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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"Ah Jeff!! The suspense..!!"


“Foreshadowing.” ;)

The Baron said:

Interesting. Do we know why Isabella left?

Not direct quotes, but gleaned from Marvel Comics the Untold Story by Sean Howe:

This was at the time of transition from EIC Jim Shooter (who had forced Isabella to change his Ghost Rider "friend" story ) to EIC Gerry Conway. I believe that Isabella's rationale was that using Satan (not Mephisto), a real biblical personage, meant that he should be able to use Jesus in opposition. It is implied that Isabella left Marvel because of this.

Earlier Len Wein had insisted that Isabella's Champions concept be radically changed as we have discussed, which may have started his dissatisfaction. Conway came in like a lion, insisting that all of the "writer/editors" shape up and meet deadlines. Not sure if Isabella left before or after Conway arrived. During this time a lot of people either left or were fired. Earlier in the book it is noted that Isabella was a devout Catholic, so I think that changing his Jesus character to a demon was probably the last straw. Most of this is gleaned from pages 182 to 188. The index in the back of the book will point you to all Tony Isabella references.

Ah, interesting.

Richard Willis said:

The Baron said:

Interesting. Do we know why Isabella left?

Not direct quotes, but gleaned from Marvel Comics the Untold Story by Sean Howe:

This was at the time of transition from EIC Jim Shooter (who had forced Isabella to change his Ghost Rider "friend" story ) to EIC Gerry Conway. I believe that Isabella's rationale was that using Satan (not Mephisto), a real biblical personage, meant that he should be able to use Jesus in opposition. It is implied that Isabella left Marvel because of this.

Marv Wolfman, not Jim Shooter, was EIC before Gerry Conway.  Shooter was one of Marv's assistants; it would be another two years before he became EIC.  He didn't force Isabella to change GR #19, he re-wrote it after Isabella submitted.  Let's put aside whether or not that was a good or bad thing for the story itself.  Isabella was furious Shooter changed his story; Shooter claimed he was acting on his boss Wolfman's orders and didn't have the power as an assistant to do something like that on his own.  Wolfman, who chafed under Shooter's tenure as EIC and eventually quit Marvel for DC in 1980, denies he told Shooter to do it.  Going by Howe's book and several interviews I've read, I don't know who to believe.  Shooter's version seems likely but the Marvel offices were run so chaotically at the time that I think it's at least possible Shooter could have taken the initiative on his own.  Marvel had so many books in the mid 70s that one editor really couldn't oversee them all.  Shooter may have mentioned something to Wolfman about JC as a supporting character being a problem and Wolfman may have said "Yeah, ok, fix it" and not remember a brief conversation a day later.  

Whatever really happened, Isabella left Marvel not long after.

Earlier Len Wein had insisted that Isabella's Champions concept be radically changed as we have discussed, which may have started his dissatisfaction. Conway came in like a lion, insisting that all of the "writer/editors" shape up and meet deadlines. Not sure if Isabella left before or after Conway arrived. During this time a lot of people either left or were fired. Earlier in the book it is noted that Isabella was a devout Catholic and changing his Jesus character to a demon was probably the last straw. Most of this is gleaned from pages 182 to 188. The index in the back of the book will point you to all Tony Isabella references.

Conway was literally EIC for 3 and a half weeks before he quit.  He called Marvel "a cesspool of politics and personality issues", and Conway was just twenty-three.

On his blog, Isabella talks about Howe's book and mentions, among other things, that Conway fired him just before he was going to quit.

http://tonyisabella.blogspot.ca/2012/12/more-untold-stories.html

Cool, thanks for the link, JD.

The Champions #8 (October 1976):  "Divide and Conquer!"

Bill Mantlo takes over as writer. Bob Hall and B. Patterson do the art. The art is OK, but not great.

Rampage presents our heroes with photos showing that Natasha and Bruskin have been captured by the Titanium Man.  Apparently, someone called the "Outcast" is behind it all.   Rampage has been boobytrapped and explodes.  The Champs are safe, and Johnny rushes him to the hospital.  Bobby and Ivan go after Natasha, and we learn that Yuri Petrovitch is the new Crimson Dynamo.   Warren and Herc are the only Champions present for the announcement about the founding of the Champions. 

Cliffhanger:   The Griffin, the Crimson Dynamo and the Titanium Man crash the party!

Overall: An overall story. Kind of disjointed, somehow. I'm not sure why exactly, but the story just didn't grab me.

“Warren and Herc are the only Champions present for the announcement about the founding of the Champions.”

At last! Eight issues in and they are finally a team! If they’d’ve stopped the story a page earlier, the story could’ve ended on a high note. A relatively high note, anyway; that gathering looked like when Bernie Sanders announced his Presidential campaign.



Philip Portelli said:

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!

Johnny Horton? Really?

The Champions #9 (December 1976): "The Battle of Los Angeles!"

Bill Mantlo is writer, art is by Bob Hall and Bob Layton.

A big fight issue, as the heels get the better of Warren, Herc and Johnny (Really, Herc ought to be able to deal with all three of these jokers, I think), then go looking for Bobby and Ivan.    Natasha has broken free and fights Darkstar.  The heels arrive with the captive champions and Yuri reveals himself to Ivan!

Overall: Another OK issue.  I'm not personally fascinated by all of this "Natasha's backstory stuff, myself.

Looking at the cover dates, it appears Champions when monthly for three months starting with this issue (#9-DEC, #10-JAN, #11-FEB, #12-MAR).

California Governor Jerry Brown is shown in attendance at the ceremony, and Tony Isabella uses the word “podium” correctly.

The Champions are finally a team, but this is something of an inauspicious debut. I’m not sure getting attacked at their own dedication ceremony should even count as their first battle.

This was my first 'off the rack' Champions and I loved the team ( even if they weren't together!)
I remember thinking the Titanium Man should have been much bigger!
Also I did not understand why the Angel was coloured wrongly (!) (Why did they recolour his old costume anyway?)
I liked the frantic pacing here.

"Why did they recolour his old costume anyway?"

I don't know, but there was a line of dialogue about it in the previous issue. When their advisor gave it to him to replace the Angel's previous costume (shredded in battle), he apologized for getting the colors wrong.

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