Friday, June 9, 2017

The Champions (1975) # 9

Cover Artist: Gil Kane
Published: December 1976
Original Price: $0.30

Title: "The Battle of Los Angeles!"
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Bob Hall
Inker: Bob Layton
Letterer: Karen Mantlo
Colorist: Don Warfield
Editor: Archie Goodwin

The Champions inauguration ceremony has been interrupted by the Crimson Dynamo, the Griffin, and the Titanium Man, who have come to kill the heroes after having already kidnapped the Black Widow.  Only Hercules and the Angel are present to fight off the villains and protect the panicking crowd.  Johnny Blaze arrives for the ceremony, transforms into Ghost Rider, and immediately joins the battle.  However, despite putting up a valiant fight, the Champions are eventually defeated by the villains.

Iceman and Ivan Petrovitch have tracked down Black Widow and the Commissar to where they are being held captive, but before they can enter the building they are confronted by the returning villains.  While Iceman stays behind to eventually be defeated, Ivan enters the hideout in search of Black Widow.  Inside, Darkstar is taken by surprise by Black Widow, and a fight between them ends in a stalemate until Ivan enters through the skylight.  Darkstar is rescued by the other three villains, who hold the other Champions hostage.  The Crimson Dynamo explains that he is seeking revenge on Black Widow, the Commissar, and most especially Ivan.  He then removes his helmet and reveals himself to be Ivan's son, Yuri Petrovitch, who Ivan believed to be dead.

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

"The Battle of Los Angeles" lives up to its name by presenting a pretty great slug-fest between the Champions and the Russian villains.

The Champions was never a series that relied on subtlety in the storytelling, choosing instead to be as bombastic and adrenaline fueled as it could possibly be.  The heroes don't just bicker with one another, they're constantly at one another's throats and ready to fight at a moment's notice; they make the Defenders and the X-Men look like the Brady Bunch in that respect.  This issue, though, actually demonstrates how the drastically individualized heroes could work effectively as a team if enough thought was put into the action.  Bill Mantlo is slowly starting to improve the series, and even if all of the character still shout like lunatics and speak in nothing but catch phrases, at least the action is starting to get good.

The first half of the comic is the aforementioned "battle", and it's a pretty great display for Ghost Rider and Hercules, who surprisingly work together as a pretty efficient partnership.  Angel, naturally, screws it all up, but for a few pages there the Champions actually looked like a for-real superhero team.  The Avengers would only be moderately embarrassed, I think.  The second half of the issue gives the other members of the team, Iceman and Black Widow, their own "battle" with the villains, and it goes just as poorly.  The characterizations are starting to get better, though, because at least Iceman is able to think like a rational human being (or as he says, like a rational mutant because homo sapiens are dumb).  Ivan Petrovitch is the albatross of the issue, though, because there is nothing about the guy that is interesting.  He's a former Russian spy that talks like Ben Grimm and is only moderately obsessed with the Black Widow.  I do, however, love his response to Iceman daring to think before they raid the villain's base: "THINK?  When Natasha's in DANGER??"  That's right guys, when a loved one is in danger you should never, ever think before acting.  Unfortunately, based on the issue's ending, it looks like the remainder of this arc is going to be all about Ivan and his tactical sweater, so that's disappointing.

What's not disappointing is the art team of Bob Hall and Bob Layton, who work together to give a pretty great fight sequence in the first few pages.  The two page spread of the villains flying in, the sequence with Hercules and Ghost Rider trading throws of the god's golden mace, that's all really thrilling stuff.  Hall still has some stiffness to work out with his figure-work, and his Ghost Rider is still leaning too much into the George Tuska model, but overall I dig the art he's producing.  He's only on the comic for one more issue, and you can tell he's just a hold over until John Byrne can arrive, but he's at least dug the series out of the quagmire it was in artistically just a few issues ago.

This arc has already worn out its welcome, but you can't go wrong with the action scenes in this one.  Not half bad, especially by Champions standards.

Grade: B-

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