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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I feel it's too bad Tony Isabella didn't get a chance to do his original proposal, an Angel & Iceman buddy book.  It would have to have been better than this convoluted mess.  I would have given up by #3 at the latest.  3 bi-monthly issues, with 2 writers, 2 pencillers, and 3 inkers; and if I follow the plot (I'm not sure I do), it went like this - Pluto is coercing Zeus (I'm not sure why, to steal his throne, I guess?), Ghost Rider said "Really, Zeus?", Zeus said "Good point, mortal, Pluto, it's over" and Pluto just ... gives up.  

It's also amusing that Len Wein forced the conditions on Isabella's book (although Tony probably didn't think so) - five members, one woman, one member with his own book - when other books didn't have those criteria.  The Avengers had more than five members, the FF had four, the Invaders started out with three (and no women initially), and the Inhumans and New X-Men had no members with their own book.  Invaders, Inhumans, and New X-Men also launched around this time.

Mentions of Ghost Rider and Tony Isabella made me think about Tony's famous (losing) battle to have Jesus or God in his Ghost Rider book. This was going on about the same time as the beginnings of The Champions.

The Champions #4 (March 1976):  "Murder at Malibu!"

Writer:  Chris Claremont (What.)

Art: Tuska & Colletta

OK, so Herc and Natasha are walking along the beach, Herc is whining about Pluto getting away, when they are suddenly attacked by a random old guy, and then are captured by random thugs in the employ  of Doctor Edward Lansing, who's the owner of a crooked nursing home or something.  He is trying to create his own army of super-soldiers.  He brainwashes them and sends to attack Warren, Bobby and Ivan for reasons that escape me. Johnny also shows up. Natasha throws off the control and smashed the control box, after which Lansing is killed by his own mutates.  Then Herc is all mopey and Warren tries to motivate him.

Cliffhanger:  They're still not a team yet.

Overall:  So, what happened?  Isabella and Mantlo were busy one month, and Claremont was walking by and was asked to write a story to tread water for a month?   I feel  like this is an interesting idea for a series, but it's too disjointed. Could they really not keep a steady writer/artist team  for even four months?  

One thing I've noticed is that so far the series hasn't really had any good villains.  It makes you realize that a team needs effective villains to seem impressive.

Possibly the issue was assigned to Claremont to give Isabella time to catch up.

Sounds feasible.

Richard Willis said:

Mentions of Ghost Rider and Tony Isabella made me think about Tony's famous (losing) battle to have Jesus or God in his Ghost Rider book. This was going on about the same time as the beginnings of The Champions.

Tony also wrote Champions #5-7, and his last issue of Ghost Rider was #19 (the one that featured Jesus and then was re-written), which came out the same month as Champions #7.

The Baron said:

The Champions #4 (March 1976):  "Murder at Malibu!"

Writer:  Chris Claremont (What.)

Art: Tuska & Colletta

OK, so Herc and Natasha are walking along the beach, Herc is whining about Pluto getting away, when they are suddenly attacked by a random old guy, and then are captured by random thugs in the employ  of Doctor Edward Lansing, who's the owner of a crooked nursing home or something.  He is trying to create his own army of super-soldiers.  He brainwashes them and sends to attack Warren, Bobby and Ivan for reasons that escape me. Johnny also shows up. Natasha throws off the control and smashed the control box, after which Lansing is killed by his own mutates.  Then Herc is all mopey and Warren tries to motivate him.

Cliffhanger:  They're still not a team yet.

Overall:  So, what happened?  Isabella and Mantlo were busy one month, and Claremont was walking by and was asked to write a story to tread water for a month?   I feel  like this is an interesting idea for a series, but it's too disjointed. Could they really not keep a steady writer/artist team  for even four months?  

This is pretty early in his writing career.  He isn't CHRIS CLAREMONT yet (or "chris claremont" if you will).  He's only written four issues of X-Men, and he's been the regular writer of Iron Fist for about a year.  At this point of his career, he's one of many people working at Marvel in some capacity hoping to get any assignment he can.  Claremont started out as an intern, he was a proofreader, and also an assistant to Len Wein when he was Editor-in-Chief.  So yeah, it's very likely he happened to be walking by the right person's office at the right moment.

Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo started out as writers in similar fashion, taking assignments whenever they could.  Isabella was also an intern and a proofreader; Mantlo got his foot in the door as a colorist.   Tony had become a very busy writer by 1975.  In a seven month span, he was the regular writer on Ghost Rider, did three issues on Captain America (he thought it was a regular assignment but he was the placeholder until Jack Kirby was starting his run), wrote the first two issues of Super-Villain Team-Up and Champions, the first issue of Black Goliath and the first Tigra story in Marvel Chillers.  These were all comics cover dated Aug 1975 - Feb 1976.  I wouldn't be surprised if Tony had deadline issues.

Ah, very interesting. I know very  little of this behind-the-scenes stuff.

Baron, I highly recommend Sean Howe's book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.  It has tons of great behind the scenes stuff with getting too gossipy or with he said / he said back and forths.

Besides the book, I've read lots of interviews with 70s and 80s creators, and I probably spend too much time on sites like Mike's Amazing World and the Grand Comics Database.

I've heard of that book, but never seen it.

The Champions #5 (April 1976):  "The Economy is So So Bad that..."

Isabella is back, as are Don Heck and John Tartag.

We are told of the arrival of Rampage, "The first menace born of the recession" and "the everyman of super-villains".  His costume is fairly uninspired.  This sounds like one of those ideas that could be really interesting or really crappy.

We open with Warren being informed that he has inherited a lot of money.  Elsewhere, Stuart Clarke is being informed that he is bankrupt.  He wanders the streets, ranting, and a passerby blame the Republicans. (Ooh, political commentary!)

Ivan warns Natasha against getting involved in another group .Ivan is not a barrel of laughs.

Herc is trying to learn  football. Y'know, I can understand that Herc wouldn't necessarily know fotoball, but doesn't even seem to know what a game is, here? The ancient Greeks had games! They invented the Olympics!

Warren hires a business manager for the team - he wants them to be heroes for the common man, whatever that means. 

Stuart decides to use an exoskeleton that he's invented to rob a bank.  Booby happens along, and a fight ensues, which soon involves the other Champions,except Ghost Rider, who is apparently off on a mission in space, or something.  Rampage gets his hands on Warren, and...

Cliffhanger:  Rampage threatens to make an angle out of Warren!

Overall:  Not bad,  They're finally a team, and Ramapge is an interesting idea for a villain, even if I don't like his design, visually.


The Baron said:

Warren hires a business manager for the team - he wants them to be heroes for the common man, whatever that means. 

Yeah, that "heroes for the common man" thing always puzzled me, too.  Does that mean the Champions would pounce on the guy who goes through the "fifteen-items-or-less" line with twenty items in his cart?  Or perhaps they go after the fast-food clerk who forgot your fries when you went through the drive-through window?

"Neighbour's barking dog keeping you up?  Call the Champions!"

The "heroes for the common man" thing was as absurd as the '70's Green Arrow constantly haranging the rest of the Justice League for not tackling street-level crime.

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