Written by Aaron Gillespie, Scott Snyder
Art by Klaus Janson, Andy Kubert
Sometimes you just have to go all the way.
That doesn’t always work for me in a comic. But it certainly can. A lot depends on what you’re working with, like whether there are expected parameters with certain properties – histories, values, characters norms you just don’t want to mess with.
Then there are times when the project allows you to run wild and make your own rules. Pushing every envelope you can find. That’s rare in mainstream comics, and harder to pull off. It’s a treat when we get a chance to see it done well.
Scott Snyder hasn’t really had one of those projects in DC. Though he’s certainly tried. He’s known for pushing the needle and delivering outrageous plotlines, and stories just this side of madness. But with big guns like Batman and the Justice League, you have to work within at least some expectations.
That is not at all the case with New Challengers #1, and it makes for a damned exciting venture.
New Challengers is a reinvention of an old DC property. Challengers of the Unknown, as many will remember, was an underground hit in the 60’s, enough so that the idea, and sometimes the team has made regular reappearances over the years. But the core concept was a team of fairly ordinary, if exceptional, human joes taking on the unknown with their wits, their brass, and a fair amount of technical know-how. Still… nothing super particularly. Nothing meta-human. That’s a recipe that gradually fizzled out in the Silver Age of comic-dom, and it never fully recovered. Until now.
In the new remake of Challengers, scripted by Scott Snyder and Aaron Gillespie and drawn with flair by Andy Kubert and Klaus Jansen, the team is still comprised of ordinary men and women. But they are absolutely the only thing ordinary about the book. It’s a neat twist, and it works: rather than upgrade the team, Snyder, Gillespie and Kubert have upgraded the set-up. And what an upgrade.
Seems the Challengers we knew, the original fighting four, are just one of an endless legacy of teams, stretching back through human history. Their purpose, supposedly, to adventure forth to moments and places around the globe (and then some) that require their unique brand of heroic intervention. ‘To keep thing in balance’, or so the team is told.
You’ll forgive them for not knowing exactly what that means – they’ve only just been yanked away from true death, conscripted down the rabbit hole into a world of madness coming at them at breakneck speed.
Ever since Synder plunked Challengers mountain itself into the heart of Gotham in Dark Knights: Metal it’s seemed likely that he’s had plans in mind for the old Challengers of the Unknown legacy. But releasing this book amongst the raft of DC’s other Marvel-inspired projects, one of which already works from the Fantastic Four motif (That’s The Terrifics, if you’ve been keeping track!) it’s been unclear exactly what that would look like. Now we know. It looks a bit like the Exiles.
Random team of stalwart adventurers thrown together with no apparent way to return to their former lives? Check. Forced to jump unceremoniously from crisis to crisis, through some manner of hyper-reality, hyper-plugged-in ‘porting intelligence? Check. Mysterious chaperone with an opaque and perfunctory manner, and an even more mysterious agenda? Dire threat of world-ending consequences if our heroes do not fail to jump exactly when and where they’re told to jump? Check and check.
Not that we expect that status quo to last long. Or anything else for that matter. Gillespie and Snyder make one thing very clear by the end of the first issue: don’t assume what you think you know. For that matter don’t assume anything. Because the moment you do, you’re probably going to be proved very wrong.
It’s clear Gillespie and Snyder are having a blast and taking full advantage of that wide-open blank creative canvass you can just feel Snyder’s been itching to work on. Just the sheer inventiveness at play is exhilarating. Great characters, great mythology, great big unanswered questions all over the place… \
What is Challenger’s mountain really? Who’s that big, dead giant corpse at the heart of it? Who are the players in this mystic-cosmic rodeo, and are our heroes actually on the side of the angels? Are we ever going to see Red Tornado again in these pages? How about the Hawks? And is that a half-crazed Negative Man running around with the mystic bones of Joe Kelly’s Shaman? Hm.
I can’t fail to mention again the brilliant work of Andy Kubert. I’ve gone in and out with his work over the years, but he’s produced some of his finest lines for New Challengers. His signature flourishes are balanced here with a measured clean look and layout that holds the story together visually, up to and including a spread of utterly fantastic splash pages towards the very end, which makes it clear, if it hasn’t become so already, that New Challengers promises to be something entirely unlike anything else going.
Time to break some rules. The New Challengers are off to the ends of the earth and beyond. It’s anybody’s guess where that’s going to end up. Because if you can’t expect anything… expect everything.