When Tom Holland’s boyish Spider-Man swung across the screen in Captain America: Civil War, it was an immediate revelation: For a monolith pop culture brand that captures the imagination of countless young adults and adolescents, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is almost exclusively absent of teenagers. In a continuity populated by so many olds, Marvel’s new comic, Champions from Mark Waid is a solution to de-age a grizzled universe.
In Marvel’s Champions, a few of Marvel’s most recognized young heroes — including Nova, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales), Hulk (Amadeus Cho), and X-Men leader Cyclops (from a previous timeline) — are disillusioned with the older, so-called “heroes” following the disastrous Civil War II. They quit their sweet after-school jobs with the Avengers and create their own thing, the Champions, with Jersey City’s own hero Ms. Marvel their de facto leader. Waid’s Champions is a book that’s equal parts comedy, teen shenanigans, and gripping heroism as classic as the Silver Age.
Although just two issues, Champions is already the refreshing antidote after the overly emo, self-serious Civil War II. While issue #1 was a typical origin story of the team coming together, issue #2 was a laugh-out-loud follow-up in the woods. With Ms. Marvel trying to lead the team, she mandates a weekend retreat full of camp fires, smores, and trust falls to get the team to gel.
And it works as well as you expect when there’s super hormones raging.
It helps that Mark Waid doesn’t just know superheroes better than nearly anyone alive, but also teenagers. In addition to runs on The Flash, Daredevil, Captain America, and the legendary Kingdom Come — often considered one of the finest DC books ever written — Waid also established a voice for angsty (but fun!) youths in his celebrated reboot of Archie. The latter is having quite the influence on the CW’s sexy adapted series, Riverdale coming next year.
So, imagine the MCU’s Champions. Forget the continuity gymnastics needed for Cyclops, or the chore of introducing Nova, Amadeus, Viv, Miles, and even Kamala. And it doesn’t matter if it’s Netflix, an ABC sitcom, a web-series, or a bunch of Instagram videos (which, actually, would be apropos). The point is that Marvel, without a Fantastic Four sitcom or anxious X-Men adolescents, has lacked a youthful energy that could make the MCU the diverse sandbox it hopes to be.
Young teens trying to save the world while doing pre-calc is an antidote to the rote “Marvel Formula” that’s plagued competent flicks like Ant-Man and the recent Doctor Strange. It’s something that Cop Car director Jon Watts hopes to achieve with his teen-centric Spider-Man: Homecoming. But one hero alone isn’t enough to shoulder that responsibility. That’s why he needs a team.