Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Champions (1975) # 2

Cover Artist: Dave Cockrum
Published: Jan. 1976
Original Price: $0.25

Title: "Whom the Gods Would Join..."
Writer: Tony Isabella
Artist: Don Heck
Inker: John Tartag
Letterer: Irv Watanabe
Colorist: Phil Rache
Editor: Marv Wolfman

On the UCLA campus, six assembled heroes (Iceman, Venus, Ghost Rider, Angel, Hercules, and Black Widow) have been confronted by the Greek gods Pluto, Ares, and Hippolyta. The evil gods have come for Hercules and Venus, demanding that they are to wed Ares and Hippolyta against their wills. Hercules rushes through the portal to fight them, but Pluto easily defeats him. To save their ally, Ghost Rider and Angel are able to distract Pluto long enough for the others to pull Hercules to safety while Iceman blocks the portal with a mountain of ice.

Instead of breaking through the ice to follow the heroes, Pluto transports himself and his allies to Olympus to confer with Zeus, who has unwillingly betrayed his son, Hercules. Pluto reminds Zeus that he has forged an alliance with other Lords of Hell, and the only way to keep them from attacking Olympus is to force the two marriages. Zeus complies, unaware of Pluto's true plan: due to godly law, no husband or wife may oppose their spouse, meaning that Hercules and Venus would be unable to stop them from overthrowing Zeus.

Back on Earth, the heroes are attacked by the Huntsman, who has the power of both Zeus and Pluto. Huntsman strikes the group with his fire spear, which Ghost Rider is able to withstand. Blaze strikes Huntsman out of the sky with a blast of hellfire, while the others realize that the villain's attack has knocked both Hercules and Venus unconscious. Ghost Rider stays behind to protect the fallen heroes, while the others go out in search of the Huntsman. Using his magic staff, Huntsman calls upon a giant named Menoetius to fight the heroes, but the monster is quickly defeated by their teamwork. On the verge of defeat, Huntsman teleports Angel, Iceman, and Black Widow; while Ghost Rider sees Pluto, Ares, and Hippolyta appearing in front of him. Ghost Rider blasts all three of them with hellfire, then realizes that they were actually his friends with an illusion cast over them. Huntsman knocks Black out from behind, them teleports himself and the unconscious Hercules and Venus back to Olympus. When the other heroes recover, they all part in defeat when they realize that there's no way four mortals could track someone to Olympus.

This issue takes place before the end of Ghost Rider (1973) # 14. Blaze fights the Orb in Ghost Rider (1973) # 15 before reuniting with the other heroes in The Champions (1975) # 3.

The origin story of the Champions continues, and once again I ask the question, "why, oh why, does this series exist?".

Tony Isabella is a good writer. In particular, he's a good superhero writer. He created Black Lightning for DC Comics and turned in a highly enjoyable run on Ghost Rider, which ran concurrently with his work on The Champions. This here, though, is a bad comic book and I think I know why: his heart's not in it. If there was ever a comic that seemed to be created by editorial fiat it's this one, trying to cash in on the recent success of the Defenders and the revamped X-Men. I can't imagine this was a series that Isabella was dying to write and it shows, oh how it shows.

Last issue we had the random heroes meeting up by way of extreme coincidence, and in this issue we have the villains detailing their nonsensical plan. It's never a good idea for a team's origin story to pertain to one character only, in this case it's Hercules. I've never been a fan of the early 60s/70s deity characters like Hercules or Thor, mainly because their dialogue is so atrocious and their storylines are so ridiculous. Those two elements are displayed here in all their terrible glory, though I'll excuse Isabella from writing such awful "thee and thou" dialogue because that's how ALL the Marvel writers of this time wrote those characters. But the plot, well, it makes no sense! Pluto forges an alliance with Mephisto and other Hell rulers to invade Olympus and destroy it; to stop this, Zeus agrees with Pluto's deal to wed Hercules and Venus to Ares and Hippolyta. But Pluto plans on overthrowing Zeus by eliminating Hercules and Venus (because by Olympian law husband and wives can't fight their spouses). I just don't get it, why go through all this when Pluto already has the armies of several different Hells at his call? Zeus obviously thinks Pluto would win since he gives up his son to appease Pluto, so why doesn't he just do THAT instead of the insane marriage plan? And don't get me started on the marriage law thing itself, because that would also mean that Pluto's two closest allies Hippolyta and Ares would be out of the way as well since they'd be forbidden from fighting their spouses the same way Hercules and Venus would be. Aaarrgh, I'm getting the brain pain thinking about this. It's the most annoying thing about the Olympus/Greek God characters, that when something doesn't make sense the writers just say "well, for Olympus its different than on the real world!". For example, when the Champions defeat the Huntsman's electric monster, the plot also called for the Huntsman to drop his magic staff. So Isabella explains that Olympian wood is electrically conductive...yeah, okay.

Even worse than the story this issue is the artwork, again by Marvel staple Don Heck. The characters are stiff, the action sequences boring to read, and the character designs particularly uninspiring. The Huntsman should be menacing, since he's the villain that takes down the entire team, but instead he's a spandex-clad wimp with a bowl haircut. Heck only drew the first two issues of this series, which was a blessing.

I hate to be so critical of Tony Isabella (who is such a nice guy, and like I said before a good writer), but this series so far is just atrocious. But the series gets better, I promise!

Grade: F