Champions #24 review: Miles Morales battles a national crisis

Miles Morales takes on a foe bigger than Man-Thing or the Master! Can even superheroes stop a mass shooting in Champions #24?

Champions #24

Writer: Jim Zub

Artist: Sean Izaakse

Colorist: Marcio Menyz & Erick Arciniega

When Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos launched Champions in October 2016, they sought it to be relevant. While there were exceptions — especially crossovers — the series often focused on events happening right outside the comics’ borders. The very first issue saw the team tackling the issue of human trafficking. By issue five, it was tackling corrupt and racist police departments (and the towns around them). Yet it also got distracted by crossovers, and the aforementioned “policing issue” had one oversight.

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That oversight was leaving Miles Morales out of the story. Considering that as a black and Latino teenage young adult, he “fit the profile” just by existing, it was a shame that Gwenpool of all characters took his place in that issue. Thankfully, not only has Jim Zub decided to try his hand at a similar relevancy dynamic with the series in his most substantial effort yet, he’s sought to correct this wrong. After being absent from the previous arc, Miles is the focal point and star of this gut-wrenching tale!

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Tragedy Hits Home for the Web-Slinger!

It begins as many tragedies do; with what seems like a normal day. For the Champions, it’s helping out on their community — in this case, helping to build a community center in Brooklyn. While they do fight villains or threats physically, more often than not they try to help those that traditional superhero teams miss. That was the same premise behind the New Warriors in the 1990s, and it still works for a new generation. Sam Washington and Wasp are still missing, having been sucked into a portal by Man-Thing.

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Among them is Miles Morales, who was busy being injured from the finale to his own ongoing series to appear in the last arc. But now he’s back, being the team’s Spider-Man and getting to know Amka (Snowbird), Riri (Ironheart) and Viv Vision better with some conversation. Yet as with all good things, it comes to an end. Miles gets an emergency text message and immediately swings to his high school. It’d been a routine “administrative maintenance” day and he’d skipped it to focus on more important superhero work.

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Unfortunately, while Miles was away, Brooklyn Visions Academy became the scene of the latest sad trend — mass school shootings. After 1999’s massacre at Columbine, they’ve only gotten more frequent and more deadly. And while any survivor or person who missed it by fate may have guilt, for Miles it hits double hard. He’s Spider-Man (or a Spider-Man) after all. In theory he could have stopped it, either before anyone got hurt, or at least before it got quite so bad. But he wasn’t even there, and people died.

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Can Any Superhero Fight a National Crisis?

After any crisis, part of the chaos is figuring out who made it unharmed, and who didn’t. Miles’ friends Ganke Lee and Barbara made it without a scratch. Yet his other pal, Fabio Medina, wasn’t so lucky. He got shot twice, and is mortally wounded. What makes it even worse for Miles was that Fabio was like him — someone with super-powers. Dubbed “Goldballs,” he was yet another spare X-Men trainee with a bit of silly power. Yet even a mutant can be caught off guard by a gunman.

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What’s even worse is there’s no villain to chase or any mystery to solve. The shooter — as happens too often in real life — committed suicide at the end. There’s nothing left to do but mourn the dead and, alongside Fabio’s aunt, pray for the living. It can be a terrible feeling for anyone, least of all someone with the physical power to prevent disasters. It becomes easy for Miles to blame himself for “playing hooky” with the Champions one time too many, and that he’s to blame.

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The affair isn’t a bed of roses for the rest of the team, even though none of them attended that school. They’re teenagers, after all, and have been exposed to plenty of violence. Yet scenes like this seem harder to understand than an alien war in space. Ms. Marvel wants to arrange a team meeting, while Amadeus Cho/Brawn wants to use his super genius mind to solve the problem. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that can’t be easily solved with smarts, as Riri notes. For her, defending herself from a chaotic world is why she built the armor.

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The Answer Is Yes — One Person at a Time!

While Kamala Khan’s high school is in another state, it’s still apart of this crazy world. It, too, takes part in staging “mass shooter drills” with the same frequency as “fire drills.” The only difference being that fires are usually more innocent, and less frequent. Simply going through the drill is enough to bring some of Kamala’s friends, such as Nakia, to tears. And much like Miles, it is easy to feel helpless despite having what seem like all of the super powers in the world.

