Warning: SPOILERS for Champions #24
Marvel Comics tackles the issue of school shootings in this week's Champions #24. It's a bold move on the publisher's part, and allows writer Jim Zub and artist Sean Izaakse to craft a beautiful, emotional comic that confronts one of society's most disturbing problems head-on.
Spider-Man comics have a long history of confronting real-world social issues, with Stan Lee weaving increasingly critical social commentary into the Amazing Spider-Man series back in the mid '60s. That famously came to a head in 1971, when the Department of Health Education and Welfare asked Marvel to do a story about drug addiction. Incredibly, the comic was rejected by the Comics Code Authority, but Marvel chose to publish it anyway.
It was a defining moment in the history of comics, with Marvel choosing social responsibility over compliance with the CCA. Given Spider-Man's history of social commentary, it's fitting that this week's Champions #24 uses the character of Miles Morales to shine a light on the heartbreaking issue of school shootings.
Marvel previously released the first pages of this Spider-Man story, but the issue itself confirms the suspicions: fourteen injured and seven dead at Miles' high school - including the shooter. What follows isn't your typical comic book; it's a haunting exploration of the emotions people have to deal with in the face of this kind of tragedy.
For Miles, the problem is compounded by the traditional Spider-Man sense of guilt, as he wishes he could have been there. When a counselor tries to assuage his guilt by telling him he's no superhero, Miles rushes out the room. He ultimately finds counsel in one of his dearest friends, Kamala Khan.
Champions #24 is one of the most timely tales for Marvel's younger generation of heroes in recent years, made all the more powerful because the grief, fear, confusion and loss is being dealt with by characters the audience has come to love. The stars of the issue are Kamala Khan's Ms. Marvel and Miles Morales's Spider-Man, both of whom can't stand the thought of people suffering and dying... while they have the power to do something about it. The close friendship between Miles and Kamala has been one of the highlights of Zub's Champions run, and he uses it to present Miles - and, through Miles, readers - with a binary choice.
"Understanding our limitations is important," Kamala tells Miles. "Once you accept those, you've got a simple choice to make; despair or hope. Give up or stand up."
Kamala is right, regardless of where individual readers will land on the issue. When faced with the tragedy of gun violence, it's the choice Americans are faced with all too often: accept the violence as tragic, but unavoidable (what Kamala would characterize as "giving up"), or to stand up and confront the issue. Recent years have shown a turning point taking shape among teenagers of the same age as the Champions, refusing to accept that active shooter drills should be required education (one is even shown in Champions #24). While this issue avoids being preachy, it's clear which side these grieving teens, and Marvel, is encouraging its readers to take.
The timing of this comic's release is particularly powerful, coming just a day after the anniversary of September 11th, 2001. Marvel Comics did their part to help readers process the emotions of 9/11 with the release of Amazing Spider-Man #36, an issue in which Peter Parker saw the horror of the terrorist attack for himself. Champions #24 evokes the very same emotions, even opening with the same black page with text reading: "We interrupt our regularly scheduled program to bring you the following Special Bulletin."
There are even carefully-crafted themes that run through the two comics, tying their narratives together. It's heartbreaking reading, but a timely reminder that Marvel Comics has always tried to speak to the nation, helping America to process its grief and pain. Hopefully, it will always continue to do so.
Champions #24 is on sale now from Marvel Comics.