Every new superhero comic has a lot of work to do. It must establish characters, construct stakes, explore its premise, and convey a clear sense of style and tone; all of this in a manner that makes readers want to return next month. That is only increased with a property that is new or essentially new, as is the case with New Challengers. Given the amount of work that must be done, it’s forgivable for a first issue to not be all things to all people. However, New Challengers #1 manages to accomplish none of these foundational steps in its first outing. It is a new comic in need of a cause to be read.
Something is not quite right from the very start of the issue. A flashback sequence plays out in the manner one might expect, but the storytelling itself leads readers to question what is going on. Small panels emphasizing a single object or action regularly fail to effectively detail these key elements. A carved bone is barely recognizable when introduced in a minute panel where the images are overrun with two word balloons. Subsequent appearances fail to make the object clear or remove all context from its own close ups. The end result is a sequence that requires multiple readings in order to even acknowledge the mystery at the start of the very issue.
This is a systemic flaw that impacts almost every page of New Challengers #1 to some degree. Kubert and Janson work best when illustrating in broad strokes. An alien launching itself at a city or a plane flying through a storm have an impact in splash panels. When that scale is reduced, the same style loses its clarity and obfuscates necessary figures, actions, and connections. The continued use of unnecessarily small panels might serve to make the exorbitant amount of dialogue on some pages flow better, but it dashes any clarity within the story itself.
The resulting stop-and-go pace of reading these pages only exacerbates issues within the story itself. New Challengers #1 is seemingly an issue for getting the team together, and it succeeds insofar as there are four individuals dispatched on a mission by its end. Who are these individuals? What do they want and need? Why were they chosen for this specific work? These questions are unanswerable. Names are given and the character designs are clear enough that most readers could guess at what they each will do. Yet to call any of these Challengers two-dimensional would be overly generous. Only one receives anything resembling a story of her own, and it is so ridden with superhero clichés that investing in her character is impossible.
This lack of specificity is compounded as the mistake is repeated in every element of the issue. The mysterious bone and bandaged figures from the start are so disconnected from what follows that they are easily forgotten. The concept of borrowed time itself is glossed over so quickly (yet still with far too many words, somehow) that it serves to mindlessly drive the plot forward. The cliffhangers from the end of the issue lack the context or character investment to hold any meaning. All of the elements found in an issue of superhero comics can be labeled, but they are Lego blocks scattered throughout the issue never having been connected into something with meaning or purpose.
New Challengers #1 is readable; it is functional. There is enough here to keep going, but not nearly enough to justify that decision. Once you move beyond the simple act of labeling unique elements, there are still no answers to the truly essential questions of a first issue. Who are these characters? Why do we care about their adventure? What is unique about this arrangement? There is a void where meaning should be in New Challengers and no reason for readers to start this issue much less continue past it.
Published by DC Comics
On May 16, 2018
Written by Scott Snyder and Aaron Gillespie
Pencils by Andy Kubert0comments
Inks by Klaus Janson
Colors by Brad Anderson