Al Ewing and Paco Medina’s “Contest of Champions” #1 introduces a fair amount of concepts and characters, and — while it does a nice job of providing the hook for the story going forward — it just seems like it should have been longer. The issue includes an eight-page backup detailing the legacy of the all-new character Guillotine. Ewing also scripts this piece, which is drawn by Thomas Labourot, colored by Guru-eFX and lettered by Joe Sabino, though it seems to exist solely to introduce Guillotine.
Though Guillotine has a minor appearance in the lead story, that tale has a spotlight, point-of-view character of its own. The Outlaw is spooked back into his old identity and is summoned to the Battlerealm. Ewing adds a bit of depth to Outlaw, but mostly attempts to convince readers to care based on the point-of-view Outlaw provides. A handful of other characters pop in: some very familiar to readers as well as others who are variations of fan favorites. Readers who have taken interest in the mobile game of the same name will certainly wonder when they’re going to see the new characters on their devices, but Ewing is less concerned with synching up casts of characters than he is with setting up a plot where anything can happen, including an appearance by Moon-Boy and Devil Dinosaur as you’ve never seen them.
Artist Paco Medina does a great job with action sequences, as his style is looser and filled with dynamic character gestures. He drops in a couple money shots, but the best drawings Medina gives readers are filled with action or describe the results of said action. David Curiel’s colors are on target, spreading ambient light and deftly complimenting Medina’s artwork, even when the artist simplifies backgrounds to empty space or silhouetted shapes. Sabino has a wide range of lettering opportunities and makes the most of them, from the menacing growl of Venom descending upon Outlaw to Moon-Boy’s shrill chirping.
The backup tale’s art is slightly more exaggerated than Medina’s. Labourot stays away from Medina’s general style, but he does use different line weights and figure construction so the two tales transition fluidly. Guru-eFX’s colors are louder and more ostentatious than Curiel provides for the lead. It’s not a bad looking tale, but it also isn’t going to make readers forget about the lead adventure.
“Contest of Champions” #1 has little to do with the handheld video game or the original miniseries. There is a text page in the back of the issue where Bill Rosemann spells out the connections and teases upcoming synchronous events, but the story itself just seems like a random collection of oddball Marvel characters. The mystery of the “Secret Wars” conclusion inevitably keeps this issue from being more impactful, but Ewing, Medina and company give readers enough material here to be judged independently. This isn’t the worst debut, but it needs to put some hustle into the next issue to hold readers’ attention and provide them with legitimate rationale to pick this title up issue after issue.