WARNING: This article contains SPOILERS for New Challengers #1
At first glance, DC's New Challengers seem like a twisted version of Marvel's Fantastic Four. A team of four - three men, one woman - assembled to investigate the greatest mysteries of the universe? It all seems so very familiar (not just because it's also the beginning of DC's Terrifics, too). But leave it to writers like Scott Snyder and Aaron Gillespie to turn the idea upside-down.
DC Comics is using the "Dark Nights: Metal" event as an opportunity to launch a new range of comic book superheroes. The so-called "New Age of Heroes" include new teams like The Terrifics, and solo characters like The Immortal Man. But one of the most intriguing teams are the so-called "New Challengers."
At first glance, the concept seems very similar to the Fantastic Four, right down to the group's mission; "To uncover, confront, and solve the mysteries of the universe." But that's where Snyder and Gillespie turn the idea on its head, setting up an eerie status quo in which the "Challengers of the Unknown" are actually people who have not been recently imbued with powers, but recently died. They're literally living on borrowed time, branded with an hourglass tattoo that marks down the remaining seconds of their lives. What's more, the team has been assembled by a man who clearly has another agenda.
As if the blurring of the line between life and death wasn't enough of a tease, the ominous dialogue concerning the group being assembled because "we are approaching the endgame," and need an "unconventional approach" should do it. Meanwhile, that Fantastic-Four-esque team roster doesn't actually last particularly long, with one of the team demonstrating the dangers of ignoring his hourglass. The star of Challengers of the Unknown is Trina Alveraz, a Gotham medic who has never backed down, even in the face of the insanity of her city. And unlike other DC creations who can claim the same, she doesn't have superpowers to back her up.
In a world of superheroes, Trina Alveraz is set apart as a true hero - someone who faces a world of madness and monsters with courage and boldness. Her death scene is set during an alien invasion: while the Justice League are driving the invaders back, she's fighting to save someone she cares about. Andy Kubert and Klaus Janson work together to tremendous effect, creating a real sense of danger and heroism.
New Challengers is clearly going to blaze a trail all of its own. The variant covers tease everything from sea monsters to dinosaurs, and position pirate ships alongside alien spacecraft. Kubert and Janson are clearly going to have a blast, and by the end of the first issue, they're literally taking the Challengers off the edge of the world. It definitely feels like a homage to the classic Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Fantastic Four , but if that's where the initial inspiration seems to be flowing from, turning it on its head is a terrific place to start.
New Challengers #1 is available now from DC Comics.