Issue(s): Champions #1, Champions #2, Champions #3, Champions #4, Champions #5, Champions #6, Champions #7, Champions #8, Champions #9, Champions #10
Beyond that, there is a theme. These are all loner/misfit characters looking for a second chance. The Black Widow, herself described as a "highly capable individual who has never really found her place in the sun", describes the others thusly:
The Black Widow's friend/driver Ivan is effectively a member of the team as well.
Issues #1-3 deal with an attempt by Pluto and his allies Ares and Hippolyta to take over Olympus.
They invade the campus of the UCLA in order to capture Venus and Hercules and force them to marry Ares and Hippolyta, respectively. Pluto uses a variety of mythological Olympian creatures in his invasion, including several that have appeared in previous comics.
Ghost Rider's flame, being supernatural in nature, is particularly effective in fighting the Olympians...
...and eventually Zeus is convinced to not allow the marriage.
Five minutes into their first battle, and Angel and Ghost Rider are already referring to Hercules as a friend, which i think is bad character development.
It's worth looking at Venus' thought bubbles and actions in light of the fact that Agents of Atlas will later reveal that she is actually a siren, and not actually Venus.
Prior to any fighting Venus thinks, "I seem to have acquired an almost human curiosity in my mortal guise as Dr. Victoria Starr." None of the Olympians ever suspect that she isn't actually Venus, and at the end of the arc she elects to stay in Olympus. If she isn't the actual Venus, i wonder where the real one is at this time. It's worth noting that at one point Venus literally turns a sword into a plowshare (which is kind of cheesy); not a power that the Siren has ever displayed.
So maybe this was actually the real Venus. But the Goddess wasn't supposed to have used the Victoria Starr identity.
Issue #4 is a single issue dealing with a crazy psychologist who experiments on homeless people with mind control. It is guest-written by Chris Claremont. Basically an inter-team fight issue.
Issues #5-6 portray a down-on-his-luck inventor who has built an exoskeleton, but unlike Tony Stark, does not get any recognition or contracts. He becomes a super-villain named Rampage...
...and the Champions stop him.
The interesting aspect is how he starts out with just a robbery, but as he nearly kills people, including police officers, he finds himself more and more trapped and ends up trying to get himself killed to avoid a severe jail sentence.
Also in this arc, the Angel discovers that the money he is inheriting from his recently deceased parents is much more than he was expecting.
Issues #7-10 deal with the Black Widow's backstory as her former trainer comes to the US along with a new Crimson Dynamo, the Titanium Man...
...and a new pupil named Darkstar, who seems to be as agile as the Black Widow plus possesses energy powers (not yet referred to as Darkforce energy).
Rampage is also briefly used by the Soviets until he is betrayed by them, and badly injured again, and the Griffin is hired by them as well.
In their fight against the Russian super-villains, the Champions, who don't ever seem to have trained or practiced together, pull off an insane move. Hercules throws his mace, which bounces off of the Crimson Dynamo towards Ghost Rider, who catches it by the handle and lets it drag him up into the air so that he can blast the Griffin with his hellfire without hurting bystanders. He then throws the mace at the Griffin, and it bounces back into Hercules' hand so he can take a final swing at Dynamo. This is all a little unbelievable, but i kinda like it. Feels like triggering a super team move in a video game.
Angel screws it all up, though, by defeating the Titanium Man and accidentally knocking him right onto Hercules.
Darkstar eventually defects and the Champions win out.
Black Widow gets Nick Fury to clear Darkstar's stay in the US with the Customs Authorities.
Bill Mantlo takes over the writing in the middle of this arc.
Angel gets a new costume - a red version of the Neal Adams halo costume. This will be his standard costume for a long time and i consider it his classic outfit.
Prior to that, the writers experiment with having Angel use Hercules' mace for a while. I figure with Angel's powers being so passive, giving him a godly weapon had a certain appeal. It doesn't last, though.
