Marvel: “We Are The Champions, My Friends…”

A slight advance on the "Kirby Collage" process, for Champions No. 1...out today, from Marvel Comics.

A slight advance on the “Kirby Collage” process, for Champions No. 1…out today, from Marvel Comics.

There are a crazy number of variant covers for this book, the new “Champions” title from Marvel Comics. It is their “big book” of the last financial quarter, with a large number of their “up and coming” popular new characters as the cast of the book. With stand up cardboard cutouts and pins being offered at stores, and massive retailer incentives, this is a big push for a “new” license over at Marvel Comics.

Why “new” in quotes? Because the Champions, or more accurately the “Champions of Los Angeles” was a comic book that Marvel did way back in 1975.

Yep. Let’s talk comics history for a moment, shall we?

The Champions were the first West Coast-based superhuman team. Seriously…before that, all superhero teams were based in New York, usually Manhattan. They formed pretty much the same way as the Avengers, with several heroes meeting by chance against a huge threat, in their case the Greek god of Death, Pluto. The group consisted of two former X-Men (Angel and Iceman), Hercules, Ghost Rider, and Black Widow, who acted as team leader.

After defeating Pluto, the “Champions of Los Angeles” decided to stick together as a team. Their public dedication ceremony turned into a @#$%ing disaster when they were attacked by Griffin, Titanium Man and Crimson Dynamo. It was the seventies, so armored communists tended to attack at random. Angel’s wealth bankrolled the group, and they bought a surplus Avengers Quinjet, the “Champjet”, for team usage. Black Widow and Hercules made an attempt at romance, but though it did not last long…thankfully, because that makes NO sense. The group also worked from time to time with Black Goliath, who provided scientific expertise in addition to his literally giant super powers.

During their brief time as a team, the Champions once fought The Incredible Hulk, who was trying to get his injured cousin Jennifer to a hospital for the blood transfusion that would inadvertently turn her into She-Hulk. Way to go, Champions. Kinda blew that one on all possible levels.

After they disbanded the Champions became a sometime object of ridicule, with Iceman recalling the team as “an embarrassment,” and Angel calling the team “a nightmare – we just didn’t know what we were doing.”

That might be meta-commentary about how the book came about to begin with. Apparently, writer Tony Isabella wanted the Champions to be a two-man group consisting of former X-Men, Angel and Iceman, but editor Len Wein insisted the team contain at least five members and Isabella added the other previously-established heroes. That being done, we got the sort of oddball group on the West coast, and the rest is a matter of comic book history.

The new book has almost nothing in common with that history lesson, people.

The new series, “Champions,” from writer Mark Waid and artist Humberto Ramos, features a group of young Marvel heroes – Kamala Khan/Ms. Marvel, Miles Morales/Spider-Man, Sam Alexander/Nova, Amadeus Cho/The Hulk, Viv Vision, and a younger version of Scott Summers/Cyclops – splitting off from their Avengers forebears in order to change the world themselves. Although there will still be villains to fight and problems to solve with superpowers, Waid and Marvel say this team of Champions will channel more youthful activist energy than Marvel’s traditional superhero teams.

There was in fact a rights related issue having to do with the very name “Champions” that Tom Brevoort commented on in an interview for Marvel:

“Champions is sort of like the great lost Marvel team name. We published Champions in the ’70s and haven’t been able to publish it since. We’ve now come to an agreement with the people who held the mark before, which allows us to publish it and they keep doing the things they were doing. So basically it’s like this name, that I think of as a fundamentally Marvel name, is coming back home. It feels good in that, when we first started talking about names for this group, we tended to go for ‘something something Avengers.’ That always seemed off-mission for me. If they’re cutting the cord, if they’re going off on their own to establish themselves as a thing onto themselves, they kind of need their own name. They are ultimately very socially conscious, very activist-minded, and very positive about being superheroes, so the name had to feel like a really upbeat superhero name.”

That’s a pretty interesting quote, and one that gets me interested in the book. The idea of young superheroes, rebellion, and activism…those are all the kinds of ideas that made the X-Men and the New Mutants so compelling in the eighties. I’d be interested in a similarly presented book, in a more modern format.

The core members, burning their Avengers ID cards in protest on the Alex Ross variant cover.

The core members, burning their Avengers ID cards in protest on the Alex Ross variant cover.

The comic hits stores today, and certainly has big talent behind it, with Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos. On some level it is supposed to directly spin out of Civil War II…which has had delays, and I wonder if that is going to affect the delivery of the plot at all. One hopes not.

The thing about young characters is this…you get all of the “sturm und drang” of youth, but it’s a tough thing for older writers to connect with. There’s a certain pulse, a certain type of genuine character voice, that can be hard to produce in an ensemble cast of young activists, all with differing causes and views. It’s either going to work, or not…and shifts in a working creative team could be very bad for such a book.

When I did the art, I excluded the young Cyclops character, to instead put the protagonist in, as sort of a teacher figure. She had the shades of course, because she wear laser vision goggles like that often enough. She’s uncharacteristically happy in this image…maybe because on some level, it’s how I feel on a good day at school, when I attempt to wrangle the views of a large number of motivated students. They all have different things that drive them, that push them forward to improve our school and their lives…and on my best days, I manage to get them moving in some sort of common direction.

The pencils, pre-collage treatment.

The pencils, pre-collage treatment.

Interestingly….the Champions book does not have a “mentor” figure in the ensemble cast. No “Professor Xavier” figure…the book is entirely one about young people trying to strike out positively on their own, a sort of “good rebellion.” It’s funny, but a long time ago DC Comics did a fabulous book with just such a positive, utopian world view, that the actions of young people could create a perfect future, a universe worth living in that made the future of Star Trek seem dystopian. That book was about the power of friendship and positive thinking, about diversity being the key to an excellent world.

That book was called the “Legion of Superheroes.” It’s ideas are dated now, but maybe, just maybe, “Champions will have some of that positive thinking.

For those that are going to ask…Cap is the “teacher figure” for the current Champions, because she would have been too young to be on the first “Champions of Los Angeles” team. Probably for the best…

…she might have thrown up seeing Hercules making out with Black Widow.

Excelsior!

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