Friday, October 06, 2017

The Evil that is Cast …



And so this is how the end of the Champions begins, with a smug Warren Worthington III aka the Angel, lounging around in a Speedo watching TV. It’s reminiscent of how Champions 3 started off, only there’s no Black Widow in a bikini. He gets a call from his buddy, Bobby Drake (Ice Man) telling him that he’s still in Los Angeles with his girlfriend and they want to hang out.


(I was maxin' and relaxin' sippin' a tequila, when Walter Cronkite popped up and said, "Hi, my name is Shelia!")

I guess the Ice Man who we last saw telling Angel and Spider-man that he was going to wander around America looking for himself didn’t work out so well. Angel gives Bobby shit about finally finding a girlfriend, tells him to grab the Champion-car and then informs his girlfriend that they only have 17 hours to fuck before these two people come to New Mexico for a visit.

Since I wrote “New Mexico” I guess I should say that this isn’t a Champions book, but Incredible Hulk Annual number 7, and we quickly move from the Angel’s love nest to a Gamma Base where Doc Samson is showing a news reporter around the base. The run into the Hulk, who is kind of chill but gets angry enough to bunch the gamma-radiated psychiatrist in the head a few times.

That was kind of funny. Doc Samson has never been one of my favorite characters and it’s nice to see him get his ass kicked every once in a while.

The next day Bobby and Teresa Sue Bottoms (the fuck kind of name is that?) show up and Terri Sue seems to have a thing for the Angel. She stares at him, she can’t stop talking to him and she makes him put on his Angel costume all while ignoring Bobby. See, Terri Sue gets hot for heroes and Bobby hasn’t let her know who he is. This puts Ice Man into mopey man mode but it doesn’t last because an intruder has shown up, but he’s no ordinary stranger.


("Wings? Oh yeah, but really, I want you to stare at my hairy chest, m'lady.")


(I have to say, Candy is pretty cool about her boyfriend blatantly hitting on his best friend's girl right in front of her. "Oh that? Yeah, Warren is a prick. No big deal.")

Terri Sue and Candy Southern (Angel’s girl) get into the house, which is good because this guy is a Sentinel. And he’s no ordinary Sentinel, for one thing, he’s a bit of a wise-ass and for another, he’s the Master Mold which means that he’s the top dog. The Sentinel that makes other Sentinels. Ice Man tries something kind cool (no pun) by absorbing all of the heat out of the air, turning everything around him cold but keeping him hot. The Sentinel knows what he’s doing, so he nails him with a Frigi-Blast, and Ice Man is down for the count.

The Angel knows that he can’t beat a Sentinel by himself, so he bolts. As he does, Terri Sue let’s a pretty slick burn on Ice Man.


(Terri Sue, I think I love you.)

The good thing about Angel is that he’s not geographically challenged and knows where he is. He starts flying towards Gamma Base—which is 100 miles away and that seems awfully far for him to fly at top speed while trying to out maneuver a Sentinel, but I guess he does it. Because the Sentinel runs into Doc Samson who punches it and then gets his ass kicked.

This angers the Hulk, not because the long-haired Samson is a friend, but because he just wants it to be quiet (dude, I hear you). He comes out of his room, really pissed off and starts punching the robot, who kicks him.

Now Hulk is really mad and as the Sentinel tries flying away, he jumps on to his boot. Samson tries to help Bruce Banner but miss times his leap and ends up on the ground. He’s useless. Where is the robot flying to? To a meteor base just outside the Earth’s atmosphere. Being in outer space makes the Hulk pass out and when he wakes up he finds himself in a tube that was made for the Blob.

The Hulk freaks, punches his way out and busts Angel and Ice Man out too. He’s really angry now and wants to completely destroy the robot. So he goes looking for him, despite the protests of WW III and Bobby Drake. They both think that they should just silently get the fuck out of there. Which, I mean, way to be heroes, guys. Jeez.

Angel tells the two that he’s going to look for an escape pod – they both realize that they’re in space – and the Hulk says he’s looking for some payback. Ice Man tags along and when the Hulk finds the Sentinel, he starts kicking the crap out of him. Finally, the Sentinel is able to knock Hulk out by frying him with extreme voltage.

