COMIC BOOK REVIEW – Infinity Countdown: Champions #1

When Nova and the Champions head into outer space to answer a distress call against an old enemy, they find themselves in a difficult situation that no one could have predicted!

 

Infinity Countdown: Champions #1 

Writer: Jim Zub
Penciller: Emilio Laiso
Color Artist: Andy Troy
Letterer: VC’s Colton Cowles
Cover Artist: Clayton Crain
Variant Cover Artists: Mike Deodato Jr and Rain Beredo
Assistant Editor: Annalise Bissa
Editor: Jordan D. White

What You Need to Know:
Warbringer, the excessively cruel leader of the Chitauri who has a past antagonistic relationship with Nova, is after the Power Stone so that he can reclaim his planet from Thanos’ control. Meanwhile, the Champions have recently come back together, bringing Ironheart and Snowguard into their ranks, and they’re about to find themselves in the middle of an impossible battle.

What You’ll Find Out:
Sam Alexander – codename Nova – is awakened in the middle of the night by his Nova helmet buzzing. He answers the distress call to a scrambled message but manages to glean the fact that Warbringer – a former adversary of Nova’s – has attacked some members of the Nova Corps and broken past their defenses. His mother, having heard Sam’s reaction at the distress call, comes to his room just as he’s suiting up. Concerned as ever, she asks when he will be back from his adventure, and then suggests that maybe he should call the Champions. Sam lies about when he might be back – a little white lie, really, so that his mother won’t worry, even though it’s obvious that she will – and flies off into the night.

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Though he clearly wasn’t planning on it, on his way out into space, he stops for a moment to contact Viv, realizing that he may not be able to take Warbringer down on his own. Viv, sensing that Nova might be in danger, quickly patches in the other Champions – with the exception of Hulk and Spider-Man, both of whom are off in their solo titles dealing with their own personal story arcs. The Champions – Wasp, Ms. Marvel, Snowguard, Viv, and Ironheart – meet Nova and reassure him that they have his back. With that, they’re off into space, with Nova using the forcefields generated by his Nova Energy to propel their ship – the Champions Mobile Bunker – deep into space.

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When they arrive at the location that the distress call was coming from, they find nothing but ashes and debris – the leftover bits of what once was reduced to nearly nothing in an act of violence. Of course, that is what someone named Warbringer would do, Nova notes, as they sift through the rubble, trying to find some sign of life or preservation. As the Champions work, an Ultron recording unit from up above records them and reports back to someone, filling them in on what it sees.

Nova is wracked with guilt over what has happened – feeling responsible in some way for Warbringer – when Scott Adsit of the Nova Corps reaches out to Nova, having sensed someone in the area. Nova responds and explains – badly – that he’s a Nova from outside of the jurisdiction and is only there because he had heard received a distress call. He tells Adsit that he’s going to go after Warbringer, which Adsit tells him is too dangerous to do. Though Adsit asks Nova to return to the Rock – the headquarters of the Nova Corps – Nova tells him that he’s not going to do that, because Warbringer is his problem. With that, he disconnects the call. Meanwhile, Ironheart finds a strong energy signature that they can track back to its source.

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They take off to follow the energy signature, Nova haunted by the terrible things that Warbringer has done. They manage to track the energy signature to a ship – one which they realize is Warbringer’s. Seeing the ship angers Nova, and he takes off from the Mobile Bunker to attack it. Unfortunately, this means that the Bunker is left somewhat adrift in space because it’s no longer got Nova Energy propelling it at a faster speed.

Warbringer realizes that Nova is coming for him and he exits his ship to meet Nova. They meet in a flash of light, and it’s revealed thereafter that Warbringer has Nova in his grasp. He tosses Nova down to Chitauri Prime and then is notified about the Champions being nearby. He decides to ignore them as his true target is on Chitauri Prime below them.

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As the Champions soon discover, though, the true target isn’t Nova, as nice as that would be. No, it’s Thanos, the Mad Titan, who has taken over Chitauri Prime, and who now commands all of the Chitauri. Much like Warbringer, Thanos also decides to ignore the existence of the Champions and focuses on Warbringer instead. Warbringer isn’t there to fight Thanos directly, though. He’s smarter than that. No, to free the Chitauri from Thanos’ command, he’s going to destroy all of the Chitauri. Sacrifice them. Thanos doesn’t care – a sacrifice this large to Mistress Death suits him just fine.

