A Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen: Sitting in a Tree Review – Across the Spider-Verse

TITLE: Spider-Man/Spider-Gwen: Sitting in a Tree
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis, Jason Latour
PENCILLERS: Sara Pichelli, Robbie Rodriguez
COLLECTS: Spider-Man #1214Spider-Gwen #1618
FORMAT: 
Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $17.99
RELEASED: May 24, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Who says there’s no such thing as modern romance? A good love story, especially in a teenage superhero book, can really hit the spot sometimes. But surprisingly, Sitting in a Tree doesn’t hit that spot in that respect. It never really delivers like you think it will.

Miles Morales’ father, now an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. again, has gone missing. A mission gone awry has seemingly left him lost in the multiverse. As such, Maria Hill recruits Miles for an off-the-books inter-dimensional search-and-rescue mission. Our hero’s search quickly takes him to Earth-65, a world where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider, and has become Spider-Woman. The two are already acquainted. So in Gwen, Miles finds a partner in his search. But does he also find an unlikely romance?

Typically, one of the goals of a crossover like this is to get readers of one book (in my case, Spider-Man) to start picking up another (Spider-Gwen). Years of comic book reading have left me pretty callous to such attempts. But as someone with little to no exposure to Spider-Gwen, I found myself pretty intrigued by what I saw. That’s a credit to Jason Latour, Robbi Rodriguez, and everybody on that book. Spider-Gwen #16 explores the Earth-65 New York City, as we meet it’s alternate versions of Matt Murdock (Daredevil) and Doctor Octopus. We also get a quick refresher as to how this world’s Peter Parker was different from the one we all know. It’s a great introduction to that character and her world.

More importantly, Robbi Rodriguez’s funky animated style is a treat. Combined with colorist Rico Renzi’s relatively bright palette, what we get is pretty unique. I found myself looking forward to Spider-Gwen just to see what they’d give us next. Renzi in particular gets to show off when we get to the Club Scorpion scene in issue #16 (shown left).

On the subject of art, I can’t find a lot of bad things to say about Sara Pichelli and colorist Justin Sponsor’s work here. Any time they work together on Miles it feels like a homecoming, as they did his earliest stories in Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man. That’s why it was so cool to have them on those early issues of Spider-Man. Pichelli gets to play with the multiverse stuff in issue #14, as Miles and Gwen jump into the Spider-Man: Noir universe, the Marvel Zombies universe, and then even the DC Universe for a quick jab at the competition (shown below). The latter got under my skin, but it also got a begrudged chuckle.

So the big selling point for Sitting in a Tree is the blossoming romance between Miles and Gwen. The premise made me think of how amazingly Bendis wrote Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in Ultimate Spider-Man. When he wants to do the teenage romance stuff, he’s as good as anybody…

Which is why it’s a pretty big disappointment that the romance stuff almost gets glossed over until the third act. Even then, we don’t get much. Instead of this being the story where the two get together, it’s the story that lays the foundation for them to get together later. There’d be nothing wrong with that, except the book’s title and cover suggest otherwise. You close the book feeling like you were sold one thing but given another.

Still, it’s fun seeing our creators play with around with the Spider-Verse stuff. Spider-Ham pops up during the third act, and he brings in some extra back-up during the finale. It doesn’t make up for us not getting the inter-dimensional love affair the book advertises. But it’s a cool little bonus.

Sitting in a Tree is…fine. That’s it. Just fine. It’s got elements of an epic crossover between titles, but it comes up short of meeting its dramatic needs. What can I say? Some days I’m a hopeless romantic. I have no idea if they plan to come back to this Miles/Gwen thing at any point. But by God, if anybody can make the cross-dimensional romance thing work, it’s those two crazy kids!

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A Champions: Change the World Review – Social Justice League

TITLE: Champions, Vol. 1: Change the World
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Humberto Ramos
COLLECTS: Champions #1-5
FORMAT: Softcover
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $15.99
RELEASE DATE: May 3, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Champions simultaneously is and is not a product of it’s time. Stories about the new generation rising up and righting the wrongs of the world have been around as long as storytelling itself. And of course, it’s a teenage superhero book. Not exactly a new concept.

At the same time, Mark Waid is going out of his way to be contemporary with Champions. You’ve got some standard teenage superhero stuff, sure. But the book also tackles Islamaphobia, Islamic Fundamentalism, feminism, and police brutality. This is very much a book for 21st century issues, as seen from one side of the political aisle.

