By Steve Morris
We think a lot of things when we think of Malibu, but inevitably the main thing we all remember is Barbie’s Malibu Dream House. Barbie doesn’t appear in this issue of The Champions, but it does start with Hercules and Black Widow going for an aggressive walk down the beach, which is the sort of odd-couple pairing my sister would have gone for when she was five and mixing her toys together. Black Widow thinks they’re just going for a nice walk, and has brought her best trenchcoat, but Hercules is still all angry about Pluto getting away with just a light telling-off last issue.
Black Widow very casually tells him not to start a war with the underworld, and he eventually agrees. At that precise moment, someone attacks them both, which upsets the seagulls. Black Widow reflects that this is a brilliant tactic because the “loose sand” will obscure the attacker’s identity? She beats the crap out of him for quite a while, each new attack throwing sand into his face, alas. A wave rolls in and takes her out, though, leading the attacker to pick her up one handed and throw her into the sea like GOD from Arrested Development. She’s only going to fly right back in your face, pal.
Hercules punches the ground, which knocks the attacker off his feet, leading the guy (who calls himself “Billy”) to smack Hercules. Hercules hits him back, and then sees that the man they’ve been fighting is… a nondescript civilian in a hospital shirt! Billy starts panicking, so Black Widow calms him down by calling him “old one”. Six mercenaries wearing one of Jamie Madrox’s cast-off outfit ideas show up, shooting Hercules and then Black Widow and taking them prisoner.
The narration then says “time… part of it is lost in darkness, the rest surrounded in gray, fog-like images as elusive as wood sprites” which confirms my theory that Chris Claremont is a wood spirit, perhaps an Ent. The heroes are taken to a man with glasses and a coat that’s too big for him, and who runs a sinister hospital. Hercules promptly breaks out his handcuffs and fights his way out, but a band round Black Widow’s neck starts to tighten – for her sake, Hercules sheathes his, uh, knuckles. Black Widow recognises their captor as Edward Lansing, and he appears to be sinisterly wielding a comb at her.
His plan is to create super-soldiers by experimenting on patients, although the process affects their minds – they’re super strong, but mindless, like poor Billy. Such villainy prompts Hercules to immediately forget about Black Widow’s neck binding and kick off again, yelling “I have heard enow!” and kicking someone with a hearty “ktam!” Lansing plans to brainwash the heroes for some reason, and he gives an adorable evil laugh.
Later, we check in in on Iceman and Angel, who are enjoying their time at the beach by sitting inside, in front of a roaring fire, and reading comics about themselves. Ivan, the creepy mentor to Black Widow, is upset that nobody else is worried that his super-spy has gone off the grid for maybe an hour at most, suggesting Ivan might have issues with boundaries. Hercules certainly does, though, because he punches through the wall at just that moment and he and Black Widow charge in, ready to kill the trio. “Froom!” goes the wall.
Iceman flies away from Black Widow, which he hails as a triumph. Iceman goes up against Hercules, though, slipping him up on ice – actually impressive! He’s then swarmed by mutates who call him a “beardless youth!” Hercules then throw him through a table, before we cut to Lansing and see that he’s actually controlling the heroes using a video game controller. Incredible scenes. Just as everything is going his way, though, the sound of a bike revving up hits the comic and in flies Johnny Blaze!
Angel uses the distraction to fly head-first into Hercules, another sterling tactical decision. As expected, Hercules barely feels it, and punches Ghost Rider straight off his bike – another bit of evidence for why Black Widow should be team leader. Iceman, Angel and Ghost Rider all work together to try and take down Hercules, to little effect. Meanwhile, Ivan fights Black Widow, and takes a beating. As she starts to choke him to death, however, her superior defences against brainwashing start to kick in and she stops just before he dies. She then turns her attention back to Lansing, who is dismayed that his remote control isn’t working anymore.
He tries to shoot her with a neural disruptor gun which, best of luck with that one, dude. She twirls out the way, smacks him to the ground, then steps on the remote control with a “skrunch!” In a panic he runs off towards his mutates, forgetting that without the controller they’ll be back in control of their own minds again, and in a pretty disturbing three-panel sequence they catch up to him and kill him. The next day, Hercules watches on as his corpse is still lying there on the beach, surrounded by mutates. Angel says the police will be there soon, and they’ll look after the mutates, which shows off Angel’s misplaced white privilege in society I guess.
Hercules is upset they’ll never get their minds back, and Angel yells at him to stop pouting. Angel is a really bad leader, isn’t he? He tells Angel to stop “crying in our beer”, which is an odd [hrase, and tells them that they have a duty to be… Champions!
And just in time, because next week will see the rise of… Rampage! Oh dear, I don’t remember this being very good.
The Champions #4: Murder at Malibu!”
Writers: Chris Claremont
Artist: George Tuska
Inker: Vince Coletta
Letterer: Irv Watanabe
Colourist: Phil Rache
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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