Launching on October 5, the all-new "Champions" series marks the start of Marvel's post-"Civil War II" status quo. The series, which comes from writer Mark Waid and artist Humberto Ramos, pairs up a trio of teen ex-Avengers (Nova, Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel) with three more young heroes (Cyclops, Viv Vision and the totally awesome Hulk) as they set out to make a name for themselves. And as one of the first series to launch under the publisher's Marvel NOW! initiative, "Champions" will help establish what the Marvel Universe will look like moving forward.
Talking “Champions” with the comic press today is writer Waid and Marvel Executive Editor Tom Brevoort. CBR will be updating this article live with a full report of the discussion. Throughout the article, you will also get a peek at some freshly debuted pages of Ramos' interior art from the first issue, as well as the artist’s covers for “Champions” #1-3 and John Tyler Christopher's variant for "Champions" #3.
The call started off with a few questions from Marvel PR’s Chris D’Lando, who said that the titular team is setting out to "change the world." D’Lando noted that teen Cyclops is a "personal favorite" of Waid’s, and pointed out that Viv Vision will make her first appearance outside of the "Vision" ongoing in this series. Waid said that in the aftermath of "Civil War II," the "idea that the young Avengers had that their older counterparts were always smarter and wiser and better leaders, that’s all kind of gone away for these kids. They’re reaction to the decisions and choices of 'Civil War II' has driven them towards seeking their own path."
Brevoort agreed with this assessment, saying that the team is looking to "find their own way and reclaim and redefine in a classic sense what being a superhero should mean. Rather than seeing the previous generation as these icons that came before them, now they’ve interacted with them on a one to one basis and learned they aren’t better or worse than anybody else. If anybody’s going to be role models that they thought those characters were, it’s down to them to do that."
D’Lando pointed out that many of the characters are legacy heroes. Brevoort said that the Marvel Universe is at the point where they have many legacy characters and younger characters, specifically ones that haven’t interacted yet. "They carry the weight of the biggest icons of the Marvel Universe. In coming out of 'Civil War,' these were all characters we thought would fit well and impact nicely. It’s not to say these are the only characters that will be in the book or that any of these characters will be in the book forever. Maybe not to the extent of the Avengers who change rosters on a consistent basis, but as things go along, we have potential for roster shifts and shake-ups. I think it’s easier to say you want to stand for a certain thing, and it’s a much harder thing to actually do that when faced with actual on-the-battlefield life or death decisions."
Waid will also right the new "Avengers" series, and he said that the adult team will "reexamine what they thought and felt and acted during 'Civil War II.' To a larger extent, it’s less a sense of condescending, 'Oh those kids, when will they learn?' And more that they’re worth keeping an eye on because they are the future. That plays into Vision and Viv Vision. That’s the tightest connection among them, and we’ll be spending time on that. The short answer is that the Avengers are both curious and proud, more so than just skeptical although there is some skepticism there as well.
Brevoort spoke to how Kamala Khan, Miles Morales and Sam Alexander will fit into the book, saying that this team is something that was instigated by the core of the team. "It certainly grows out of what they experienced in 'Civil War II.' No one is the leader per se, but in gathering these heroes and having a mission statement and reclamation of what heroism means in the Marvel Universe, it’s a self-motivated mission. This is them perceiving a need, having a desire for change and wanting to be the change that they see in the world."
The preview pages, included here, show Ms. Marvel leaving the main Avengers team first. D’Lando wondered if that would put her in charge of the Champions. But that’s not the case; Waid said that Ms. Marvel assumes she’s the leader because the team is her idea, Cho thinks he is because he’s the smartest, and Cyclops thinks he is because he has the most experience. "I don’t anticipate a bunch of formal debating about who is the leader, I envision there will be hurt feelings but not that anyone walks away permanently because of it."
The team’s mission statement is to "change the world." Brevoort talked about how the team will go about that. "I look at the opening as less of an arc and more of a trade paperback. In a very real way, issue #1 is issue #1. It’s self-contained. It springboards into the next issue. The first trade paperback of material is them figuring out what they’re doing and how they should do it, and also how the idea of being Champions and putting forward this new take on the question of what defines a superhero takes on a life of its own. It becomes a grassroots meme that goes out beyond the superhero community and becomes something they lose control of. It’s less about we have a great villain, so much as it is them trying to figure out how to do this thing that they’re trying to do."
