Why The Russos Are The Best Thing to Happen to the MCU Since Joss Whedon
Here’s the next run that did not make the Top 158 Comic Book Runs list, but was still beloved by SOMEone!
Steven Grant’s Challengers of the Unknown
Challengers of the Unknown #1-18
This late 1990s revamp featured a brand new group of Challengers, made up of truly disparate personalities, such as a games designer, a NASCAR driver, a physicist and a pilot.
Eventually, they worked in the original Challengers, as well.
The book was X-Files-esque, and initially had amazing artwork from John Paul Leon and Tommy Lee Edwards, but also featured during the run the first mainstream artwork from Ryan Sook!!
It also featured perhaps the oddest crossover issue ever, as this down-to-Earth group somehow managed to cross over with the Superman titles in the Millennium Giants crossover!
The book ended after eighteen solid issues.
Here is reader Bill on why this run is so great…
Steven Grant’s Challengers of the Unknown (co-written early on with Len Kaminski) was, for me, one of the highlights of the DC Universe in the late 90s: a light so high, in fact, I rated it one of my top ten favourite runs ever. The stories were intelligent and inventive. The characters well-drawn, interesting and likeable. The run, alas, was all too short.
The text piece in the back of #1 spells it out, giving the background to these “four elements of our new chapter of a great legend”. If one didn’t pick up on the half a dozen clues in this introductory editorial that the Challs were to be seen as representatives for the four classical elements, the stories themselves make it clear.
From mining stock, Clay “always finds the bedrock”; “How’d that guy breeze past us?” they ask about pilot Marlon; Kenn, always seen wearing blue, repeatedly advises people to “go with the flow” and enjoys musing on the mystery of water as they fly through a cloud; red-haired Brenda finds the same situation “smothering”, but has a “burning yen” to find things out.
Since I came to this book with no real knowledge of the original Challengers, I can speak from experience when I say you don’t need any to enjoy this series immensely.
Alien abductions, time/space/gravity anomalies, walking dead, ghosts and possession are just some of the unknowns that get challenged. The stories recognisably take place in the context of the DC Universe, but are usually placed on the edge of it – in most issues, superheroes are at most mentioned in passing. Over 18 issues, we get guest appearances from the original Challs and the Dynamic Duo, and cameos from Superman, Hellblazer and a half-dozen name journalists from different cities. (The handling of Batman, in particular, is pitch perfect.)
The late 90s was crossover-crazy, but the installments here in the couple of crossovers the book was involved with stand up well on their own, as well as furthering the development of the book’s own stories.
I found the series consistently surprising and entertaining. Some issues were genuinely disturbing, and several had killer endings (see #5 for an example of both). You never knew exactly what to expect month to month – horror, science fiction, mystery, and dashes of humour and philosophy – except that it would be great. The interaction between the Challengers themselves was always engaging – they were very different people with different styles, beliefs and personalities, yet worked together brilliantly, and believably so.
In his farewell text piece at the end of the last issue, Steven Grant said that sales aside, he was very proud of this book – and indeed he (and Len Kaminski, and all involved) should be. I can’t recommend this highly enough!
I got one more essay, so we’ll have at least one more day of this feature! If you want to see more, send in an essay!!
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