Monday, May 2, 2011

Keep On Playin' Those Mind Games: The Champions #16

The Champions #16 (November 1977)
"A World Lost!"
Bill Mantlo-Bob Hall/Mike Esposito

Doug: Hi, and welcome back for the conclusion of our Super-Villain Team-Up/Champions crossover. The core creative team remains the same, with Mike Esposito coming aboard this ish to embellish Bob Hall's pencils -- I'd say it's a marked improvement over the work of Don Perlin and Duffy Vohland that we saw in the first part of this story. Let us know what you think of this tale in our "Comments" section -- I'm sure Karen and I will be handing out two-cents left and right as we go through. No sense wasting any time...

Doug: This one tips right where the previous issue ended, with Magneto seeking super-powered allies against Doctor Doom's attempt at subjugating the Earth. If you'll recall, Doom had released a potent neuro-gas into the atmosphere, effectively enslaving every living creature on the planet. Magneto had first sought to defeat Doom, but when in turn defeated himself, was released as a form of humiliation, to show Doom's dominance over the Master of Magnetism. Seeking aid first from the Avengers, it was the Beast who Magneto freed from the effects of the neuro-gas. Magneto's hope was that the Beast could secure the X-Men as allies. When that failed, as did an attempt to enlist the Fantastic Four, the Beast programmed the stolen quinjet that he now piloted to head to Los Angeles and to other allies: the Champions!

Karen: The Champions was a team I really wanted to like, but sadly, they were mired in some fairly mediocre stories most of the time. There also seemed to be limited chemistry; I thought Angel-Iceman worked, and Widow -Hercules was fun, but otherwise, phhht! Still, I bought every issue I could get my hands on. A big plus: they were headquartered in my home state of California!

Doug: The plot to the finale is relatively simple: The Champions of course react in what they perceive to be self-defense while Magneto just runs over them. I'll tell you, it's really hard to believe that Magneto could be beaten by anyone -- in the past two stories he's made fools of Thor, Iron Man, the Vision, and Hercules. You'd be hard-pressed to bring more heavy-hitters to the table than those four. Finesse? He dispatches Yellowjacket, the Wasp, and the Black Widow without breaking a sweat. So the only "suspense" in the first scene is whether or not Iceman will take down the "traitorous" Beast. He balks at it, so Ghost Rider steps in, and then finally the Angel. Even when Herc attempts to sneak attack Magneto, a magnasphere (whatever that is) protects our do-badder.

Karen: Already Magneto's power was formidable; but he wasn't quite the demi-god he would become. It doesn't help though, that the Champions don't seem to be able to execute anything resembling a plan against him.

Doug: Upon hearing a radio report that Doom has landed in Washington, DC and is being received by President Carter, Magneto and the Beast fly away in the magnasphere. The Widow suggests that the Champions hightail it to their Champscraft for pursuit; Darkstar objects and creates a sphere of her own to ferry her mates after the fleeing Magneto. In Washington, Doom has commandeered the Oval Office and is being fawned over by the Carter administration and the Secret Service. He objects to the din of noise and retires to the outside. Once there, all of a sudden the Hulk lands in their midst! Say wha-aaatt? Yep -- Doom's got him mind-controlled just like everyone else, and as Magneto and the Beast and then the Champions arrive, the Hulk attacks. OK. From here on out ol' Greenskin really serves no purpose but to give Hercules something to do. Let's face it -- Herc doesn't provide a whole lot of plot points when the baddies are Magneto and Doc Doom. Really -- that's the only value I could place on the Hulk's presence in this story.

Karen: That has to be one of the most unflattering portrayals of Jimmy Carter I have ever seen! He looks like he has more teeth than the entire Osmond family! I did enjoy seeing Darkstar again; she seemed like a character with potential, although it never seemed to be fulfilled. The appearance of the Hulk felt very arbitrary and I'm surprised that he wasn't featured on the cover, as it seemed like he was always guesting in other books around this time -while the Hulk TV show was on the air. It seemed like Marvel would throw the Hulk in any book that was struggling -Omega the Unknown, The Eternals, etc, in an attempt to improve sales.

