Champions Annual #1
Proudly tattooed Inuk teenager Amka Aliyak – also known as the shapeshifting Snowguard, the newest member of the Champions – has returned to her village of Pangnirtung in Nunavut. Though she receives a warm welcome by her family, she also realizes that she’s been away so long that there are some things that have just moved past her. There are some people she’s left behind who are less than happy to see her, thinking she’s only come back to be the big celebrity now that she’s a superhero. When a friend’s grandmother goes missing, Amka shifts into the form of a wolf to find her, and soon enough she does. The elderly woman has wandered far away from their village, and bits of her memory are missing – she doesn’t even remember her grandson. Chalking it up to Alzheimer’s or something similar, Amka brings her back to the village and tries to get some rest.
Unfortunately, there is no such thing as rest when you’re a superhero and the Silap Inua – the spirits of the North who imbued Amka with her powers – wake her up to warn her of a danger coming to her village. Taking the form of an eagle, Amka flies up into the sky only to see a giant making his way towards Pangnirtung. Realizing that the giant exists in real life and not just the myths and stories she’d heard as a child, Amka quickly devises a way to distract him before he can do too much damage. She soon discovers that the giant thought it was a game he was playing with the villagers, and when she questions him about it, the giant admits that all of his friends are gone – their lands got smaller, so did the spirits that inhabited it. Feeling sad for the giant, Amka helps him find some other place to play, somewhere far enough away so that the villagers can’t be harmed.
Returning to the village, Amka realizes it’s time for her to give a speech at the school – she'd promised her mother she’d do so. Weirdly enough, though, the village is very quiet when she returns, and when she walks into the auditorium, she notices that everyone is silent, their eyes glazed over black, something messing with their minds and their memories. She soon discovers that beings called the Taqriaqsuit – keepers of the shadow, protectors of the Inuk – are taking memories from the people so that they do not fade away. Though Amka still believes in the old ways, the stories and myths that have been passed down from generation to generation, most of her generation has let go of those stories and beliefs, causing the Taqriaqsuit to start to fade away. Amka promises to help them so that their memory lives on, and starts to do just that when she starts to talk to the people assembled at the school about where she got her powers from and her own beliefs.
Later, Amka is ready to head back to the Champions’ Mobile Bunker, promising that she will keep both the world and Nunavut safe. She finds out that her friend Pilip was in love with her – she broke his heart when she left – and makes him promise to stay safe. She converses with the Silap Inua as she goes back to the ship, promising to protect her people, preserve her legacy, and never forget where she came from. Intending to do just that, she calls a special meeting of the Champions that evening, to share both the food and the stories of her people with them, so that they too may get to know her better.
The final story featuring this incarnation of the Champions before the team grows bigger with a new number one, it was a wise move to have the story focus on Amka, who was in the spotlight for the first arc and then faded into the background as other characters took prominence for some of the story arcs. While the idea of a superhero who comes home after gaining some measure of fame isn’t a new one, Jim Zub and Nyla Innuksuk (an Inuit film director, writer, producer, and web content creator) imbue this story with a lot of heart and strength. Amka, who believes in the old ways of the Inuk people, and who holds those stories and myths sacred, continues to be a wonderful addition to a team where most of the people are modernized in one way or another. Despite her beliefs, she is never written to be naïve or foolish or blind to the world around her, the way some characters of this kind tend to be. Instead, she’s delightfully strong-willed and capable, imbued with more than enough inner strength to hold her own against the world and the monsters she’s been chosen to fight. It’s also nice seeing Amka’s family life and past fleshed out, given that she’s never had the independent runs that the other characters have had, so her backstory has always lacked a little bit.
Marcus To is always, always a welcome artist on any book because his work is spectacular – smooth and detailed, lively and expressive. He’s given quite a bit to do here, especially when it comes to creating some of the mythical beings and monsters that Amka has to come up against, and he pulls it off very well. The Taqriasuit are especially creepy when we first see them, but as we learn more of their story, To capably makes them seem more sympathetic. It’s a fine line he has to walk to pull that off, but he knows exactly how to do it. To is also one of the few who knows how to make teenagers look like teenagers – not weirdly aged down adults or oddly aged up children, and that really helps, given that lesser artists would have been tempted to sexualized Amka up a bit. (Thankfully, this has never been a problem with any of the artists who Zub has worked with on this book.) Jordan Boyd’s colors are a perfect palette for the story told here, and complement Marcus To’s art perfectly.
It will be interesting to see how Amka is dealt with in the new Champions volume, and how her character develops. As it stands, she’s a strong, interesting character, one who pays homage to both Snowbird and Guardian (the two heroes she says she named herself after, which is such a beautiful detail), and it’ll be great to see her not be the new kid on the Champions anymore.
A perfect ending to a fantastic volume of the Champions, this ending promises great things for the upcoming volume.
Champions Annual #1: When Shadow Calls
Writing - 9/10
Storyline - 9/10
Art - 10/10
Color - 10/10
Cover Art - 7/10
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