Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Assault on Olympus

The splash page of the Champions number three isn’t an assault on Olympus, it’s an ass on a chaise lounge*. Specifically, Black Widow’s string bikinied ass and Speedo-clad WWIII watching Ice Man ice dance. Seriously, check out this page, you’d have no idea that these three people just lost their buddies to an ancient God of Death and have no idea how to bring him back:

* These are the kind of Dad jokes I’m making now. My wife is not a fan, but my nine-year-old would love this joke.

Anyway Natasha is giving Bobby shit for not caring about finding Hercules or Venus, while she’s just sitting around catching some rays and enjoying what looks to be a Long Island Ice Tea. And Angel’s like, “No, no, no. Bobby really cares. Probably more than us!”

Maybe not more than everyone, WWIII because while you guys have been kicking it like Zack, Kelly and Slater did at the Malibu Sands Beach Resort, Ghost Rider is actually doing something about finding his buddies. Which, of course, pisses everyone off. Angel calls him “a bad penny turned up”, Ice Man first thinks that Blaze is joking and then tells him “he’s sick”. Both times threatening to kick his ass.

There’s a couple of things here: one, Professor X did a really shitty job of instilling any trust in WWIII or Bobby. Though I suppose if your mentor faked his death for a couple of years and told only one person of your super tight group that he wasn’t dead, then you’d be a little gun shy about trusting people too. But I mean, come on. Why the attitude?

A brief explanation as to why the ‘tude is the second thing: when Marvel first started selling comics, one of their hallmarks was that the heroes may be super, but they went through the same crap that you did. They bickered, they argued, they were the antithesis of the “We REALLY are Super Friends!” of the DC world. And this style of writing made the Marvel characters popular and relatable.

But sometimes, it gets to be too much. Both the Angel and Ice Man come off as real dicks here. You have zero leads and your teammate comes back with a solid one, the first thing you don’t do is to be an asshole. Because he’s done way more than you have – and to be honest, it’s not much. He literally went back to the scene of the kidnapping and thought about it for 30 seconds. Still, it’s more than these clowns did. So just chill out, Ice Man.*

* Another Dad joke!

We move to Olympus where there’s a lot of expository words, Zeus is talking to Dionysus and he’s sad because he’s forced to screw over his son, Hercules. Pluto is talking to Ares and Hippolyta and he’s happy because his stupid scheme is actually working. Guess who comes in motorcylces a blazin’*? The Champions! But Ice Man apologizes to Ghost Rider for doubting him, which is nice.

* Another one!

They fight the Huntsman (who doesn’t turn out to be all that tough) and a handful of mutants (non X-Men type) before booging on over to the wedding. The Huntsman gets there before them and warns Pluto, but guess who kicks the Huntsman’s ass? Yup. Angel. He swings him around by his staff, lets go and the Huntsman gets a bump on the noggin. Hercules punches Ares in the face, which was pretty dope. Then Venus turns Hippolyta’s sword into a plow which clunks off her head, knocking her out. BTW, I’m not 100% sure it’s a plow because Venus calls it a “gentle tool of peace” which is kind of a weird descriptor. Also, it’s not drawn incredibly well.

Now, the Champions are about to kick Pluto’s ass, but Hercules wisely tells them to get behind him because there’s no way they can handle him. And that makes sense because they can’t. The Ghost Rider tells the gang to hold his beer, he’s got something up his sleeve and walks over to Zeus. He basically tells Zeus that he got played and that he’s a bit of an idiot. Instead of incensing Zeus, the King of the Gods (who has a notoriously short fuse) is crestfallen. He yells at Pluto, who runs away from Olympus back to Hades.

Zeus says that he’ll deal with Pluto “later” but probably never does because that’s the way it rolls in Olympus.

This is an underwhelming ending to the Champions’ first arc. Things kind of just peter out. But that’s comic books. For the most part, no one ever really scores a full-fledged knockout. Either the villain is defeated (and most of the time, it’s through luck or a deus ex machina, rarely is it ever the direct result of the good guy’s plan) or the bad guy slinks away.

I guess that’s to set up the stakes for the next time the bad guy comes back. You’re supposed to think, “Man, Bad Guy X almost beat Good Guy Y last time. I bet it’ll be even closer now!” But the result is that, the hero looks like a chump and was fortunate to have luck on their side. This sort of storytelling isn’t just a comics thing. It happens all the time in movies and wrestling and other stories where you have a “Big Bad” that you’ve spent weeks building up only to realize that your heroes are definitely not strong enough to take down.

Basically, the writer has painted himself into a corner and there’s only one way out.

There are two things that I wanted to end with:

1.     The first three Champion covers all use the word “comrade”. It appears to me that someone got a dictionary for Christmas but did not get a thesaurus. Comrade is a good, strong, comic book-y word. But c’mon Boris, you keep using this word and people are going to think that you’re red.

2.     When I was a kid there were two things that I loved to read: comics and Greek mythology. So, Hercules has always been one of my favorite characters. Naturally, I thought that I’d like all of the Marvel Olympus characters. They’re cool, but a little dopey. Pluto is kind of a dipshit though (at least the way he’s written here, he is), I thought a guy who looked like this:

would be tough. BTW, the first time I saw what Marvel Universe Pluto looked like was in the above image from the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe. He looked like a ancient Greek Darth Vader. He doesn’t act like it in this issue. Though I will say I do like how Dionysus and Zeus are going to go get hammered and forget this whole mess ever happened.

