Monday, October 27, 2014

Arc of Triumph? Champions 7-10

Karen: Today we have an arc with those lovable losers, The Champions. These issues featured writer Bill Mantlo with artist George Tuska on issue 7, and then Bob Hall on the remaining issues. This was where the book started to feel like it might have a chance, in my opinion. The Champs square off against a Soviet super-team that has kidnapped the Black Widow. The baddies include The Titanium Man, The Griffin (actually, not Soviet as far as I know), the mysterious Darkstar, and a new Crimson Dynamo, who was eventually revealed to be the son of Ivan, the Black Widow's -what was he? Her assistant? Advisor? Anyway, it also featured the Angel getting a new/old costume, as he shed the terrible red/yellow hippie togs for his old Neal Adams suit, only in red and white instead of blue and white. Ghost Rider and Hercules butt heads to add some spice to team relations. And Darkstar hangs around at the end, so she can wind up breaking Iceman's heart 7 issues later. What fun! 


William said...

I never read the Champions when it was originally published, but I own the two trades that reprint every issue of the series, as well as all of their significant crossover appearances in full color. I especially liked the several issues with Byrne art. Yay!

The only Champions appearances I read when they came out in comic form were Avengers #163, where three of the Champs (Herc, Black Widow, and Ice Man) battle Iron Man through the streets of NYC. And PPTSM #17 and 18 which was used as a means to tie up loose ends from the Champions cancelled title.

The Champs were kind of like the Defenders in the respect that someone said "Hey, let's take these pretty much unrelated characters and mash them together into a team and see what happens." I thought it worked pretty well myself. Too bad it didn't last longer.

It was a really fun (and kind of wacky) series. A truly iconic title of the Bronze Age.

Also, Angel's first Champions costume has to go down as one of the most god-awful things to ever appear in a comic. It's right up there with Hawkeye's skirt and headband look. Really glad they got rid of that thing.

dbutler16 said...

I agree that the Champions did get a bit better in this issues, though the comic never really seemed to settle into something solid.

I think I'd call Ivan Natasha's father figure.

And I love the Angel's red costume. Way better than the chest bearing, headband wearing hippie outfit, no offense against hippie.

Humanbelly said...

Man, I wish I had time to pull these out and read them! I distinctly remember that it took for-ever for this title to hit its stride, although I was faithful through to the end. The first arc, IIRC, was a four issue slog, and the George Tuska (& Vinnie Colletta?) art simply didn't have that same, clean appeal that the Avengers and Defenders were thriving under at that time. I think there was also something strange going on w/ distribution, as at one point we went three months w/out an available issue (at least in our little town), and at others they were all bunched up.

What's kind of too bad is that, although it started out as a pretty obvious attempt to throw together another generic Team book in order to capitalize on the Avengers/Defenders seeming popularity, it really did become a good book (as Karen pointed out) after the initial introductory issues got out of the way and some more inspired creative energy could be brought to hand.

Bob Hall, although workman-like, was an apt upgrade from Tuska's look from the previous era. John Byrne just made it fantastic-- I mean, he made Swarm look like a legitimate and terrifying foe-! But I just bet the sales damage had been done by the initial six issues, and Marvel was never known at that point for it's "give it a chance to grow an audience" strategy. The shadow of Goodman was still a-looming, I bet.

Wow, I TOTALLY have to dig this series back out! I know I have not read these issues since pulling them off the rack at Harding's Supermarket. . .


Edo Bosnar said...

I somehow managed to collect this whole series a few years after it was cancelled (although it wasn't too hard - everything but the Byrne issues were dirt cheap).
And I also agree with Karen: this story arc is where the title started to sort of gel, and then it got a notch better when Byrne drew a few issues, and Black Goliath kind of/sort of joined the team. It's too bad the series didn't have at least a respectable 40-50 issue run.

J.A. Morris said...

I thought 4 issues was about 1 issue too many for a saga about the Petrovich family. But the Griffin was one of my favorite b-villains in the Marvel universe.

Doug said...

As I've said, I was always a team book reader. This book was on the shopping list alongside the Legion, FF, Avengers, Secret Society of Super-Villains, Teen Titans, etc.

