Challengers of the Unknown (vol.2) #1 (1991)

Challengers of the Unknown (vol.2) #1 (March, 1991)
“The Challengers Must Die!”
Writer – Jeph Loeb
Artist – Tim Sale
Letters – Bob Pinaha
Colors – Lovern Kindzierski
Editors – Barbara Kesel & Elliot S! Maggin
Cover Price: $1.75

Here’s one that’s been just sittin’ there in the collection for… eesh, the better part of two decades.  Never read it… always meant to.  Thing of it is… it stars the Challengers of the Unknown, and even in looking at the cover, I couldn’t tell ya which one’s which… or why I should even care to find out!

This series is (sometimes) acclaimed critically… I suppose it really depends on the hive mind’s feelings on Loeb on any given day.  I’m a fan of his… and for that reason, I’m looking forward to seeing where it all began for him!

We open in the offices of Tattletale Magazine… a news tabloid, whose heroic subject is usually the Challengers of the Unknown.  Must be a pretty dull rag… in fact, that’s kinda the point.  They keep having to use the same “news” because nobody can be bothered to keep up with them.  And so, Tattletale Senior Editor, Jennifer Taylor calls in Harold Moffet, a fella who “polishes” their stories… and sends him out to Challengerville to check in with the Challs.

From here, the storytelling gets a bit wonky.  The pages all go four-panel… Moffet travels… then we get a look at Challengerville… then we meet a Chall as they go about their daily work… then we see something going on in deep space.  This goes on for four pages… and the only new “news” Moffet can find is that Rocky bought a cat… and the poor thing died.  Also, there’s a strange nebbish fellow heading to Challengers Mountain… and he thinks in rhyme.

While Moffet phones in his “findings” to the Tattletale, we see that same nebbish fellow inside Challengers Mountain… and it looks like he’s up to no good.  In fact, he’s rhyming “bomb” with “calm”, so I think we can say for sure that he’s up to no good.

Inside Challengers Headquarters, Prof and June find… something.  An “incredible energy force” more powerful than any black hole.  The rest of the Challs charge up to the monitor to take a look.  Prof immediately realizes that something just ain’t right… and attempts to reverse whatever it was that he just did.

This doesn’t go so well.

Not only is Challengers Mountain destroyed… but, it took a great big chunk of Challengerville with it!  Moffet looks on in shock… the nebbish fellow is pleased.

After the Challs pull themselves from the rubble (sans Prof and June), they hop into action, attempting to rescue the citizens and visitors of Challengerville.  Ace rushes into “Our Lady of Challengers” church… and hopes to himself that he can be brave.  He also worries a fair amount about June and Prof.  He is able to save a little girl.

Red Ryan climbs up the side of the Ace Insurance Company building to rescue the survivors.  It’s funny, one of the citizens asks him “which Challenger” he is… because they all look alike!  Ya know, that’s pretty much exactly why this series has just lingered in my longboxes all these years!

Next, we join Rocky as he fights a fire using a pipe marked as the Challengerville Water Supply.  He recognizes that this really isn’t his style… more appropriate for Prof.  He’s surprised… and pleased, when his efforts result in putting out the blaze.

We jump to Jody Watkins, Reporter for KHAL as she interviews Harold Moffet, who just happened to be an eyewitness to the entire ordeal.  He sensationalizes the happening, while lusting over the newslady… and we get a pretty good look at what remains of both Challengers Mountain… and Challengerville.

Watkins asks Moffet what ought to happen to the Challs, if they’re found to be responsible for “this holocaust”.  Moffet brushes it off, after all, the Challengers of the Unknown are heroes… they’ll probably get a Medal of Honor for their rescue efforts!  Actually, it’s not like that at all… the Challs are lead away… in chains!

The arrest of the Challengers is broadcast over the air… and we join that nebbish fellow as he watches the news from his home.  He appears to be quite satisfied with himself… and thinks the word “free”.

We wrap up with the reveal that there’s… something… deep within the wreckage of Challengers Mountain.  A new Unknown that has come to challenge the Challengers!

Wow… this was pretty darn good.

Gotta tell ya, I did have to read it twice.  The first time around, a lot of what went on in the early pages kinda went over my head… that might not be the books fault though.

This has some cinematic qualities to it… which, shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise considering the world Loeb came from.  I feel that it “worked” for this story, about half the time.  Again, those early pages with the four-panels… so much was going on, that I wasn’t sure what was and wasn’t important to the story.  Add to that, my unfamiliarity with the Challengers… and it was a bit of an uphill slog at first.

From the explosion of Challengers Mountain on, however… the storytelling was amazingly solid… easy to follow, and most importantly to a Challs-newb like me, easy to invest in.

So much so, that during my second read-through… everything seemed to “click”.  Whether that’s a problem with the open… or a problem with my density, I’ll leave that to you (though, if it’s the latter… please don’t tell me, my heart couldn’t take it).

The idea of there being a Challengerville… it’s both charming and mind-boggling.  It feels like something we’d read in a one-off Silver Age story… and doesn’t seem like something you could “get away with” in 1991… and yet, it kinda works!  I can’t imagine there being as much tourism as there is, considering… it is the Challengers of the Unknown, and it is 1991… but, we’ll allow it.

It’s interesting to me, that even in Loeb’s earliest comic work… he’s already building mysteries.  I think that’s what a lot of us have come to expect from him, after much of his Batman work (Hush, The Long Halloween)… hell, even the Red Hulk was a mystery story.  Here we have… whatever that is… that has come to challenge the Challengers.  Also… that nebbish fellow… what’s his deal anyway?  I’m looking forward to finding out!

Tim Sale’s art here is pretty great.  Not as stylized as I’m accustomed to, which probably works better for this story.  This is a story that happens in the daytime… it doesn’t need to be as “dark” or “abstract” as his later work.  Not that I have a problem with his later work… I just like this better for this story (so far).  For the cover, we get a pretty awesome piece from the master of covers himself, Brian Bolland.  Really good stuff!

Overall… I can only speak for this issue (so far), but I think there’s a lot to dig here.  Even if you’re new (or willfully ignorant) to the Challengers of the Unknown (like myself), this is a wonderfully engaging story, with excellent art.  Shouldn’t be too difficult to come by… it has been collected as The Challengers of the Unknown Must Die! (or just, Challengers of the Unknown by Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale) and is also available digitally.

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