Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

20 February 2007

Champions Classic, v. 2

Collects: Champions #12-7, Iron Man Annual #4, Avengers #163, Super-Villain Team-Up #14, Spectacular Spider-Man #17-8 (1977-8)

Released: January 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 214 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 078512098X

My wife will often point out that many titles in Marvel’s Essential line are not, by any means of the imagination, essential. Essential Ghost Rider, v. 1, is her prime example, at least until she sees me reading v. 2.

Another line of Marvel TPBs that generates the occasional misnomer is the Classics line, which reprints older Marvel titles in full color. While some might argue the forthcoming Alpha Flight Classic is a prime example of misleading advertising, I must protest on two counts: one, that Alpha Flight is a prime example of Marvel being the shizzle in the ‘80s, and two, the worst example of “Classic” is clearly the Champions (Classic). Which is, surprisingly, on its second volume.

Champions Classic v. 2 cover The first volume of Champions (Classic!) ended with the Stilt-Man fighting Black Goliath. Where I’m from, that spells awesome, but unfortunately, the Stilt-Man can’t even last one issue in the second volume. He’s barely even a distraction, and the Champions can’t even be bothered to take him out — he’s beaten up by third-stringer Black Goliath. (Such is Stilt-Man’s lot in life.)

The Champions aren’t that impressive a team. Sure, they have Hercules and Ghost Rider, but they have a pair of castoff X-Men (Iceman and Angel) and are led by the non-powered Black Widow. Yes, I know there are some Avengers teams these guys could have taken, but once the villain has tricked Hercules, there’s not much opposition there. Plus there’s little reason for them to stay together; what do the five of them have in common? They are as far away from the common man they are supposed to protect as Hercules is from sobriety or Iceman is from being interesting. (If you think I’m being harsh, let me remind you Iceman’s an accountant when he isn’t a hero.)

Although the first volume of Champions (Classic?) was plagued by the original run’s tendency to switch creators, the second has at least half the problem solved. The underrated Bill Mantlo is the writer for most of v. 2, even writing the crossover issues (except for Avengers #163, which was written by Jim Shooter). The art gets off to a roaring start as well, with John Byrne drawing #12-15. This won’t work won’t be featured in his obituary, but it’s solid enough, drawn back when Byrne was working second-string titles like Champions and Iron Fist and turning in work far exceeding the title’s worth. There’s something about his Darkstar that seems to epitomize this — she’s a minor character marked indelibly with his style, which elevates her just a little.

The rest of the art is provided by industry stalwarts: George Tuska pencils the Iron Man Annual and Avengers as well as the final issue of the Champions, Bob Hall does the Supervillain Team-Up / Champions crossover, and one of my favorites, Sal Buscema finishes the team off in a two parter in Spectacular Spider-Man.

Yet despite some very solid talent, this book never clicks. You can’t blame the crossovers because of the continuity of the creators. I hate to blame Mantlo, but you look at the book, and all the bad ink seems to lead back to him. The two-part story against Swarm, the sentient communal bee colony merged with a Nazi war criminal, is the only effective story in the book. The Iron Man Annual is a bland battle against faceless thugs, despite the presence of MODOK. (If you can’t make MODOK creepy and / or memorable, you’re doing something wrong.) The Dr. Doom / Magneto battle in Supervillain Team-Up and Champions #16 is fondly remembered in some quarters, but it is superceded by the better Emperor Doom graphic novel, and in any event, the ending doesn’t make sense. (Not to mention it has very little to do with the Champions, who are mind controlled while they’re in the story.)

The rest of the stories are forgettable. Not bad … just forgettable. The team doesn’t even get a decent sendoff; they disband off-panel after Champions #17, so Angel has to tell Peter Parker how it happens in Spectacular Spider-Man. Was cancellation a surprise? It certainly seems that way, but you’d think the writing would be on the wall. On the other hand, there was certainly a lot of guest appearances late in the title’s run, so maybe the creative team hoped that would float the title along a little farther.

Maybe it isn’t really Mantlo’s fault. Maybe it’s just time catching up with a very bad idea.

The Champions were anything but classic. The stories in Champions (Classic*) are anything but memorable.

Rating: (2 of 5)

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