Friday, June 04, 2004

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Not to be outdone, over at Pulse they give us a look at DC's upcoming graphic novel & collections list, and while there's a lot of good stuff coming out that I can't afford so I won't be getting it anytime soon, I noticed with interest (and more than a little surprise) that they're coming out with a trade collection of the 1991 Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale Challengers of the Unknown limited series, titled CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN MUST DIE!, which may have been the title of the limited series as well, back in 1991- I forget.

Anyway, this was a great take on the Challengers and their convoluted history; a bit cynical, perhaps, but I really liked its mature tone (a bit of a rarity for DC in 1991, Alan Moore notwithstanding), and the script was sharp and smart...a tad satirical, perhaps, but never condescending and made these characters more real than anybody ever had. It was Loeb's first comics work, and one of Sale's first art jobs for a major publisher. It takes place in more or less present-day, with the Challs ensconced in Challengers Mountain and getting a bit bored. The town at the foot of the mountain has turned into a tourist trap, with Challs merchandise, Mountain tours, rides, and other things like that. Everything's fine at first, but then, while Prof Haley is working in his lab, an explosion occurs, pretty much taking off the top of the mountain and causing death and destruction in the town below. Despite the fact that the Challs (without Prof and June, who are assumed dead) descend to rescue who they can, they are held responsible by the authorities and are soon taken to court. The second issue is pretty much a courtroom story, with a great cameo by Superman, who testifies in their behalf. As a result of the trial, the Challengers disband and go their seperate ways...Ace delves into the mystic arts, Red becomes a mercenary soldier-of-fortune, Rocky gets into movies, hooks up with an old "friend" and soon descends into a self-destructive routine of drinking, gambling, and sex. Even though it doesn't sound all that bad, he does bottom out, trust me. Prof and June? They're dead. Problem is, the explosion has made it possible for something to enter into our world, and the Challs (and a nerdy, annoying reporter whose name I forget) must reunite and defeat the menace somehow. The ghosts of Prof and June figure in, as well. Don't want to give away too much, because there's much more going on in the eight issues than I should list here. I was a little dismayed at the nature of the menace at the end, which is a bit of a cliché that was overused even back then...but the resolution itself is great and negates the reservations I had.

The hardcore Challs fans had a hissy fit when this came out, as I recall, which might have kinda hurt its sales, which were lukewarm at best. Seems the CotU lovers out there didn't want to see their heroes being treated in such fashion, And DC hasn't really seemed to be particularly proud of it either, since this is the first time I've ever even seen it mentioned by them in 13 years. That's why I'm so surprised to see it get the collection treatment. Here's what Loeb himself told me in an email (he dropped me a line to thank me for commenting on it in the posts section of the Pulse article):

Included in the collection, seen for the very first time, is
a 12 page epilogue that we had written, drawn, inked and lettered
for a Justice League International annual that was cancelled.

It is the only thing Tim and I have worked on that hasn't been
published. Really of it's time, it centers on Guy Garder, Ice,
and Multi-Man... It's fairly hilarious -- intentionally.

Also, don't know if you're a Brian Michael Bendis fan, but we
got Bendis to do the introduction -- his first work for DC --
and it's quite brilliant.

Add to that the fact that each issue had a cover by a different artist such as Kyle Baker (above), Brian Bolland, Gil Kane, Art Adams, Matt Wagner and so on, which I'm sure will be included, and this sounds like a hell of a package for my twenty bucks!

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