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.),
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.
The humanoid version of Cerberus is from Thor #130. He doesn't transform there. The Mutates are from Thor #163-#164, in which Pluto is allied with them and fights Thor in the future.
Isabella's praise of Heck in Jeff's quote rubs me the wrong way. Heck's work from this period was relentlessly mediocre and dull. I want to find something to like about it and can't.
Richard Willis said:
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?"
No, he seemed to find it amusing.
The Champions #2 (December 1975: "Whom the Gods Would Join..."
For those of you keeping score at home, Don Heck is inked by John Tartag in this one.
Hercules tries to attack Pluto, but is beaten. The other heroes pull him to safety through a handy space portal. Pluto goes back to Olympus to pressure Zeus to force Herc and Venus to toe the line.
(Side Note: I never liked the design of Pluto as a character.)
Pluto has teamed up with other death god, and is threatening to upset the universal balance is Zeus doesn't enforce the marriages
This is all part of Pluto's plan to neutralize Hercules and Venus, as they would be the only ones who could stop him from overthrowing Zeus. Apparently, Zeus has a rule that husbands and wives may not oppose one another. Wouldn't this also neutralize Ares and Hippolyta? Maybe Pluto thinks it would be a good trade-off.
I must say that for an all-knowing sky-god, Zeus frequently comes off as kind of dimwitted in these stories, making silly rules which he apparently can't just change, and falling for transparent schemes. Odin did a lot of that, too, come to think of it.
Next up, our heroes face the Huntsman, who has a big stick and a bad haircut. He knocks out Herc and Venus, but Ghost Rider zaps him. GR is left to guard the gods, while the others pursue the Huntsman, who summons up Monoetius, The mortal heroes beat him, but the Huntsman tricks GR into attacking them and escapes with the unconscious gods.
Cliffhanger: The mortal heroes don't know what to do!
Overall: OK. A bit of a runaround, a bit like those Doctor Who stories where they spend half the episode running up and down corridors.
“Wouldn't this also neutralize Ares and Hippolyta?”
The same thought occurred to me.
“Next up, our heroes face the Huntsman…”
Here’s another example (for me, personally) of this story taking place in a “shared universe.” The Huntsman first appeared in a back-up story in the (otherwise reprint) Ka-Zar #1, which, by coincidence, I happened to have acquired as a back issue. A footnote indicates his most recent appearance was Sub-Mariner #29, which I happen to have read recently in a MMW edition. In the introduction to that volume, Roy Thomas explains he brought in the Huntsman just to tie up dangling plot threads from the Hercules back-up feature.
“Cliffhanger: The mortal heroes don't know what to do!”
1975 was early enough in my comics collection career that buying two consecutive issues of a given title was still something of a novelty for me. Although I bought Champions #1-2 off the spinner rack, those would be the only two issues of this series I was to see for the remainder of the decade. Yesterday I reiterated the “Secret Origin of Earth-J,” yet I didn’t bother concocting an ending for this three-parter. I was perfectly content thinking of this as a two-part story in which the heroes simply lost. As far as I was concerned, they simply drifted their own separate ways at the end of issue #2.
Note that they have still not formed an actual team.
Ah, Luke beat me to the Huntsman appearance in Ka-Zar, but reminded me of the Angel back-up in #2-3 (concluded in an issue of Marvel Tales). I had acquired back issues of those, too, by the time I read Champions #1-2, which also contributed to the feeling of a "shared universe" for me.
Of all the Champions adventures, thus origin tale for the team-that-champions-the-common-man is the moist 'otherworldly' adventure they have!
The art looks much better in #2 than #1, which surprises me a bit. Over in Richard Mantle's Avengers thread, we've just been discussing Avengers #144, where Mike Esposito inked over George Perez for the first time since Perez's run started in #141. In my opinion, Esposito really made Perez's pencils shine. He also inked several issues of Amazing Spider-Man in the 1960s and they always looked great too. Champions #1 does not look good though. My guess is poor Don Heck had to really rush on the first issue and got to take his time on issue two. I'm not familiar with John Tartag but he and Heck were a decent combo here.
I'll say more about the story after Bob talks about Champions #3.
Actually, John Tartag was John Tartaglione. He did a lot of work for Marvel.
"My guess is poor Don Heck had to really rush on the first issue..."
That's likely. The day after Isabella's pitch was approved (with modifications), he was told he was three weeks behind!
The Champions #3 (February 1976): "Assault On Olympus"
Plot: Tony Isabella, Script: Bill Mantlo, Pencils: George Tuska, Inks: Vince Colletta
The art is slightly better in this one. The dialogue gets a little loopy in parts, Johnny calls Bobby "You petulant popsicle!" (Note: Unless you're writing a Lost in Space comics, none of your characters should sound like Doctor Smith.)
We open with Warren and Natasha at the beach, watching Bobby mope. (He was hot for Lorna Dane? I never knew that.)
Johnny shows up, having realized that they can get into Olympus because they left a back door open. Our heroes get to Olympus and confront the Huntsman.Elsewhere,Hercules and Venus beat up Ares and Hippolyta.
Ghost Rider resolves the situation by telling Zeus not to be such a dumbass, and Zeus tells Pluto to scram. Venus asks for forgiveness to everyone. Zeus sends our heroes home and prepares to get drunk with Dionysius,
Cliffhanger: Our heroes arrive home, wondering what's next!
Overall: Felt like kind of a rushed ending, like Zeus needed to be reminded, "You're the king of the gods, why are you putting up with this crap?"
They're still not technically a team yet, just a bunch of people who happened to get together.
Iceman's losing Polaris to Havok was a late Silver Age thing.
We must acknowledge that the arrival of the New X-Men affected Warren and Bobby the most as Scott and Jean stayed and Hank joined the Avengers.
It must have felt like they were thrown out of their home for flashier strangers!
This issue takes place one day after #2. I guess it would have to, given the impending nuptials, but I always thought there was a bigger span of time between issues #2 and #3 (maybe because it was, like, seven years for me).
As I mentioned yesterday, I never did bother coming up with an “Earth-J” ending of my own when I missed #3 (and on), partially due to the fact I couldn’t think of a plausible way for those left behind to get to Olympus. As it turned out, Tony Isabella couldn’t, either. I mean, a mystical portal being held open by ice? That’s a new one on me.
“The art is slightly better in this one.”
Colletta inks hair well, I admit. Note Warren’s coiffure on the splash page and Zeus’ later on.
“They're still not technically a team yet, just a bunch of people who happened to get together.”
True. If this had been the Avengers, they’d have named themselves in the last panel. These days, the adventure which brings a group together would likely be “#0.” At this point, using that numbering logic, we’re still in the negatives.