Ice Man actually does something smart and tricks the robot into telling them his plan. The Sentinel says that he’s a robot but has the brain of crazy old Steven Lang who you may remember from trying to kill the X-Men in X-Men 100. This is the issue where Jean Grey turns into the Phoenix, so it was a pretty big deal.

The Angel shows up, hearing all of this exposition and tells the Sentinel that he’s not Lang at all. Lang is a vegetable in some hospital back on Earth. This completely confuses the robot who hasn’t noticed that the Hulk has woken up. Oh yeah, the Hulk is even angrier than he was before and literally tears the Sentinel in half. He’s just lying there with his circuits and stuff all over the place.

Angel finds an escape pod and tries to get the Hulk to join him and Ice Man, but Hulk is like, “yeah I’m okay.” Despite being torn in half, the Sentinel is not quite dead though and he overrode the programming so that the pod won’t launch. The Hulk is super angry now and wants to rip the robot to even smaller pieces. Ice Man hits the Hulk with a snowball who retaliates by kicking the pod out of the space station.

The vacuum of space sucks the Hulk out and he splashes down in the ocean next to the two mutants. The Hulk tells them it was nice hanging with them, but he has to go. Ice Man and the Angel are left on an ice raft, with the Angel saying, “We better get back before my girlfriend kills yours.” All Ice Man can think is, “Why me, Lord? Why me?”

I like watching the Hulk punch things, it’s one of my most favorite things about comics. He’s a complete lunatic and he just beats the crap out of everything in sight. That is just great. But I think that I like something else a little better: watching Ice Man get the shaft from the ladies. There were a few times where I actually laughed out loud at Bobby’s bad luck. What’s weird to me is that this girl loves the supes but she doesn’t think that it’s weird that Bobby flies a Champions jet to his friend’s house, who is the world-famous X-Man the Angel and then gets kidnapped by a giant robot.

That’s three pretty huge clues that your boyfriend may have an alter ego. But Terri Sue Bottoms doesn’t get context clues, man.

I liked this issue a lot, writer Roger Stern has a great handle on the Angel and Ice Man’s personalities, which is refreshing. He makes Bobby seem like a guy who’s really unlucky with the ladies rather than a loser, the way Bill Mantlo did. And another cool thing was when TSB was mooning over WWIII, Bobby didn’t act like a baby. He kinda complained about it (which is what I would have done if I was in his shoes) to the Angel’s girlfriend, but he didn’t make an ice razor and try to cut his ice veins.

Also, the Angel wasn’t a prick either, which was a nice change of events.

The art was by John Byrne and it was pretty great. But that’s par for the course for him.

All-in-all, I give this four out of five Hulk babies. This kid looks like my nephew, which makes me laugh even more. 


BTW, I have not given my final synopsis on the Champions as a series. I will do that sometime very soon. Also, there is one Champions book that I have left to read: Godzilla 3, but I have to find it. Don’t worry true believers, I will!



Friday, September 29, 2017

My Friend, My Foe!




This issue of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man opens up with the Angel in a lot of trouble. If there’s one thing that we’ve learned over these last four months is that the Angel is ALWAYS in a lot of trouble. He’s trouble so much, he could be a Disney Princess. There are a few differences this time:

He’s AND Spider-Man are in trouble
The guy causing the trouble is his best buddy, Bobby Drake AKA Ice Man
It’s not an X-Men or Champions book, it’s a Spidey book

In any event a mind-controlled Ice Man is chasing the Angel and the Spider and he’s actually using his powers to their utmost abilities. He’s chucking ice daggers at them, he’s cooled the entire building so that the two heroes are freezing and using more energy to keep them warm (thus slowing them down and making them easier targets) and he chucked a giant, spiked ice ball at them.

And to make matters better, he’s not whining. Like at all!

This means that crippled super villain and second-rate Tony Stark, Stuart Clarke (his name rhymes with Tony’s!), who has had zero training as Ice Man AND is in fact unconscious right now, is a better Ice Man than un-hypnotized Bobby Drake. In fact, Ice Man should sing, “Clarke-y, Clarke-y, Clarke-y can’t you see? Sometimes it’s better when you hypnotize me!”