In the aftermath of Civil War II, Ms. Marvel (Kamala Kham), Nova (Sam Alexander), and Spider-Man (Miles Morales) have left the Avengers. Determined to give the world heroes they can believe in again, they form a team of their own. A team that refuses to punch down or use unjust force, but instead win the day with wisdom and hope. With the addition of Hulk (Amadeus Cho), Viv Vision, and Cyclops, the Champions are born.

I feel like I owe Humberto Ramos an apology. HIs style is so exaggerated, cartoony even, that one can fall into the trap of underestimating just how good he is. I’ll admit it: That happened to me. But what makes Ramos so special is his versatility. Champions is a potpourri of what superhero comics can offer. It’s a teen dramedy. It’s a superhero action thriller. It’s a look at what it means to be a hero. It’s an inspiring look at what happens when seemingly ordinary people stand up for themselves. But Ramos’ work fits all of it, and ties everything together seamlessly. Visually, nothing feels awkward or out of place. I can only imagine the talent it takes to pull that off.

Mind you, there are some minor bumps in the road. Issue #2 give us a pretty pitiful case of panel duplication. There’s also a splash page where Hulk and Viv are making out that I still don’t get. Hulk is so much bigger than her. I just don’t get how their mouths would…match up? Nothing too intense. But it does briefly pluck you out of the story.

Both Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos have been outspoken regarding the Trump administration, and some of the moves they’ve made. Waid, along with other creators, has made efforts to create “safe spaces” at comic book conventions, and has generally been very public about his feelings toward bullies, hate-mongerers, etc. Ramos, on the other hand, has simply opted not to appear in states that voted for Trump.

Champions, issues #3 and #5 in particular, doesn’t hide that it’s a book written by people with those beliefs. The upside to that is we get some powerful material about standing up to hate, and not being afraid to put yourself at risk to do what’s right. The downside is that this isn’t what a lot of people want in their comics. Though I doubt Waid, Ramos, and the Champions team care who they piss off.

In this sense, the book can overplay it’s hand at times. Especially in issue #3, when we get to the Amal character. She’s a fierce young woman standing up against a militant extremist group committing gender apartheid. It’s pretty obvious how the reader is supposed to feel about her. But Waid makes a point of slipping in little lines about how she should be the leader of the Champions, and how she’s a bad ass. He’s coming from a good place, but that’s overkill.

Gwenpool pops up in issue #5 to join the team’s efforts against a crooked and racist sheriff turning a blind eye to hate crimes. Enraged when a mosque is set ablaze, Gwen and the Champions are tempted to respond with violence. They instead opt to take a more difficult, non-violent route. This has a little bit of a PSA feel to it, but it’s a good message, and an effective use of the Gwenpool character.

Champions has become arguably the most provocative and inviting book Marvel has on the stands right now. It’s not for everyone. But it doesn’t necessarily try to be. It’s also a tremendous example of how the superhero genre can be used for more than just popcorn fun. Change the World has that. But it’s clearly about much more.

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A Logan Review – Old Man Stabby

Logan, 2017, Hugh Jackman, posterTITLE: Logan
STARRING: Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart, Dafne Keen, Stephen Merchant, Boyd Holbrook
DIRECTOR: James Mangold
STUDIOS: 20th Century Fox, Marvel Entertainment, Kinberg Genere, Hutch Parker Entertainment, The Donners’ Company
RATING: R
RUN-TIME: 137 min
RELEASED: 
March 3, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re a fan of the X-Men film series, Logan is in many ways a frustrating film. It’s very much the expressionistic, character-driven piece it sets out to be. But the Wolverine character is heavily defined by the world he’s in. A world filled with prejudice toward super-powered mutants. In Logan, that world has been heavily altered. While we all love Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, what this movie really could have used was a little more world-building.

In the year 2029, mutantkind has been nearly eradicated. Logan, the man formerly known as Wolverine, is one of the last ones alive. In his care is a frail Charles Xavier, suffering from dementia and seizures. Logan isn’t exactly in great health himself. But danger once again finds our clawed hero, this time in the form of a young girl named Laura. Like Logan, she has adamantium claws, healing powers, and a deadly temper. She is hunted by Transigen, the group responsible for wiping out mutantkind. And if they have their way, Logan, Charles, and this mysterious girl are next.