Doug: As everyone tussles on the South Lawn, it's Ghost Rider who realizes that he's the only one besides the Beast who is immune to the neuro-gas. Finally allying, they battle not only the other heroes and Doom, but a multitude of Secret Service agents and soldiers. As Doom engages the Beast, Ghost Rider sneaks up behind him and gives him a blast of Hellfire to the head. The flames encircle Doom's head, penetrating his faceplate. Alarmed at the heat, and the potential for more damage to his already-scarred face, Doom rips the faceplate off. However, in doing so his air filters disengage and he, too, breathes deeply of the neuro-gas. In a quite-interesting twist, Doom in effect becomes a slave to himself. And without Doom in his normal state, controlling everyone's thoughts, they are all freed. But the Doctor continues to try to subjugate himself.

Karen: Although I like the idea of Doom falling prey to his own gas, how does that suddenly snap everyone out of it? So Doom's not consciously controlling them -that implies that before he had to be exerting his will over them -over everyone on Earth?

Karen: Yet another fond comic story memory has been reduced to dust. This is not a terrible comic but it certainly wasn't as much fun this time around. I think the best thing about this two-parter was the Byrne/Austin cover on SVTU.

Doug: I can't give this 2-parter much more than a C. It's hard for me to remember my reaction when I was a kid, as I did have both of these books. But on the re-read over 30 years later, it's a pretty mediocre story with art to match. Although the pictures are better this ish, it's nothing to write home about. Mantlo's script is somewhat juvenile -- maybe he was subscribing to DC's Silver Age policy. So -- if you are looking to read this one on your own, I'd recommend picking up one of the Essentials, which probably reprints all parts of the story. Don't go out of your way to get this in back issues -- you may pay too much!


dbutler16 said...

I loved the idea of the Champions, this oddball collection of heroes (plus two ex-X-Men!). However, something seemed to be lacking. Mediocre art was one thing, and frankly, the writing wasn't much better. Plus, they always seemed to be at each others' throats, with Ghost Rider getting called "spook" every other page. Make you wonder why they let him in the group.
By the way, has Doom's face ever been shown?

Doug said...

We discussed Doom's facial scarring in an earlier Thor post (, and outside of something shown in recent years, I am pretty sure that Doom's face has not been shown. As Karen and I discussed, I think readers line up in the "tiny scar" or "total disfiguration" camps.


dbutler16 said...

Ah, thanks. Even though the "tiny scar" idea is intriguing, count me in the "total disfiguration" camp.

Fred W. Hill said...

Given that Kirby depicted Doom's face as entirely covered in bandages after the accident, I'd say it must have been significantly damaged. Of course, ol' impatient Victor likely damaged it even more when he first put that red-hot metal mask over his face.
As for the story, I agree with the consensus that this was so-so. These days, the premise would be extended over the entire line and maybe take all summer, if not all year, to resolve.
I also initially had high hopes for the Champions, but overall they were rather lackluster. Moving Bobby & Warren over to the Defenders doesn't seem to have helped the sales of that group mag either, and they appear to have the distinction of having been in 3different group mags that wound up getting cancelled. At least I'm assuming they weren't in any other group mags that wound up gettinc cancelled while they were on the roster.

J.A. Morris said...

I liked the Champions,but I really can't defend the book. The Byrne-drawn issues are nice to look at, they look great in the recent Classic Champions Vol 2 TPB. But the stories aren't great. This story wasn't that great either.

Is it me or is this crossover featuring these two titles the quintessential moment of the Bronze Age? The only thing that would've made it more "Bronze Age" would've been an appearance by Killraven or Omega!

Edo Bosnar said...

I mentioned in a previous thread that Champions is one of those titles that could have been better, but simply wasn't. Overall, it had a sort of goofy appeal (like SVTU), but most of the stories were pretty uninspired. It's almost hard to believe that Mantlo, who wrote so many great stories, was responsible for this one.
By the way, this issue is indeed included in the Essential SVTU volume. I just did a search and can't believe there's no Essential Champions, which would seem the obvious format to reprint the series, but rather two color TPBs.

William said...

I have both of the full-color trades that reprint every issue of the Campions and all of their major appearances (including the ones in this review). Unfortunately most of the stories are mediocre at best, but I really loved the idea of the Camps as a book. I always thought it was a great idea to take an unlikely group of off-beat "B-listers" and make them into a rag-tag team. (A concept that was carried off much more successfully by the Defenders).

The two-part story reviewed here is not one of my favorites, however there were a few good Campions stories, but unfortunately the best ones were not in their own series. For instance, I really liked the issue off the Avengers (#163 I believe) where they fight Iron Man for the life of the Beast. And the two issues of PPTS Spider-Man (#17 & 18) that wrapped up the loose ends left by the cancellation of the Champs own mag. If you haven't yet reviewed any of those, you might want to consider it.

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