For the most part I was unaware the Champions existed before Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos did the team justice in the last few years. So when I learned of this trade paperback, I was instantly intrigued. The Champions are a team that’s made up of a seemingly random crew which continues to this day. Mixing up unexpected characters allows for writers to play around with themes and personalities, which is one of the highlights of this collection. Oh, and villains, lots of great villains.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Join Black Widow, Hercules, Ghost Rider, Iceman and Angel as they form an all-new super-team: the Champions! Now, their complete adventures are available in a single volume! Savor every issue, every highlight, every page as the lives of these Marvel icons play out together! Their struggles will reveal the origin of the man who created the Black Widow, pit them against the combined might of Magneto and Doctor Doom, unleash the Crimson Dynamo and Titanium Man on Los Angeles, team them with the Stranger in the fight for an Infinity Gem and bring fan-favorite artist John Byrne aboard for some of his greatest early work, including stories featuring the Sentinels and Brotherhood of Evil Mutants!
Why does this matter?
It’s becoming quite suspicious when Marvel releases a collection and then a month or two later we find out that same book is becoming a movie. Take for instance the Eternals which made the news recently. Is it possible this crazy crew of heroes will pop up in a movie (minus the mutants of course)?
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This collection spans Champions #1 through #17 with story arc appearances in other books like The Spectacular Spider-Man and Iron Man to name a few. As is customary of collections capturing older comics, the style of writing is older and more verbose, though not quite as much as a classic Stan Lee work. Printed in 1975 and 1976, part of the charm of a series like this is seeing how the writers portrayed women, African Americans, or how people joked. Take for instance a barb Iceman drops mentioning how all the Los Angeles locals play muzak. Iceman in particular lays down some wicked barbs that are hokey and silly and that gives the book a sort of charm all its own.
Written by a collection of writers including Jim Shooter, Chris Claremont, Roger Stern, Bill Mantlo, and Tony Isabella, this book tries very hard to deliver on a west coast team similar to the X-Men or Avengers. The only difference? These characters are all loners who work together because it suits their situations at the time. That makes for a lot of infighting which is only slightly curbed when Black Widow becomes the leader a few issues in. Angel ends up backrolling the team when he inherits a fortune from his parents and Ghost Rider plays the part of soothsayer in some ways. Regardless though, these characters are constantly telling each other to shut up (at least in a 1975 sort of way) yet because they’re so singular in their presence they carry on. That makes this team quite unique with most teams at least trying to be friends.
The biggest surprise I had when reading this was how many great villains pop up. The first story arc involves Mount Olympus villains (it’s how Hercules even bothers to get joined up with these heroes) with varying levels of notorious villains popping up throughout. Dr. Doom and Magneto share a story, for instance, and there’s also Sentinels, The Stranger, Goliath, Griffin, and Master Mold who pop up. Swarm, a man made of bees, makes his first appearance in this collection complete with a full origin story. The villains all have varying levels of plotting at stake, be it Rampage (introduced in this book as a sort of cheap Iron Man) just trying to make a buck during the recession or Dr. Doom attempting to prove to the world he actually rules everything already (with a special guest appearance from President Jimmy Carter!).
It can’t be perfect can it?
There are story elements that seem to repeat in order to fill the pages with fight scenes and squabbles. Take one example which has Hercules get mind controlled by the bad guys so he can fight the others. This happens a few times and grows tiresome after the first instance. Iceman thinking to himself he’ll quit (which is never given a proper reasoning) also pops up. Then you have the team’s general demeanor with each other which is rather catty and annoyed. Considering they could just quit this team at any moment it’s a wonder they keep going at all, showing a lack of character development between them (even if they have each others’ backs).
This is also an older book so be aware it gets quite verbose and heavy on the exposition. Writers at the time must have assumed their audience was younger kids who aren’t too bright since characters seem to think things to remind us what is going on or say out loud what they will do.
Is it good?
I really liked this collection due to its unique take on a team and its wild team lineup. There’s a ton of great villains that pop up too, giving the entire package an old school cool Marvel feel with a lot of charm.