Issue #10, the end of a story arc, would have been a good place to end the trade, but i suspect that issue #11 was included so that John Byrne's name could be placed in the credits for the trade. Nonetheless we're stopping here, with issue #11 coming up later due to continuity considerations.
I said as the beginning of this review that there was nothing inherently wrong with the Champions. That doesn't mean these issues are any good, however. The plotting is all over the place and distracted from the main point of the series. These are generic super-hero plots, in many cases picked up from other books that have nothing to do with these particular characters. The idea of a group of loner heroes trying to make it together is lost, and another interesting idea - that of creating a "storefront super-hero team" that is accessible to the average person, sort of like Luke Cage's set-up in Times Square, never has a chance to develop.
Nonetheless, the stories are a simple kind of fun.
Issue #12 has a letter from Kurt Busiek, telling the editors to "get rid" of Iceman and Ghost Rider along with other advice. He does have a good handle on the characters.
Tony Isabella's original vision for this book was apparently just meant to be Angel and Iceman wandering Route 66 but (quoting Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story):
[Len] Wein began applying a succession of rules that called for changes: it had to be a team of five characters; it had to include a woman; it had to include a character that already has its own title as well; it had to include someone with super-strength.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Issues #1-11 are collected in the trade reprint. I've put a copy of issue #11 where it belongs as the first part of a three issue arc along with issues #12-13, and kept #1-10 here. The Champions have formed by Avengers #150 so this entry needs to go before that (The MCP actually has the Avengers issues between Champions #6-7). Hercules appears here after Thor #239. Ghost Rider appears in Champions #1-2 during Ghost Rider #14. He then appears in Champions #3 between Ghost Rider #15-16, and Champions #4 between Ghost Rider #16-17. He then doesn't appear in Champions again until issues #7-9, which take place between Ghost Rider #20-21. If i could do it all over again, i would buy the Champions as single issues to avoid some of this, but i've put the relevant Ghost Rider issues around this entry.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Champions Classic TPB
Inbound References (11): show
The title to #6 refers to the Joe Cocker album "Mad Dogs and Englishmen".
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 21, 2011 5:43 PM
FOOM#13 announced the team of super-villains in #7 as "Nemesis".
In late 1975, FOOM#12 announced a Black Widow TV-movie starring Angela Bowie. Angela was also considered for the 1974 Wonder Woman TV-movie but reportedly got dumped because she wouldn't wear a bra.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | March 4, 2013 6:09 PM
Hm. If I remember / understand the Agents of Atlas explanation right, this should be the actual Venus. I believe that AoA drew a distinction between the "Olympian" and the "earthbound" versions (the reasoning being that the "make love not war" characterization she typically had was not consistent with the actual mythology), and that any appearance associated with the Olympians should be the real deal.
But for that to work, as you point out, this one shouldn't have the Victoria Starr identity. Seems like Jeff Parker either didn't read these Champions issues (I haven't either), or forgot the reference when he came up with his fix...
Posted by: Chris K | March 17, 2013 5:30 PM
Parker didn't always think through his fixes. The explanation as to how Marvel Boy survived is inconsistent with Deathurge's explanation of what happened to the Uranians. It works if one assumes that Deathurge lied but Eon, who is cosmically aware, makes it sound like the bands had been affixed to Grayson's wrists since before he became Marvel Boy but Parker explained that the bands never were attached to the real Grayson's wrists.
Posted by: Michael | March 17, 2013 5:37 PM
I only have one character tag for Venus right now, and a couple of times i've gone to clean that up and split them out, but i've been stumped by the Victoria Starr alias here and in Sub-Mariner #57 (which would otherwise be my only appearances of the Olympian version so far). The MCP does have both of these appearances attributed to the Olympian, though. Am i wrong that it was the Siren version that was supposed to use the Starr name?
