The New Age of DC Heroes is underway, and New Challengers seems to be in a unique situation. While other titles have introduced new characters with familiar names, Scott Snyder and Andy Kubert’s book is giving new life to an old team: The Challengers of the Unknown.
First appearing in 1957’s Showcase #6, the team’s creation is often credited to Jack Kirby to some degree, though Dick Wood and Joe Simon have each been theorized as being the team’s co-creators. The Challengers are considered something of a precursor to Marvel’s far more popular Fantastic Four, starring in an ongoing feature for DC through the ’70s. Though never a massively popular group, they have been reimagined several times over in the decades since.
The original team was reintroduced in the pages of Dark Nights: Metal, having been formed in modern continuity as a result of Carter Hall’s attempts to explore the Dark Multiverse. The experience ultimately caused the team, as well as Challengers Mountain, to go missing within the Dark Multiverse. Now, spinning out of the events of that series is a new team of Challengers that will follow in the original’s footsteps.
We knew this title was coming since the announcement of the New Age of DC Heroes line, but May’s solicitations give us new clues about the cast of characters. Specifically, the synopsis mentions that the team will answer to the mysterious Professor as they go on missions through the Dark Multiverse.
A Familiar Face in an Unfamiliar Body
For long-time Challengers fans, a character going by the name Professor should immediately jump out. Though the group has gone through an unending number of variations, with over a dozen different members at this point, the team’s original leader was a man by the name of Walter Haley, who went by the nickname of Prof.
If Challengers Mountain has returned from the Dark Multiverse, there’s a chance that at least one of the members of the original team has come back with it. If the Professor is indeed Haley returned from wherever it is he was, it would explain why the team is being sent out into the Dark Multiverse. Perhaps he’s sending them out on dangerous missions in order to locate and save his former teammates.
The cover for New Challengers #1 shows a significantly disfigured human figure, which could potentially be what this mysterious Professor looks like. If this is what has become of Prof since his disappearance, it wouldn’t be the first time something like this has happened to one of the original Challengers.
We’ve Seen This Before
Back in the early days of the New 52, DC published a version of the Challengers in issues #6-8 of the anthology series DC Universe Presents, a group which featured members of every incarnation of the team all coming together. The three-issue story from Dan Didio and Jerry Ordway saw Ace Morgan die in a plane crash, and his scarred body became possessed by an evil spirit.
It’s perhaps unlikely that New Challengers will pick up from where this rather forgettable story left off, but it may take some guidance from it. Where the New 52 story had him possessed by some unnamed malevolent spirit connected to Nanda Parbat in the Himalayas, this version of the Professor could turn out to be connected to the Dark Multiverse in some way. If not directly possessed, perhaps he’s been altered by his time spent in the alternate dimension.
The Challengers of the Unknown have always been a team living on borrowed time after surviving some cataclysmic accident that should have killed them all. The group’s very concept is a celebration of life’s value and a testament to survivors of horrible incidents. If one of their old members has returned corrupted by whatever fate he ultimately suffered, it would be the ultimate perversion of what the team has always stood for.
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