By Steve Morris
Not everyone is cracked up to be an Avenger. Back in the 1970s there were more X-Men than anyone knew what to do with, and they started sprawling out across random titles and into unexpected storylines. Although Beast made a great fit for the Avengers, two of the other original X-Men found themselves a bit stranded, without a permanent place for them to continue their stories.
Quite a few characters found themselves in a similar situation during the time period, in fact, which gave the Marvel office an idea – what if we take all these square pegs, mash them together into some kind of superpowered megapeg, and see if it’ll fit into the round hole that way? And so The Champions were born.
Dubious adventures followed.
The first issue kicks off with Iceman and Angel wandering the campus of UCLA, out of place and not really feeling the urge to go study. They have just enough time to establish their dissatisfaction with the direction their lives have taken when “a hole in mid-air” appears. To the credit of the great Don Heck, who draws the issue, he’s sort of able to draw the concept, choosing to make it look like a plastic bag flying round in a sea of Kirby krackle. Harpies explode out of it, seeking Venus, and suddenly we’re in the midst of a superteam origin story.
Iceman takes one out with a resounding… thrud… and the ensuing fight scene deploys all kinds of B-List SFX including “klug!” “kwunk!” and of course “chok!” Throughout, Angel and Iceman act as a couple, worrying and fretting about each other, and if that storyline were ever continued onwards it would’ve been a pretty brilliant move, to be honest. Angel decides to go public with his identity, despite not having a secret identity, which starts him on the path to becoming a defacto leader for the team to come.
The third member of the team is Black Widow, who has apparently come to UCLA looking for a teaching job, because she and her idle mentor Ivan are out of money. It’s an ignominious new character trait for her, but a recurring theme through The Champions, and one which is meant to mark is out as different to the Avengers or Defenders or anyone else is that The Champions will deal with realistic issues just like the readers. Mainly, that they’re pretty broke, and being a superhero is a drain on your resources. Y’know, those good moral lessons that the kids need to know.
Like the X-Men, Black Widow has just finished what’s essentially her story arc in comics, and now the character is at a loose end. She’s similarly interrupted, this time by portal-charging Amazons, which prompts Ivan to try out the unsuccessful catchphrase “Tash! Strip for action!” whilst punching one of them in the jaw with a hearty “thop”. He’s quickly knocked out, so Natasha has to deal with the women. It turns out that the woman interviewing her for the job IS actually Venus, who has decided to settle down and become an HR manager for a Los Angeles University, as predicted by the oracles since time immemorial.
Driving past the school at just this moment is Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, who has also completed his main storyline and is now living in post-narrative limbo. He has a sweet 70s motorbike and turns into the flaming skull just in time to come face to face with Cerberus… who in the Marvel Universe isn’t a three-headed dog, but is instead an orange giant in a purple half-suit which makes him look like a Sontaran. Ghost Rider sets him on fire, which forces Cerberus to turn into its more iconic form… albeit with only one head rather than three. The heroic Ghost Rider heroically drives away from the tall dog.
Now, you’ll never guess who is a guest lecturer at the University that day: it’s Hercules the Prince of Power, who I guess has no idea his mother in law has taken up a job in the faculty. He has a chat with the “lecture agent” who hired him for this gig which is interrupted by mutates – not mutants – mutates. These are weird goblin like people who are basically warm-up material for Hercules to try out some of his one-liners on: and try out some one-liners he certainly does. Never underestimate the entertainment value of Hercules bellowing “away, o ignominious fleas!”
He also pushes one of them into the floor with a mighty sound effect of “cram”. This is what people want in comics, surely. Why can’t every comic contain this many off-brand sound effects?
After spotting Hercules fighting off the mutates, Ghost Rider pops by. Neither of them have met the other before, but within a panel Hercules is happily popped on the back of the motorbike and headed off in no particular direction, which is why they were both included in this series to start with. Hercules spots Cerberus and goes to beat it up again (and implies he did throughout his youth, which is worrying) whilst Iceman gleefully freezes all the Amazons in place.
Venus asks Angel to fly her overhead, and with a quick fondle of her girdle she on-panel causes all the mutates to have a joint simultaneous orgasm which makes them pass out en masse. This is what happens in the comic, I am not exaggerating. The various threats are put to bed, in varying senses, and the heroes gather round to catch their breath. The first meeting of the team who’ll become The Champions is only one panel long, however, and it’s somewhat ruined by Angel saying “the whole magilla” as a sincere term he genuinely think sounds great.
They’re interrupted by an off-panel blast of massive power which goes “zat” and drops them to the ground. Pluto steps out of a portal and says Hercules must marry Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons, and that Venus must marry Ares. Does Pluto realise that he’s mixing up the Roman and Greek Gods into one big messy puddle? Probably not.
It’s… an opening issue, alright. It’s not exactly the cliffhanger you’d expect from a new series, and the random pairing of these characters together would be quite refreshing and interesting if it was featured properly. At this stage, however, the comic is too busy throwing new things at the reader every few pages, trying to keep everyone off guard with strange ideas and over-the-top dialogue. You can see why readers didn’t connect to the book – but there is something interesting about its willingness to admit that these five characters have all reached the end of their natural story arc, but nevertheless are returning for new stories now. That’s an interesting premise, reaching beyond the series itself, so it’ll be fun to see how it does or doesn’t play up that angle as it goes on.
No sign of Darkstar yet, either. All in good time.
The Champions #1: The World Still Needs… The Champions!
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Don Heck
Inker: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Dave Hunt
Colourist: Petra Goldberg
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
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