Sometimes a book isn’t what you expect—and it’s all the better for it.

A lot of books under the New Age of DC Heroes banner deal with characters and events that have ties to the DARK KNIGHTS: METAL story arc. The beauty, however, is that they’re written in a way where you could have not read Metal and you still know what’s going on with these titles and have fun reading the stories. How do I know? Well, I’m one of those few DC fans that has not had a chance to jump into Metal yet, but have enjoyed the majority of The New Age of Heroes titles.

With that being said, I don’t know how much (or how little) the characters or events we see in New Challengers factored into Metal, but it doesn’t matter because the writing, pacing and art come together to form an awesome reading experience.

This book just nails it overall, and in my opinion, does a number of things really well…

Some quick background before we get started. THE CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN are a team of characters who made their debut in the late 1950’s, famously drawn by Jack Kirby. They’re sort of a hybrid of mystery men mixed with superheroes, and tend to lean on the pulp adventurer and sci-fi side of things. They handle fantastical and weird things. It’s really fun stuff!

What I dig about New Challengers so far is that it seems like it might really go in its own direction within the DC Universe and potentially become a completely unique title. It feels like it will live in the shadows (that’s a good thing) of the “big” characters and storylines, and that’s perfect for what it will be. These guys will be dealing with the things outside the norm. Unlike many comics, which tend to focus on superheroes, NEW CHALLENGERS #1 is heavily rooted in themes of mystery, sci-fi and horror. In fact, if you liked Ray Fawkes, Ben Templesmith and Juan Ferreyra’s sorely missed GOTHAM BY MIDNIGHT, you’ll dig this book because it’s very similar.

While I tend to gravitate towards books that sort of parallel past or current events, I find New Challengers refreshing in the sense that it doesn’t do that. Rather, it lives on its own and that allows you to simply read it and enjoy it for what it is. There’s no need to relate or apply it to anything else.  You simply read it and are entertained.

The real strength of the book is its ability to bring the reader into the page. There are a lot of things that we read where a character is put in a situation and they seem to act in a way that we would never do. Rather than show or display pretty genuine human emotions or reactions, a lot of characters tend to become instant heroes—their brash and brave attitudes make them free of fear and self-doubt. The characters in New Challengers are thrown into a position where they exhibit fear and confusion—one even acts tough as a way to mask his fear. As the reader, you’re right there with them. This is partly due to the creative team keeping you in the dark (much like the characters) and partly due to you feeling for these individuals because they’re not your cliché heroes. You’re right there with them as they try to figure things out. I found myself WANTING to know what exactly is going on and why.

My favorite part of the issue is its big twist. While I don’t want to spoil anything, I do want to say that we don’t have a whole lot of titles dealing with the realms of death and the supernatural. DC has a pretty wide array of characters that live in the shadowy areas of the DCU (some of which are my favorite). My hope is that New Challengers will explore those characters and themes—as they tend to play an important and necessary role between the living and the dead, which coincidentally, is the very area in which the Challengers seem to be operating in as well.

New Challengers is now high on my list of current monthly titles. While the mainstream heroes fight their battles, the Challengers will be doing the dirty work in the mysterious and weird parts of the DCU, I can’t wait to see where it takes them.

NEW CHALLENGERS #1 by Scott Snyder, Aaron Gillespie, Andy Kubert, Klaus Janson and Brad Anderson is now available in print and as a digital download.