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Marvel's 'Champions': Young superheroes channel activist sides in new series

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It’s a strange time to be a young person. Even as old social and political institutions get rocked by unexpected outcomes from the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, youth movements and start-ups are reshaping the landscape of business, technology, activism, and entertainment. Things aren’t any less chaotic in the Marvel Universe. In the wake of huge conflicts like Secret Wars and Civil War II, faith in traditional superheroes has been somewhat shaken.

The new series Champions, from writer Mark Waid and artist Humberto Ramos, features a group of young Marvel heroes – Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, Sam Alexander/Nova, Amadeus Cho/The Hulk, Viv Vision, and a younger version of Scott Summers/Cyclops – splitting off from their Avengers forebears in order to change the world themselves. Although there will still be villains to fight and problems to solve with superpowers, Waid and Marvel say this team of Champions will channel more youthful activist energy than Marvel’s traditional superhero teams. Below, Waid and editor Tom Brevoort tell EW about the formation of the team, their unique goals, and whether they’re bracing for backlash similar to the recent Captain America controversy.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does it change the dynamic of a group to identify more as a youth group than a standard Avengers-style team?

MARK WAID: You’ll know we’ve failed if by issue 5 the Masters of Evil show up and there’s a fight with the Absorbing Man. Clearly at that point we will have been a victim of mission creep. Tom and I talked about how there’s been a very interesting generational shift in the last 15 years. When we were growing up, the general perception was it takes adults to fix the world. Kids can do little things, but basically you have to wait till you grow up to make the big choices and the big decisions. Well, Mark Zuckerberg would disagree with you. Some of the other young trend-breaking scientists that are coming to light, online especially, would beg to differ with you. Those are the inspirations, as much as anybody else, for the idea that we don’t have to wait until we grow up to be Tony Stark or Captain America to make a difference in this world. We’ll find our way, and we’ll find our own way.

You have some of Marvel’s buzziest characters here, like Kamala Khan and Miles Morales. How did you decide the lineup, and what is Scott Summers doing here?

WAID: The first three (Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man, Nova) are the kids who quit the Avengers proper. That was an easy get. Those three, in and of themselves, form a nice little subteam. Their dynamic is great. They all show up in each other’s books, and even though they have their arguments and stress points, clearly they’re good together. That was the starting point. Tom, I believe it was you who suggested Amadeus Cho.

TOM BREVOORT: The Amadeus Cho Hulk worked for me because one, it’s a very primary character. The Hulk is a very core Marvel Universe character and that kind of gives a little more legitimacy to what you’re doing. And anytime you have a Hulk in a group situation, it’s a more volatile situation, even if it’s an upbeat happy Hulk. We thought that was pretty good for potential drama and interest.

WAID: I think Viv Vision was also Tom’s suggestion, but that was a no-brainer because I love what Tom King has been doing in the Vision book. It’s my favorite Marvel comic. So the moment that suggestion was thrown out there, it was a lock for us. And man, I’m in that tiny sliver of people who think Scott Summers is the best X-Man there is. I’ve loved Scott Summers ever since I first started reading X-Men comics back in the mid-60s. So I campaigned quite heavily to get young Scott Summers on that team. My primary goal was for the doubters: By the end of issue 1, I can make you love Scott Summers.

BREVOORT: This is the young Scott Summers pulled from the past. In my head, he’s kind of the first challenge the group faces. Which is to say that when they get together and start to do this, what they’re doing is not just putting together a superhero team, they’re more like activists. They’re making an inclusive statement that they mean to be for all members of their generation: it’s time to get together and stand up and fix the world. This is a message that goes out and people come in response to it. Cyclops shows up and goes, “Boy I love what you’re putting down, I’d like to be a part of it.” It’s kind of like Kid Hitler showing up at the door. The older Cyclops has done some stuff. He’s a hugely divisive figure in the Marvel universe, so the first question these kids have to answer for themselves is, should we let him be a part of this? Is his very presence going to taint what we’re doing? His older self became a radical and a revolutionary and did awful things, but is it the same guy? And that’s kind of why he’s there I think. He wants to go down a different road than his older self did.

How did you settle on the name Champions?

BREVOORT: Champions is sort of like the great lost Marvel team name. We published Champions in the ’70s and haven’t been able to publish it since. We’ve now come to an agreement with the people who held the mark before, which allows us to publish it and they keep doing the things they were doing. So basically it’s like this name, that I think of as a fundamentally Marvel name, is coming back home. It feels good in that, when we first started talking about names for this group, we tended to go for “something something Avengers.” That always seemed off-mission for me. If they’re cutting the cord, if they’re going off on their own to establish themselves as a thing onto themselves, they kind of need their own name. They are ultimately very socially conscious, very activist-minded, and very positive about being superheroes, so the name had to feel like a really upbeat superhero name.

Marvel

Marvel comics always feel at least somewhat in-tune with youth feelings and movements. How does this fit into that tradition?

WAID: The trick is that Marvel has always been to a large extent the world around us. It has to be evocative of the world around us, the feelings people are feeling. At the same time, it’s a superhero comic, so you take real-world concerns and you put a Marvel face on it.

BREVOORT: The one we always point to is the first Civil War, which was clearly very much about the world in the wake of 9/11 and the issues that were on the minds of people about security verses the need for personal privacy, and turned that into a superhero story that was all about the superheroes and their concerns, but told in such a way that you got the metaphor and the analogy. We try to do that in just about everything we do and get to the heart of stuff that our readers care about and are invested in.

With such real-world political context to this book, and in the wake of the Captain America controversy, are you worried about any kind of internet backlash?

BREVOORT: I don’t think we were braced for the size of the reaction to the Captain America thing. We knew there’d be a reaction, but we thought it would be a comic reader reaction. I think we underestimated how much that was gonna carry out to a wider audience, particularly to an audience that wasn’t reading the material but was familiar with Cap from the films. So it leapfrogged from “Captain America is a secret operative of Hydra” to “Captain America is a Nazi” to “Captain America is an anti-Semite.” I don’t think we anticipated the specific bounds of that trajectory. Sometimes that happens, you put the material out in the world and people respond to it, and maybe not the reaction you expected.

WAID: The tightrope is always trying to say something while never making anyone in your audience feel excluded. That’s a harder tightrope than you think sometimes, especially as you come across elaborate socio-political-gender issues. You’re running a tightrope there. I would rather err on the side of “let’s tell a good story,” and as long as we are keeping the integrity of the character straight, as long as we are not doing anything that deliberately belittles anyone of genuine beliefs or genuine faiths and instead look at these problems with a clear eye, that’s all we can do.

What’s the fun part about playing around with such new, young characters?

WAID: Younger characters are just much more emotional. When you’re a kid, regardless of the age you grew up, everything is high opera. With hormones raging, you have to fight external and internal battles that you’ve never had to deal with before. Unlike Tony Stark and Steve Rogers, who have seen it all and been through it all, everything heightens the drama. I couldn’t have a better partner in crime in this than Humberto Ramos, with whom I did Impulse. If you need evidence that Humberto knows a little something about teenage superheroes, you don’t have to look very far. The two of us have a pretty unique handle on what makes teenage superheroes work. Again, it’s high emotion. No one in a Humberto panel, even if they’re in the background, no one is just standing there not doing anything. Somebody’s got their mouth wide enough to eat a banana sideways, and somebody else looks like they’re gonna explode from rage, and that’s just the way Humberto draws people. It’s awesome.