Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

We Are the Champions (Well, Not Us, But Them)

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 8th, 2016

VariantChampions #1
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils: Humberto Ramos
Inks: Victor Olazabo
Colors: Edgar Delgado
Letters: Virtual Calligraphy’s Clayton Cowles
Cover artists: Humberto Ramos (regular edition)/Alex Ross, Mark Brooks, John Tyler Christopher, Jay Fosgitt, Rahzzah, Art Adams, Mike Hawthorne & Scottie Young (variants)
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Price: $4.99 US

I’ve been a fan of Mark Waid’s writing for a long time, but I have to be honest – what drew me to this comic wasn’t the creative talent, but rather the characters. Marvel’s new generation of teen heroes have been standouts of its line for a while now. Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (formerly Ultimate), Viv Vision and Amadeus Cho as Hulk have all proven to fascinating additions to the Marvel Universe. Mind you, I was confident that Waid would make the most of these heroes and offer stories in keeping with the established characterizations that made them interesting in the first place. That confidence proved to be well placed. But what surprised me about this debut issue was the fact that it wasn’t these colorful teens who stole the show. Instead, it was a socially relevant message, one of hope and responsibility.

VariantVariantDisillusioned by the Avengers’ more reactionary approach and her perception that they don’t do enough to help the regular people affected by superhuman conflict, Ms. Marvel quits the team and seeks out her fellow former Avengers, the younger Spider-Man and Nova, to form their own team with a more socially conscious, youth-oriented perspective. The first step is recruiting other teen heroes, followed by the team’s first mission.

Humberto Ramos has been an ever-present artistic force in comics for a couple of decades, and he’s been a mainstay of the Marvel brand for some time now. There’s no mistaking his style, and his exaggerated, angular linework certainly works with the more youthful energy of a team of teen heroes. That being said, I can’t help but feel a more realistic, less extreme approach might have worked better with the subject matter here. By the end of the issue, the plot turns to much more grounded, real-world concerns, so I can’t help but think figures that emphasize the characters’ humanity as opposed to the impossibility of their powers and adventures might have served the subject matter better. It’s not a criticism of Ramos’ efforts here; he delivers exactly the sort of over-the-top super-hero fare for which he’s known. Furthermore, the design for the loathsome villain at the end of the issue seems too silly for the actual evil enterprise he represents.

Credit where credit is due, though: he conveys the cold, distant nature of Viv Vision effectively, and his portrayal of on the regular-edition cover really reminded me of Alan Davis’s style. Furthermore, his interpretation of Amadeus Cho as the Hulk conveys his Asian heritage in gamma form far better than others I’ve seen of the character thus far. I also liked the muted colors, background crosshatching and darker inks used to distinguish the flashback sequence early in the issue in which Ms. Marvel quits the Avengers. The approach not only sets the flashback apart from the rest of the story, but conveys the young heroine’s disappointment in her idols.

Speaking of covers, it wasn’t until I was doing up for the creative credits at the top of this post that realized just how many variant covers there are for this first issue. I find that so disappointing and such an invasive reminder that this comic is, first and foremost, a product of business rather than a primarily creative effort. I want comics publishers to be profitable, but I find anything beyond a single variant to be irksome.

Probably my favorite aspect of this issue was how plausibly and naturally Waid plots the social-media aspect in the final pages of this introductory story. While the abilities of this group of teen heroes (especially Spidey-Man and Ms. Marvel) to travel all over the country strain credibility somewhat, Waid’s crafting of a scenario in which they become national darlings feels genuine and wholly convincing.

The Champions aren’t just the surrogate children of Marvel’s icons, but of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Justin Trudeau. This is a super-hero team book that’s not about fighting but about fixing problems. It’s about helping people, not pummelling other-dimensional dictators and time-travelling tyrants. While this is a standard gathering-of-the-team issue, it’s also about constructing a philosophy for the team. Ms. Marvel is the heart and soul of the group, which is a testament to the strength of the character that G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona crafted. 8/10

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