Comic book fans know Logan is somewhat based on Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s Old Man Logan book. That story features a gray-haired Logan in a world conquered by supervillains. The first lines in the very first panel are: “No one knows what happened on the night the heroes fell. All we know is that they disappeared and evil triumphed and the bad guys have been calling the shots ever since.”

logan-image-1-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenThere’s very little information like this in Logan. Information that helps us define the different world we see these familiar characters in. I’m not of the belief that absolutely everything needs to be spelled out for the audience. But the memory of the X-Men team is very much a part of this movie. It even implies that a new generation will pick up where Logan and the others left off. So wouldn’t it be helpful to tell us what happened to the X-Men? Were they all hunted down and killed by Transigen? Was there a big battle, like in Old Man Logan? We don’t have to comb through the roster one by one. But for instance, Logan loved Jean Grey. That could have been used to prompt a line or two about how she and some of the others died.

Instead, the film is chipped away at by these questions about how the established characters got to where they are, and who some of these new characters are. We do get allusions to a tragic event involving the widespread telepathic side-effects of one of Xavier’s seizes in Westchester, New York. To the uninitiated, Westchester was the home of Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, and home base to the X-Men. So it’s reasonable to assume that’s where many of them died. But casual moviegoers won’t know that. Hell, I’m fairly versed in X-Men lore and it took me awhile to put it together.

logan-image-2-hugh-jackman-dafne-keenHalf the potential of a story like this lies in exploring the dystopian future, and how we got there. Logan doesn’t do much of that, and the movie suffers for it.

Still, Logan is indeed the R-rated Wolverine flick many have waited for. The movie takes full advantage of its expanded parameters. We see severed limbs aplenty, gallons of spilled blood, claw shots through the face, and plenty of F-bombs. If this really is Hugh Jackman’s last go-around as Wolverine, he goes out in a blaze of bloody and cathartic glory.

Jackman’s claim that this is the last time he’ll pop the claws is a downer for sure. In 17 years, he’s played the character seven times. Nine if you count his brief uncredited appearances in X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Apocalypse. He’s left an indelible mark on the character and the X-Men franchise as a whole, bringing tremendous depth and likability in addition to the berserker rage that fans love. What’s more, I’m not ready to fully rule Jackman out of another appearance in the role. He’s publicly flirted with coming back for certain scenarios, and it’s not like he’s been typecast. He was Jean Valjean, for crying out loud. More importantly, he’s a proven and highly lucrative commodity in that role. It’s show business, folks. Anything is possible.

logan-hugh-jackman-patrick-stewartPerhaps less publicized is that Logan is perhaps Patrick Stewart’s last time playing Charles Xavier. Something else this movie has going for it is the novelty of ol’ Captain Picard dropping a few F-bombs. Why the hell not?

Dafne Keen makes her film debut here as Laura, a.k.a. X-23. Not a bad way to make your entrance, with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart at your side. She’s quite the find. Keen doesn’t speak for most of the movie, and has to convey a quiet rage beyond her years. She becomes the perfect mini-Wolverine.

There’s been a good amount of talk about Logan defying the genre of superhero movies. While I maintain this genre is more versatile than people give it credit for, Logan feels unlike most, if not any superhero movie you’ve ever seen. At one point, Xavier and Laura are watching Shane. That’s extremely fitting, given the movie’s clear influence on Logan. Mangold has also talked about The Cowboys starring John Wayne, and The Gauntlet with Clint Eastwood. Oddly enough, he’s also mentioned Little Miss Sunshine and The Wrestler.

logan-image-3-hugh-jackmanLogan is hardly the most satisfying installment in the X-Men franchise. But it’s absolutely the most unique. There’s an undeniable thrill and catharsis to seeing Jackman rage out as Wolverine, potentially for the last time. From a performance standpoint, he absolutely sticks the landing here. Though that should come as surprise to absolutely no one.

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A Kingpin #1 Review – Mr. Nice Guy

Kingpin #1, 2017TITLE: Kingpin #1
AUTHOR: Matthew Rosenberg
PENCILLER: Ben Torres. Cover by Jeff Dekal.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: February 8, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Considering Wilson Fisk used to be Marvel’s Kingpin of crime, he’s a pretty nice guy here. While you can use a lot of words to describe this character, “nice” has rarely been one of them.

