"The World Still Needs... The Champions!"
The Champions #1
Script: Tony Isabella
Art: Don Heck and Mike Esposito
Marvel Comics, 1975
by Chris Sims
Here at QEOC, we are not, all appearances to the contrary, all about the comedy. In a world where Marvel Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada claims that the only way a gay character will be featured in a Marvel title is if it’s a Mature Readers book—apparently completely forgetting about 40% of the Young Avengers—it’s refreshing to take a look back at the comics and point out that they’ve been there all along. It’s a noble goal, and one that occasionally calls upon us, the humble writing staff, to ask the hard questions.
Questions like this:
Is there any super-team gayer than the Champions?
Well, okay: Maybe the Defenders, but let’s be honest here: Any group that can hold its own in a battle of homoerotic subtext against a guy in a green Speedo, a giant green man in ripped-up jeans, a naked silver spaceman, and a fastidious doctor who spends the majority of his time lounging around in loose-fitting Eastern clothing asking his manservant for more tea has got to be worth taking a look at. But step aside, Defenders, you’ll get your review in another column.
Because even stacked against all that, the Champions still stand out. For those of you who don’t spend your time neck-deep in mid-‘70s Marvel comics, I’ll explain.
Originally conceived by Tony Isabella, the Champions—unlike most of Marvel’s New York-based heroes—were the resident super-team of Los Angeles, a team pretty much made up of five people who didn’t have anything better to do at the time, which goes a long way towards explaining how they got one of the most bizarre rosters in comics history.
The story opens on the campus of UCLA, where we find former mutant super-heroes Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington, two strapping young lads who were better known as Iceman and the Angel, before they got kicked out of the X-Men to make room for characters that would actually be popular. But now, as the story’s opening caption states, “they are merely two confused young men.” And like so many other confused young men, it’s not long before they find themselves hanging around a bare-chested Greek man and a biker in head-to-toe leather, thus putting the Stereotype Trifecta directly into play.
If only Wyatt Wingfoot or Red Wolf were around, I wouldn’t even have to make jokes. Anyway, said newfound companions are here played by Hercules and the Ghost Rider, back before he was a full-fledged demon riding around burning people’s souls with hellfire. And rounding out the cast, we have—fresh from her breakup with Daredevil—the Black Widow, who also sports a full-body leather outfit, which she tries to disguise as civilian clothing by putting a skirt—and only a skirt—on over it.
Seriously. She doesn’t even take off the dart-launching bracelets. That, my friends, is Soviet ingenuity at work.
So what world-shattering crisis—outside of the normal desire for experimentation that a lot of super-heroes go through in college—could thrust two mutants, a Russian super-spy, a demigod, and a motorcycle-riding demon from Hell into all-out action together?
Nothing short of an attack by Amazons and Harpies, which, considering that the latter attack Warren and Bobby just as they’re wandering around campus together wondering where two guys so different from everyone can fit in the world, might as well have a giant arrow pointing to them with “METAPHOR FOR WOMEN” emblazoned on it in massive glowing letters.
Before long, other mythological terrors show up and start wreaking havoc, which, as we learn in the second issue’s uncomfortably extended wrestling sequence, is all a plot by Pluto to force Hercules into marrying Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. And considering that this revelation comes a mere ten pages after the Lion of Olympus takes Ghost Rider’s hand and hops onto what’s commonly referred to as “the bitch seat” of his motorcycle, we can pretty much assume that this isn’t something ol’ Herc wants to do.
Ostensibly, his reluctance to get married seems to stem from the fact that Hippolyta is apparently the Marvel Universe equivalent of Riverdale’s Big Ethel, only with green hair and better teeth, and not that he’d rather spend more time with Angel, who sports a new costume with a plunging V-neck that even the Legion’s Tyroc would pull a double-take at, along with a color-coordinated Flashdance-esque headband. Feel free to make your own decision here, I know I have.
Even worse off is Venus, however, as Pluto intends to pressgang her into marrying the mohawked Marvel version of Ares, which is a considerably dire fate indeed. Especially considering that back in her original incarnation in the forties, Marvel’s version of Venus used to hang out on her namesake planet with a bunch of “female companions” known for their beauty, not unlike the Amazon Queen of Planet Femnaz.
So: Can our motley band of fetish-themed heroes conquer their foes and retire to a three-day weekend at a beach house in West L.A. filled with house music and long hours of “combat simulations?”
Short Answer: Yes.
Long Answer: Yes, after which they go on to fight a gang of dimwitted super-strong hobos, a third-rate Iron Man driven to crime by the recession (who, according to another caption, “could be you!”), and, perhaps most importantly, the sum total of writer Bill Mantlo’s fabled genius: A Nazi made of bees.
Could it be the best comic book ever? You decide.
Chris Sims is a freelance comedy writer who reads far too many comic books and wields the English language like a cudgel. Evidence of both of these traits can be found daily at his website, Chris’s Invincible Super-Blog.
All images and characters TM and © 1975 Marvel Comics. Review © 2006 Chris Sims
Prism Comics promotes the works of the LGBT community in comics. It does not implicitly endorse any other material or products associated with those works. Any opinions expressed are those of the author(s).