Maybe not. But he probably should.

As the fight is going on, we get a couple of flashbacks as to how this all happened. Immediately after the Champions broke up, Ice Man heads to the hospital (as Ice Man, BTW; not Bobby Drake) to Clarke’s hospital room where he’s bandaged, paralyzed and in a coma. For days, Ice Man stays there soliloquizing about how sorry he is for what happened and how it sucks for Clarke to be all messed up. If you’ve forgotten, in order to get rid of the Champions (after he was knocked out by Black Widow’s dad, Ivan [remember him?]), Clarke (as Rampage) presses the self-destruct button on his costume, which blew him up. So while, I’m usually up for an Ice Man beatdown, this isn’t his fault at all. Nor is it the Champions’ fault either.

So, Ice Man is sitting there, feeling sorry for himself when the bandaged Clarke tells him to come closer. He then blows hypnotizing gas in the icy mutant’s face and Bobby is his slave. I have no idea how Clarke was physically able to get the chemicals that he needed to do that, but he did – it was explained that these chemicals were found in the hospital, which okay. But how did he stand up and get them. They’ve made a pretty large point of saying that Clarke is a cripple. Again, I don’t know.

After the flashback, Ice Man is really kicking these heroes’ collective asses. At one point he calls Angel “Daddy Warbucks” again and grabs him by the throat. As he’s doing this to his best buddy, he’s freezing him at the same time, which is a pretty bad ass move. I’ve read probably about 20 comics with Ice Man in them over the last four months and this is the most ruthless I’ve ever seen him. And it’s not like it’s a new writer at the helm, this is still Bill Mantlo who has been writing the character for over two years.

Spider-Man isn’t about to watch the Angel die (awwwww, mannnnnn) so he tackles Ice Man out a 35th story window. As they’re falling, they’re still fighting and Spidey manages to bring the duo into a car wash. The “scalding hot steam” melts Ice Man and snaps him out of his stupor. And this is why Spider-Man is so awesome, after he kicks Bobby’s ass he thinks, “Oh yeah, people might not know who he is” and he webs up a mask so that Ice Man can keep his secret identity!

Peter Parker puts the “friendly” in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.


(Spider-Man is my hero!)

As the two were fighting, three businessmen burst into the Champions building – seriously, you guys, you didn’t see the donnybrook going on here – to talk to the Angel about the building. They actually represent the construction company that screwed the Champions over and they want to reach an understanding. We don’t hear what they say to him, but the Angel flips out and starts flapping his wings creating a mini-hurricane which tussles papers, glasses fall off and ties are askew.

It’s a bad scene.

The businessmen are so freaked out that they tell the Angel his debts are cancelled, the property is rented and the place will be repaired, free of charge. I guess business was done differently in the late 1970s.


(I'm glad Trump doesn't have wings! Wocka, wocka!)

The three talk about getting Clarke back to the hospital and Ice Man tells the others that he has a lot of thinking to do, but he’s going out on his own. I guess he’s going to wander around a bit like Caine from the TV show “Kung-Fu”. And that’s about it.

There are two buttons to the story:

The camera that the Angel gave to Spider-Man is broken after he took it through the carwash. So he doesn’t get the camera or his fight with Ice Man.

Flash Thompson is walking around campus with his new girlfriend that he got while in Vietnam (“I went to Vietnam and all I got was this lousy girlfriend!”). They’re so in love that they almost get smashed in the back of the head by a Frisbee. Good thing that Hector Ayala is there to save them both. You remember Hector Ayala right? He’s the White Tiger!

This was another really good issue. I think that when Spidey is part of the crew, things work really well. Angel isn’t as much of an ass and even though Bobby was hypnotized through much of these two issues, he was cool (HA!) too. Plus Ice Man actually used his imagination and jammed his feet on the accelerator when it came to his powers. He was really fucking shit up. Too bad he can’t do that all the time. The Clarke story was pretty lame, but what are you going to do? I’ve read much worse.

Sal Buscema did another great job with his art, though the cover was a little sketchy (he didn’t do that). I do like how someone is still holding out hope that the Champions are going to be a thing again, with the bubble, "A Champion Gone Mad!" Stop trying to make the Champions happen, Gretchen! It's not going to happen! 

