RETRO REVIEW: The Champions #14 (July 1977)

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Or – “ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!”

ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!
ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!
ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!

 

Champions14CoverTHE CHAMPIONS #14
Writer: John Byrne (plot); Bill Mantlo (plot, script)
Penciler: John Byrne
Inker: Mike Esposito
Colorist: Glynis Wein
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino (page one); Irving Watanabe
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 30 Cents/35 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $20.00/$100.00

Previously, in Champions:  Warren Worthington, the Avenging Angel, left the ranks of the X-Men when all the weirdo mutants started showing up (especially that stinky Canadian fellow.)  After a chance encounter, he used his family fortune to help bankroll a superhero team on the American West Coast, calling in his best friend Iceman, and conscripting The Black Widow, Hercules and the Ghost Rider into the ranks of what became known as The Champions.  With the assistance of associate member Black Goliath, they have even built and outfitted a state-of-the-art quarters to better face down the superhuman menaces that Los Angeles has to offer.  Of course, as the Lion of Olympus finds out the hard way, that equipment may be a bigger threat than any villain, as the security system of Champions headquarters turns on HIM!

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Bill Mantlo is one of those writers that I never think of as being one of my favorites, until I read the stuff that he has written, things like ROM, Alpha Flight, Micronauts and more, and with The Champions, it seemed his intent was to channel the malaise of the 1970s into a superhero story.  While Hercules is forced to fight their own building, Bobby “Iceman” Drake has decided that it’s time he came of age…

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…for the first time in a series of about 100, collect ‘em all!  Still, it’s about time the boy got a decent costume, especially given that his old one was a yellow bathing suit and boots.  While the team’s Big Guy and Lancer get slapped around by the computer, team leader Black Widow (accompanied by Ghost Rider and new recruit Darkstar) says goodbye to her friend Ivan, who is returning to Russia for a mysterious mission.  Unbeknownst to the Champs, an even greater menace is hiding on those selfsame docks…

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You can really tell that it’s the 70s here, given the whole “tramp steamer to Russia” business, as well as the team’s gender politics, as liberated woman Black Widow takes the time to lecture highway cowboy Johnny Blaze on why he shouldn’t underestimate the women of the team.  In his defense, he’s not as sexist as it might seem, he just resents how easily the team accepted former villain Darkstar, compared to how they treated him.  Of course, her head isn’t on fire half the time, either…

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BEES…  My god.  The giant mechanical buzzers are bad news for the team, but the real horror lies WITHIN the ship, as the master of the monstrous robit bees is revealed to be…

ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!

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Fritz Von Meyer?  He needs a better name than that…  How about Englebert Slaptyback?  Zenglebert Dangledack?  Aaah, skip it.  Swarm quickly makes his exit, taking his pets with him, leaving the heroes to return home to headquarters, only to find it nearly in ruins after Hercules and Iceman defeated the security systems, discovering that the problem was faulty wiring thanks to shoddy construction.  I’d make a joke about Worthington Industries taking the lowest bidder, but the book actually does it for me, another example of 70s ennui invading the story proper.  As the team regroups, the status of their missing Angel becomes clear as well…

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“Don’t you see,” cries the Angel.  “THOSE AREN’T STORM CLOUDS!!!”

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ZZSSSSSWAAARRRRRMMMMM!!

If you’ve ever read Bronze Age comics, you know that the remaining companies (Marvel especially) hit a bit of a creative doldrums in the mid-70s.  While a lot of truly brilliant stuff was getting written in this timeframe, paper shortages, inflation and a general defection of talent left books like Champions to flap in the breeze.  The team would break up a few issues later, with nothing more than a general consensus of “This was always a bad idea anyway” to justify it.  Angel and Iceman found more success with the Defenders soon after, and eventually returned to the X-Men ranks, while Hercules and Black Widow drifted back to the Avengers, and Ghost Rider rode off into the sunset for good in ’81 (a story which I’ll have to get to, soon enough.)  Even some interesting work from a young John Byrne and Mantlo’s usual flair can’t pull this issue out of it’s Studio 54 doldrums, and the real origin of Swarm (here’s a hint:  Nazi skeleton + radioactive bees) isn’t told until the NEXT issue, leaving The Champions #14 as a somewhat underwhelming 2 out of 5 stars overall.  All the pieces of greatness were here, but somehow it never gelled into the brilliant book that it should have, which can be seen as a metaphor for the 1970s as well.  Keep on truckin’, Faithful Spoilerites.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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