Challengers of the Unknown HC
I’ve been reading this on and off over the past few months, which - considering it’s only an eight-issue HC - probably tells you something about how compelling it was. A little like the recent Wonder Woman Rebirth book, it sat on my bedside table while other books came and went and overtook it in my reading pile.
That’s not to say it’s bad, particularly, and as the first Loeb & Sale collaboration (and the only one I’d never read) it’s interesting to see their partnership in a rougher, rawer form.
That goes for both Tim Sale’s art and Jeph Loeb’s writing. The art is flatter and cruder, simpler than Sale’s later lush inkwashes and fine detail have conditioned me to expect, and Loeb’s writing seems to lurch from one idea to another without enough connecting tissue or enough of a through-line to quite make everything hang together.
(I remember from a podcast he did with Kevin Smith that he admits to basically making up a lot of the story as he went along, and relying on Sale to determine a lot of the visual ideas and panel-to-panel pacing.)
But there’s a lot of enthusiasm here and obvious affection for the team and for the wider DC universe, even if Loeb does that new-to-comics thing of dropping a few too many outside references and nods into his story. And there’s a nice sense of knocking down the team and building them up again - a pretty standard formula for these kind of revivals, but one that works.
There are also moments when both the art and writing show signs of reaching further than merely ‘pretty good’. Sale throws out some interesting layouts and splashpages, and has a real knack for facial expressions and body language that helps to sell the story well, even without Loeb’s words. And Loeb comes up with one or two nice moments that surprise you with a smart idea or a nice turn of phrase.
If you don’t have much affection for the Challengers (and I don’t, really), and you’re not interested in the Loeb/Sale partnership, there’s not really much to recommend this book. For me, it’s an interesting look back at what was the first building block that led to bigger and better things to follow, although you can definitely see occasional flashes of that later greatness here.