Champions #6 Review: Return Of The Freelancers


Turns out that crossover one-shot mattered after all! The Freelancers are here to stay, and they’re big trouble for the Champions!

Champions #6

Writer: Mark Waid

Artist: Humberto Ramos

Colorists: Edgar Delgado & Nolan Woodard

Inker: Victor Olazaba

More from Comics

It seemed as if the Champions were the perfect team superhero comic. They feature well-known young characters, as well as topical social commentary. The one thing the team lacked was enemies. They faced plenty of adversity and went into battle, but no arch-nemesis. That’s changed with the Freelancers. First introduced in last week’s Monsters Unleashed one-shot, it looks like they’re here to stay. The Freelancers represent everything the Champions are not, in blunt fashion.

Image by Marvel Comics

To say that the Champions are popular is an understatement. In a bit of art imitating life, or vice versa, the team have become a social media meme. People all over the world are sewing on their symbol and doing good work. From cleaning up oil spills to voting drives, to even building houses overseas, the Champions have become an inspiration. There is a dark side to this, as Gwenpool displayed in the last issue. A symbol that anyone can pick up and grab can be exploited.

Image by Marvel Comics

Bonding over Paintball and Hobo Fights!

As a result, this is a tale of two teams. The Champions celebrate their viral victories with another team building exercise. Rather than another campfire, Ms. Marvel leads them to a paintball course. The team splits into two groups and set out to splatter the other in red or yellow. Cyclops’ tactical mind and Ms. Marvel’s eagerness is pitted against Amadeus Cho’s smarts. More importantly, Nova winds up with a strategy which catches almost everyone off guard. In fact, their only foe is curfew!

Image by Marvel Comics

The Freelancers, by contrast, practically brag about being a polar opposite. They are the carefully constructed and highly paid mercenaries of tycoons in fancy suits. Their gender and ethnic diversity is no accident; it is merely cover for them enforcing the will of the corporate elite. The Freelancers live in the lap of luxury in a California compound between missions that involve pummeling the homeless or driving off protesters. They bicker and play cruel games on the poor.

Image by Marvel Comics

Out of all of the stories John Bryne did for his reboot of Superman in the late 1980s, one of his most memorable was a backup. 1987’s Superman #9 featured a Lex Luthor story called “900 Miles” that featured the bigwig offering a waitress a million dollars to live with him for a month. He leaves before allowing her to make up her decision as part of a game he plays to torment waitresses for his own amusement. Waid offers a similar tale here as the Freelancers force two hobos to fight.

Image by Marvel Comics

That One Time Nova Wasn’t a Jerk!

Mark Waid has had a long career since 1985 across multiple companies and in both editorial and writing roles. He currently is writing several books, including Archie, as well as a run on Avengers. Like any writer with a lot of credits, he has a batting average, and some works are better than others. His Avengers run is often lost in quixotic continuity quests, while his Archie is full of teenage comedy and drama. Champions merges his love for both into a cohesive whole product.

Image by Marvel Comics

The segments with Champions paintball is fun character development. Writers who try to spend time on that often get lost in endless talking head scenes, like Brian Bendis. Waid is too old school for that and instead sets it up as a fun training exercise. Yet it is also a scene where a bunch of new and old friends bond over playing a game. Their personalities bounce off of each other well, showcasing how much they have connected since they met Cyclops during their camp-out.

Image by Marvel Comics

Nova often feels like the odd man out within the team in many ways. He often is doing or saying something wrong, and, out of the lot, is the closest to “average” intelligence. This time around, he gets to shine with his antics and ideas. Cyclops shows his sense of fair play, while even the ever arrogant Hulk manages to connect to everyone. Viv’s creepy dad, the Vision, turns up at the end as a sign of what her home life is like. Kamala continues to work well as a spiritual “non-leader.”

Obvious Villains 2.0!

Opposite that, while the Freelancers half of the issue is intended on contrast, Waid encounters a bit of a problem. On the positive side, it is great to see last week’s one-shot really matter. In addition, a lack of a reoccurring adversary was one of the major things Champions lacked. Theoretically, the Freelancers symbolize everything the Champions are against. They come from big money, and they violently enforce the status quo. They are useful knights for adults in power.

Image by Marvel Comics

The only problem is despite their gender and ethnic diversity. They’re pretty blunt about it. The Marvel Universe is littered with on-the-nose villains who stem from villainous cliches from World War II or the Cold War. They include types like the Red Skull, the Mandarin, Titanium Man, and so on. Modern Marvel imagines themselves as smugly above such crudely obvious rogues. Yet the Freelancers all but laugh and twirl mustaches. Panic literally admits they “punch down” to victims.

Image by Marvel Comics

The “punch down” line is intended to parallel Kamala Khan’s mission statement. Some more nuanced execution could have sold this a little better. The Freelancers are mercenaries more than demagogues, and more selfish then evil. Waid does his best to make Hotness more of a character than “the guy who makes fire jokes.” I think there was more room to play on the idea that the Freelancers themselves are pawns, rather than on how outwardly cruel they are for little reason.

The Champions Better Watch Their Backs!

Humberto Ramos continues on art, which is amazing considering how many monthly comic book artists need a break in less than six issues. Having two colorists aboard likely aided in completing the issue. It’s fun seeing Ramos’ version of the Freelancers from Ro Stein and Ted Brandt. The paintball fight is a definite highlight. In order to make a scene like that work, you need an artist who can handle stuff like play acting or good humor, and Ramos manages to nail it.

by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos, and Marvel Comics

The invention of an evil team of teenagers to parallel a good team of teenagers is common in superhero comics. The Teen Titans, for instance, had the Fearsome Five. Even Marvel is full of examples from their teen superhero books. The New Mutants had the Hellions, the New Warriors had Psionex, even the latest Young Allies had “the *******s of evil.” Hence, the Freelancers continue this tradition and should make for fitting rivals for the Champions to have to overcome.

Image by Marvel Comics

Next: Gwenpool Annoys Everyone in #5!

The larger arc of these past two issues involves how anyone can co-opt an identity. Ms. Marvel and her friends want the Champions to not just be their team, but a brand anyone who wants to help can use. This is no opt an answer to older teams like the Avengers or X-Men who squabble when someone else uses their mantle. The previous issue noted how a troublemaker like Gwenpool could interfere with it. Seeing how the Freelancers exploit it will up the ante for #7!