All-in-all, I’d give this story four bullied half-Peter, half-Spider-Man, Spidey Senses! (Pretty sick burn by Flash Thompson, BTW. "This is a bowling alley! Not a knitting parlor!" Eat that, Puny Parker!)

 

Jesus, Parker's practically Bobby Drake in that panel. "Oooh, I'll punch you one day, Flash! You just wait and see!" Spoiler Alert: he doesn't!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Whatever Happened to the Ice Man?



The Champions’ book ended in 1977 and comic fans don’t find out what became of that wacky, LA-based team until over a year later. It wasn’t until issue number 17 of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, did people learn what transpired.

I have to hand it to writer Bill Mantlo, he did a pretty good job of framing how the reader learns about the Champions’ demise. For some reason, the New York City-based Daily Bugle has sent a writer and a photographer to the other side of the United States to do a story about what happens when a super hero team goes belly-up. The writer has already talked to the last Champion standing, Warren Worthington III (Angel) and now they’ve sent photographer Peter Parker out to California to grab some shots.

Pete is sleepily walking around Champions Plaza, where the Champions Building stands, when two huge pieces of glass fall from the skyscraper. The Angel catches one, but misses the other. If Parker wasn’t Spider-Man, he’d be dead. But since he is, he jumps out of the way and is safe. No one, not Angel or the two cops hanging around, think that Pete’s display of advanced gymnastics is a huge deal.

The Angel invites him upstairs for a coffee and to replace his busted camera and begins to tell him about his team disbanded. It all comes down to this: the Champions Building is a big pile of shit where nothing ever works. The rest of the team takes that as a metaphor for the Champions themselves and the frustrations bubble over.

Ghost Rider, who feels that he’s never been respected, is the first to jet. Black Widow tries to get him to stick around, but Hercules calls his teammate a “demon” (I have no idea where Blaze gets his persecution complex from) and says to let him go. Natasha begins to cry. Darkstar tells her country woman that things are going to be okay, but she has to leave too because she needs to go back to Russia.

Ice Man tries to get her to stay by telling her that he loves her, which ugh, c’mon man. Jesus Christ. And as she’s flying through the window, she gets one last burn on Bobby Drake. “I – I am sorry. Though I like you – it has never been more than that!”

Which, damn. That hurts. But on the other hand, she’s never led Bobby on. He’s the one who loves her, does stupid shit for her and expects her to love him back despite not having a rapport with her. But man, we’ve all been there. Ice Man takes this semi-public rejection like a champ (pun!) and tells the group that the first chance he gets, he’s cutting the “C” off his belt. I guess this means he quits. He also called Angel, Daddy Warbucks and tells him to “flap off”. Pissy Bobby is the best Bobby.

Angel turns to Black Widow and Hercules and they’re just like, dude what do you want from us. Hercules tells him he’s going to walk the Earth and see what he can find and Natasha says that sounds dope and she’s going with him. Angel freaks and has his “BUT THE WORLD STILL NEEDS CHAMPIONS!” moment.

Peter listens to the story and tells him WWIII he has it rough, but where’s Ice Man? Which is sort of a weird question to ask. Why didn’t he ask about Ghost Rider or Darkstar or Hercules and Black Widow? Angel says he doesn’t know but if he still needs those shots, they should take them now.

Parker thinks the Angel is lying so he returns to the Champions Building, this time as Spider-Man! He’s going to snoop around the place looking for Bobby Drake. I’m still not sure why he feels compelled to look for a guy whom he doesn’t know very well, this is well before they were Amazing Friends.

Spidey overhears Angel talking to a guy in a wheelchair and it seems as if the wheelchair-bound man has Angel over a barrel somehow. But it’s not just any old cripple, it’s the poor-man’s Tony Stark, Stuart Clarke who you remember as the Champion’s first villain, Rampage. Someone else is commandeering the Rampage suit because after the Angel calls Clarke, a “deranged homicidal, little pipsqueak” he gets punched. Hard. If it wasn’t for Spider-Man’s help, the Angel would have a broken neck.

