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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It didn't become an issue until Ghost Rider #19 was in preparation - after it had been drawn and dialogued, apparently - so probably not. That issue came out the same month as The Champions #7.

Thankyou.

Why was GR missing from those issues then?

Luke Blanchard said:

It didn't become an issue until Ghost Rider #19 was in preparation - after it had been drawn and dialogued, apparently - so probably not. That issue came out the same month as The Champions #7.

In the Isabella quote (above) he says he plotted the story and then was busy moving from New York back to Cleveland.

The Champions #7 (August 1976):  "The Man Who Created the Black Widow"

Isabella/Tuska/Colletta

We start with our heroes being attacked by a flying bomb, sent by someone who knows Natasha.  Elsewhere, Clarke refuses Warren's offer of a lawyer.  He is accused of "robing banks", which sounds difficult.  Johnny's back, just in time to see Clarke being taken away by Darkstar and the Griffin.  Bobby and Herc find a kid hanging around their HQ, thus missing an intruder, who is Ivan's son.  Natasha confronts Commissar Bruskin, who tries to warn her about something.

Cliffhanger:  Bruskin is zapped by the Titanium Man!

Overall: An OK issue, with lots of stuff happening. Looks like Natasha's past is coming back to haunt her.  I know that Darkstar becomes at least a semi-regular at some point. Don't believe I've seen the Griffin before.

Because the “dedication ceremony” is stated to be the next day, I’m going to rule that the Champions are still not officially a team.

This is Tony Isabella’s last issue. His comments on issue #7 deal mainly with where he would have taken the story, so no real spoilers here.

TONY ISABELLA on CHAMPIONS #7:

“‘The Man Who Created the Black Widow’ was to be the first chapter of my super-hero Russian tragedy. Instead, it turned out to be my final issue as I moved on to other challenges at other publishers. Mantlo would come on board with #8 and make the book his own.

“Issue #7 introduced three new characters, two of whom had a history with Ivan and the Widow. Commissar Bruskin was the man who trained the Widow in her younger years. You’ll learn about Yuri Petrovitch when you read issues #8-10. As for Darkstar, she was a cool Russian chick with black-light powers that were basically the equivalent of Green Lantern’s power-ring powers over at GC Comics. I came up with her and artist George Tuska designed her, but Mantlo did the heavy lifting, giving her an intriguing personality, a doomed romance and more than a little mystery.

“Here’s what you know. Yuri was the long-believed-dead son of Ivan. He put together a team of villains to get revenge on the father he believed abandoned him.

“Here’s what you don’t know because the story I originally intended was even more tragic than what Bill devised. Yuri also hated his sister… Natasha.

“My inspiration for this was a flashback in an earlier Widow story in which Ivan rescued young Natasha from a fire which claimed the life of her mother. It was a tragic moment. I wanted to make it more so.

“During the arc, we and the Widow would learn Yuri was her brother and Ivan her father. Having arrived too late to save the lives of his wife and—he thought—his son, Ivan considered himself to be unworthy to claim his daughter’s love. Though he’d remain as close to her as possible, as her chauffer and confidant, he would never reveal their true relationship.

“Determined to punish the father he falsely believed had abandoned him, Yuri intended to kill Natasha in front of Ivan. To save her, Ivan would reveal the truth he had hidden for so long. This would wound Natasha, enrage Yuri, and leave Ivan more along than ever. I don’t recall if either Yuri or Ivan survive my story. I’m an old softie, but I know you can’t have a great Russian tragedy unless something, uh, tragic happens.”

Interesting. Do we know why Isabella left?

Fascinating that Ivan and Yuri were originally to be revealed as related to Natasha - wonder why the link between Yuri and Ivan was kept intact but their link to the Widow ignored?

It seems quite clear to me that Isabella had some good ideas but really wasn't that good at bringing them out in his stories, I have always thought this three-parter is where the Champions really took off -- and that the first part was the weakest!

“Do we know why Isabella left?”

Not beyond what he said above, that he “moved on to other challenges at other publishers.” Black Lightning at DC?

“[I] wonder why the link between Yuri and Ivan was kept intact but their link to the Widow ignored?”

From what I gather from reading these MMW introductions, there wasn’t a lot of communication between transitioning writers (unless perhaps they were personal friends). I doubt Bill Mantlo even knew of Isabella’s plans.

“Fascinating that Ivan and Yuri were originally to be revealed as related to Natasha”

Hey, Richard… In his introduction to MMW Avengers, Steve Englehart discusses what he had in mind for Two-Gun Kid and Wonder Man, which I’ll transcribe when we get to issues #147 and #152 (respectively) in your “And There Came ANOTHER Day” discussion.

Ah Jeff!! The suspense..!!

The Griffin first appeared in Amazing Adventures #15 where two-bit thug Johnny Horton was experimented on by AIM (I think) and given wings, claws and a mane where he fought the Beast and the Angel.

But I remember him more from Marvel Team-Up #38 which came out a few months after the Beast appeared in Avengers #137 (see the Hairy Hero's corner box!) so I HAD to buy it!

There the Griffin was shown to be constantly evolving as he grew a prehensile tail and gained the ability to control birds! But he was no match for Spidey and the Beast!

I remember the Griffin from John Byrne's Namor series where he had devolved into a mindless monster that Namor kind if tamed like a pet

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