But if you ask Wilson, he’s a man who has paid his debt to society, and is on a new path. Journalist Sarah Dewey is, to say the least, skeptical. Fisk nevertheless chooses her to write his biography, and spends most of the issue trying to win her over. But as one might suspect, things aren’t quite what they seem…

Take a moment and type “Kingpin, Marvel” into Google Image. What’s what thing he’s not doing in any of those pics? Smiling. The Kingpin doesn’t smile. At least not in a genuine, happy sort of way. But he does in Kingpin #1, and it catches you off guard. You’re expecting a grim and sadistic brute. Instead we get this warm and gentle teddy bear.

kingpin #1, 2017, Wayne DyerOur “gateway” character is Sarah, who Fisk seems to have an interest in based on her writing. There’s a purity to that which is almost heartbreaking. He’s also unwaveringly kind, even if that kindness is rather awkward at times. It’s a stark contrast to this cynical, down-on-her-luck journalist who, despite the quality of her work, is struggling to keep her head above water. You end up hoping this warmth he’s showing to her is sincere, and not some sort of ploy.

If your Google machine is still open, type in the name Wayne Dyer. He was a self-help author and motivational speaker who often appeared on PBS. At times, be Kingpin that Ben Torres gives us looks quite a bit like Dyer. Case in point, the bottom image on the page at right. Maybe that’s why he’s so happy. He read Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life.

Torres handles the pencils and inks for this issue. I’m not very familiar with his work. But he’s a tremendous fit for this part of the Marvel Universe. As he goes in heavy on the inks, you can see some Frank Miller on this pages, and a little bit of John Romita Jr. There’s even some Eduardo Risso. The mood is precisely what it should be: This is a place where hope is in short supply. We’re now finding hope in the most unlikely of individuals. And even that is likely smoke and mirrors.

I can’t say I have a tremendous desire to come back for more Kingpin. Let’s be honest: We know how this story ends. The only real question is whether Sarah Dewey makes it out okay. But as for Fisk, it’s only a matter of time before the Kingpin is back on his throne.

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A Civil War II Review – Lighting Strikes Twice?

Civil War II, coverTITLE: Civil War II
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLERS: David Marquez, Olivier Coipel, Andrea Sorrentino
COLLECTS: Civil War II #0-8
FORMAT: Hardcover
PRICE: $50
RELEASED: February 1, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead!***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

There’s a good event comic somewhere inside Civil War II. You just need to squint really hard to see it. As amazingly talented as Brian Michael Bendis is, what he turns in here doesn’t truly get going until issue #5, and by that point you regret buying in to begin with. The series is also bogged down by a certain been-there-done-that feeling. The original Civil War was one of the biggest hits Marvel has ever had. By comparison, Civil War II feels like a knock-off song played by a shoddy cover band.

In the original story, the question of whether superheroes should register their true identities with the government caused a major rift, and subsequently a war. This time the divisive issue is “predictive justice,” or in essence, profiling. When a young man named Ulysses is suddenly able to see vivid visions of the future, Captain Marvel sees a crucial opportunity to stop instances of crime, injustice, and tragedy before they ever occur. Iron Man, however, can’t live with punishing someone who hasn’t done anything wrong yet. What’s more, the exact nature of these visions are unclear. Is Ulysses truly seeing the future, or just a potential future? As they search for an answer, heroes will fall in more ways than one.

civil-war-ii #4, two-page spreadThe predictive justice idea is a sufficient divider, and reflects recent real-world events involving police brutality. The Black Lives Matter movement specifically comes to mind, especially when we see what happens to Miles Morales. But it’s when we drill down on the notion of another war amongst the heroes that Civil War II begins to fall apart.

Civil War ended when Captain America surrendered, realizing how costly and violent the conflict had become. The idea that all of these heroes, most of whom were involved in that same war, would allow things to escalate to this degree a second time makes them all look irresponsible, and even downright stupid. This is especially the case after Hawkeye straight up murders Bruce Banner with a literal crowd of heroes watching. But of course, if the heroes don’t fight, you have no story. So you have to make it work.

The way you massage that into working, for my money, is to have the heroes lament having to fight each other again. The original Civil War is barely even acknowledged in this book. It’s almost as if Civil War II is trying to hide from it. While it goes without saying that this story has to stand on its own, it’s a sequel. A sequel to one of the most renowned stories Marvel has ever done, no less. Instead of dancing around it, why not embrace it? The payoff would seemingly be a deeper story.

