I read a couple of issues of this when I was a kid, but not all of them.  It was very hard for me to follow a series regularly in those days. So many times, I read the first part of a story, and didn't get to read the conclusion until decades later when it was reprinted.  I was recently given a collection of all 17 issues, plus some extras. (Thanks, Jeff!)  So, here we are.

I've heard this series described as Marvel taking a bunch of characters that weren't up to much and throwing them together. I don't know about that. I knew who all these characters were at the time, but I didn't know much about their backstories.  I would have been twelve at the time, and only been reading American comics for a short time.

We start with:

The Champions #1 (October 1975):  "The World Still Needs...The Champions!"

Written by Tony Isabella (The writing is OK. It does reasonably well on the Baron's "People Don't Actually Talk Like That, Roy" Scale. He does spell "fracas" as "fracus", however.)

Art is by Don Heck and Mike Esposito. (The art is competent, but not great.)

We start with two of the least interesting X-Men, (Well, none of the original X-Men were that all-fired interesting, there's a reason the book was cancelled and had to be re-invented to become a success.),

  • The Angel (A guy with wings is an interesting visual, but he could in theory be taken out by Elmer Fudd.)
  • The Iceman (The character has an interesting power set, but never had much of a personality.)

They are apparently throwing away the chance to attend UCLA, one of America's premier schools, because they don't feel like it.  They are beset by harpies.

Next we see the Black Widow, who has been forced to leave the man she loved - apparently Daredevil - for reasons which I don't know what they are. She is in town looking for a job as a language teacher, which seems a waste of her talents as a super-spy.  She is beset by Amazons, who are looking for Venus, who is posing as a college teacher,  for some reason.

Ghost Rider comes in next, as Johnny Blaze is in town doing an unspecified favor for a friend, and is beset by a creature claiming to be Cerberus, although he doesn't really look like it much.

Finally we meet Hercules, who is in town to give a guest lecture on Greek mythology, which actually seems like a good idea.   He is beset by mutates from the future, although why they are working alongside Greek myths is not explained.

In the course of their various battles, our heroes (and Venus) re drawn together, where they encounter...

Cliffhanger: Pluto shows up with Areas and Venus, saying that Herc has to marry Hipployta, and Venus has to marry Ares, or the universe will die!

Overall: Interesting stuff. I hadn't realized that this business of dragging a team's origin out over several issues went back this far.

 

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Bill Everett had brought Venus back as a professor during his Sub-Mariner run. He worked on her series in the 50s. (Possibly her return was editor Roy Thomas's idea rather than his.)

Ah, interesting. I never knew that.  I've been reading Marvel comics for over forty years, but there's still large chunks of Marvel continuity that I know nothing about.

Wow!

Great idea for a thread!

I loved this series/concept and have JUST this week picked up the CHAMPIONS Masterwork (on Kindle) - which includes all 17 issues (and some extras I hope you'll cover, Mr Baron, sir) (Why Masterworks in one volume when so many issues are covered? Why not 'Omnibus' or 'Epic Collection' - I don't understand?)

Publication in the UK was always sporadic and disjointed - I remember thinking Hulk Annual 7 drawn by Byrne featuring Angel and Iceman must have been a dry-run/pitch proposal for the Champions - not their last gasp.!

I'm with you on the being surprised at the drawn out origin tale back then and I actually don't rate the earliest issues much.

I was surprised Venus did not stay as a member.

The editions I have contain some extras. I don't have a list of them handy, so I can't say which right now.

When I was a kid, there were no comics shops that I knew of.  There were two newsdealers that were both about a mile from my house (and a couple of blocks away from each other) where I bought comics

  1. When I could get there, and
  2. When I had the money.

Grandpa would slip me a five-spot, and that would be my comics budget for the month.

I agree with your assessments of the two X-Men at thus point, The one thing I disliked was the Angel's new costume - it seemed like a backwards steep after his last few in the X-Men and it takes a while before any improvement is made.

In the 1970s, with Marvel’s main titles numbering in the hundreds, I was eager to get in at the beginning of what I hoped would be Marvel’s next big runaway hit. Consequently, I bought every number one issue I saw. The mid-seventies saw Marvel pushing to expand their line. 1975 was a particularly good year for that (new series, anyway, if not “runaway hits”). That year I bought Skull the Slayer, Marvel Chillers (first featuring Modred the Mystic, then Tigra the Were-Woman), and Inhumans (drawn at first by a newcomer named George Perez). Following Inhumans was The Champions, a title surely created with me in mind.

The Champions was perhaps my first “real time” exposure to the concept of a “shared universe.” One of my first comic books was Marvel Team-Up #4 featuring Spider-Man and the X-Men, so I was familiar with Iceman and Amgel. (Although it came out three years later than Marvel Team-Up #4, I still consider Champions #1 among my “first” comics as well.) I had read the Thor treasury edition (#3), so was not only familiar with Hercules but Pluto (and his machinations) as well. I think I had already encountered the Black Widow, too (from where ever that Christmas story originally published in Amazing Adventures #5 was reprinted). This was probably my first exposure to Ghost Rider.

“I read a couple of issues of this when I was a kid, but not all of them. It was very hard for me to follow a series regularly in those days.”