"We will see villains as we go and traditional Marvel challenges," said Waid. "But right out the bat, they’re not out to fight crime, they’re out to deal with street-level stuff that the Avengers and New Avengers and some of the other big teams don’t deal with on a regular basis. And when I say street-level, I don’t mean muggings. I mean, how do you make the world a better place? It will be an international team in scope, so if you’ve got a bunch of kids that build an app to help drought victims in India and someone’s out to stop that for whatever reason, there’s nothing to punch there, but there is global injustice. You’re dealing with arms races and international conflicts, especially those involving young people. How do you do that in a way that’s effective without suggesting there’s a simple answer to it? We are into the idea of the Champions as less of a team and more of a movement."
Waid, who worked with Humberto Ramos 20 years ago with DC’s "Impulse," will reteam with the artist for this series. "There’s a level of energy that Humberto brings to these characters unlike what anyone is doing," said Waid. "You ask a lot of younger guys who their influences are and Humberto’s on that list every time. I couldn’t be happier to reunite with him."
"Hopefully people can tell this from the four pages we’ve previewed, but to me it certainly seems like Humberto is energized and enthusiastic about the book," said Brevoort. "He certainly loves drawing Spider-Man in any iteration. His work is always excellent and has a lot of bounce and youthfulness. That’s kind of appropriate for the book. He can do more fun stuff, but he can also do dark and creepy and people lose sight of that. 'Champions' is a book that pushes both buttons. On top of that, he’s one of the most reliable artists in the field right now. He’s not shy about his work ethic. If he’s got to put in late hours and long weeks to get the job done, he’s always right there and willing to go the extra yard. That’s an excellent thing to have in the arsenal." Brevoort added that Ramos won a Harvey award this weekend.
The call opened up to press questions, with Waid talking about the name. Young Avengers was never considered, and Champions comes up naturally in the series with Kamala blurting it out and it getting adopted by social media in the story immediately. Brevoort added that all these characters are looking to be their own people. "They’re not likely to pick up the name of the past generation that they’re distancing themselves from," said Brevoort. "These aren’t the New New Warriors or the Young Avengers, they’re the Champions. And we can now call them the Champions. Somewhere we have a list of 40 bad names that they could have been if we hadn’t cleared that [legal] situation up. It’s a classic superhero-y sort of moniker for a team."
When it comes to pulling things from the headlines, Waid said he’ll "thread the needle" because it will date the book too quickly. "Comics take the world outside your window and make allegories, superhero them up if you will, still dealing with the same emotions and frustrations and injustices we’re dealing with on a regular basis. I don’t know if you’d do a Marvel story on Ferguson, because it trivializes what the real flesh and blood people on the ground are doing there. But you can make an allegory, and deal with the bigger questions. I’d sooner run in that direction than run towards the Circus of Crime or Juggernaut."
"While the Champions are getting involved in things that aren’t alien to the headlines of the day, they will be couched within superheroics," said Brevoort. "It’s a superhero action adventure comic book. We’re delivering a good helping of that on top of the social relevancy underneath it."
"But still, it’s very much in the book’s DNA. That’s where I start my stories, not thinking about the villain of the month but rather looking at headlines and what’s happening in the world in terms of racial issues or LGBT issues," said Waid.
Waid moved on to teen Cyke’s outlook, saying that he’ll be a little less skeptical of authority considering he’s from a point in the past and not a kid of today. Brevoort said that it’s worth understanding that "to young Cyclops, what this group represents is to break with his past, or break with his future. Having seen the choices he made over the course of his life and what became of his older self, in that very quintessential classic way that teenagers say they don’t want to turn into their parents, Cyclops doesn’t want to turn into himself. When he becomes aware of the Champions movement, there’s something that speaks to him and he’s drawn to it. It’s a movement away from his foretold destiny… The Champions offer him a different direction in his personal life."
When asked if members of the original '70s Champions team will react to the new team, Brevoort said that they won’t jump to that too quickly. "We’re doing a lot of Champions variant covers that evoke the classic Marvel history of the name. To me, this is a new book with a new group and a new mission statement. Maybe the Angel would show up and go, 'I got a trademark on that kids!' Chances are he’ll be in the middle of whatever Cullen Bunn 'X-Men' stuff is going on and won’t address it. But I’m sure eventually we’ll run into one or two of those characters, like Hercules or Black Widow or Johnny Blaze will react to this. But it’s not like any of them have used it since 1977, so any claim they’ve had has expired by this point."
With Viv Vision, Waid said he’s worked closely with Tom King on the character. "I think she’s an interesting get because she’s the last one we decided on, and she’s the last one that would have occurred to us," said Waid. "I like that this is a character that’s had so little written about her, and now with Tom’s blessing to really define her on her own terms."
After joking about the Circus of Crime repeatedly, the creators were asked about the actual threats the team will face. "There is a mission in issue #1 that’s more about human trafficking than anything else, with a perverse twist to it, but I don’t know how much more we want to give away at this point," said Waid.
