By: Dan Didio (writer), Jerry Ordway (penciller), Ray McCarthy, Andy Lanning, Marlo Alquiza (inkers), Tony Avina (colorist)

The Story: We may be stranded on a freezing mountainside, but no one had better eat me!

The Review: If I have to explain my fondness for the Challengers of the Unknown, I think I can pretty much poach much of what I said about the Blackhawks last month.  Not only do I admire the concept of a group of people using their natural, baseline human abilities to overcome great obstacles, I also love the Challengers’ emphasis on exploration and curiosity.  It’s that same thirst to see the universe’s possibilities that makes me prefer Star Trek over Star Wars.

Unfortunately, it can’t be said that’s the feeling you get out of this series, or, at least, this specific issue.  Instead of focusing on the “challenging” aspect of the team, Didio chooses to emphasize their “borrowed time” premise, making them more sober and grim than the Challengers I loved in Darwyn Cooke’s New Frontier.  You have to give credit to Didio for his enthusiasm, though, since in one issue he takes the crew to Nanda Parbat, then has them escape a living mountain.

Actually, the issue would be pretty good times in the hands of someone with greater writing chops, to be frank.  My only real experience with Didio as writer goes all the way back to his Metal Men feature in Wednesday Comics.  There, I found him again enthusiastic, clearly in love with his own ideas, but a very generic executor of words.  That’s pretty much the case here, especially with the dialogue, which sports every cliché you can imagine from a melodrama: “This is some sort of nightmare!”  “Stop this, please!”  “For the love of God…don’t do this!”  “This is all my fault!”  And not one, but two, “Noooo!

Should we be concerned that nearly every single one of these cheesy, melodramatic, clichés gets uttered from June Robbins’ mouth?  It’s probably a coincidence, but if Duane Swierczynski, Brian Azzarello, and Gail Simone are busting their butts to write convincing, fully-realized women, Didio nearly undoes all their work with his portrayal of June.  This is a major problem since she is our central protagonist, the character through which we experience most of the story, and yet she’s completely flat, lacking any personality other than a rather excessive fixation with her lover, Ace, whom she mentions on every page she appears.

Didio fares no better with the other Challengers.  To be sure, it’s a huge cast we have on our hands, including Rocky, Ace, Red, June, Clay, Kawa, Brenda, Maverick, and one character who must be Prof, but is referred to only once in passing as “Professor.”  Even in the best conditions, it’d be difficult to define all their personalities in a single issue, but to force Didio to make the attempt, since he can’t really waste time doing so in the four or five issues before this arc ends, is just asking for the most blisteringly hasty, underdeveloped character work possible.

Ordway has a very flat and plain style which appears almost like a transitional style between George Perez and Jamal Igle.  All three share a very straightforward, old-school style of comic art, but Ordway doesn’t have quite the dramatic depth and detail of Perez (he can’t pull off the open-mouthed, bug-eyed expression of horror Perez can, for one thing), nor does he have Igle’s versatility and sense of pizzazz.

Conclusion: Much as I like the Challengers, and even though Didio does a semi-competent job, I don’t have any confidence he can pull off the story necessary to make the Challengers viable in this crowded market.  Dropped.

Grade: C

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Since Ace is my favorite Challenger, I’m not thrilled Didio has apparently decided to make him the crazy, Two Face tribute band he becomes here.

– Why, oh why couldn’t we have convinced Darwyn Cooke to write and draw a Challengers feature?  I’d pay quite a few dollars for that series.