I agree with those who've said that this arc was a nice gelling of the team before I feel it hit its high point under Byrne's penciling. I do wish it had served as a home for Black Goliath, and, as Edo said run for another 40 issues or so.


Anonymous said...

I will say this about that, I have issues 5, 7 and 12 of The Champions. I went and dug out issue 7 from and box and this was my first impression. Some guy, at one time, had wanted $9 American for a VF/NM copy. The one I have was marked down to $3, again American. I don't know how much I paid, but this was a quarter, American, originally.

Busted right through that taped down flap and read the sucker. When did Iceman become "Incomparable"? Did he stay "Incomparable"? Is he still "Incomparable"?

In the Bullpen Bulletins, we find out Stan has the flu! He hypes the upcoming 100th of X-Men and 150th of The Avengers. Also, the upcoming Kull The Destroyer and The Man-Beast Called...Woodgod! Also, one will start receiving their subscription issues mailed flat.

The letters ran pro Natasha as a leader, "storefront superheroes" and fighting for the common man. Cons were slow going, the group wasn't named until issue 4 and it seemed like a thrown together group of heroes.

For those scoring at home, first arc had a cameo of DD, second had a cameo of Matt Murdock, third was a team up of DD and Ghost Rider, fourth was a team with Ghost Rider as member. (Was his bike always called a Skull Cycle?)

The Prowler (Sunshine go away today I don't feel much like dancing some man's gone, he's tried to run my life don't know what he's asking he tells me I'd better get in line can't hear what he's saying when I grow up I'm going to make it mine but these aren't dues I been paying).

pfgavigan said...

I'm not certain who the first inker was but I am very certain that the first artist was Don Heck and that the writer was Tony Isabella.

I think on this I'm going to be disagreeing with the majority. I think that while the Hall pencils have a certain degree of energy that Tuska lacks, I also believe that he makes a number of rookie mistakes in regards to panel layout that Tuska would never do.

To be a bit more direct, I think the improvement in the book lies more with the replacement of the writers and bringing Bill Mantlo on as the regular scribe.


Humanbelly said...

Yes, yes-- good job, PFG. Thank you, now the memories become clearer. I'd forgotten that Don Heck started us out on that title, which contributed to its slow start. Tuska was an improvement, although I've never been a huge Tuska fan in general.

Now I really do have to dig them out (geeze, Box 6? Box 7? Box 8???) so I can appreciate your observations. . .


William Preston said...

Issue 10 was my first. I couldn't ignore that stellar Cockrum cover!

Joe Pilla said...

Unlike THE AVENGERS, who in their early days, at least, brought together early Marvel's heavyweights, or THE DEFENDERS, whose perverse chemistry was the uneasy alliance of its early membership, THE CHAMPIONS never had a reason for being outside of Marvel's hope that team lightning would strike again. The LA setting was moderately interesting, the later Byrne art was fine, but the book really was meh! Distribution problems of the period certainly didn't help, but the book never got the storyline (like the Defenders/Avengers xover) that might have gotten it over the hump.

Fred W. Hill said...

I got nearly a complete run of The Champions. It was never a particular favorite of mine and the first arc was pretty bad story & artwise, but Mantlo & Hall made for significant improvements, and, yes, Byrne's art made it much better still. The problem, I think, was that while Mantlo was a good writer, what the series really needed was an outstanding writer to bring these characters alive, the way Gerber did during his run on the Defenders and Morrison did for his version of the Doom Patrol. Then again, maybe even the best writer wouldn't have been able to make The Champions a success; even Stan himself couldn't keep the Silver Surfer afloat and the top Bronze Age team of Claremont & Byrne couldn't keep Iron Fist going as a solo star. Poor ex-X-Men Warren & Bobby would have to wait until they were roped back into an all mutant mag to find more lasting success in the hero-biz, and oh the agony Warren had to go through for that!

pfgavigan said...

Shooter has remarked that when he joined Marvel in the early Seventies there was a tendency to grade titles as 'A's and 'B's and 'C's. The 'higher' the grade title the 'higher' the grade talent assigned to the title. It also had ramifications should the printer fall behind or over-commit as they would ask the publishers to 'prioritize' which books should be printed first.

I hope I'm not being cruel if I imply that The Champions were not considered top shelf in this system.