The Champions are horrified by this new twist – two mad supervillains facing off is one thing, but the death of thousands of people is something else entirely. Ironheart believes that they need to get out of there, but Nova doesn’t want to leave Warbringer on the loose. Ms. Marvel believes that the Chitauri – who are now victims in this instance – need to be saved, which Nova agrees with, even though Ironheart is stunned into disbelief. As the battle begins, the Champions join the fray…to save the bad guys.

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What Just Happened?:
I mentioned this earlier in my review of Champions #21, but I have to say it again. Jim Zub really, really has a knack for these characters, and a gift to make them stand out with even the smallest bits of detail. His take on Sam Alexander is pitch-perfect – a teenager who sometimes carries the weight of the galaxy on his shoulder, but still realizes that he might need the help of his friends to save it this time. A lot of times in stories like these, the viewpoint character would fight and rail to do the fight alone, but here Zub writes Sam so that even though he doesn’t want to put his friends in danger, he realizes quickly that he needs their help. Sure, he branches off again later, but it’s due to anger more than it is misdirecting his friends or anything, and it’s a wonderful, realistic beat to play. More than anything, Sam feels responsible for Warbringer’s freedom and his actions, and he wants to own that responsibility and neutralize the threat.

The scene where the other Champions are introduced is also well done, and it’s clear that Zub believes in that old adage that any issue could be a new reader’s first. Ms. Marvel is playing an MMORPG, Ironheart is tinkering away on a project, Wasp is asleep, and Viv and Snowguard are bunking together, with Viv always being alert about the world around her. Just in an instant, if you’ve never met these characters before, you get a feel for who and what they are, and it’s extremely well done. Zub wastes no time on exposition, instead of allowing the reader to get to know the characters through action and dialogue.

What’s also beautiful is how he manages to write them as a team – they’re friends, and they’re there for each other, even if some of the members of the team are new and don’t know the others well. Even if a couple of team members are missing, the story doesn’t lack for it, and team dynamics are pretty great. There are little bits of characterization littered in through the issue – Snowguard asking Ironheart to stop talking about food because it’s making her hungry, Ironheart being impressed by Nova’s powers, the way that Ms. Marvel is able to get past Nova’s defenses and connect with him, Nova referring to himself as Nova- Sam – that help to further develop and flesh out these characters and make them feel more three-dimensional than just stock figures in a space adventure.

The central conflict that the issue ends on – Nova having to save the bad guys because, in this instance, they are innocents who are about to be mass slaughtered – is great. Nova is clearly there to take down Warbringer, but despite his hate for Warbringer, he can’t let an entire people die, regardless of the fact that the people are the same ones who allowed Warbringer to rise in power. It’s a juicy piece of conflict to chew on, and I can’t wait to see where Zub takes that conflict to.

Emilio Laiso – who has done some phenomenal work in Doctor Aphra – is simply amazing here. There’s an ease to his work even as there’s depth to it, which isn’t an easy feat, but Laiso makes it seem almost effortless. None of his characters have the same face, and the way they move and emote is unique to each character. It’s wonderfully evident in the scene where Nova meets the other Champions outside the Bunker, and everyone’s got a different pose going on, and again when they land on Chitauri Prime. Both his Warbringer and his Thanos are appropriately threatening, and there are bits of detail he throws in – such as how Sam’s room is slightly unkempt to the confusion on Adsit’s face when Sam abruptly ends their call – that really, really work. Andy Troy’s colors leap off the page – they’re bright and vibrant, and when played against the monotony of the alien worlds they come to, it really makes the Champions seem and feel like the heroes that they are. This is a bright, lush, beautiful book, there’s no doubt about it. Classic comic book stuff, but in a way that feels clean and modern.

I also want to give a special shout-out to the lettering done in this issue by VC’s Colton Cowles. His lettering is crisp and clear and easy to read throughout the issue, but there’s a special thing he does in the beginning when Sam answers the distress signal from the other Nova. Beyond the usual mix of unintelligible letters for when the message gets difficult to understand, he’s also got lines running back and forth through the words, giving the text a static-like effect that works so beautifully in the scene.

Rating: 10/10

Final Thoughts:  Though it’s simply a two-issue tie-in to a bigger adventure, this is a well-written, beautifully illustrated space adventure, with beautiful art and some great character work. Fans of Nova definitely shouldn’t miss this one, and it comes highly recommended as both a great supplement to Jim Zub’s work on the Champions ongoing and as a story on its own.

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