Marvel’s ‘Champions #16’ Shows Strength in Numbers

Champions #16
Mark Waid, Hamberto Ramos
Marvel Comics
17 Jan 2018

Any gambler not named Remy Lebeau knows there’s a time to fold, a time to double down, and a time to re-evaluate one’s bluffing skills. So long as they’re not down to their last penny, it’s usually wise to know when the odds just aren’t favorable anymore. Young superheroes, especially those still in their teenage years, face greater odds than most. At the same time, however, they have the benefit of not being too jaded to throw away their ideals, like Peter Parker, who claims to give up being Spider-Man every now and then.

Youth may inspire the kind of wide-eyed optimism that makes most jaded adults roll their eyes. However, that’s what makes teams like
Champions so endearing. They live in a world where adult superhero teams have waged a civil war on one another — twice. They regularly see established heroes like Captain America fall prey to sinister influences like Hydra while villains like Magneto somehow manage to operate with some semblance of credibility. These are some pretty mixed messages, especially for impressionable youth.

Mark Waid and Hamberto Ramos don’t shield the members of the Champions from those messages. In fact, confronting those heroic inconsistencies of the modern Marvel universe is a major theme of
Champions, as well as a major appeal. This cast of younger, less jaded heroes wants to cling to those superhero ideals that seemed to go out of style since the Frank Miller era. The world around them isn’t making that easy. If anything, that world keeps upping its bets and skewing the odds.

Champions #16 has these idealistic young heroes respond by having them go on a recruitment run. Considering the events of previous issues, which included crossovers and clashes with the far less idealistic adult Avengers, it comes off as strange, if not too soon. From the perspective of young, teenage heroes who cling ardently to their idealism, though, it makes perfect sense. Tragedy and drama may hit adults and teenagers equally hard, but teenagers will often find more creative ways of dealing with it. Those ways aren’t always healthy or rational, but that’s exactly what makes them endearing.

The tragedy and drama, in this case, has to do with the recent upheavals surrounding Viv Vision. Even by advanced android standards, she’s in a strange position. After the Champions and Avengers’ recent clash with the High Evolutionary, there are now two versions of her, one human and one android. It’s an identity crisis that’s unprecedented, even in a world full of clones and shape-shifting aliens. Neither version is able to make sense of the situation. Viv’s teammates don’t fare much better.

There’s now a sense in
Champions that the team is more vulnerable than it was when it began. It’s not just because one of their members is a time traveler who could trigger a paradox with one bad decision. The events surrounding Viv painfully demonstrate that there are times when the team becomes fractured. There are moments when personal dramas hinder the team’s ability to function. It’s a problem adults face too, but adults are more inclined to stick with what works and preserve the past. Teenagers, not having much of a past to begin with, look to the future.

That’s the underlying theme of the narrative that Waid crafts in
Champions #16 and Ramos’ colorful visuals make it feel optimistic, despite the dramatic circumstances. Despite the seriousness of these circumstances, Waid preserves the light-hearted, upbeat tone that gives Champions much of its appeal. Throughout the story, the fact that these are still teenagers never becomes lost. They see what happens to their friend. They don’t make light of it, but they still move forward.

That part of the story works to the extent that it lays the foundation for more interactions between the Champions and other young heroes. While Viv heals, their recruiting run leads them to cross paths with the likes of Moon Girl, Red Locust, Iron Heart, and Patriot. Some of these characters have crossed paths with the Champions before. Like the Champions, though, they respond to the message because they too lack the jaded mentality that plagues older heroes.

It’s a golden opportunity for young heroes to come together and remind older heroes that there’s still room for the kind of wide-eyed idealism that most superheroes lose in their first year. Unfortunately, little of that opportunity is realized in
Champions #16. The recruitment run does get off to a good start, but there’s not much depth beyond just interacting with other young heroes. Some, like those with Moon Girl, fit the spirit and character of the story. Others, like the moments with Iron Heart, don’t contribute much.

That lack of depth is partially due to the unfolding side-plot surrounding Viv. In many respects, this plot carries with it much heavier drama. Viv’s identity crisis and sense of self are in flux. There’s a lot of internal conflict that plays out in between interactions with her android self and Vision. Some of it still echoes with the kind of teenage melodrama that is so distinct of Champions. Most of it, though, comes off as detached narration.

The intent is clear throughout the story, both with Viv Vision and the Champions’ recruitment drive. It’s the execution that leaves much to be desired. Both elements of the story have the right dynamics, but both end up feeling incomplete. It gives the impression that the story needed to be at least twice as long for the necessary elements to play out. It makes
Champions #16 feel somewhat truncated, even if the potential is still there.

The idealism and appeal of
Champions never wanes, even in light of major upheavals, both personal and circumstantial. That remains one of the greatest strengths of the series. It’s realizing the potential of the various plots and sub-plots that keep it from having the kind of impact that teenagers and adults alike can appreciate. Even if both are destined to end up jaded, the appeal of the idealism espoused by young heroes remains as strong as ever.

RATING 5 / 10