Spider-Man is about to kick Rampage’s ass, but the Angel holds him off. He tries to explain to the New York hero exactly why, but he catches himself. He just tells him that he can’t beat up Rampage. Spidey doesn’t care and cold-cocks WWIII and knocks his ass out. He then takes on the Rampage, when he’s about to get his ass beat. Angel realizes that an innocent is going to get hurt so he hurls an electric spear thing at Clarke which shocks him and Rampage.

You think that Rampage is done, but he’s not. The electric shock only breaks the psychic bond between Clarke and whomever is in the Rampage suit. And guess who’s in that suit? It’s none other than Bobby Drake, the Ice Man. And guess what else, you guys? He found the time to take the “C” off his belt. He’s pissed!

This was a very good issue, probably better than most regular Champions issues. The way that Mantlo explained how and why the Champions broke up made sense. They never gelled as a team, they were always fighting amongst each other and bickering. It got annoying. I mean, I was sick of these people too. It’s like if you have a friend who’s with someone else and all they do is fight. They battle over where to go to eat or who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher or what TV show to watch. At first, it’s uncomfortable to be around them and then it turns down-right aggravating. You want them to split up, but they stay with each other because they don’t have anything else better to do.

That’s who the Champions are. They’re the Lockhorns of the comic book world.

The art was great too. I love the clean, bold lines of penciler Sal Buscema. He does an exemplary job because his art isn’t rushed or sketchy. This may not make sense, but it looks like how a comic book should. Oh yeah, the cover is pretty great too. I believe it's a John Byrne and the action really pops off the cover. The colors are so great. Such a nice job. 

The one thing that I don’t get is why this was a story that needed to be told in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man? Spidey was starring in the monthly Marvel-Team Up book where he pairs with a superhero to have an adventure. Why couldn’t he have joined with the Angel on that book and do his own thing in the PPSSM book? I’m not complaining, I’m just wondering.

Oh well, it was still a fun read. Since this isn’t a proper Champions book, I won’t give it any disco Angels. But I will give it four out of five hissy fit Angels. 



Thursday, September 14, 2017

The Sentinels Hunt Again!


Champions 17 is a sad issue of the Champions because it’s the last issue of the run. Marvel made a last ditch effort to push the Champions in the middle of 1976 when the team appeared in Iron Man’s annual, the Avengers and Super-Villain Team-Up (as well as an issue of Godzilla, but that comic wasn’t included in this omnibus due to licensing issues. Will I buy it off eBay? Probably!).

Apparently, the push didn’t go well and this was the last stand for Los Angeles’ favorite super hero club. I guess if you’re going to go out, you may as well go out in a mess. The art (George Tuska is listed as the artist, John Byrne as the embellisher) felt sketchy and incredibly rushed. The writing from Bill Mantlo was probably one of his worst in terms of the plot hanging together.

Spoiler alert: it’s not good. But here goes …

Three former members of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (Blob, Unus and Lorelei) bust in on Black Widow and Hercules who were on guard duty at the Champions Headquarters. They looked freaked out because they brought friends, the Sentinels. the mutant-hunting giant robots are the latest villains to destroy a wall of Angel’s precious Champions Tower (“I PAID BIG MONEY FOR THIS PLACE!”).

The one cool thing that the Widow does is hit the Champions Signal, which turns the windows of the tower into a gigantic “C”.


("C" for Champions! Get it? I wonder how many times they had to explain this to Ice Man?) 

It makes for a cool visual but there are a few problems:

What if the other Champions aren’t outside when the signal is lit. Or what if they are, but they can’t see the building?

On the page prior, the Sentinels were clearly shown ripping down a wall. How was the Champions signal lit when a quarter of the building is gone. Even if the Sentinels ripped the opposite wall down, that building isn’t standing tall.

Whatever. Something is going on because the Vanisher is in the corner and he looks sinister.

Warren Worthington III is flying around and he notices that the signal is lit and he knows that he has to tell his other teammates. Good thing that Darkstar and Ice Man are at Johnny Blaze’s new movie premiere. I guess after months of being ignored, Bobby and Laynia are now a couple. Though Ice Man is still acting like a douche and throwing major shade at his comrade’s new movie, “Biker flicks are the pits!”

