NEW CHALLENGERS #1 by Scott Snyder, Aaron Gillespie, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson, and Brad Anderson
NEW CHALLENGERS #1 is a fantastic new addition to DC's New Age of Heroes. With a brilliant look into the life and history of one of its title characters as well as an intriguing premise, the only true downside to this story is some slightly confusing plot points.
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DC Entertainment is well known for its early forays into high science fiction. Jack Kirby himself led this charge, introducing long-beloved characters like the New Gods into the DC Universe. One of Kirby’s lesser-known creations, though, is CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN. With its burgeoning New Age of Heroes, DC and Scott Snyder have given this team its rightful rebirth in NEW CHALLENGERS #1.

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As the issue opens, four unlikely humans are transported into the heart of Challenger’s Mountain. This hub of super-science first reappeared in the heart of Gotham City, destroying much of area in the process. However, now it’s under new management by a man named the Professor.

In preparation for a great threat to come, Prof has reanimated and recruited four recently deceased human beings to his cause. Trina Alvarez, Robert Brink, Moses Barber, and Krunch must use their varied skills and experiences to delve into the world’s greatest mysteries. In the process, they might just save the universe.

To the Very Edge

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 starts with immediate stakes. Our main characters have died very recently, and unless they continue working with the team, they will cease living. This gives the story a rather tense edge right away. I honestly really like this element of the story.

It gives these incredibly unlikely allies a good reason to keep working together. Also, the premise alone hooked me immediately. I love stories like INDIANA JONES and THE LIBRARIAN; tales that use mythology or mysteries as a backbone for a grand adventure. This story promises to give that in spades. Also, the landscapes and mysterious elements in this issue alone really fuel a strong sense of awe.

I do think the plot of NEW CHALLENGERS #1 could have used a bit more work. While its key elements (i.e. who the Challengers are) receive their due explanation, some of the issue’s events aren’t as clear. I feel mostly okay looking past this confusion. Most of the stranger elements of the story come across as purposefully vague and mysterious.

With these, I feel patience will eventually reveal the truth. However, some spots could have used a bit more narration to clear things up. This is especially true for the opening sequence. Elements of this scene are mirrored later in the story, but without any context to link them, I felt left out of the loop.

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Summoned to the Mountain

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The biggest draw to NEW CHALLENGERS #1, though, is its unique team of heroes. This isn’t a superhero group. In fact, none of its members have superpowers. They all get chosen for their very human abilities. Trina Alvarez, the main focus of this issue’s exposition, acted as a doctor before coming to Challenger’s Mountain. Robert Brink was an undercover agent for Spyral.

These very human perspectives give this story a fantastic relatability. I really latched onto these characters because they felt so real in comparison to their strange circumstances. I feel like I can place myself in any of their shoes in a way that I can’t with Superman or Green Lantern.

Typically, I would hate the style of characterization used in NEW CHALLENGERS #1. As I mentioned, Dr. Trina Alvarez takes most of the spotlight in this issue. We see an extensively detailed flashback of how she came to the mountain. While this does an amazing job giving us her personality, it does leave the other characters to the wayside a bit. However, I’m amazed at how well Gillespie and Snyder managed to work around this element.

While Alvarez gets the most time on page, they rarely sacrifice the other characters’ personality. In fact, I found myself really getting to know each and every member as an individual in a way that I didn’t think possible in a team book. I can only hope, though, that the POV spreads out to the other characters in later issues.

Visualizing the Strange

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

There’s very little I can say about Andy Kubert’s art style that hasn’t already been said. The Kuberts are synonymous with visual storytelling, and Andy Kubert’s style is hugely iconic. His characters always look so expressive in NEW CHALLENGERS #1, and his sense of visual pacing and atmosphere is second to very few other artists.

I especially want to call attention to his landscapes and backgrounds. NEW CHALLENGERS #1 has a truly unique blend of mechanical and natural elements in its visual style. Kubert manages to make every one of these strange combos incredibly believable, which sells the entire experience of this book.

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Much of the atmospheric storytelling in the book, though, only gets amplified by the fantastic inks and colors by Klaus Janson and Brad Anderson. Janson does a great job differentiating his style between scenes. While he uses a lot of heavy blacks in the more intense moments, he lightens up his approach with the onset of comedy or character interactions. I can say the same for Brad Anderson’s colors.

Anderson manages to inform atmosphere with the use of specific color palettes. In the more realistic segments before the arrival at Challengers Mountain, Anderson focuses on a lot of warm, fiery colors. Meanwhile, the moments inside the Mountain and on the team’s first mission get nice cool hues. This almost makes real life seem a lot more intense and scary than the strange world of the Challengers.

New Challengers #1: Final Thoughts

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 does a ton of things right. While its plot has a few confusing elements, it also feels immediately tense and interesting. The premise behind the series also has me excited for future entries. The characters that co-writers Aaron Gillespie and Scott Snyder introduce to the reader each feels decently well-rounded, and I cannot wait to learn more about these unique individuals.

Most importantly, though, NEW CHALLENGERS #1 reflects exactly what makes DC’s New Age of Heroes so fantastic. It focuses in on real, human stories told in a dangerous and strange world. And with the story hinting at an undersea expedition to Atlantis coming in the next issue, you can bet that I’ll be keeping an eye on this series.

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