Civil War II #5, 2016, Spider-Man, Captain AmericaBut even with that added depth, Civil War II would face the problem that it’s simply not that interesting until issue #5. Ulysses has a vision of Spider-Man clutching a dead Captain America in front of a decimated Capitol Building. Given how young Miles is, and the obvious real-world parallels, this is where the story finally starts to gain some momentum. Hindsight being 20/20, this should have happened in issue #3. You put the Miles vision in issue #3, and Bruce’s death in issue #5. That way, Bruce’s death doesn’t feel so glossed over, and it’s fresh in our minds when we get to the final confrontation.

How about this: Captain Marvel puts Miles in prison following the vision in issue #3. (That opens up issues with Miles’ civilian identity. But we can work around that.) After Banner’s death and Hawkeye’s subsequent acquittal, Iron Man’s crew breaks Miles out of prison. We then get the confrontation in front of the Capitol Building as they were presented in issues #7 and #8. Would this little switch fix everything? No. But it would at least up the intrigue level earlier, and perhaps take us on more of a ride from start to finish. In truth, James Rhodes doesn’t even have to die in issue #1. As was the case with Banner, his death is almost glossed right over.

Our primary artist is David Marquez, with Olivier Coipel and Andea Sorrentino tagging in for specific sequences. Marquez delivers big here, particularly in issues #5 and #6. His stuff with Miles is very strong, which makes sense, as he and Bendis worked on Ultimate Comics Spider-Man together. He gives us an absolutely gorgeous two-page spread of Spidey overlooking Times Square, watching the Hawkeye trial. And of course, primary colorist Justin Ponsor gives us the Marvel Universe in all its glory.

hawkeye-civil-war II #3, David MarquezWe do, however, see a lot of what I’ve come to call the “Marquez doe-eyed pouty face.” Marquez is good with facial expressions. But we see variations of this one over and over, perhaps most notably when Hawkeye surrenders in issue #3 (shown left). We see it multiple times from Carol Danvers and Ulysses. We see it so much it becomes distracting and borderline comical.

As many problems as I have with Civil War II, I’ll credit Bendis for one thing: Not killing off Tony Stark. That was what a lot of us were expecting, given Rory Williams had essentially taken up his mantle in Invincible Iron Man. Instead Tony ends up in a coma, and we get a vague explanation about how he can’t be treated. Frustrating in its lack of specifics, but better than having to go through the usual death, funeral, and resurrection routine.

Civil War II could have worked. It would never have been what its predecessor was. But it could have at least been a compelling story. What they gave us had its moments. But by the time things finally got off the ground, it was too late. Given how all-encompassing Civil War II was in terms of its effect on other books, this story can be given partial credit for DC Comics regaining all that lost momentum last year.

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A Star Wars #27 Review – This Looks Familiar…

star_wars_27TITLE: Star Wars #27
AUTHOR: Jason Aaron
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca. Cover by Stuart Immonen.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 25, 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

We haven’t seen much of Yoda since Star Wars returned to Marvel. He’s been around, of course. But to my knowledge this is the first story we’ve seen that’s actually focused on him.

Framed, oddly enough, as an entry in the diary of Ob-Wan Kenobi, part two of “Yoda’s Secret War” sees Yoda travel to a planet of primitive warriors. Warriors that also happen to be children. The planet’s society revolves around it’s strange blue mountains. The ore from these mountains is somehow strong in the Force. The Jedi Master is quickly caught up in the feud between the tribe that controls the ore, and the young outsiders. As a Jedi, Yoda’s mission is to bring peace. But as he’ll soon find out, peace is not on the table.

The artist here is our old Darth Vader buddy Salvador Larroca, who I’ve criticized for making it blatantly obvious that he’s duplicating movie stills. I’ll repeat that critique here, as you can tell exactly where he hit the pause button during Attack of the Clones. You’re into what’s happening in the book, and then these familiar images of Yoda pluck you out. Larroca is a very talented artist. It’s such a shame he waters down his own work like this.

star-wars, Yoda, Salvador Larroca, 2017Putting Yoda in a story with kids is obviously fitting. Star Wars lore tells us he teaches a lot of the “younglings” (a la that scene in Clones) before they’re assigned to a master. There’s an opportunity here for insight into how Yoda relates to children, and what makes him an effective mentor for students that age. It doesn’t have to be anything big or monumental. A small moment would do. Maybe even something as short as a sentence. We don’t get anything like that in this issue. But the door is wide open for it next issue.

