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 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 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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A Champions #2 Review – Superhero Camping Trip!

Champions #2, 2016, Humberto RamosTITLE: Champions #2
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Humberto Ramos
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: November 2, 2016

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

By Rob Siebert
Editor Fanboy Wonder

A superhero camping trip. In Champions #2, Ms. Marvel gets the team together to bond with a superhero camping trip. Literally. With a campfire, weenie roast, and full costumes. It’s exactly the kind of gloriously hokey thing you’d expect a group of teenagers to do. It doesn’t make for an issue that’s big on thrills. But it’s a really internist way to play with the characters, and get basic information/exposition to the readers. It works!

Hear that Benjamin Percy? Get the Teen Titans a tent and some damn sleeping bags!

The most noteworthy aspect of this issue is the addition of young Cyclops of All New X-Men to the group. He crashes the trip, and we get some of the confrontational stuff you might expect when the younger version of a mutant controversy-magnet pops up at a gathering of hormonal teenage superheroes. Including a really funny moment with Hulk (shown below).

Champions #2, 2016, Humberto Ramos, Cyclops, HulkCyclops makes sense for this book, given the team’s aim to almost take the superhero concept back to its roots, and what’s happened to the older Cyclops in the past few years. At one point Hulk even has the line, “Isn’t this kind of like drafting teenage Hitler?”

Early in the issue, Ms. Marvel asks everyone to demonstrate their superpowers. This sequence fascinates me. It’s one of those things that’s so simple, you’d think every team book would have some version of it. Marvel and DC usually come into team books assuming readers know who everyone is. If that’s not the case, then the creative team opts to show us what everyone’s powers are, usually via a battle sequence. But Waid makes part of an issue out of it to lay everything out for new readers, and continue to develop the rapport between the characters. There’s a subtle brilliance to this for which I credit Waid immensely.

I had no idea how much I missed this Waid/Ramos team working on a teenage superhero book. They did it 20 years ago with Impulse, and now they’re back and better than ever in Champions. Ramos has a style that’s very cartoony, but also very expressive and conducive to explosive action. The Hulk/Cyclops bit is a good example, as is the cover shot with the big punch from Nova.

On the down side, panel duplication strikes again in this issue, as Ramos gives us the same image four times (shown below). I’m no artist, so perhaps I shouldn’t be the one to throw stones. But as a reader, this kind of thing always plucks me right out of the issue. Even a little change to one of the images would have helped, like lowering Spider-Man’s arm. It’s the only part of the issue I flat out dislike.

champions-2-panel-duplicationLet’s talk a little bit about the last page. (This is where the big spoilers are!!!) So you’ve got the surprise splash page of Hulk making out with Viv. In terms of teenage hormones running amok, I love it. But how does that shot work from, like, an engineering standpoint? Hulk is bigger than everyone else on this team, so his mouth is obviously bigger than Viv’s. So does she somehow dislodge her jaw to make out with him? These are the hard hitting questions you must answer, Mark Waid…

When I wrote about the last issue of The Vision, I mentioned having mixed feelings about Viv’s continued presence in other books despite Tom King no longer working for Marvel. I still feel that way. But if you’re going to give her to somebody else, there’s no one better than Mark Waid. Under Waid’s pen, Viv seems to be asking herself questions about her sexuality, as teenagers naturally do. Robot sexuality, huh? There’s a subject they don’t teach you in school…

it’s also interesting to me that Waid is writing both Champions and the not so all new or all different Avengers title. To an extant, he’s behind the Champions, and the establishment they’re broken away from. But considering that Spidey, Ms. Marvel, and Nova were a big part of what made All New, All Different Avengers so interesting, for my money Champions is now Marvel’s most compelling team book. At least for the time being. Not bad for only two issues.

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A Civil War II #6 Review – Following the Moral Compass

Civil War II #6, 2016, cover, Marko DjurdjevicTITLE: Civil War II #6
AUTHOR: Brian Michael Bendis
PENCILLER: David Marquez. Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: October 26, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

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

An irony occurred to me after reading Civil War II #6. All this in-story drama and controversy among the superheroes is occurring because a teenager named Ulysses can supposedly see visions of the future. The actions taken by the heroes as a result of these visions have brought about the deaths of James Rhodes and Bruce Banner, the ruining of Clint Barton’s public life, and a lot of bad blood among our characters.

But now it’s all come to a head thanks to a vision of Miles Morales, Spider-Man, another teenager. As if we needed further confirmation that this story is really about the violence we see on the news every day, particularly involving young people.

After last issue’s startling vision of Spider-Man moments after murdering Steve Rogers, the battle between the heroes has come to a stand still. Our characters reel from what they’ve just seen and ponder their next move.

