Monday, February 15, 2016

The Champions (1975) # 3

Cover Artist: Rich Buckler
Published: Feb. 1976
Original Price: $.25

Title: "Assault On Olympus"
Writer: Tony Isabella (Plot) / Bill Mantlo (Script)
Artist: George Tuska
Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colorist: George Roussos
Editor: Marv Wolfman

Contemplating the loss of Hercules and Venus to Pluto and The Huntsman last issue, Black Widow and The Angel lounge about in swimwear and watch Iceman skate on the beach. Iceman’s internal monologue is an endless stream of self-loathing and doubt, and he goes so far as to rate himself a failure somewhere below the “mutants” under the thrall of the Huntsman. Fortunately, Johnny Blaze rolls up on his bike and brings good news: An ice mountain Iceman created to block a portal to Olympus is still in existence – as such, the portal itself is still open behind it. The Champions now have the means to pursue their friends.

Meanwhile on Olympus, Pluto gloats. Zeus, though furious, has given his blessing to the marriages of Hercules and Venus to Pluto’s allies Hippolyta and Ares, in order to keep the peace in the face of attack by a confederacy of hells. Zeus has not pieced together that this is Pluto’s plan, because once married to his allies Hercules and Venus will be bound to show loyalty to their spouses and their interests. They will be unable to defend Olympus. As Hercules rages, unable to so much as raise a hand against Pluto’s lackeys, Ghost Rider melts a path through Iceman’s mountain and The Champions emerge on the offensive. The Huntsman unleashes a mutant horde against the heroes, but even without Hercules’ strength The Champions approach victory… Until Pluto steps in. Ghost Rider declares he knows how to defeat the God of Death, and starts forward. Pluto moves to intercept…

And Ghost Rider walks right past him, gets in Zeus’s face, and calls him out as a coward who played right into Pluto’s hands – just as Johnny Blaze played into the Devil’s. Zeus is about to smite Ghost Rider… but then realizes he is correct. Zeus tells Pluto to get out, and Pluto leaves. The threat is ended. Venus decides to stay with Ares, The Champions go home, and Zeus and Dionysius decide to go get drunk. The End.

Ghost Rider next appears in Ghost Rider (1973) #16.

Ghost Rider refers to the demon he made a pact with by generic name, rather than Satan (as he’d been called to this point) or Mephisto (as later).

This issue was reprinted in the Champions Classic vol. 1 trade paperback.

Oof. This is a rough place to start my tenure. If the wrap-up of the synopsis read as a non-climax, you get the point. Since Venus literally turns Hippolyta’s sword into a plowshare during the battle, I imagine Isabella was trying to make a pacifist statement with this issue’s conclusion, but in the end, this ending to the first arc of Champions just falls flat on its face.

The first page of the book, where Tuska goes all-out with the Black Widow and Angel posing it off in barely-there-swimwear, essentially sets the tone. We’re told they’re still reeling from defeat, but it’s incongruous with the visuals. Depression doesn’t usually lead to tanning, and I even lived as a depressed failure in California briefly, so I’ve got some perspective on the issue. Iceman’s decision to skate around further disconnects what we’re seeing from what we’re reading. Clearly, the creative team was trying to figure out different things to do with this team and these situations, but much like the team itself, it’s not gelling. I feel like since the original pitch for the book was an Iceman / Angel team-up book, this scene – Bobby Drake’s feelings of inadequacy in particular – is probably as close to the initial intent as we ever got to see… and if so, I don’t feel like the world missed out.

Add to all of this some of the weakest Ghost Rider illustrations I’ve laid eyes on. It seems almost like Tuska (or Colletta) wasn’t actually clear on the fact that GR’s head is a flaming skull... there’s actually more of a sunken-faced zombie look to some of the depictions. The old school coloring technique’s shortcomings detract even from the flame itself… In a lot of ways, this look was par for the course in the first few years, and maybe it was the result of not wanting to push the envelope too far so soon after the relaxing of restrictions that allowed for this Ghost Rider to be published in the first place. Whatever the reason, though, definitely not my favorite.

Which is to say that the entire book is disappointing.

Grade: D