Champions Annual #1 Review
Writers: Jim Zub & Nyla Innuksuk
Artists: Marcus To
Cover Artist: R.B. Silva & Marcio Menyz
Variant Cover Artist: Babs Tarr
Colors: Jordan Boyd
Letters: Clayton Cowles
Previously in Champions…:
After breaking into the facility The Master had built outside her town, Amka Aliyak encountered the soul of the North, sky wind and weather spirit, Sila. After freeing Sila from The Master’s imprisonment, Amka & Sila were caught in an explosion, and at that moment, SIla chose to bond to Amka. Thus Amka Aliyak became the superhero Snowguard, and joined the Champions in their mission of protecting the Earth!
Summary with limited spoilers
The comic, narrated by Amka herself, opens with Amka recounting when she received her Inuk tattoos, a symbol of her entering adulthood. She felt so proud in that moment, but when she went to school after, she felt awkward and a bit like a fraud for having them. She didn’t believe the old stories that her uncle shared with her when she was little. Three years later, however, she encountered Sila and became Snowguard. Returning to the present, Amka admits that she’s nervous, as she’s returning home to Pangnirtung, Nunavut for the first time since she left with the Champions after first gaining her powers. Reuniting with her family, Amka admits to herself that she feels out of place there. The conversations are familiar, but she’s missed much while she was away. After an enjoyable dinner (and some family fawning over Alpha Flight), Amka tries to talk to a friend of hers from before she left, Tonraq. But he’s resentful of her leaving, calling her a fraud, and claiming that Amka only returned home for the attention. Before Amka can respond, a neighbour bursts through the door, exclaiming that his grandmother is missing. As another of Amka’s old friends, another boy named Pilip, offers to help Amka (he’s clearly quite smitten with her), Amka tells him to remain there, as she uses her powers to shift into a wolf, and sniff out where the grandmother may have disappeared to. As Amka is tracking the scent, she thinks to herself about whether Tonraq is right about her, despite the feelings being driven by jealousy over her gifts, she did still leave at the first opportunity. Furthermore, she finds herself lost over what her connection Sila means or who she should be because of it. Amka finds the grandmother, passed out in the middle of a far-off hillside. The old lady has no memory of how she got there, or much memory of anything altogether, not remembering her own grandson. Amka chalks this up to the old lady’s age and declining health and carries her back to town. Amka then heads home, exhausted emotionally and physically.
As she gets home, both she and her mother admit how fortunate they all were this happened during the summer. The sun’s up nearly twenty-four hours a day that time of year. If it’d been even a little later in the year, the old lady could’ve frozen to death. As Amka tries to get some sleep, she’s then awoken by Sila, who vaguely warns of impending danger. As Amka flies out of her room, she soon sees the problem. There’s an Inupasugjuk giant walking through town!! As the giant begins stomping through town, Amka tries to fight him. But she’s easily knocked aside. After another shift into a more monstrous form, she tackles the giant. The giant then curls up, crying about how mean Amka’s being, and that the giant was only playing. As Amka tries to explain why the giant’s fun isn’t so for the townsfolk, the giant remarks that they’re all alone now. The land and the spirits are shrinking. Saddened by this, Amka decides to help the giant, escorting him away.
Five hours later, Amka has flown back home, and after ensuring that repairs to the damaged buildings are underway, she’s made her way to Attagoyuk High School, She promised her mother she’d give a speech to all of the local kids there (both the high school students and the elementary school kids from the school nearby), as her mother’s been receiving a lot of questions about what happened to Amka and what she’s been up to. The idea of having to speak to about four hundred kids about guidance and inspiration is obviously nerve-racking for Amka. However, this is tabled for the moment when Amka walks into the high school, only to find the building completely silent. As she makes her way to the auditorium/gym, Amka finds all of the students locked in a trance. As she tries to talk to Tonraq about what’s happening, he seems to exhibit the same memory loss the old lady had. Extremely worried about how the two connect, Amka looks up and sees a swarm of shadowy beings hanging overhead of the students. They reveal themselves as the Taqriaqsuit, keepers of shadow. Decrying the Chosen of Sila for coming, they refuse to let her interfere with what they’re doing. But Amka won’t back down and slashes at the Taqriaqsuit. Unfortunately, her claws go right through them, as Amka admits that these spirits usually keep to the shadows, but something’s made the act this aggressively. As Amka tries to dodge the Taqriaqsuits’ attacks, she again laments not paying attention to her uncle’s stories. He used to share that every Inuk myth was a warning, a lesson. They were ways to teach the young about good behaviour and how to survive in the North. Amka’s eventually caught in the Taqriaqsuits’ net, and they knock her out. As Amka starts to once again recount the memory of her getting her Inuk tattoos, her memories begin to fade. Just as they’re almost gone, Amka cries out and awakens. Demanding her memory back, but the shadows refuse. Amka cries out and breaks free of her chains. Asking why they’ve done this, the Taqriaqsuit share that they meant no harm. They’re fighting for their survival, as the number of Inuk who remember them and the various Inuk myths shrink each year. Children forget their ancestral stories, and thus the Taqriaqsuit only sought to protect those memories. If they don’t, their history and they themselves will disappear. Amka makes it clear they can’t just take these memories by force to protect them, but by sharing the memories they can help keep the legends alive. And Amka begins to show the Taqriaqsuit by returning to the gym in a dazzling display of magic and light, and she begins her speech to the assembled students…
Opinions on story and art
This comic is an absolute MASTERPIECE of beautiful storytelling and drives a powerful message home. I’ve been looking forward to reading this annual since it was first solicited, as I’ve been eager to learn more about Amka and Sila, the source of her powers. Since she was introduced in the first arc of Jim Zub’s run on this series, she’s been a constant presence but never been given the spotlight. This comic makes that the focal point of the issue, as Jim Zub is joined by Nyla Innuksuk (who helped Zub co-create Snowguard) to further flesh out Amka’s character and her home in this issue. And the result is a must-read story. Much like how Zub delivered a powerful statement on the many effects of gun violence in schools with Champions #24, this issue both illuminates Inuit culture and speaks to how important it is to pass that culture on to future generations, or else have that culture erased. All of this is done ridiculously well and does so while allowing the readers to get some much-needed insight into Amka Aliyak. We see how dedicated she is to learn about the old ways, while still wanting a life where she can see more, do more. And thanks to her connection with Sila, as Snowguard she’s been granted this. But being given this dream come true hasn’t made Amka’s doubts disappear. Rather they’re now being channelled towards what this bond with Sila means, and who she should be because of it. The ending contains a great bit of resolution to this which I don’t want to spoil, but Snowguard comes out much more confident that before. It’s very moving.
Of equal awe to the incredible writing and character-arc is the artwork, as fellow Canadian Marcus To delivers some of the best-looking pages I’ve seen in Champions. He and colorist Jordan Boyd deliver pages that convey wonder, dread, and heart all in equal measure. This book looks GORGEOUS, and Snowguard looks just as inspiring to me as Superman. To and Boyd deserve no shortage of praise for being able to convey such how human Amka is, yet how majestic she is as Snowguard. The panel of Amka teleporting back into the gym after her encounter with the Taqriaqsuit brought a tear to my eye.
Clayton Cowles once again delivers outstanding lettering, that’s both clear and adds to the mystic of the story, such as in my favourite visual moment of the entire comic. To, Boyd and Cowles convey the slow dread of Amka’s memory being taken away by the Taqriaqsuit perfectly. That is one of the most powerful moments of this entire volume of Champions.