Jason Aaron’s handle on Yoda has impressed me. In neither this nor last issue did we see a lightsaber, or any sort of flippy moves from him. What we have here is wise Empire Strikes Back Yoda, as opposed to CGI dancing Yoda. For that, I’m thankful. What we’re getting here seems that much more authentic as a result.

Jason Aaron came across something really cool with these “Journal” stories, as it allows him to take a break for a month and tell some cool stories with Obi-Wan. This is the first time he’s gone a little more long form with it, while also journeying away from Obi-Wan’s life on Tatooine. I much prefer the single issue stories (see issues #7, #15, and #20), but what we’re getting here with Yoda is still pretty good. But with at least two more issues, most likely three, left in “Yoda’s Secret War,” I’m just hoping our little green friend doesn’t overstay his welcome.

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A Champions #3 Review – The Heroes We Need Right Now

Champions #3, 2016, Humberto Ramos coverTITLE: Champions #3
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Humberto Ramos
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: December 7, 2016

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

If you’re only picking up one Marvel book these days, make it Champions. It’s fun, diverse without trying too hard to be, and particularly poignant these days. This issue’s subject matter might make some readers uncomfortable. But I suspect that’s the idea. It’s a book about young people coming together to take on problems that are at least partially based in reality.

Champions #3 takes on Islamic fundamentalism. It brings our team to the middle east to face a militant group committing gender apartheid. In the issue’s own words: “They believe  women are to be shamed. TO be hidden away, given no access to medical care or education. To be stripped of their human rights. … Young girls have been murdered in the streets for the ‘crime’ of carrying a schoolbook or being seen without a burqa.” Our heroes stand up for the defenseless, all the while trying to figure out who their team leader is.

When you consider how reality-based a lot of this stuff is, it becomes pretty powerful, and rightfully uncomfortable. We open the book with a splash page of a textbook on the ground, splattered with blood (shown right). There are no captions or dialogue on the page, as none are necessary. We later get images of women gathered together, talking about not giving into extremism, standing up for themselves, being killed for reading books. We’ve also got groups of men carrying guns, saying things like “We are divine messengers! You will not make fools of us in the eyes of our lord!”

champions-3-opening-pageSome people don’t like this kind of thing in their superhero escapism. Case in point, Chelsea Cain getting harassed by Twitter trolls over her work on Mockingbird. But there’s also something to be said for what these characters stand for. Not just the Champions, but superheroes in general. Things like truth, justice, defending the defenseless, etc. So using superheroes to illuminate real world issues doesn’t usually bother me, so long as it’s done well. You can argue this issue lays it on thick at times (judge the how and where for yourself). But its heart is definitely in the right place. It gets you thinking. Ergo, it accomplishes its goal.

Waid also weaves in a little teen drama, following up on the Hulk/Viv kiss from last issue. It’s not much, as we get into the main story pretty quickly. But it’s something they can circle back to later. I’m still not sure how the physics of that kiss were supposed to work…

There’s also a question of who the team leader is supposed to be. For my money, the obvious choice is Ms. Marvel. But the issue also floats Hulk and (perhaps in jest) Cyclops as candidates. I’m hoping the conclusion we come to here is that the Champions don’t need a leader. But you never know.

Humberto Ramos continues to surprise with this series. His exaggerated, cartoony style doesn’t seem like a good fit for our super-serious main story. But in a way, he may be the key to why this issue works so well. Obviously, this is some heavy subject matter about things that happen to real people in the real world. But Ramos’ cartoony, exaggerated figures allow us to still see it through the lens of a superhero comic. This doesn’t feel like a contrived PSA comic, but rather something that actually occurs organically in the Marvel Universe we know. Perhaps more importantly, if you jump completely out of the fantasy realm with a story like this, you risk losing your audience by slapping them too hard with this brutal reality. Ramos’ art is a nice compromise.

champions-3-humberto-ramos-dialogue-sceneWhat’s more, Ramos hits the right notes to make us feel what the story needs us to feel. We’re frightened, sympathetic, and angry for these women who’ve been victimized for no good reason. The gravity of the situation is conveyed effectively, and we’re hopeful for them in the end. Of course, the superhero action stuff is done very well, and Ramos is always good at interactions between the teens. There are some awkward character placements and panel transitions early on during a scene on Hulk’s big stealthy jet thing. But that’s a con far outweighed by all the pros.

Champions feels like the comic we need right now, for a variety of reasons. Not the least of which is because these feel like the heroes we need right now.

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