Champions was never going to be a contender. Isabella never really materialized as a writer and Heck would only rarely be assigned the strong inkers who could bring out the best of his work.

Marvel Comics, or more specifically, the Editorial Revolving Door of the early Seventies, has been described as a "Romper Room on Meth"! A certain degree of creative stability is necessary for any comic book to succeed and, unfortunately, The Champions sad, short history is proof positive.


Anonymous said...

Well this brings back memories. The only one of this series I definitely remember reading as a kid was issue #9, although I vaguely recall reading some later issues with Swarm and Black Goliath. Dbutler16, I have a modern Black Widow comicbook where Ivan transplants his brain into a robot and Natasha kills him on a space station! I kid you not!

JA, ol' buddy I'm with ya, the Griffin was definitely one of my favourite villains, although Crimson Dynamo (cool name) and Titanium Man were great too. When I read issue #9 there was a scene where Angel kicks Titanium Man and TM then ricochets out of control, slamming into Hercules and knocking him out. Up to this day I've always thought 'c'mon man, the Prince of Power can't go down that easily!'. Darkstar had a pretty cool and unique power, too, controlling the Darkforce.

Edo, I agree with you when you say this series had promise; maybe if they had given this series a greater push it might have lasted longer. Ultimately, I guess they couldn't decide how to do develop this title further, and the rest is history.

- Mike 'dosvedanya' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Karen said...

I really liked Bob Hall's work. I think he was still developing to some extent, but he was certainly more pleasing to my eyes than Tuska or Heck. Layton's inks were icing on the cake.

Mantlo came in and did what he could with what he'd been given. Not only was it about as disparate a group as you could get, there really was no headliner. Ghost Rider had his own title but was a B level character at best. With the FF, Avengers, Defenders, X-Men, and Inhumans already running around, the Champions were dead weight. Still, they had some fun stories here and there.

Anonymous said...

I started with the Byrne issues off the news stand. Fun stuff. One pet peeve of late is that the Hulk Annual with Iceman, Angel and Mastermold never made it into Those recent Champs trade paperbacks. Being that it's Byrne inked by Layton and was of the same vintage as those final Champions issues,it seems like a no brainer. Along the same lines, Iron Fist #15 belongs in the 2nd or 3rd X-Men Masterworks trade but is absent for some reason ??

Anonymous said...

Hi everyone,

Delighted to see you’re all still here. (I haven’t posted for a while).

I loved the Champs. Isabella originally wanted the very odd combo of Iceman, Angel and Black Goliath, but BG got his own mag and Mantlo insisted on a 5 person team. I kind of suspected that Isabella went wilfully eclectic at that point. Either that or they were keeping the copyright on Herc and the Black Widow fresh.

I take issue with everyone about the first issues: OK, they don’t really work, but in terms of setting out a stall, an assault on Olympus is not lacking in ambition. I also think that with the combined histories of the Xmen, Natasha (Avengers, Hawkeye, DD, and AA), Herc in Thor and the actual mythology, Ghost Rider’s own back story , plus the whole Christian mythology conflicting with Herc, there was enormous scope for back stories, old enemies and inter-team conflict. I liked Warren trying to be the big cheese but nothing he bought working (a nice reality swipe at Batman, surely).

Regarding pfgavigan’s point about it not getting the A list talent, well, not to start with, but Mantlo, Byrne & Layton……imagine if that team had stayed on it, esp. when you consider that Byrne & Layton were great writers as well. It would have been absolute magic.

Can we please have some love for the whacked out last 2 issues?: #16 being a huge-in-scope but clearly drawn-in-haste, done-in-two cross over with SVTU ( both titles doomed at this point) and #17 being unique in that it’s a last issue that actually sets up and advances more questions than it answers.

Can I also mention Iron Man Annual #4? This was the one appearance of the Champs I never had. It took me about 30 years to lay hands on it and it was really NOT worth the wait.


Doug said...

Welcome back, Richard! That's one heckuva sabbatical you've been on!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Doug,

And, as I was away at the time, can I just say [*incredibly belated spoiler alert*] that I was STILL shocked when Gwen Stacey died. 40 years on and I still didn't see that coming.


Anonymous said...

Also, Doug/Karen, can we pleeeeeease have a thread on this:

Thanks R

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