COMIC BOOK REVIEW: Champions #21 (Northern Lights – Conclusion)

While the Champions fight with Alpha Flight – and Ms. Marvel faces off against her idol, Captain Marvel – Spider-Man sneaks into the Master of the World’s facility to further investigate. Meanwhile, Nova fights for his life after a life-threatening injury. In the midst of it all, a new hero rises!

Writer: Jim Zub
Artist: Sean Izaakse
Color Artist: Marcio Menyz
Letterer & Production: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover Artists: Stefano Caselli & Marcio Menyz 

What You Need To Know:  
The Champions were investigating some strange ice-level readings in the Arctic when they discovered a strange facility being run by a villain called the Master of the World, who seems to be repairing the ice caps so that he can save the Earth in order to rule it one day in the future. Tentatively agreeing to let him proceed, the Champions were going to back off – until Alpha Flight intervened!

What You Will Find Out:
The Master of the World, rightly sensing tension between the Champions and Alpha Flight, tries to defuse the situation by asking them to come to some sort of amicable situation, but as anyone knows, when two teams of heroes are about to face off about a situation they disagree with, there won’t be an amicable situation until blows are traded and words are said first. This is especially the case when one is a team of veteran adults and the other is a team of teenagers, many of whom are next generational legacies of older heroes. Puck commands the Champions to step back because they’re going to take the Master in, but Ms. Marvel comes in between the Master and Puck, insisting that he’s not hurting anyone. She fills Alpha Flight in on what the Master is up to – repairing the ice caps in order to help save the world – though Sasquatch rightly guesses that the Master’s ultimate plan is to save the world so that he can conquer it. Carol insists that Kamala trust her in this matter, but Kamala – ever the optimist who believes in the best in people – stands up for the Master by tossing the events of Civil War II in Carol’s face. While Carol and Kamala face off – Carol insisting that she doesn’t want to fight the Champions, and Kamala explaining that Carol’s aggressive attitude is why she quit the Avengers – Ironheart reaches out to Viv for back-up.

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Meanwhile, Spider-Man follows his Spider-sense and goes deep into the Master’s secret facility, investigating what is really going on. His investigation leads him to the discovery of Sila – the Soul of the North – imprisoned, unconscious, and hooked up to a very large, very dangerous looking machine.

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While Spider-Man makes his discovery inside, outside the Champions and Alpha Flight are in full fight mode. Sasquatch has Hulk held back as Snowbird moves to pummel him while Captain Marvel and Ironheart face off against each other. Wasp and Ms. Marvel team up to fight against Talisman, taking her out just as Hulk breaks free from Sasquatch and Snowbird’s attack. While Wasp shrinks Sasquatch down to a far smaller size, Hulk faces off against Puck. Captain Marvel moves to take Hulk out, but before she can, Nova appears on the scene – healed and launching a counter-attack against her. Before Snowbird can launch an attack, Viv appears before her, telling her it would be unwise to continue attacking.

Inside, Spider-Man frees Amka Aliyak from the machine that she’s been trapped in, but finds some difficulty communicating with her because he doesn’t speak Inuktitut. Amka is still in pain from being hooked up to the machines and starts to glow before transforming. She bursts out through the ground in front of Alpha Flight and the Champions, appearing as a large bear with antlers.

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Captain Marvel and Ms. Marvel call a truce to deal with the problem at hand. Spider-Man explains that he doesn’t believe she’s a bad guy – just that she’s freaking out. As Alpha Flight and Champions try to physically subdue Amka from wreaking much havoc, Talisman uses her powers to dissipate the energy fueling Amka, transforming her back into a teenage girl. When questioned, she explains that she’s not a monster, but a girl who was saved by Sila. She goes on to explain that the Master was using Sila like a battery to power his machines, and that’s pretty much when the Champions stop supporting the Master’s endeavors. Together, they attack the Master and bring down his operation.

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After the battle, Carol and Kamala talk and make amends with each other. Amka shows off her new powers to her friends, family, and the other townspeople of her home. Her mother arrives and Amka explains to her how she never believed in the old ways, but now that Sila’s spirit runs through her, things have changed. Her mother is clearly proud of her, and when Amka hesitates to join the Champions as their newest teammate, she explains that Amka doesn’t need to stay behind to care for her – she had taken care of herself before Amka was in her life, and she could take care of herself after Amka leaves their town to go help save the world. It’s all Amka needs to hear to spread her wings and fly.

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What Just Happened?:  
Seeing heroes fight other heroes isn’t always the most interesting thing in the world, but a lot of that can be chalked up to the fact that we’ve seen the same heroes fight each other over and over again, so it’s gotten a little repetitive. Thankfully, here we have two super teams who don’t have much history with each other, even if individual teammates might have history – and that makes things all the more interesting. Sure, the fight becomes a personal one between Carol and Kamala, as well it should, but between the others, it’s a clash of ideologies and beliefs. It’s interesting to see the two teams fight against each other and to see how the Champions choose to team up to take down their heroes. The conflict between Kamala and Carol, especially, is believable and never veers into overdramatic territory.

Zub’s command over these characters here is pretty great, and his dialogue sparkles. He has a real gift for wit and timing, and a knack for great little character moments that help define the characters without taking away from the story. From Miles’ talking to himself as he explores the facility to Carol and Kamala’s interactions to the Master’s little asides as he takes in the conflict between the heroes, the dialogue and interactions are done extremely well. Especially great is how cohesively Alpha Flight and the Champions are able to come together as a single team to subdue Amka and later face off against the Master. There’s an effortlessness there, as well as a believability that perhaps wouldn’t be there under another writer’s pen.

Amka herself – or Snowguard, as we have been told her codename will be – is an interesting new addition to the team. So far, the Champions are made up of mutates, Inhumans, baseline humans with fancy technology, but they don’t have anyone with magical powers, which is exactly what she brings to the team. There’s been an effort to diversify heroes in books lately, and while Snowguard seems to nod to two different heroes from the Distinguished Competition – namely Equinox from Justice League United and the Matrix/Linda Danvers/Earth Angel of Fire incarnation of Supergirl from Peter David’s 1996-2003 run – she also seems to share some interesting DNA with Snowbird. Where Zub is planning on taking Snowguard in her adventures with the Champions remains to be seen, but she’s a likable, interesting hero, and there’s a lot of interesting stuff to explore, given that she’s got the spirit of her homeland now residing within her.

You probably couldn’t have found a better artist team for this story than Sean Izaakse and Marcio Menyz. Izaakse’s pencils are beautifully expressive and detailed – all the characters look different, have their own body language, and their expressions are wonderfully rendered. Menyz’s colors are bright and lush – they pop and glow, and they never take away from Izaakse’s pencils, as sometimes can happen when a colorist’s work doesn’t jam with an artist’s.

One of the smartest things that Zub did with this arc is keeping it to a short three issues instead of stretching it out to six, the way many arcs seem to be written today. He’s well aware of how much space his story needs to breathe and stretching it out any more wouldn’t have done the story any favors. Sure, maybe an extra page or two to wrap up the Master’s involvement in the storyline would have been nice, but he was really just a reason to bring everyone together, so it’s not a total loss that we didn’t spend that much time on him. Having said that, though, Zub is able to infuse the Master with a good amount of humor, and he’s definitely a villain I’d love to see Zub revisit.

Rating: 9/10

Final Thoughts: This book earns a strong recommendation, especially at the end of its first arc. It’s got everything a comics fan could ask for – great characters, beautiful art, amazing action scenes, and sparkling dialogue. Zub seems to be gearing up to do some of his best work here, and it’s definitely worth tuning in for.

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