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Miles becomes more withdrawn, spending his time either with Fabio and his pals in the hospital, or in bed. He even ignores texts from Kamala, the Champions member he’s closest to. His emotional dam bursts when he attends a counseling session at school. The therapist does her best to broach the subject of survivor’s guilt, yet one off-handed remark about Miles “not being a superhero” made in ignorance is enough to set the poor kid off. Being a superhero means saving everyone, right?

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When Miles finally does don the costume again, it seems out of habit than desire. Ms. Marvel confronts him on a roof, and the climax involves the pair’s conversation. There’s no villain or monster here, besides the craziness of society and how one deals with tragedy. And part of this involves making a choice. Kamala accepts that she can’t save everyone as an immutable fact. Knowing that, she gives Miles a choice — “despair or hope. Give up or stand up.”

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There Is No Such Thing as Filler to a Good Writer!

It’s a scene that showcases why Cyclops, when he was on the team, never stepped on Kamala’s toes despite his leadership experience. Ms. Marvel claims she’s no leader and in practice most of the members seem to take turns at it, she’s the emotional spirit of the team. It was her desire to create better superheroes within themselves than the Avengers that birthed the team. And it’s her heart which leads her to tell Miles exactly what he needs to he, so he can be there for Fabio and his city again.

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Jim Zub crafts what has become a rarity in modern superhero comics — a done-in-one solo issues. These days, even oversized annuals contain multi-part stories! Once the staple of the genre, nowadays one-shot stories within an ongoing series can be dismissed as “filler” or as “trade break stories” to pad out the end of a trade paperback reprint. Yet when the medium relied on sales outside of specialty shops (i.e. before 1994), it was a skill at this which kept fans new and old entranced.

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Zub, much like Waid did, takes a story from the headlines and finds a way to translate it into Champions without sounding preachy or trite. This story makes no bones about emotional pain and vulnerability. It acknowledges feelings like guilt or even despair as being legitimate reactions. They’re not simply the only reactions, or the best long-term ones. There’s no easy solution to hit, no big shot villain to punch. Not all of life’s challenges can be faced that way. Instead, they have to be faced with a big heart and plenty of friends.

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What Makes a Leader?

As much as the idea of a quality one-shot is achieved, there is one sizable blemish. The lack of Sam and Anya/Wasp isn’t even mentioned, which seems off. One would think that the disappearance of two of their friends to dimensions unknown would at least be worth a mention. A line about how aiding with building the community center to keep busy while Riri and Cho figure it would have sufficed. Sam is also Miles’ friend, and both he and Anya are missing and Miles wasn’t there then, either. But then again, that would have made the issue’s moral messier.

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Zub gets in some good scenes between Cho and Riri, and especially with Kamala Khan. In her own series, Khan has gone through more than one existential emotional crisis. She’s long felt responsible for her best friend Bruno’s crippling injuries. Yet she’s spent over a year in her own series working on coming to an understanding with herself and her friends around her. Hence, it makes sense that Kamala, more than anyone, knows what Miles needed to hear at that time.

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An Issue That Shouldn’t Be Lost in the Shuffle!

Sean Izaakse returns on art for the first time since issue 21, and he hasn’t missed a step. Stories can be tough like this for some artists, since there isn’t any action or combat sequences to play with. That can, in theory, make it harder for dynamic angles and force a focus on emotional reactions or character interplay. Yet Izaakse shows he can handle gut-wrenching scenes with Miles just as well as a fight in the snow against Alpha Flight or the Master. The colors really pop, as usual. While it’s been tough adjusting to Humberto Ramos being gone, the series’ artists have maintained a consistent visual identity for the series.

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The next issue will begin another arc with more traditional superhero fare — a trip to the “Weirdworld” dimension. It’s presumably where Man-Thing sent Sam and Anya, and it lets Zub play with fantasy tropes. Yet this volume of Champions was often at its best not when it was dealing with adventures in space, but with the challenges of home. It was this issue that Waid showcased his best, and it is great to see it bring out the best in Zub as well. Hopefully this sort of substance can remain in an arc that may crib from Dungeons & Dragons.