Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Champions (1975) # 10

Cover Artist: Dave Cockrum
Published: January 1977
Original Price: $0.30

Title: "One Man's Son is Another Man's Poison!"
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Artist: Bob Hall
Inker: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Ray Holloway
Colorist: Don Warfield
Editor: Archie Goodwin

The four male members of the Champions - Hercules, Angel, Iceman, and Ghost Rider - have been imprisoned in a steel vault in an unknown location by the Soviet villain team.  When the Champions attempt to break free, they find stone surrounding them, which causes the room to shake violently.  The villains appear via Darkstar's power and tell them that they are trapped in a vault deep within the San Andreas Fault, and any attempt to escape will trigger an earthquake that could destroy California.  Hercules, unwilling to listen to reason, attempts to break free of the cell, and Ghost Rider steps up to try and stop him with his hellfire.  This only enrages Hercules more, who admits that he has never trusted the demonic Johnny Blaze. 

The villains return to their jet, which holds the imprisoned Black Widow, Bruskin, and Ivan Petrovitch, who has just learned that his believed-to-be-dead son Yuri is the Crimson Dynamo.  Yuri relates his story, where he believes that his father was a defector to the West, which caused him to be abducted by American agents as a child and raised in captivity.  When Yuri leaves, Bruskin admits that it was all a ploy to turn Yuri into a Soviet agent against his father, which Darkstar overhears.  When Yuri and the other villains return to the plane, Darkstar attempts to tell him what Bruskin admitted, but he instead attacks Darkstar, calling her a traitor.  She frees Back Widow and sends out a teleportation beam to rescue the other Champions from the fault. 

Black Widow's fight against the villains causes damage to their plane, forcing them to eject and land on a nearby Russian submarine in international waters.  The Champions arrive and attack the villains, while Bruskin sacrifices himself to damage the submarine with a grenade.  Darkstar turns on Yuri and defeats him, but lets him go when she finds herself unable to turn him over to the American authorities.  The Champions and Darkstar leave with the other captured villains, but the secrecy around the day's events cause Ghost Rider to question whether they should remain a team at all.  Ivan, to whom Blaze is speaking, remains silent, lost in thought about the fate of his son.

Ghost Rider makes a cameo appearance in Marvel Treasury Edition # 13 before making his next full appearance in Ghost Rider (1973) # 21.

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

An amazing Dave Cockrum cover promises more from this comic than it actually delivers as the Black Widow/Crimson Dynamo story finally wraps up.

I realize that this story has only spanned four issues, but it seems like it's taken an eternity for it to come to an end.  Seriously, the pacing of this arc feels like it's taken a year of comics to play out, and not a very exciting year at that.  Maybe it's because this was a Tony Isabella story that had to be finished by Bill Mantlo that makes it feel so disjointed and uninteresting, but I can't find myself caring one bit about the Soviet plotline or Yuri Petrovitch's relationship with his father.  It's crawled by at a snail's pace, despite having an action-heavy third chapter last issue, and the melodrama just drags things down into this soapy mire that has all of the characters overacting in wild histrionics.  Not a single sentence ends with anything other than an exclamation mark, even the questions have exclamations added to them.

The most egregious of the characterization misfires is the relationships between the Champions themselves, because these cats flat out HATE one another.  The Marvel super-team method hinged on the "dysfunctional dynamic" of having heroes that bicker and argue, the Avengers and the X-Men both had that in spades.  Mantlo's version of the Champions, though, actively threaten and insult one another as part of their regular conversations, let alone when placed in a high-stress situation like being trapped in an active fault-line.  Hercules has a claustrophobic panic attack, which allows the male members of the team to air out all of their grievances with one another, with most of the bile being spat at poor ol' Ghost Rider. 

The Soviet plotline lumbers on to its end, with the Russian villains being defeated by way of exposition about Yuri's childhood and the defecting Darkstar.  Her introduction is really the only bright spot in this whole story-arc, and she's a welcome addition that Mantlo will keep around as a new member of the team.  The rest of this issue is full of Ivan's "Russia by way of the Bronx" slang and dialect, the Black Widow's mentor making himself a martyr for no good reason, and the heroes blundering their way to a victory.  The fault prison was kind of interesting as a deathtrap, but it doesn't save the rest of the comic, especially when the cover promises a Ghost Rider/Hercules brawl that in the issue lasts approximately two panels.

The artwork isn't up to snuff this issue, either, as Bob Hall gets paired with Frank Giacoia on inks, making the art backslide into Don Heck territory.  Hall was a really green penciller on this series, but his earlier issues with more suitable finishers turned out a nice looking product.  This issue, though, just doesn't work as well, and maybe that's because he was already being shuffled out the door in favor of John Byrne, who's been hyped in the letters page for like three issues running now.

This is a series that is still failing to live up to any potential it may have, but at least now that this storyline is finished the series can hopefully move on to better things.  The artwork, at least, is going to get a whole lot better!

Grade: C-

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