It’s been over three years since the debut of Kamala Khan, and since 2014, Ms. Marvel has been one of Marvel’s most popular books month after month. She hasn’t been the only popular legacy hero – Jane Foster as Thor, Amadeus Cho as Hulk, Miles Morales as Spider-Man, and Sam Alexander as Nova have all been great for Marvel. For a publisher struggling with sales, legacy hero books – new faces for existing superhero names – are solid ground, so it was only a matter of time before they got their own team book.
Marvel’s Champions brings together Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Nova, Hulk, Viv (from the Vision), and Young Cyclops in a vibrant new series penned by Mark Waid and drawn by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olazaba, and Edgar Delgado. The new team forms in the fallout of Civil War II, Bendis’s 6 month long event pitting Iron Man and Captain Marvel against each other. In the aftermath of yet another superhuman war, with Iron Man sort-of dead, Captain America sort-of a Nazi, and Captain Marvel definitely not the role model Kamala wanted her to be, the younger Avengers are disillusioned. That disillusionment turns into frustration when the Avengers stop the Wrecking Crew, only to leave, well, a wreck. Ms. Marvel wants to help and fix the destruction they’ve caused, and the systems in place aren’t good enough.
After quitting the Avengers, Kamala decides there is a way to help. She assembles a new team with Spider-Man and Nova, who bring in their own recruits. Their mission is to help and to fight with hope rather than hate. It’s the mission statement of teenagers rejecting the methods of the older Avengers, who have, time and again, thrown the world into chaos because of their arguments. It’s also pretty self-aware of Marvel, who must, by now, be hearing the calls from fans to put an end to hero-vs-hero crossover events. The Champions and Monsters Unleashed could be a step in the right direction.
While the intention is noble, 6 issues in, Champions has yet to find its footing. The first issue brings the team together and sets them against their first villain, a human trafficker dressed as a clown. After they catch him, the assembled crowd goads the Champions, mostly Hulk, and it almost ends in a bloody big splat. Kamala stops him and gives a big heroic speech about responsibility and punching down. The issue closes on the #twitterresponse to the new team.
After a great start, Champions continues the trend with a team bonding issue, then, in issue #3, they solve sexism in “Stereotypeistan”. Issue #4 is a captured-by-Atlanteans arc. Issue #5 throws Gwenpool into the mix even though I don’t remember doing anything to specifically deserve this punishment, and the whole issue is a back and forth about violence, inaction, injustice, and no-win scenarios. The Champions are in a pickle – the sheriff of Daly County is actually behind recent instances of hate crimes and terrorist attacks in town. The deputy tells the Champions he can’t get involved or expose the sheriff, because the people support him. Kamala and the gang, meanwhile, debate getting involved and the consequences. The debate doesn’t seem to be for the benefit of the team, or the plot, but actually for the readers.
And that’s where #5 betrays the book’s premise – rather than the younger generation rebelling against the ways of the old, Waid’s not-so-sly preaching about punching down makes it clear the Champions are the older generation in disguise, The Adults masquerading as kids to talk down to readers. At the end of the issue, when the deputy decides to expose the sheriff, the team are preparing to go in and help keep the peace, when Kamala turns – almost as if to the camera – to state (once again) that the team should not “punch down”. This ruse becomes all the more transparent in issue 6 and the setup of a rival team, the coincidentally diverse Freelancers, who proudly claim they like “punching down”, just in case repeatedly talking about “punching down” since the first issue wasn’t getting through to readers.
For a comic that’s supposed to be about idealistic rebels striking out on their own, and against a system that’s so black and white it causes an inter-superhuman war every 6 months – while also being so grey and emotionally harrowing that superheroes routinely quit – Champions seems more inclined to use its young heroes as a tool to lecture the readers it’s supposed to be inspiring. Rather than have Kamala and the team question the status quo, work against the old ways, sometimes faltering, sometimes succeeding, The Champions is a heavy-handed analogy aimed at the young generation passionate about social justice and activism online.
The Champions has some small issues – the use of painfully dated internet slang, for one. The Champions having a single issue arc about sexism in Sharzad- 26 pages not enough to reflect the complexity of the situation it’s taking on, and way too short to do it without falling back on stereotypes. The out-of-place Atlantean trip, the balance of humor with serious themes. None of these are the real problem – because once The Champions finds its footing, it can do better. The Champions’ biggest problem is that they are a mouthpiece rather than a team. This isn’t a book about young heroes fighting back against the system, but a lecture for young readers on how not to do it.
Writer: Mark Waid
Penciller: Humberto Ramos
Inker: Victor Olazaba
Colorist: Edgar Delgado