Same with me.

“So many times, I read the first part of a story, and didn't get to read the conclusion until decades later when it was reprinted.”

That is, in a nutshell, the “Secret Origin of Earth-J” (the universe in which my own made-up endings reside).

“I was recently given a collection of all 17 issues, plus some extras. (Thanks, Jeff!)”

You’re very welcome.

“So here we are.”

Indeed.

“I've heard this series described as Marvel taking a bunch of characters that weren't up to much and throwing them together.”

Specifically, in the “Comics Guide for February 24” (when the Masterworks edition was released), Captain Comics said: “I remember when Champions launched, and the cynical Captain thought, ‘They've just created a team for second-tier characters who aren't already in a team. It has no reason to exist, and it won't last long.’ Turns out I was right, but I have to say I was a little sad when it got canceled with issue#17 -- it had a quirky charm, even if it didn't have any reason to exist.”

“I don't know about that.”

I don’t know about that, either, and I’ll tell you why. First of all (the term “second-tier” notwithstanding), “a team for… characters who aren't already in a team” sounds very much like the raison d’etre of The Avengers. Second, they did have a reason to exist: they were considered by Tony Isabella to be “super-heroes for the common man.” (More on this later.)

"The World Still Needs...The Champions!"

It occurs to me that a better title would have been “The World Still Needs...Champions!" (“The World Still Needs...The Champions” would be a good title for a revival.)

“He does spell "fracas" as "fracus", however.)”

I noticed that, too. (Could have been the letterer’s fault, though)

“They are beset by harpies.”

There was a preponderance of harpies in the mid-70s for some reason: first in Hulk, then in Jimmy Olsen, then Champions.

“…Black Widow, who has been forced to leave the man she loved - apparently Daredevil…”

There are some footnotes referencing other Marvel comics I had not read at the time, but that didn’t impede my enjoyment of the story, in 1975 or today.

“She is best by Amazons…”

Although Marvel and DC are different universes, I like to pretend their mythological gods are the same. Don Heck would later draw Wonder Woman for DC in the ‘80s, and I thought of that while reading this sequence.

“He is beset by mutates from the future…

I’ve never really liked Marvel’s use of the word “mutate” (as a noun). I had to substitute “mutant” in my head.

Regarding Venus, I was largely unfamiliar with the character in 1975 (except what I had read in one of George Olshelvsky’s Marvel Index series). I’ve since read her appearances reprinted in Marvel Masterworks, although the series stopped short of the prime Everett issues. I appreciated Venus’ appearance in the more recent Agents of Atlas, although her origin is at odds with her ‘50s series and her appearance here.

“I hadn't realized that this business of dragging a team's origin out over several issues went back this far.

Just wait!

Tony Isabella's original concept was to just feature Angel and Iceman but the Powers-To-Be told him he needed a strong guy, a girl and someone who had his own book!

I had no problem with the Angel's new costume as it used different colors than the others.

I liked Venus, too being a Greco-Roman mythology buff!

Right you are, Philip. As he described in his introduction to the Marvel Masterwork edition, Tony Isabella pitched Champions as a “buddy book” teaming Angel and Iceman in “a mash-up of Route 66 and The Odd Couple. Two young heroes traveling across the country having adventures and helping people .” Len Wein (who had both written and edited Fantastic Four Isabella reminds us), proclaimed that all super-hero teams should have five members. Furthermore, every team must have a strong man, every team must have a woman, and every member must have a member who has his own book.

TONY ISABELLA on CHAMPIONS #1:

“Once I realized Len and Marv were serious about this, I requested Hercules and the Black Widow.Hercules would be fun to write and, having written the Widow out of Daredevil, I thought I could give her a leader’s role in this new team. Turning down Len’s suggestion of Luke Cage for the fifth member—I wanted the team to be based in Los Angeles and Cage is New York City through and through—I went with Ghost Rider.

“Marvel had its new super-team. Now all I had to figure out how to bring these characters together and give their team a reason to exist.

“I used up a year’s allotment of coincidence by getting the heroes to the UCLA campus just when some disgruntled gods put the grab on Hercules and guest-star Venus. I threw in every Marvel mythological menace I could think of and relied heavily on the artistic genius of pencilers Don Heck and George Tuska to make my convoluted, plot-heavy trilogy work. When you read those three issues here, you’ll understand my reverence for those gentlemen. “

Before moving on to issue #2, let's take a look at the cover of #1.


Great composition Mr. Kane!

Great delineation Mr. Adkins!

Not to knock Isabella, Heck and Tuska, but I often wonder what would have happened if Champions was launched by Len Wein and Dave Cockrum...? Food for thought.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

“They are beset by harpies.”

There was a preponderance of harpies in the mid-70s for some reason: first in Hulk, then in Jimmy Olsen, then Champions.

Also Green Lantern #82, Action Comics #433 (as one of an ensemble of villains), and the Hawkman story in World's Finest Comics #256 (which had Murphy Anderson art).

The Baron said:

Finally we meet Hercules, who is in town to give a guest lecture on Greek mythology, which actually seems like a good idea.

Did Hercules resent it being called "mythology?"

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