Review: New Challengers trade paperback (DC Comics)

February 17, 2019

As with a number of books in the essentially now defunct "New Age of Heroes" line, I liked New Challengers presentation of new characters and thought writers Scott Snyder and Aaron Gillespie integrated them with the existing DC Universe well. The writers, and artists Andy Kubert and V Ken Marion, use the conceit of doppelgangers and the constraints of the comics medium to good effect here; there's some surprising turnarounds and reversals late in the book.

But whether New Challengers was always meant as a six-issue miniseries or whether that was a late-made decision, the end comes on the book fast, and it's far from satisfactory. Optimally the end of a story like this leaves you wanting to know more (as with Immortal Men); here, the end is tidy enough and lacks sufficient suspense as to be a good jumping-off point. New Challengers definitely entertained, but in the final tally it failed to impress; I'd as soon see Brimstone again, or Sideways or the Immortal Men, than these new Challengers of the Unknown.

[Review contains spoilers]

Snyder and Gillespie profile each of the four new Challengers, plus the enigmatic "Prof," over the course of five of the six issues, with the last reserved for wrap-up. As slice of life stories, then, these aren't bad -- the urban healer, the updated exploits of Krunch (of Jack Kirby's 1970s Dingbats fame), the death-cheating soldier who believes herself cursed. Superheroic cameos abound -- the Justice League, Green Arrow, Aquaman -- making this feel legitimately cut from the DC Universe cloth, and in some respects what we see is how normal people live in the DCU, a la Naomi or Gotham Central.

The book kicks off with a mysterious figure, presumably Prof, murdering a hapless pilot on his way to recovering an artifact. We learn toward the end that Prof didn't actually kill the pilot, and that the zombified figure that appears to have killed the original Challengers, seemingly also Prof, is in fact his mad duplicate. In this way, New Challengers certainly kept my attention, with the fifth chapter unceremoniously upending most of what the audience thought was happening in the book thus far. That's well done by the whole creative team, who cut scenes just right and show us just enough of the characters for us to believe we were seeing one thing sometimes when we were actually seeing another.

The problematic end of New Challengers, however, seemingly locks away the pieces of a multiversal Dark Nights: Metal-connected skeleton for good, capping what drove most of the book's action. The New Challengers are still out there, challenging things, but how they'll go about that or what their purview is isn't clear. Immortal Men dealt with a secretive organization that was in the final pages brought to light and likely to receive a visit from the Justice League soon; New Challengers ends with the characters posed awkwardly on a mountaintop. I enjoyed the story well enough, but I think the creators did themselves a disservice not closing with at least a little bit of a cliffhanger.

New Challengers starts with art by Andy Kubert, which gives the book a gritty, solid look that befits characters like the late Robert Brink, Krunch, and the original brawny Challengers themselves. Second artist V Ken Marion's figures are a bit more standard, like Paul Pelletier with shades of Brett Booth, and that takes some of the pizazz out of it; the original Challengers suddenly all have the same body types, and there's some absurd violence and improbably blood spatters that make it all seem a little silly. This, combined with some stilted dialogue toward the end (one wonders if Snyder backed off as the series closed), contributes to a sense of the book petering out.

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It goes without saying that from Scott Snyder, the architect of Dark Nights: Metal, I expected a little more from New Challengers. There is Dark Multiverse material here, though it gets muddy sometimes who's a multiversal duplicate and who's just a zombified clone and what the difference is. There is not, perhaps surprisingly, an appearance by the Batman Who Laughs, as there is in Immortal Men, but then again Snyder's writing that character over in his own Justice League. This Challengers revival is a nice try but doesn't make it; of all the titles that emerged after Zero Hour, only one really continued, so "New Age of Heroes" is in good company, but it still feels unfortunate that so many titles with new characters fail to thrive.

[Includes original covers, triptych cover image, sketches]

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
New Challengers
Author Rating
3.5 (scale of 1 to 5)

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