Posted by: fnord12 | March 17, 2013 5:58 PM
I don't think a team needs a unifying literary theme, but I do think they need a concept. If nothing else, they need a brand to distinguish themselves from other titles in the marketplace. The Avengers are "Earth's Mightiest Heroes." Taking the marquee "A" level characters and putting them together in one group is always a strong selling point. So what's your team about that gives the readers a different experience?
When I began reading comics, the Defenders were already the "New Defenders" so I didn't have the "non-team" concept to distinguish them from the Avengers. However, the earlier concept of them being an ad hoc team gathered by Dr Strange to deal with various (usually occult) menaces isn't a bad way to give them their own identity. I'm not surprised that after a long run as the old Defenders, the New Defenders ended up folding in a few years.
The Champions though? It's very apparent this group has no identity. Very generic plots. Nothing to make me interested. I think they explored some ideas to distinguish them, but it was too little too late. The book is what it appears to be - a bunch of third stringers Marvel put together in a book because they the characters were available. A stronger concept would have interested people more.
Posted by: Chris | March 18, 2013 9:54 PM
Ralph Macchio had a letter in #7.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 25, 2013 6:44 PM
You wrote: "Angel's new costume is a color variant of the one he wore in X-Men #62-63" but Angel actually wore it from X-Men #62 until Avengers #110 when Magneto stole it back from him to use the "mutant energies" it had been absorbing from Angel all that time.
Posted by: Anonymous | July 15, 2013 6:47 AM
Sorry, that previous comment was by me.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | July 15, 2013 7:22 AM
There is a Continuity Implant story called Gambit & the Champions: From the Marvel Vault #1 (Oct 2011) that can only take place during Champions #7 between pages 10 & 11 you might want to check out.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | July 17, 2013 2:42 AM
I like powering up Angel a little, but a mace? That's a bit to reminiscent of DC's Hawkman...
Posted by: Berend | January 16, 2014 7:39 PM
I really wanted to like this series when it first came out, but Don Heck's stiff art was just so underwhelming. The grouping was bizarre but somehow worked. I kept issue #1 for a while before selling it off with some others.
Posted by: Mike | June 29, 2014 6:55 PM
"If i could do it all over again, i would buy the Champions as single issues to avoid some of this, but i've put the relevant Ghost Rider issues around this entry."
I suspect there are a lot of thoughts concerning the Champions that begin with "If I could do it all over again. Starting with the horrible costume Angel wears the first few issues.
But what always seemed strange, and I haven't read the full issues, is there any explanation as to why Warren and Bobby would be together? They had almost no down time together in the X-Men days and now suddenly they're part of a team together (and were the original concept for the book).
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 15, 2015 5:00 PM
Ah, looks like the first image of Pluto here was somewhat based on a similar Pluto image from Thor #164 --perfectly understandable, as Heck was probably unfamiliar with this character. Fnord12 has the image I'm referring to in his Thor #164 entry:
Posted by: Shar | March 16, 2015 10:10 AM
Hi all, I found some notes on Scott Edelman's site Bill Mantlo wrote to Shooter and Conway about ideas he had for the book, which you may find interesting.
Posted by: JSfan | May 15, 2015 6:57 AM
Thanks for these, JSFan. Lots of good stuff on Edelman's site, actually.
Interesting revisions in the notes. I actually like Mantlo's desire to get rid of the pairing between Ivan and Black Widow. Ivan always winds up being a de facto superhero and member of the team and that distracts from the Widow as her own character. But i agree with the editors' questioning of doing certain things too slowly. I think this book needed to find its feet more quickly.
Warms my heart to see Mantlo sayings, "I'm a big adherent to the 'Marvel universe' concept, and from former stories I've done I'm sure you've seen that I USE it whenever possible". My favorite attribute of Mantlo's.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 15, 2015 9:09 AM
Looking at that pitch, I agree with Shooter that the book's identity probably had to be established as quickly as possible. What I really like about Mantlo's thinking, though, is the idea that these characters have severed connections to their respective corners of the Marvel Universe. They may relationships with the Avengers, the X-Men, Daredevil, whomever, but they've lost those and now have to forge similar relationships with each other. It's a good take. I'm not sure how well it was executed in practice, but I like the appraoch.
