New Challengers, the new mini-series by Scott Snyder and newcomer Aaron Gillespie, might introduce a brand new team of heroes to the DCU, but the book also involves the old Challengers of the Unknown and ties in to concepts coming up in Snyder's run on Justice League.
According to Snyder, the six-issue story, which launches this week with New Challengers #1, explores "some of the greater mysterious and ancient forces that operate in the Multiverse."
The original Challengers of the Unknown debuted in 1957 as a team of sci-fi adventurers, but were revived by Snyder in his recent Dark Nights: Metal event. This new series, which features art by Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson, features a new team of Challengers chosen by the mysterious Professor to execute dangerous missions throughout the Multiverse.
Newsarama talked to Snyder and Gillespie to find out more about the series.
Newsarama: Scott and Aaron, there are four new Challengers introduced in the first issue. Well, I suppose you could say there are five. But they all have some mystery surrounding them and why they're part of this team, which was gathered by yet another mysterious characters called the Professor. Can you describe the idea behind the characters you've chosen for the team?
Scott Snyder: Yeah, the thing I was so excited about with this was being able to create a new generation of Challengers that honor the sort of constellation that I think was created with the original. Everybody is somebody who has a mystery about them, and everybody is somebody who's brave, exploratory, daring, but for different reasons and has their own reasons.
That was one of the fun things about creating these four characters and building a mystery around why these four. Who are these people?
And not to give away huge spoilers, but the original Challengers, whom you saw in Metal for a moment too, do play a big part in this story as well.
So it's not a reboot or relaunch where we're taking new characters and putting them in there and saying they're the Challengers. It's very much about what it meant to be a Challenger of the Unknown then, what the legacy of their mission is, and why it carries through now. And why these characters and why it's important today.
So it's sort of the best of both worlds. If you love the old Challengers, you'll get a good helping of them in this book too. And yet it also creates something that a new generation of readers can embrace as their own.
Aaron Gillespie: I think that was important to me too, to really honor the legacy while creating something new and creating characters that everybody can identify with.
Nrama: The first issue reveals some of the background of Trina Alvarez, one of the New Challengers that's actually from Gotham City. Will you be revealing a bit about each character as the story plays out?
Snyder: Yeah, the structure we created together was one where each issue gives you a little bit about one of the other characters while still pushing the plot forward.
When we went into it, we talked about a number of different possibilities in terms of format for the series, but we felt like this gave us that kind of old school narration, intro fun of kind of like, "let me tell you about me and my mystery and who I am."
It draws you right in, immediately, in a way that kind of grabs you guy the throat. What I loved about it was that I've never tried anything like this where each issue would do that from a different character's point of view so it builds from one to the next to the next until finally you get the Professor.
So you'll get the whole history of the Challengers, who each character is, who they were, who they are now, and then the bigger mystery is revealed little by little that way too, as they experience it.
It's almost one emotional arc told over five different characters.
Nrama: And will they be on different missions? That's implied in the first issue. That there will be adventures along the way as you reveal this over-arching mystery.
Gillespie: Yeah, we have a larger mystery that's told over the course of the six issues, but within those six issues, there are different missions that the Challengers go on and each one contributes to the larger mystery in ways that they don't really understand.
And then they come to understand toward the end.
Nrama: And we'll find out why these specific characters were chosen as part of the team?
Snyder: Yeah. We really wanted it to tie into this idea of, I mean, I know it sounds kind of hokey, but the greater mysteries about finding a purpose, a thing to challenge in life.
So we don't want to give it away, why this character or that character. But the Professor has a whole history that begins with the story that you see in the opening of the first issue, which takes place back in the pulp days of comics, to now.
And that ties into Metal, ties in to Justice League, ties into No Justice, about some of the greater mysterious and ancient forces that operate in the Multiverse and his ability to discover secrets about those things. And it's about an opposing force, another group, that is trying to use those things for the exact opposite reasons.
So we wanted it to feel almost like "X-Files Meets Lost," where it has this very big mythology, very big mysterious narrative behind it that we've worked out very clearly for ourselves, but the reader experiences in a way that is character-driven, where you get to know the characters and experience that mystery through them as it goes forward so that you feel not bewildered by it entirely, but intrigued by it the way they do.
It's very, very planned out in that regard. We have the reasons for why these four, and those things will be revealed as we go forward, especially in terms of the relationship with the old Challenger. But more importantly, we want fans and readers to just know that there's a big design.
This book is very much about knowing where we're headed, and then trying to make you feel both surprised and excited as we go forward in ways that you feel like, "I have no idea where this is going, but I know they have a plan and a road map."
