Champions #5 Review: Balancing Substance With Gwenpool


The Champions face a battle with some of the darker elements of American society. What better time for Gwenpool to show up! Can it work?

Champions #5

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Humberto Ramos

Inker: Victor Olazaba

Colorist: Edgar Delgado

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If there is one thing Marvel Comics has been consistent about, it is running fads into the ground. The sooner a character seems popular, the sooner they will be all over the place. Past examples include Venom, Punisher, Ghost Rider, even Spider-Man at times. Currently, it is Deadpool, who borders on five comics a month. With Spider-Gwen featuring an alternate reality Gwen Stacy, Chris Bachelo and his editors decided to merge the two, creating the “character” of Gwenpool in 2015.

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Within the Marvel Universe, Gwenpool has nothing to do with either Gwen Stacy or Deadpool, despite dressing like the latter. She’s a girl named Gwen Poole who comes from an alternate universe where the Marvel Universe is fictional. She has somehow come here and jumps around spouting 4th wall shattering insanity. At best she is a nod to quirky cosplaying fans. At worst she is a symbol of what corporate interests trying to be creative can produce. How does she fit here?

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A Story with a Lot of Tension to Relieve!

Ultimately, Gwenpool’s presence seems to serve three purposes. First of all, to provide comic relief to a story which is probably even more contemporary than even Mark Waid imagined when he scripted it. Secondly, it is to play the role of the reader, who is expecting an easy comic book solution to a very complicated affair with few simple solutions. And in conclusion, it is to give Miles Morales a break, as his incarnation of Spider-Man doesn’t appear in this issue at all.

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In fact, Miles’ absence is unexplained and a little disappointing, considering the topic. In Daly County, a mosque burns to the ground. The town’s newly elected and controversial sheriff, Studdard, allows it to burn. His hatred for Muslims (and other minorities) is so obvious even his fellow cops can see it. Fortunately, the Champions arrive to rescue some people trapped within the mosque. They quickly run afoul of Studdard and some less than welcoming police officers.

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Thanks to modern media (both televised and online), Studdard and the rising crimes against troubled communities are well known to Ms. Marvel and the Champions. Studdard rejects them as typical “city slickers” until Viv Vision discovers the source of the fire. As if a standoff with the police wasn’t enough, Nova notices a costumed intruder prowling the area. It’s the aforementioned Gwenpool, who’s turned up to join the team. She’s met Ms. Marvel, but is a stranger to the rest.

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Is Gwenpool Too Much or Just Enough?

Existing as a walking self parody, Gwenpool’s presence in a story this weighted is a delicate balance. Fortunately, Mark Waid uses her to cite some of the obvious sources of Daly County’s corruption. Rather than see it as an example of entrenched racism and authoritarian power within the police, Gwenpool assumes it’s yet another super villain plot. She expects to see HYDRA, or Skrulls, or a mind controlling maniac somewhere. The question is, will Gwenpool be right?

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The well-intended irony is that historically, Gwenpool is right. Most times when Marvel writers try to craft a story which edges on modern controversy, there is some obvious source to it. Waid himself wrote an exceptional arc of Daredevil taking the “Sons of the Serpent” to their logical conclusion as white supremacists akin to the KKK with entrenched positions of power. Even Ms. Marvel’s special election issue ultimately led to a Hydra plot. Her insistence raises the stakes.

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Without Gwenpool, the issue’s very timeliness may have made it less comfortable to read. Mark Waid is a smart writer, and old enough to have been a child during the height of the civil rights movement. Yet, I doubt even he could have imagined how similar the inciting incident involving a mosque would be to real events a week before this issue’s publication. It seems issues of tolerance are reoccurring themes in America, and have become so within Champions.

Entrenched Intolerance Is Worse Than Any Super Villain!

Yet, it isn’t as easy as Sheriff Studdard being an obvious racist in authority. He was elected to his position, and many within Daly County approve of his philosophy. While the issue suggests that Studdard may engage in some criminal acts of prejudice himself, he isn’t personally responsible for all acts of vandalism  or violence against local ethnic minorities or LGBTQ. This underbelly of the county has always been there, and is only now rising to the fore with Studdard’s authority.

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As such, despite Gwenpool’s suggestions or the tempers of Nova or Hulk, it isn’t as easy as socking someone. The Champions may be able to intervene in disasters or protect people, but true change has to come within the county itself. That is represented in Deputy Sims. Acting as Studdard’s right hand, he believes he can best help things from within by smoothing out the worst of his boss. He notes how if he openly rebelled, he would be fired or slandered by the local press.

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In a broader sense, it furthers the Champions’ aim to target threats to everyday people more than gimmick villains. In issue three, they fought a vocally violent fringe group who spread a message of hate onto others — it just happened to be in an Asian country. Yet, this issue showcases that there is plenty of it within America itself, and they’re not ignoring it. All of the Champions, from Cyclops to Amadeus Cho to Viv to Kamala Khan herself, represent targeted groups.

Not Appearing in This Comic-Man!

Hence, it is curious why Miles Morales isn’t here. As a young Black-Hispanic man, he represents a group which often feels the brunt of police overreach. If being Spider-Man wasn’t hard enough, Miles literally “fits the description” every time he changes into civilian clothes if cops are zealous enough. As the one member of the group who often struggled to find a distinct role within the team besides being “a good guy,” it is a shame that Gwenpool has seemingly robbed him of it here.

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Humberto Ramos’ art, alongside Olazaba’s inks and Delgado’s colors, is up to its usual standard. There are less explosions or obvious action scenes here than in past issues, but he captures the tension well. Gwenpool’s insane antics give him a chance to ease the tension within some panels. Viv Vision also does plenty of emoting here for a robot, including one tense scene with Studdard. The cast, which includes the massive Hulk and stretchy Kamala Khan, allows for inventive panels.

Was This Narrative Genius or Editorial Fiat?

Gwenpool’s appearance within this story remains curious, despite Waid’s clever use of her. Was it genuinely his idea, or the result of an editorial memo akin to Black Cat showing up in three comics at once? Her antics and dialogue may provide some comic relief, but they also border on trivializing a story which may be essential for socially relevant superheroes to face at this time. Taken in a wrong light, Gwenpool’s insistence against complicated racism could be seen as “white privilege.”

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Next: See the time the gang fought fish people in #4!

In conclusion, this is another issue of Champions which won’t be easily forgotten. With most superhero teams often lost in internal drama or two or three rogues (like Waid’s Avengers), Champions channels the millennial urge to help in different ways than their elders. Kamala and her friends want to be superheroes, but not the same superheroes as the adults, who often are lost in petty squabbles. If any team book at Marvel is in tune with the zeitgeist, it’s this one. A must read.