NEW CHALLENGERS #3 by Aaron Gillespie, Andy Kubert, and V Ken Marion
With an in-depth look at POV character Krunch, as well as the rest of the Challengers of the Unknown crew, NEW CHALLENGERS #3 is a fantastic addition to the series that is as fun as it is visually appealing. This is the best issue in the series to date, and while it does have some clarity problems, I would recommend this to nearly every fan of sci-fi adventures!
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Though the rest of DC’s New Age of Heroes has typically focused on new heroes, NEW CHALLENGERS has deeper ties to DC’s history. Despite featuring new characters and a lore tied to DARK NIGHTS: METAL, this series has echoed the science fiction adventures of Jack Kirby’s original creation. Now, in NEW CHALLENGERS #3, that history comes full circle.

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The new Challengers of the Unknown meet their predecessors, but tensions grow between Krunch and original team leader Rocky. Meanwhile, the new team’s mentor Prof explains his own origins, as well as the mission driving our protagonists forward. Said mission brings the Challengers of the Unknown into the dinosaur-infested center of the Earth, the team will have to face a graver threat than any they’ve fought before.

New Vs. Old

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

NEW CHALLENGERS #3 is one of the best issues in the series thus far. The way writer Aaron Gillespie balances his plot feels entirely satisfying. We do zoom through a number of key events, and this pacing does leave some questions unanswered. For example, the connection between Prof and the Dark Multiverse could use some more detail, and the specifics behind the team’s mission are still a bit unclear. However, these elements were easy to look past, especially with the brilliance of the rest of the issue.

I think NEW CHALLENGERS #3 succeeds so well because of the way it handles its stranger elements. There’s a greater sense of wonder in this issue than in previous ones. Even when the latest threat, an army of undead warriors, appear near the issue’s end, Gillespie doesn’t take it too seriously. Previous issues have suffered from too much intensity. Even as the team dove beneath the ocean and battled giant crab monsters, it didn’t feel as if the creative team was having any fun. Everything was dark and moody, despite the ridiculousness the team was facing.

NEW CHALLENGERS #3 isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself. In fact, Gillespie even includes a bit of self-referential dialogue about his team’s tendency to say “This is impossible!” However, it’s the way he balances this with the more serious elements of the issue that truly shines. The more science-fiction aspects carry that sense of wonder. The human elements, the ones centered in realism, take on a more solemn note.

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Krunch’s New Family

NEW CHALLENGERS #3 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

The true success of NEW CHALLENGERS #3 comes from the way Gillespie deals with character. I’ve always been fascinated with this series’ focus on individual team members. Each issue changes POV and, for the most part, I feel like Krunch’s narrative in this issue is the best. Krunch’s ties to Intergang and Apokolips have very little to do with the current events of NEW CHALLENGERS #3. Nevertheless, the character exploration is fantastic. The opening sequence alone, wherein a young Krunch learns about his family’s gang ties, gives some incredibly relevant and interesting backstory to the character. The way Krunch’s dad talks about the Dingbats of Danger Street as a chosen family goes a long way to sell Krunch’s decision to join as well.

Gillespie manages to balance the other teammates’ characterization fairly well throughout the issue. In previous installments, the POV character has taken almost all of the spotlight, with very little growth for the rest of the cast. Here, though, we see new sides of nearly every player. Prof is still incredibly aloof and uninteresting, but as a mentor figure, I feel okay with this decision. Trina Alvarez, the first POV character, actually muses on how intriguing her new life actually is. Moses, the shy and agoraphobic hacker, takes a brave stance against the original Challengers to save Krunch’s life. Every character has at least one small moment to demonstrate exactly who they are, and that gives this issue a lot of value.

Split Duty

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

The art for NEW CHALLENGERS #3 comes from two superstar artists. Both Andy Kubert and V Ken Marion do a stupendous job conquering the strange world of the Challengers of the Unknown. With that said, though, I cannot tell you which artist did what section. In many ways, this is a huge compliment to Marion, who perfectly reflects Kubert’s style, giving the story a wholly cohesive feel. More importantly, NEW CHALLENGERS #3 is absolutely gorgeous. The visual narrative that these two artists have created is stunning. Both have a keen eye for detail, and each scene is absolutely filled with small, world-building elements. Even the scales on the dinosaurs’ backs at the end of the issue simply come to life.

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NEW CHALLENGERS #3: Final Thoughts

NEW CHALLENGERS #3 represents the huge potential that this series has. The Challengers of the Unknown are already a hugely inspired concept. The focus on a group of normal human beings exploring supernatural locations feels wholly satisfying. Aaron Gillespie and his creative team have struck gold with this issue especially, giving readers an in-depth look at character and the world of the Challengers. While Gillespie did lose some momentum and clarity in the previous issue, he certainly makes up for it with the tone and energy throughout this one. This is a story that everyone needs to read, and if the future issues continue NEW CHALLENGERS #3’s success, then we definitely have a sleeper hit on our hands!

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