There a reason that the oldies are goodies. It’s because they work. And in his initial foray into the world of the Champions, Jim Zub fully embraces a concept that the world famous duo of preeminent philosophers Jesus and Abraham Lincoln both held dear. That a house divided against itself cannot stand and he sets about tearing the over-achieving, high profile teenage super-team apart and reducing it to its component parts. Then at some point slightly further down the line and a little deeper into his run, he’ll bring them back together after they’ve discovered who they are and having shed, or at least comes to terms with, the crippling burdens of hubris and self-doubt. To paraphrase the opening monologue of The Six Million Dollar Man, Jim will rebuild them and they will be older, wiser and better.
Death, deals with the devil and mortal enemies, circumstance, personal upheaval, the misguided belief that nothing is impossible, the arrogance of youth and being plunged headlong into the War of the Realms pushes the Champions to breaking point and beyond. From the first panel, Zub slowly but surely chips away at the core members of the team and while they begin this opening chapter stronger than they’ve ever been, by the time its draws to a close, the future seems bleak, and anything but bright, for the Champions. Pride has been the downfall of many a hero and in Beat the Devil it ravages the ranks of Ms Marvel and Spider-Man’s squad and leaves them bruised, battered and barely able to function.
Bursting through the door and trashing everything that the Champions were, and are, is great big, ballsy and bold move on Zub’s part, but he makes it work at every step of the journey. Without being deliberately mean or callous, Zub uses the Champion naivety and their inherent innocence and profuse sense of certainty against them, allowing them to unwittingly become the architects of their own downfall. It’s an interesting and intriguing idea to build the foundation of his vision on and one that will hopefully continue to form the basis of the story. Artistically, Ramirez’s style works better than Cummings, but for the life of me I can’t pinpoint why, as both inject a fantastic sense of energy and action into Beat the Devil, a book that leads the Champions down all sorts of ominous and wonderful avenues. Here’s to dark futures and new beginnings… Tim Cundle