The Champions Classic v1

A comic review article by: Shawn Hill

Collects Champions #1-11

What was it about Marvel and their “non-teams” in the 1970s? Was it merely editorial decree? “Hey, Stan’s moved on, you younger generation, take all of his leftovers and twist them around into exciting new shapes, will you?” 

Like Steve Gerber with The Defenders, and Len Wein with The X-Men, Tony Isabella here mixes and matches from the dregs and leftovers of earlier titles and eras. It’s a risky and yet clever editorial move: try to get some more mileage out of the established characters, and keep their trademarks active. It hasn’t worked too often since: the Defenders can’t be jump-started back to life in any guise (Secret, Order, New, etc.), and the current “Champions” had to be renamed immediately.

What really do a couple of leftover mutants, an emissary of hell on wheels, a Russian super spy in skintight leather, and a demi-god have in common? More than you’d think, actually. 

They all share a rather rough and tumble approach to the slingshots and arrows of life. You get the feeling they’ve banded together not to take on foes no one else can handle (the Avengers), or because the very world itself demands they unite (the Defenders), but because they need each other in order to keep it together, man.

Bobby and Warren are hardly the brain trust of the X-Men; they’re young dudes with too much power and too much time on their hands while their team is inactive. Ghost Rider is a man who’s made mistakes and is trying to atone. ‘Tasha, fresh and still smarting from her years at Daredevil’s side as his co-star, is crafty and tough but doesn’t always play well with others. And Hercules, the Prince of Power, is, as always, a fun-loving throwback to a simpler swashbuckling age of valor.

This motley crew is like a classic rock supergroup: their differences are complementary rather than divisive, and they make a formidable outfit as they face some freaky fates--most of which are their own demons turning up and tracking them down.

The first story involves the whole Olympian cavalcade of gods. Pluto has some sneaky plan, and it involves a very non-Themysciran Hippolyta and (amusingly) a rather stiff and befuddled Ares. Hercules has to introduce his new friends to his family of origin, resulting in culture shock all around. Then there’s a strange interlude with a disgruntled billionaire scientist in a memorably impractical exo-suit, followed quickly by a suite of Soviet super-bads come gunning for the long-defected Natasha.

They include the Griffin (not Russian, but looking cool), Darkstar, the Crimson Dynamo, and the Titanium Man. However, rather than losing one member to Mother Russia, the Champs turn another to our side, and Darkstar joins up for the rest of the run as the distaff mutant member of the misfit team.

The initial art is by Don Heck (unfortunately paired with heavy inkers Mike Esposito and John Tartag) alternating with George Tuska (inked by Vince Colletta, in a frequent team of the era). Tuska actually does an athletic and imposingly beautiful Natasha in issues he pencils (obviously and wisely modeled on the wall-defying debut of her sexier second costume in Spider-Man under the incomparable pencils of John Romita, Sr.).

Bob Hall marks time as an adequate fill-in artist on issues #8-10 until a special treat comes along. First, Dave Cockrum does an amazing cover for #10 (not to slight Gil Kane, who provided memorable covers for #8 and #9, including the one used for this trade). Then, in #11, a fresh and stunningly unique John Byrne raises the whole visual level of the proceedings.

This final chapter of volume one, the treasure of this set, features some pulpy goings on out West with Hawkeye, the Two-Gun Kid, and some shadow beings with invasion and possession on their minds. There’s also special guest-star Black Goliath back home signing on as the team’s resident scientist.

All of this will be continued in volume two where the mutants dredge up their own ghosts by becoming targets for Magneto and the Sentinels, but that’s another review. This one is about a fun slice of life from back when women flew off buildings, men were passionate thrill-seekers, and mutants were buddies with demons--not to mention Russians who could really heat up the Cold War! Those were the days!

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