Nrama: Scott, you just told me last week that you'd cleared everything from your desk but Justice League. But now we're talking about another project. So what's your involvement in this project? Is Aaron doing most of the heavy lifting?
Snyder: He is. I helped with the first three, essentially, and the last three, he's really just excelled and done more of the heavy lifting.
You know, we came up with this story a long time ago. Aaron and I started talking about this back when I was just beginning Metal. And we came up with something that we felt built on some of the most exciting concepts in Metal that built on the history of the Challengers of the Unknown that we both loved and took them someplace new.
It was very much in the spirit of Metal that we came up with a plan for these issues. And then over the months, I helped with the first few, but Aaron really didn't need very much help once we got the outline.
When you have somebody that you taught in some capacity come out and write something better than you could, there's no greater reward.
So everything you like about this, if you're reading it — and I'm sure there's going to be a ton because reading it, I love it - credit to Aaron and Andy. And everything you don't, which will be minimal or nothing I hope, would be me.
This is one of those books where I feel like we had a lot of jump start on it because it tied in to Metal.
Nrama: Aaron, did you know these characters before you heard about their role in Metal?
Gillespie: Yeah, I was aware of the characters. I'm a huge Jack Kirby fan, so I knew about them through that. I knew they were a precursor to Fantastic Four. I really like the sort of pulp/sci-fi feel that I always got from the Challengers characters, and I was in love with all the crazy covers from their series.
When Scott started talking to me about it, I picked up the two essential collections of the book and filled in any gaps that I had.
Nrama: What did you think of the idea for the series when you and Scott first started talking about it?
Gillespie: Oh, I loved it. The concept of borrowed time, which in my opinion is the greatest hook of the original story, I think we take that idea of borrowed time and we raise the stakes on it and really drive that home, that these characters are literally on borrowed time. And we really explore what that means, both literally and figuratively, you know, about pushing forth into this mystery and casting aside your previous life, or looking past your previous mistakes. So I'm really proud of what we're doing.
Nrama: And you guys have Andy Kubert on this series. Scott, you've worked with Andy before, right?
Snyder: I have. Yeah. A couple issues of Batman.
Nrama: Scott, you've really tailored stories to artists in the past, but with this being a mini-series, how much did his style come into play as you formulated the story?
Snyder: Andy has become a very good friend. Even though we haven't worked together extensively, we got to know each other all the way back when I was working with Mike Marts on our early arcs of Batman, because he was very involved in the Bat-office back then. So we became quite close outside of comics. You know, I taught him to play craps. And we've had a lot of good adventures together, so he's a very dear friend.
But the thing I love about his style is it's really nimble. I mean, I've seen him draw so many different ways for things. Like, for for The Dark Knight III, he brings this kind of grittiness and rough muscularity to that book whereas when he did our Batman issues that were more sensitive about Damian's passing, they were extremely emotional. There was much more acting. It was much more intimate.
So with New Challengers, he said to us when he started, he was like, "I really want it to feel kinetic and bombastic and non-stop and widescreen and electric." And I think that's the style he's brought.
You know, you open it and you know it's Andy, because his core style is so distinctive. I think that's why he was such a great choice for something like "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?," because he can bend his style to fit the story. And that's really rare.
So here, the elements that he's brought to it are perfect for the spirit of the book that we want, which is just over-the-top, big, epic, exploratory fun.
Gillespie: And one of the things I think is so impressive is not only does he just nail the big, bombastic superhero type action, the big action beats, but he can also nail those quiet moments in a way that will give you chills - the way he frames the shot, the expressions that he draws on the faces on these tiny quiet character beats are just as deftly handled as the big, bombastic action. And I'm so impressed by that.
Nrama: Aaron, you've got some other books coming up too, right? Can you talk about what else you have going on at DC?
Gillespie: Yeah, I'm currently working on a couple issues of Green Lanterns that are coming up in June.
Snyder: And then he's going to take over Justice League for me. [Laughs]
Nrama: What? You can't say that if you're joking.
Gillespie: Fingers crossed.
Snyder: No, no. But Aaron is great. One of the big regrets about the Workshop that I've been able to teach is simply that there aren't more openings at DC for so many good writers that were in that program.
But Aaron was absolutely one of the top people I've ever had the chance and honor to work with. It was more of like, hey, here's an idea I'm thinking of, and then watching him develop it to a place where it was better than what I could have done.
So being able to be a part of that, and to even open the door for him the little bit I did, has been a real joy. I feel like I get all the benefit of getting to watch somebody else do the heavy lifting in ways that I'm like, wow, I hope people understand that everything good about it is really the creative team of him and Andy. I'm very honored to play a small part in it and I hope it will lead to many, many more things for him. He deserves it.