This time around, I'm looking at another magnamanous Marvel comic from 1975, The Champions! Conceived by Tony the tiger" Isabella, this fondly remembered supergroup consisted of 5 central characters... Hercules, the Black Widow, Ghost Rider and two of the original X-Men, Angel and Iceman!
I liked this comic from the get-go! It had 5 underused characters that I knew little about as a small kid, and as the series progressed, I even liked the comic more than my usual favorite, the "Justice League of America". The book was originally a little Hercules-centric as the plot was the god of death, Pluto was looking to get a little revenge on Zeus' favorite offspring. It just so happened that Angel and Iceman were starting college in that area and the Widow and Ghost Rider just happened to be in town. After meeting, fighting and generally kicking the bad guys butt, the 5 heroes decided to make a go of it and form the Champions. The "Battle of Olympus" storyline lasted for the first 3 issues. The first issue sported a great classic cover by Gil Kane. Joining Tony on the creative team were Don Heck on pencils and Mike Esposito in inks. Don Heck's art was always a blast to look at. He was under appreciated during his later years...but the man could draw ANYTHING! A true artist in every sense of the word.
The book was, in many ways, a typical team book of the '70's. Good guys get together to stop the maniacal bad guy from taking over the planet or destroying Los Angeles and everyone is happy at the end.
But, the Champions had a brand of uniqueness too... they were headquartered in LA, not NYC like every other Marvel group, and were slightly more a "business" in a way. They made sure the money was there to pay for all the equipment they used and when something was destroyed, they worried about the repair bill. And the fact that Ghost Rider wasn't really liked by the other Champions made me feel bad for ol' Johnny Blaze... he was always the odd man out. They fought plenty of cool villians after their inaugural story arc. Bad guys like Rampage, the Griffin (who always scared me as a kid) Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo and others.
After issue 7, Tony Isabella left the writing chores and the talented Bill Mantlo took over and Bob Hall took over the penciling. The few months from #7 to 10 were decent enough, but the real hoopla came when issue #11 came out and the ever lovin' Jocular John Byrne became the new penciler. Byrne was a major rising star at Marvel and his scribblings on the Champions made fan boys squeal like school girls at a Justin Beever concert!
Issue 16 saw Byrne leave and Bob Hall back on the art duties and it featured the 2 original X-Men getting to team up with their old pal Hank McCoy, The Beast!For the villain we had Magneto before he became a kinder, gentler maniac.
Issue 17 was bittersweet for me. It was the last issue of the series, so I was pretty bummed...but the art...the art had George Tuska back on pencils and John Byrne on inks while the Champions fought the Sentinels. This was such a good looking comic. If you get any issue, get this on for the art alone! Plus it came with a terrific Ernie Chan cover!!
Even Kirby got in on the action and drew the cover for ish #6.
I miss this series....I really do. Why Marvel hasn't brought this team back in some shape over the years is beyond me.
Like Tony said on the splash page of #1....."The world still needs... the Champions!"
Go by the back issues of this comic...you'll be glad you did!