Thursday, March 2, 2017

Aspirations For Inspiration: Champions #6

The following is my review of Champions #6, which was posted on PopMatters.com.


Seeking to inspire others to do good is one of the most fundamental acts of heroism that any superhero can do. Superman inspires by embodying an ideal for humanity to aspire towards. Captain America inspires by embodying the patriotic spirit that emboldens and strengthens an entire nation. Deadpool inspires by embodying the power of tacos and machine guns. These are among the most basic traits of a hero and after Civil War II, the entire Marvel universe needs a refresher course.

That's what Mark Waid and Hamberto Ramos are doing with Champions, getting back to basic and showing the rest of Marvel's superhero community that there are better ways to do good and they don't require superhero civil wars. Ms. Marvel, Nova, Spider-Man, Cyclops, Hulk, and Viv Vision are all uniquely qualified to teach this lesson in that they're young, idealistic, and haven't been revealed as Skrulls or Hydra agents yet. Beyond being diverse, coming from many different backgrounds and even different time periods, they are essentially a disaffected generation that sees what's happening with established heroes and think there's room for improvement.

It's a common spirit that pervades inexperienced youth. They see the flaws of the older generation and think they can do better, but the cast of Champions accomplish much more than any hippie protest or online petition. They embody a spirit often gets muted by politics, bureaucracy, or one too many retcons. This eclectic cast of young heroes aren't quite that jaded just yet, if only because they haven't dealt with SHIELD or Maria Hill enough.

The first several issues of Champions show this diverse cast coming together and establishing a standard for how they conduct themselves as heroes. That standard proves quite effective, leading to some meaningful victories and a kiss involving the Hulk. However, as often happens with many efforts involving ambitious youth, they encounter a few challenges and Champions #6 establishes the scope of those challenges, complete with relevant social commentary.

Now it's debatable how important these undertones are to the underlying themes of the series. There are any number of rants, tirades, and bemoaning that can be levied against a series that unambiguously reflects a particular political affiliation. Any comic that risks being vocal about any relevant issue risks agitating a world that would turn Superman into a Nazi if he says the wrong thing in the wrong context. That's the power of hashtags, phony outrage, and too much free time.

Regardless of how anyone may feel about social commentary in a comic book, Champions #6 shows that a certain level of social appeal can go a long way. Waid and Ramos make it a point to show how the Champions have influenced the world as a whole. They demonstrate how the Champions have created an entire social movement for all the right reasons with all the right impacts.


The Champions aren't just saving the day from monsters, human traffickers, and internet trolls. They're inspiring others to get up, embrace the Champion's principles, and do something. Given how much it takes to drag people away from their cell phones and jobs, that's quite an accomplishment.

Given how detached other superhero teams have become from the people at large, such an impact carries a great deal of weight for the greater Marvel universe. If a bunch of teenagers, one of which is a robot and another of which is a time traveler, can have this kind of positive impact, then those with helicarriers and space stations have no excuse.

Beyond that impact, though, the story in Champions #6 is just as much about the unintended backlash to this new superhero team as it is their success. The team is still coming together and Waid gives them a chance to show that they're still teenagers in addition to being heroes. Having them train through a game of paintball makes for a fun, light-hearted tone that even those who whine about the book's social commentary can appreciate.

From the perspective of the larger narrative, this kind of team activity doesn't raise the stakes or heighten the drama. However, it does flesh out the various personalities on the team and shows how they interact. Despite the diversity, they function as well as any group of teenagers armed with superpowers and paintball guns. They're not necessarily a dysfunctional family, but they're not the Fantastic Four either.

Those more light-hearted elements get balanced out when Waid explores the first major backlash that the Champions inspire. Such a backlash is always bound to happen and most teenagers have to learn the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished in the real world. In this case, the punishment hardly fits the deed because the Champions have no way of knowing how those with greater authority than a bunch of teenagers opt to react to their impact.

This is where the Freelancers come in. They are, in essence, the counter-punch to the movement that Champions have inspired. Much of Champions #6 involves introducing this team and establishing how they're going to undermine everything the Champions have accomplished. Like the Champions, they're a bunch of jaded teenagers with superpowers. Unlike the Champions, however, they care less about social commentary and more about their bank statement.

Waid reveals this in a somewhat elaborate manner. At first, the Freelancers give the impression that they're just a bit less ethical than the Champions. By the end, though, they make clear that they'll gladly rub elbows with big oil companies, Hydra agents, and tobacco lobbyists to improve their living standards. They care less about being a hero and more about making the most money with the least amount of effort and/or ethical constraints.


In the context of the major themes surrounding Champions, the Freelancers are the perfect adversaries. Waid makes this abundantly clear in Champions #6. However, this clarity doesn't come with any larger plot developments. A paintball game of super-powered teenagers is fun, but does little to expand their story. The only ones who get any real progression are the Freelancers and while their mission is fairly clear, their respective personalities are under-developed and overly forgettable.

Champions #6 still accomplishes and important feat for the greater narrative. It establishes what the Champions are up against and how their new movement of less civil wars and more heroics is creating an impact. Waid and Ramos to mix that impact with the fun of a paintball game. While the entertainment value of paintball is beyond dispute, the larger implications of the Champions' story remains underdeveloped and unresolved.

Final Score: 6 out of 10

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