REVIEW: Champions #1

Section of Toni Infante’s cover for Champions #1 by writer Eve L. Ewing, artist Simone Di Meo, colorist Federico Blee, and letterer Clayton Cowles

“The Champions have always been about standing up against what’s wrong. Standing up for people who can’t always stand up for themselves. And doing the work that the adult super hero community is too busy fighting among themselves to do,” says Ms. Marvel in Champions #1, an issue largely defined by infighting among the team’s teenage superheroes following Outlawed #1.

Champions #1

Clayton Cowles (letterer), Eve L. Ewing (writer), Espen Grundetjern (colorist), and Kim Jacinto (artist), Pepe Larraz and David Curiel (cover artists)
Marvel Comics
October 7, 2020

Toni Infante’s cover for Champions #1 by writer Eve L. Ewing, artist Simone Di Meo, colorist Federico Blee, and letterer Clayton Cowles

The events of Outlawed, which I reviewed when it came out back in March, had already started to affect the solo titles of Miles Morales (Miles Morales: Spider-Man) and Kamala Khan (Magnificent Ms. Marvel), both written by Saladin Ahmed. Eve L. Ewing and Simone Di Meo’s Champions opens with narration from Miles, which is a bit strange when Spider-Man was one of the first series to come back after monthly comics publishing resumed over the summer. The Champions have a ton of teen superheroes on their roster, why put so much focus on a character with his own ongoing series?

An ongoing series that has been—for months now—dealing with the effect of Kamala’s Law, which made it illegal for anyone under 21 to be a superhero and is being enforced by C.R.A.D.L.E. (Child-Hero Reconnaissance And Disruption Law Enforcement). Likewise, Ms. Marvel came back in September, so reading all three titles together (and they all have issues out this Wednesday) might hinder more than help anyone’s understanding of the event, if it can still be called that.

It feels like more of a crossover between those titles, and I couldn’t blame anyone for being confused about what’s happening where and when, since the diegetic and publishing timelines don’t seem to align. Worse, it’s jarring to read Ewing’s Miles and Kamala after or alongside Ahmed’s Miles and Kamala, because they don’t sound alike. If you, like me, are used to reading Miles’s journal entries in Spider-Man, then the narrative caption boxes used in Champions feel impersonal, and if you (like me) are a longtime reader of Kamala’s solo, then the Champions Kamala will read like an entirely different character.

Splash page from Champions #1 by writer Eve L. Ewing, artist Simone Di Meo, colorist Federico Blee, and letterer Clayton Cowles depicting Kamala Khan as Ms. Marvel speaking on behalf of the Champions
Splash page from Champions #1 by writer Eve L. Ewing, artist Simone Di Meo, colorist Federico Blee, and letterer Clayton Cowles

But that dissonance isn’t unique to Ewing’s Kamala: it’s been a problem in Champions, where Kamala has been positioned as a or the leader for years now and yet is written as if leadership and belonging to a team are brand new to her. Even taking comic book time into account, Kamala has gone from Mark Waid’s Avengers to Waid’s Champions to Jim Zub’s Champions to Ewing’s Champions (not to mention Secret Warriors). When, in Ewing’s Champions and as Ms. Marvel, Kamala makes a statement on behalf of the team without the consent of her teammates, it doesn’t just feel like a rookie mistake, it feels disqualifying. The statement itself reads as disingenuous: it’s all about standing up and taking action, but it’s delivered on a static close-up of Ms. Marvel’s face that takes up an entire splash page (the only one in the issue). Di Meo and colorist Federico Blee’s artwork there and throughout is beautiful but dull. The characters appear like dolls behind plastic. The art isn’t dynamic, it doesn’t move, and the paneling is so regularly irregular, sometimes to the point of wasting space, that it’s more distracting than distinguishing.

Characters break those panels so often that them doing so does nothing to advance the story, and the fight scenes, which are sparse, are difficult to read. In one instance, antagonist Justice (Vance Astrovik) appears upright in one panel, then in the next he’s bowled over but it’s unclear who (or what) hit him because it could have been Nova (Sam Alexander) or Squirrel Girl. Action sequences are often confined to several panels, while several pages are dedicated to a team meeting where most Champions discuss Kamala’s Law while sitting down. It’s hard not to root for Starling (Tiana Toomes) when she says the Champions are done.

Champions #1 is a lot of talk and not enough action, contrary to the Champions mission statement.

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