Posted by: JP | May 15, 2015 9:20 AM
Ivan's last name as Schwartz? Was that some joke on Shooter's part, perhaps?
Posted by: Erik Robbins | May 15, 2015 12:25 PM
This title is Marvel's first attempt at a superteam on the West Coast. It is a precursor of West Coast Avengers. With two Avengers, two X-Men, and a supernatural character, this series had a lot of potential to go in many directions. I believe Black Widow is the first female character to lead a superhero team.
Posted by: Steven | August 25, 2015 12:10 PM
Dave Kraft stated in Comics Interview #112 that he was the one who came up with the "Champions" book title.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | October 10, 2015 4:20 PM
There is a shout-out to some Conan writer (Roy Thomas?) in #1. Richard Fenster regrets having presented him as the previous speaker before Hercules.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | March 26, 2016 8:29 PM
Saturn Girl led the Legion of Super-Heroes for awhile in the 1960s.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | March 26, 2016 11:18 PM
As I recall, the Champions were supposed to be the team for the "common man".Let's see, two wayward mutants, a demigod, a demon on a flaming motorbike, and a former Russian spy in head-to-toe leather, soon to be joined by a Russian mutant who controls darkness. Nothing says down-to-earth more than that combo platter!
Posted by: Brian Coffey | May 22, 2017 11:25 PM
Actually, that's pretty "common" for the Marvel Universe ;)
Posted by: CLYDE | May 23, 2017 9:22 AM
I'll grant that, I suppose I was thinking more street-level heroes, a la Luke Cage or Daredevil.
Posted by: Brian Coffey | May 23, 2017 11:12 AM
Which is of course half of the new line-up for the "Defenders" in the MCU.
Posted by: clyde | May 23, 2017 11:50 AM
I agree with the point that Ivan, like Daredevil, was a huge drag on Black Widow's character. IMO she would work well as a loner, but is rarely presented that way.
"Mad Dogs & Englishmen," the story title for #6, was, as noted above, probably taken from the title of a (great) Joe Cocker album and tour group which included Leon Russell and other popular artists of the time. The title phrase "Mad dogs & Englishmen" however predates Cocker's use of it, coming from Noel Coward's 1931 song of the same title, which ends most verses with the refrain, "Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun." This phrase in turn is/was a popular phrase derived from a habit the English had, of going out in the sun without hats, at midday in tropical climates, instead of taking siestas, whereupon they would frequently suffer and collapse from heat stroke or heat exhaustion.
Posted by: Holt | February 24, 2018 9:36 AM
In #2, there's a panel that depicts some lords of Hell as part of a union led by Pluto. One appears to be Mephisto, and another appears to be the Satan appearing in Ghost Rider which was also written by Tony Isabella at the time, which would seem to contradict the later assertion that Mephisto and "Satan" were the same. Pluto's also shown with some green-clad guy in that same panel, whom I suspect appeared in a Ditko Dr. Strange story.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 4, 2018 1:04 AM
A challenge, eh? The green-clad guy in Champions 2 is the unnamed demon from "What Lurks beneath the Mask?" in Strange Tales 136, though he's colored differently, and nothing in that story indicates he's any sort of lord of the dead.
Posted by: Andrew | July 4, 2018 6:26 AM
Satan and Mephisto being the same still works with this as the were said to be halves of a whole.
Posted by: AF | July 4, 2018 9:55 AM
Yet another Marvel prospective super group in need of a soul and better writing. This book needed a John Buscema art offering and some inventive West Coast type super villains etc instead of so many Olympians and Shakespeare in the park guys. The line up was awesome
Posted by: Rocknrollguitarplayer | July 19, 2018 12:17 AM
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