NEW CHALLENGERS #4 by Aaron Gillespie and V Ken Marion
NEW CHALLENGERS #4 is an exciting, character-driven story with a lot of fun science-fiction action backing it. It especially succeeds with Bethany, the POV character, and her introspection about her current near-death situation. The story, though, does feel a bit rushed at times. It covers a lot of important story points, but never rests on any for an extended period of time.
90 %
Strong but Rushed
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Up to this point, Aaron Gillespie’s NEW CHALLENGERS series has become something special. Among the other New Age of Heroes titles, this series has honored DC’s storied past the best. Thankfully, that trend continues in NEW CHALLENGERS #4. By combining the lore of the modern DARK NIGHTS: METAL and Jack Kirby’s CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN, this series has given us a fun, science-fiction adventure. Yet does it stack up with the previous issues?

Our Story Begins

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Sent to Skartaris to find Prof’s final relic; zombies, mummies, and dinosaurs quickly overtook the team. As NEW CHALLENGERS #4 begins, Trina, Bethany, Krunch, and Moses must battle this overwhelming force. However, their timers are running out. Their connection to Challengers Mountain is fading, meaning that their life forces are slowly leaving them. The team must race against time to find the relic and return to the Mountain before they perish. What they find back home, however, may only create more problems for the team.

Zombies and Mummies and Dinosaurs (Oh My)

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 page 1. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 is an exciting science-fiction adventure right from the start. With that said, it definitely isn’t for the faint of heart. Most of the previous issues have consigned themselves to typical superhero action. Whoever gets hurt rarely gets anything more than a bruise. In this issue, Gillespie and artist V Ken Marion have gone all out. Dinosaurs and zombies get their heads ripped off in great, bloody glory, and our team faces some real, dangerous stakes. You can tell that this creative team had a lot of fun writing this issue. I was able to overlook any of this story’s minor trouble because, by the end, I was simply having too much fun. I wanted to keep reading because I enjoyed myself so much.

With that said, NEW CHALLENGERS #4 does suffer from one major issue that’s plagued this series from the start. It simply goes too fast. Not enough gets explained in this installment for it to feel wholly satisfying. Don’t get me wrong. The plot and dialogue are well-written. If this were a more straightforward superhero adventure, I’d have forgiven the lack of explanation. However, this is a hard science-fiction narrative. We need a lot more information to grasp onto. I didn’t feel like I could find my footing for most of this issue because I spent so much time trying to read between the lines. I wanted to understand what made up this new and interesting world. Sadly, Gillespie simply didn’t touch on it enough.

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Bethany’s Hard Knock Life

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 page 2. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

One of NEW CHALLENGERS #4’s greatest saving factors, though, is its POV character. The final member of the team to get the spotlight; Bethany’s story is incredibly interesting. Her interiority takes up most of this issue, while flashbacks are rather limited. This is a really beautiful change of pace from previous character points of views. I felt like I understood Bethany’s struggles better than I did the other team members. Yes, I still wanted to know more and see more of her past life. However, what we get is just enough. Gillespie approaches this woman in an incredibly realistic and satisfying way. She’s a survivor, but one who suffers from a great deal of guilt. She feels as if her lucky streak damns everyone around her. That’s actually really compelling.

I didn’t feel as attached to the rest of the team in this issue. Usually, Gillespie does a good job of exploring other characters’ personalities while focusing on the POV character. It may simply be that Bethany’s personality is so big that she overshadowed the others. However, I still feel like NEW CHALLENGERS #4 suffers a bit from this singular characterization. I also felt a little uncertain about our main villain. All we know so far is that he’s an alternate version of Prof from the Dark Multiverse, with evil intentions for the relics. We don’t know, though, what he’s looking to do. It’s a bit frustrating being so far in this series with so little information about one of the major characters.

Marion Takes the Wheel

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 page 3. Image courtesy of DC Entertainment.

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 is the first issue where V Ken Marion has taken the entire artistic duty. Andy Kubert has penciled the last three issues, and his work has astounded. Marion’s, though, somehow steps just past it. I think the beauty of Marion’s work comes from the way he emulates Kubert’s style. They are very similar in how they approach the subject matter. However, Marion brings something new to the series. His linework feels cleaner, and he seems less apprehensive to handle big action scenes. This isn’t to say that Kubert is the lesser artist. I think Marion simply brings a new and unique lens to the series that it needs to keep from feeling stagnant. His work feels different, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

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NEW CHALLENGERS #4: Final Thoughts

NEW CHALLENGERS #4 succeeds on so many levels. I really enjoyed the focus on the characterization of Bethany. A woman so steeped in mystery, it really feels satisfying to delve into her head. I also really enjoyed the action-heavy plot. Aaron Gillespie and V Ken Marion did such a good job creating a high-paced adventure narrative. Yes, this issue has its problems. I really do wish Gillespie would just slow down the narrative and give some more information and focus a bit more on the other characters. However, these are minor complaints in the grand scheme of this fun, brutal, and interesting story. I really can’t wait to see where the series goes next!

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