He sees the Angel flying overhead and he immediately ices out. This excites the crowd into an anti-Mutant riot and they try to kick his ass. Darkstar knows that her boyfriend (is that what we’re calling him?) is in trouble (because of course she is) and she unleashes the darkforce on the angry citizens of LA. This makes them even more scared and they try to attack her.

Johnny Blaze arrives on the scene, angry that his premiere has been ruined by his buddies, and attempts to start punching. He turns into the Ghost Rider which scatters the other people waiting to see the film.

Ice Man and Ghost Rider bicker for the eight millionth time and it’s all so exhausting. Read the panels below if you want to be bothered by two assholes.

 

(No Angel and Ice Man, that's a total normal way to get one of your teammates to a battle. Looks cool!)

Ghost Rider is such a world-class dick throughout the entire run of the Series that he's number one with a bullet on the Worst Champion list:
  1. Ghost Rider – he’s just a thin-skinned asshole who believes the worst of everyone. I hate him.
  2. Ice Man – he’s a mopey douche who takes offense to everything. I hate him.
  3. Angel – he’s a rich prick who would be the lead in every slob vs. snob movie in the 80s. Not only that, but he’s completely useless. I can fly! Big deal. I hate him.
  4. Black Widow – She’s cool. I like her.
  5. Darkstar – She’s mostly confused about just everything. I like her okay
  6. Hercules – Surprisingly super cool. I like him a lot! 

Black Goliath doesn’t get votes because he wasn’t in the comic very much.

The Champions assemble and quickly kick the Sentinels’ ass. Like, it was really easy. The only really funny thing is Bobby saying how slow these Sentinels are in one panel and then two panels later, a Sentinel grabs him. This forced Ghost Rider to save his icy ass – which I’m sure pissed both men off.

The Angel is surprised to see the former BoEM members in Champions HQ and smells a rat. Great job, Warren, maybe you’re not so dumb after all. Too bad, the Vanisher appears and shoots them all with a gun. The entire Champions team is knocked out. Blob suggests that they should just fucking kill them and the Vanisher lays down a solid burn, “For one so slow, Blob, you are remarkably lacking in patience! I want to savor this moment!”

The Vanisher is dumber than the Angel. He starts telling the people whom he recruited for his rouse all about his plan. Remember, the Champions are knocked out so they can’t hear him say that he found a Sentinel, reprogrammed it and then had it chase Blob, Unus the Untoucable (I love this last part of his name, BTW) and Lorelei to Champions’ headquarters. He thought that the Champions would then lead them to the X-Men somehow.

The Vanisher would have then killed both teams. Okay, dude. Sounds completely plausible. Great plan.

Anyway, after this long and dumb story winds down, Darkstar wakes up and uses her darkforce power to reanimate a Sentinel so that it attacks the three evil mutants. It kicks their ass. As Vanisher realizes what’s going on, he’s about to vanish when Darkstar hits him with her power. The villain is frozen between being tangible and vanishing.


Ice Man is like, “Holy shit! Is he dead? Wow!”

Darkstar answers, “Oh Bobby, hold me!”

And Ice Man is like, “Sucks for you Vanisher, but awesome for me!”


(All it took was for a man to almost die for Ice Man to get a little bit of tenderness. Good going! You know that Bobby is the guy who leaves a strip club convinced that all of the dancers love him, for real.)

So the last issue ends on a cliffhanger bout Darkstar and her weird powers that we are promised will be answered in an upcoming Avengers, but I don’t think that happens because there are only three comics left in this collection: two Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-man issues and a Hulk annual. I don’t think Darkstar is in any of those mags.

Like I said, this was a pretty shitty issue; especially coming on the heels of the best issue from last month. I’ll save my final thoughts on the run as a whole for a later blog entry. As for this issue, the cover is pretty good though it looks like Ghost Rider is running away from the battle. The one thing that I know that I keep harping on, but it’s true, I am shocked at how much bickering these people do. They’re all jerks.


I give this issue two Disco Angels, and that’s being very kind.   


You know what, this is a pretty goofy picture of Angel too:


What is with this guy? How come no one can draw him looking cool?