Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Champions (1975) # 8

Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Published: Oct. 1976
Original Price: $0.30

Title: "Divide and Conquer!"
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Bob Hall
Inker: Bruce Patterson
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colorist: Dan Warfield
Editor: Archie Goodwin

The Champions have been visited in their headquarters by Rampage, one of their villains who had previously escaped their custody, and he has brought them photographs of the Titanium Man kidnapping Black Widow and her former teacher, the Commissar.  Rampage tells them that his boss is called "The Outcast", a name that Black Widow's partner Ivan Petrovitch recognizes.  Rampage presses a button on his armor that he believes will allow the Outcast to speak with the heroes, but instead it causes the armor to explode.  Outside, Darkstar and Griffin see the explosion and go to inform their leader.  The Champions survive the explosion, and surprisingly so has Rampage, though just barely.  Ghost Rider volunteers to rush the villain to the nearest hospital, Ivan storms off in anger, and Iceman elects to follow him.  This leaves only Angel and Hercules present for the team's inauguration press conference outside the building.

Meanwhile, Black Widow wakes up a captive of the villains, being told by Darkstar and the Titanium Man that she will be going home to Russia.  They are joined by Griffin and their leader, Yuri Petrovitch, who has taken on the armor and identity of the new Crimson Dynamo.  He identifies himself as the son of Ivan Petrovitch, who at that moment is putting together a tracking device to find the Black Widow.  He and Iceman head off across town, following the trail, while Ghost Rider arrives at the hospital and leaves Rampage in their care.  Later, at the press conference, Angel and Hercules begin their introduction but are interrupted by the attacking Crimson Dynamo, Griffin, and Titanium Man.

This issue is reprinted in The Champions Classic vol. 1 trade paperback.

The Champions goes through another creator change, only this time its right in the middle of a storyarc.

For a comic that sees a complete and near total revamp of the creative team, from the writer all the way down to the editor (only letterer Karen Mantlo retains her position), there's not as much of an abrupt change as one would expect.  Bill Mantlo had been assisting previous writer Tony Isabella on previous issues, so it's likely that he would have at least known the broad strokes of where this storyline was heading, but I was surprised by how close in tone this issue is to previous ones.  Mantlo is a writer that seems to have a split consensus, with some saying he was a hack who would write anything at anytime under any deadline while others praise him for his work on titles like ROM and the Micronauts.  I fall into the latter category, I'm an unabashed Bill Mantlo fan who loved ROM as a kid and still get all nostalgia for his work in the early 1980s.

Unfortunately, this issue of the Champions was not his best work, though he would go on to write some much better stories in the title's future.  Here, though, he's just channeling Tony Isabella, continuing his streak of terrible dialogue, hysterical proclamations by every character, and the inexplicable tendency to write the Russian expatriate Ivan like he hailed from New Jersey.  It's pretty much business as usual, though I think the decision to write out Rampage in such an explosive fashion probably wasn't part of Isabella's agenda before he left.  In fact, that was the biggest surprise of the issue, and it was pretty unexpected.  You can tell that Mantlo is trying really hard to not just up the interest in the book's twists but also to smother it in a false sense of importance.  This really gets flagged up during the team's press conference, with one onlooker comparing it to the day the Fantastic Four announced their presence to the world.  Marvel really wanted the Champions to happen, but considering we're eight issues in and the team is still just getting around to officially announcing themselves I think it was way too late to steer the ship out of danger.

The artwork is a huge change, though, from George Tuska to incoming neophyte artist Bob Hall, who was just at the start of his career.  Hall's work was obviously intended to just get the work in on time no matter what, because this issues letter column was already trumpeting the arrival of John Byrne several issues down the line.  Still, Hall does a serviceable job staying in the early 1970s house style, despite not really being the flashiest or most interesting artist at the time.  Definitely an improvement over the book's initial artist, Don Heck, that much is certain.

This book is so frustrating to read through, because it's so disjointed and the editors clearly didn't know what to do with it.  Getting Mantlo on the book is the first step to making it actually readable, and when Byrne does finally show up on art the series definitely improves.

Grade: C+

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