When it comes to writing young characters, Waid said that "something about it appeals to me. And while I’ve read 10,000 comics, writing young characters gives you a little more opportunity to tell stories you haven’t read before. Dealing with younger characters and putting them in situations they’re not used to, you get to play around with the first time this character meets this character or this situation. Those are really fun to write."
Social media has changed and given young voices a platform to be heard, a platform that didn’t exist the previous times Waid wrote teen characters. "The beauty of social media is that it gives people a voice that didn’t have one for the longest time, and it’s important for me as a writer and a person to listen to that. I don’t have to listen to everything or everyone is right, but by and large they are making me think about things that as a white male comics creator I’m not always thinking about. That’s a very important part of this book. I don’t want these to be the problems of white kids problems in America. I’d rather write about stuff that’s a little more reflective of what we’re hearing and seeing young people feel as we enter the 21st century."
Brevoort added that these teens were just brought into the Avengers a year ago, but that there was something to them that made them deserve to be a thing unto themselves and not just an adjunct or appendage onto the existing characters." D’Lando chimed in, adding that young readers have responded to these characters so well, which then in turn has led to them joining the Avengers and now the Champions.
Waid was asked if Champions was always the end goal of Waid’s "All-New, All-Different Avengers," and said it was a combination of two things. "It’s part of the grand plan I had plus the fallout of 'Civil War' and the natural outgrowth of why they’re leaving the team."
Brevoort added they didn’t know they’d be at Champions a year and a half later. "We put them in Avengers because we thought they’d be a good component of the team, and they were — so much so that maybe there’s something more distinct to do with them where they’re not part of the back bench. There’s an opportunity we found, particularly with the schism of 'Civil War' and the aftermath, for them to become their own thing. If you came to me eight months ago and said we’d only put them in the book for a year and a half, I would have fought that tooth and nail. Fortunately I was part of the conversation that got us here, I was one of the people doing the convincing instead of having to be convinced."
Waid said that he loves Cyclops and has since 1966. "Part of the reason I love him is the same reason why everyone has an indie band they love that no one has heard of; he’s such an underdog and I’m drawn to that. I want people to like Cyclops as much as I do. He was my first pick [of X-Men], but that said, you’ll see a survey of young characters in the first issue that could drift into 'Champions.'"
"That was definitely Mark’s first pick and almost only pick," said Brevoort. "He’s also my favorite X-Man. Mark suggested it at the first retreat and I thought to myself that it was a bad idea and it would screw things up in different ways. It took me a while to come to terms with it because he’s a great character to have in the book. I think Mark will do wonders with people who don’t like Cyclops, by putting him in a totally new situation. Cyclops has been the Captain America of the X-Men. He was always the poster child for Xavier’s dream and a particular flavor of that dream. Just putting him in a different situation with different people and a new outlook opens up new vistas of things."
The creators talked about how Bruce Banner’s recent death in "Civil War II" will affect Amadeus Cho. Brevoort said that it will "certainly be something that’s at the front of his mind, but going back to his very first appearance, Amadeus has fairly consistently had a distrust of authority. He’s had his own self importance and directiveness and a desire to help and be the underdog. That’s why he bonded with the Hulk. That’s why he got along with Hercules. There’s a line in one of the upcoming issues of 'Totally Awesome Hulk' that Greg Pak wrote that crystalized him in my head. Someone tells Cho that Banner’s Hulk was driven by anger, but Cho’s Hulk is driven by pride. Now he’s got this physical power to back up his pride, and having all of that, what do you choose to do with it? He’s got to walk the walk not just talk the talk."
The series itself will also see the team re-examine the superhero series tropes, as the team puts every aspect of superheroics under a microscope. "If they have to reinvent the wheel, they’ll reinvent the wheel. If there’s stuff that makes sense that’s happened in the past, they’ll keep going that way. Things like, how much sense does a secret identity make in the 21st century? Or how one goes about keeping a secret identity? Or do we need a headquarters in a world in which we all live pretty virtually anyway? It’s also a chance to put under the microscope questions like, why don’t we kill people, as superheroes? [They’ll say] ’I know the reason, do you know the reason?’ Is it the reason only because it’s always been that way? These kids believe very strongly that killing is wrong, but why? It’s a real question to ask if you’re dealing with megalomaniacal despots who have blood on their hands. It’s a fair question to ask, what are our responsibilities in terms of property damage, in terms of collateral damage, in terms of clean up, in terms of how do we serve the world than just dealing with the immediate danger? How responsible are we for whatever fallout there may be from our presence? These are all questions these kids will have to answer and they’ll answer them in their own way and they’re going to — like I said six times — put them under a microscope."
"Champions" #1 from Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos arrives in stores on October 5.