Written by Mark Waid
Art by Humberto Ramos, Victor Olzaba and Edgar Delgado
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 8 out of 10
Reading Champions #1, it’s easy to think back to another story of some titanic teens from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition, as Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos deliver a debut that’s more than a little reminiscent of the fan-favorite Young Justice series. Harnessing both the likability of Marvel’s teenage heroes as well as Ramos’ distinctly hyperkinetic style, Champions elevates a standard superhero plot and transforms it into a strong launchpad for this franchise-in-the-making.
While this series does seem to require a little bit of knowledge of the general throughline of Marvel’s current event, Civil War II, there’s an energy and enthusiasm to Waid’s script that quickly pulls Champions out of the quicksand of exposition. Ms. Marvel, who is rightly seen as the vanguard for Marvel’s current generation of young heroes, has been disillusioned by both her namesake Captain Marvel as well as her mentors in Tony Stark’s Avengers team, leading her to hang up her red-and-blue suit for good — or is she? The remarkable thing about kids is how resilient they are, and so it feels like a natural fit for Kamala to get back up and wrangle together a team of her own, starting with fellow ex-Avengers Spider-Man and Nova, and eventually branching out to wild cards like Amadeus Cho or Viv, the daughter of the Vision.
Even though members of the team like Kamala and Viv are withstanding some decent trauma in their own books, Waid brings a light touch to this team of teen heroes, with their main edge being just a shared disappointment in their adult counterparts. (Kamala, being the team’s leader, gets an additional fun wrinkle to the mix, since so much of her costumed identity has been upended now that she and Captain Marvel are at odds - in many ways, it feels like the Champions are a direct, grass-roots rebuke to Carol Danvers’ suborbital military machine.) But outside of this injection of teenage rebelliousness, Waid goes for a no-muss, no-fuss approach for this fledgling group’s first mission, relying on the chemistry he established in All-New All-Different Avengers rather than flashy action tricks to get audiences on board. In certain ways, it reminds me a lot of the tone of Peter David’s Young Justice, even if the subject matter does take a surprisingly dark turn (even for a Marvel book) once the Champions tackle their first supervillain group.
And it’s perhaps fitting that Humberto Ramos, who drew the original Young Justice 100-page specials with Mike McKone, is helping usher in a new era of teen superheroes. Admittedly, it’s jarring to see how much Ramos’s style has changed over those 16 years, with a boxier, less precise sense of body structure and anatomy, as well as inker Victor Olzaba bringing much more rendering with his inks. (You see it especially in some of the more crowded action sequences, like the Avengers tackling the Wrecking Crew on the J train in Queens, which packs most of its details towards the bottom right corner of the panel, while the top of the panel is largely empty.) But where Ramos hasn’t changed is his wide-eyed expressiveness with his characters, such as Kamala telling her family she’s taking some time off for her extracurriculars, or even Thor’s scowl as Kamala tenders her resignation from the team. But once he loosens up, Ramos delivers some very fun body language with his characters, like a flashback panel of Kamala, Miles, and Nova fighting a subterranean monster, or Ms. Marvel riding on the Hulk’s back as they drop into a crowd of gunmen.
Because this is a (largely) self-contained debut issue, there’s admittedly a little bit of convenience when it comes to some of the plotting of this book - while Waid has done a ton of heavy lifting for his power trio of Kamala, Miles and Sam in his Avengers book, the idea of them striking out on their own and recruiting other teen heroes feels more like a business decision rather than an organic premise like, say, Young Avengers before it, and the actual galvanization of the Champions as a populist, social media-savvy team comes a little too soon after similar twists in Al Ewing’s Mighty Avengers or even Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Sam Wilson. Additionally, because this debut’s biggest mandate is just to get the team together (sans Cyclops, who is set to appear in future installments), it stretches the level of disbelief just a bit for, say, Amadeus Cho to happen to know the Vision’s daughter from online video games.
But I wouldn’t let those quibbles stop you. Champions is a breath of fresh air when compared to Marvel’s stagnant Civil War II lineup, and while not quite as edgy or subversive as Young Avengers, the changing makeup of the Marvel Universe makes this the perfect time to unite this latest iteration of Avengers into a cohesive team. Waid deftly taps into the sheer likability of these kids, and teaming him up with an artist like Humberto Ramos feels like a no-brainer for this promising launch. While the grown-ups are duking it out over an Inhuman precog, the Champions are the ones who are truly stealing the show.