seem to be in good hands. It’s the thrill of seeing these kids interact in a team environment (refreshingly devoid of editorial pressure from Marvel Studios) that hearkens back to my youthful fandom for The Avengers and Uncanny X-Men.

Phil Noto’s 30’s themed variant cover

Zub is partnered with his Wayward co-creator Steven Cummings on this title, and I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve seen thus far. Speaking of Legion, there’s a hint of George Pérez in Cummings’s delicate and detailed linework, an advantageous trait when called upon to render such a wide array of colorful characters.

Also fun to point out that this issue of Champions is the first to feature a decades-themed Phil Noto variant as part of Marvel’s 80th anniversary celebration. We start with the 30’s of course (even though Marvel really only existed for one year in that decade) and, despite having zero connection to the story between the covers, it’s a pretty sweet looking tribute.

Also new this week!

Conan the Barbarian #1 by Jason Aaron and Mahmud Asrar

I’ll admit that, prior to picking up the first issue of Conan’s much heralded return to Marvel, the extent of my knowledge of the character encompassed the following words: Hyborian, Crom, Cimmeria, and, I guess… Barbarian. I knew this was the book that made Barry Windsor Smith famous, and I was aware of Robert E. Howard’s status as godfather of sword & sorcery, so I should have checked these out at some point in my life, but… never happened.

Now I realize I have a lot of catching up to do. This first issue (actually #276 if we follow the Legacy numbering) is a fantastic introduction to the character and the mythos. Aaron knows his way around sword-swinging, magic-infused adventures, and he clearly has a deep-seated passion for this character. Asrar’s art is as beautiful and bloody as ever, and the book even has the first chapter in a new novella by (I guess) a pretty prominent modern Conan writer. I read this, loved it, and immediately headed to Green Apple to pick up a collection of Howard’s original stories. Not because there was anything contextually confusing about this book’s pit-fighting, murder-sex, and demon summoning. But because I wanted more!

December 26 | Weekly Buzz | January 9