This issue brings us some of the best work David Marquez and have done together. Naturally, much of it involves Miles. The genuinely unsettling two-page spread of Spidey and a dead Captain America is simply re-printed from last issue. I’d normally call that shamefully cheap. But it works to preserve the emotional intensity of the moment.

Civil War II #6, 2016, David Marquez, Miles Morales visionThe page at right is the best in the issue. It shows us Miles’ emotional state after seeing what he did, and is a classic example of showing instead of telling. I love that they took us inside the vision for one panel, and the red smears in the page gutters are a nice touch. Though that actually looks more like paint than blood. I think I had walls that color once…

Marko Djurdjevic’s cover also adds a new dimension to the idea of Miles murdering Captain America. With his own shield? Really? C’mon man.

The reaction that Steve Rogers has to this is important. It’s as big a character moment for him as anybody else. Not surprisingly Bendis gets it right, positioning Rogers as the compassionate moral compass. He then accents it by having Black Panther switch sides, saying that “if you are on Captain America’s side…you can rest easy knowing you are on the right side.”

This, of course, casts poor Carol Danvers as the bad guy. Her protege Ms. Marvel even   stands against her in this issue (Though she’d already done that in the Ms. Marvel ongoing.). Carol has more or less been in the bad guy position the entire time, making her decisions based on events that could happen, rather than what has happened. Perhaps recognizing this, Bendis takes time in this issue to remind us she’s still trying to do the right thing, and doesn’t want to hurt Miles. We see her guilt, and she gets a nice moment of reassurance from Peter Quill. But the violence that’s resulted from all of this is causing her case to fall apart. Kitty Pryde’s expression in the image below says it all.

We get what I imagine was meant to be a bit of foreshadowing for Champions, as Ms. Marvel, Nova, and young Cyclops rally to protect Miles. The delays that have plagued Civil War II obviously tarnish that. But this scene was my first exposure to Riri Williams, who will be taking on the Iron Man role soon. I imagine that’s the case for quite a few readers. So perhaps the upside is worth it.

civil-war-ii-i-am-grootCivil War II showed up late, in more ways than one. This story just found its second gear last issue, and it finally feels it has the stakes an event comic should have. Hopefully those stakes continue to rise. Toward the end of the issue there’s a spooky page with Ulysses. A descent into evil may be forthcoming.

The question is, does he drag Carol Danvers down with him?

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A Champions #1 Review – Young Justice

Champions #1, 2016, Humberto RamosTITLE: Champions #1
AUTHOR: Mark Waid
PENCILLER: Humberto Ramos
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: October 5, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Miles Morales, Kamala Khan, and Sam Alexander all made their debuts in different books by different creators. But when they’re put together, they somehow become one of the most compelling teams in modern superhero comics. They see the Marvel Universe through younger eyes, and creators have mined a lot of fun and intrigue from that. Their ethnic diversity doesn’t hurt either.

The next logical step for this trio occurs in Champions #1, as Mark Waid gives them their own team, fueled by much of the same youthful idealism and teen angst that made them such a breath of fresh air to begin with. In the wake of Civil War II, Miles, Kamala, and Sam have broken away from the Avengers. In short order, they opt to form their own team, with the addition of Hulk (Amadeus Cho), and Viv Vision. Young Cyclops of All New X-Men, who we see on the cover, presumably joins the team next issue.

Two weeks ago I referred to the image of Miles Morales clutching Captain America’s dead body in Civil War II #5 as a “black lives matter” moment. In essence, it’s Marvel looking at real events through its own flamboyant and colorful lens. We get a bit of that here, though it’s less poignant, and more direct.

Near the end of the issue, Ms. Marvel winds up in front of a camera, and we get the following panel. Note that not only are there cops behind her, but so is Miles Morales

Champions #1, 2016, Humberto Ramos, Ms. Marvel

She later finishes the monologue with: “Help us win the hard way–the right way–not with hate, not with retribution, but with wisdom and hope. Help us become champions.”

Obviously, this is a thinly veiled speech about modern police affairs. But one can potentially read some other things in there, i.e. politics, the American wealth gap, etc. It all depends on your perspective. Either way, that thread of reality makes it that much easier to connect with Champions. 

Impossible as it seems, this is the first collaboration between Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos since Impulse in 1995. Ramos has always been an interesting study. His style is incredibly exaggerated and cartoony, with an energy to match. But when its time for him to get serious, he’s more than up to snuff. Case in point, things get more than a little grim when our heroes find a human trafficker. One that’s dressed like a clown, no less. The scene that follows has all the appropriate wait, and transitions perfectly into Kamala’s big moment. I wouldn’t put Ramos on a Punisher book. But his versatility is delightful.

 Champions has piqued my interest with a tremendous set-up, likable young characters, and a creative team that’s more than capable. Obviously we’re only one issue in. But the smart bet is this will be a quality book for the foreseeable future.

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