Trini Alvarez. Robert Brink. Moses Barber. And... ‘Krunch. Just Krunch’? Four adventurers living on borrowed time, ready to face the challenges of the Unknown.
Here we go again. DC returns to the Challengers of the Unknown concept but without the original team. Instead we get a quartet of new characters gathered by, it seems, one of the members created by Jack Kirby and Dave Wood way back in 1957. The new guys fall down a rabbit hole and don’t have time to catch their breath before they’re knee deep in a world of terror.
The new Challs don’t have the freedom of choice enjoyed by the originals, they’re cajoled into going on a mission by a man known only as ‘Prof’. Anyone familiar with the first team will assume this is Prof Walter Haley, expert diver and all-round good guy, and if that’s the case, well, bummer. Because this isn’t a good guy, as we see in a mid-book twist.
I won’t spoil it, because it’s a neat, dramatic moment, but it’s where the book loses a lot of goodwill. I’m not the biggest Challs fan in the world, I don’t blog about them, own the Archives or have a podcast. But I’ve read a lot of their adventures, and relish their rare guest appearances. Claiming to honour previous Challengers teams while presenting an original member as a bastard doesn’t work for me.
As for the new players, in time I may come to like them, but writers Scott Snyder and Aaron Gillespie make some really odd choices with the first character they choose to spotlight. The narration of this issue lies with Trini who, we learn, hails from the Narrows district of Gotham seen in Snyder’s Batman run. She’s not just a strong woman, she’s the type of woman a Claremontwoman would consider dangerously cocky.
God complex, much? I get that Prof wants strong-minded outcasts but this gal seems a total basket case.
Veterans Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson provide art that fits the cold, scary mood of the book with generally decent storytelling - a mountain-set prologue involving a bleeping prop could be clearer. And as I’ve said previously, artists today really should remember that reading digitally means they can’t get away with sketchy panels because we’re zooming in
The characters are well differentiated, though, the reveal of Prof works very well, and once the new Challengers leave their mountain base, things get all kinds of exciting.
And that’s a terrific extra-long cover by Kubert and interior colourist Brad Anderson, with a good look at the new team, a nice genre mash-up and the real - sorry, ‘original’ - Challengers of the Unknown. But that’s a horrific logo, especially compared to its Silver and Bronze Age predecessors, all curved confidence.
And what’s with the emphasis on ‘LL’? A hint that Lex Luthor is someone involved?
I admit I’ve an inbuilt resistance to a twisted version of the Challengers - Prof, Rocky, Ace and Red were simple archetypes, but they gelled; sure, they’re Fifties guys who could do with a mild makeover for the 21st century, but Snyder certainly has the skills to make them work. And if he brought in gal Chall June, or Corinna - or both - all the better. I’ll give this a few issues to see where it goes. I’m a sucker for books that play behind the curtain of a known fictional universe, and there are some entertaining teases in here, including an implied link to another DC Age of Heroes book. While I don’t know Gillespie, Snyder has provided me with enough entertainment that he deserves a chance.
New Challengers #1 review, Scott Snyder, Aaron Gillespie, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, Brad Anderson, Challengers of the Unknown