All-in-all, I’d give this issue three Angels out of five. The art was a little better as was the writing. It’s still heavy on the explanations and these guys bicker too much (all without Hercules too, who is usually written as a classic asshole) but it held my attention. The cover art is still the best part about the books.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Whom the Gods Would Join

When we last left the Champions, Ares and Hippolyta appeared and were looking to play Bachelor and Bachelorette with Venus and Hercules with Uncle Pluto in the role as Chuck Woolery*. I know, that I am fusing my dating gameshows together but I don’t watch the Bachelor or Bachelorette but I used to really like “Love Connection”. There was nothing better than watching two people absolutely despise each other and telling Woolery and America all about it.

* Judging from his tweets, Woolery seems to have moved to the ultra-Conservative, anti-Semitic side of the house, which sorta sucks. Not because he’s a Conservative, but because he’s taking the prick POV about just about everything and I really used to like him. RIP: "Be back in two and two".

The Champions end up fighting Plato, Ares and Hippolyta and get the upper hand but then the trio disappears. Out of nowhere comes the Olympian, the Huntsman, who’ve never heard of before. Apparently, he’s been given a sliver of Zeus’ power and a staff which he uses to put everyone in suspended animation. Everyone except the Ghost Rider who tosses hell fire at him. This causes the Huntsman to run away, freeing everyone except Hercules and Venus.

The reason? It’s because they’re Olympians. Which kind of seems like a reason for them NOT to be in comas, but that’s comics. Ghost Rider is told to keep watch over the two ancient Greeks by Black Widow. She’s becoming the leader of the group and it seems like Angel has a problem with it. But after Natasha calls him out on it (she actually says, “Do you have an objection, young man?” Young man? The fuck?)  Warren Worthington III told her he was just playing and that’s she’s prettier than his last leader. Way to go, WWIII, you’re so smooth with the ladies.

While this is going on, Pluto and his pals are in Olympus telling Zeus that he better get with the program because if he doesn’t shit is going to hit the fan. The only way to stop said shit from hitting said fan is if Hercules marries Hippolyta and Venus says, “I do” to Ares (who, like I said before is her brother). What Pluto doesn’t tell Zeus, but lets us in on, is that husbands can’t fight wives, so once Hercules and Venus are married, they can attack Olympus and take it over for Pluto. It seems that only Hercules and Venus are the ones tough enough to take on Pluto.

But here’s the thing, they’re in a coma on Earth right this second. Why doesn’t Pluto just attack Olympus right now. I don’t think that Hercules is waking up anytime soon. But there has to be some sort of convoluted plan.

The three go after the Huntsman who creates a Titan that Ice Man and Black Widow pretty easily defeat. But the Huntsman gets the last laugh as he disguises Ice Man, Angel and Black Widow as Pluto, Ares and Hippolyta and the Ghost Rider blasts them out of the sky. It’s kind of funny to watch Ice Man as Pluto call Johnny Blaze, “A stupid jerk.” Then the Huntsman takes their two comrades (more on this word next time) to Olympus for their weddings.

Losing Hercules and Venus sets Bobby off and he’s going to punch the Ghost Rider, but the Angel holds him back. Johnny Blaze is really sad because no one has any idea how to get to Mt. Olympus. But I have a feeling that they’ll figure it out relatively soon because the title of the next issue is: “The Assault on Mt. Olympus”!

The dialogue and art hasn’t really improved much from the first issue. Writer Tony Isabella is fine, I guess. He packs a lot of explanation into his work, but this is really an A then B then C then D type of story. And the characters are sort of there with each other. Even WWIII and Bobby, who have known each other for years are kinda just next to each other. There’s no real sense of purpose why these heroes came together.

Isabella said that he originally wanted to make an Angel and Ice Man go across country and see the “real America” and solve crimes. This is what DC was doing at the time with the Green Arrow and Green Lantern. Those books were supposed to be really good as GL’s conservatism and GA’s liberal ideals were constantly battling. The duo even had this infamous cover (Green Lantern is such a sanctimonious asshole about it too):

Isabella was told no and that if he wanted to use the two, they had to be a part of a team. In that team they needed a strong guy (Hercules), a hero with their own book (Ghost Rider) and a woman (Black Widow). Supposedly that was the formula for a good team book. Which may be true, but there isn’t a lot of sparks flying here.

And the less said about Don Heck’s pencils, the better. There was a panel where Hercules is without his beard. The art is very rushed and very sketchy, which isn’t a style that I enjoy. I won’t spend every blog ripping on this guy, but geez, this isn’t great. I will say that the covers are outstanding. They're really great. 

Two Warren Worthington IIIs out of five:

Friday, May 19, 2017

Champions #1*

* Editor’s note: I’ll probably title each blog post with the title of the comic, but the title of Champions 1 was the same title of my last blog, “The Worlds Still Needs Champions!” and I didn’t want to confuse anyone. I’m cool like that.

I suppose the beginning of every relationship or partnership or friendship needs some sort of coincidence, some sort of synchronicity, some sort of randomness in order for those things to blossom.

For example, I’d never have met my wife if I didn’t know my buddy Tim. My mom went to high school with my other friend Ryan’s mother and they both lived in Tim’s neighborhood (I didn’t live there, but I visited there a bunch). Tim went off to college and three years later, befriended my wife – who actually only stayed at the school for two years before going somewhere else. Now in the real world, Tim and I played fantasy baseball together and we needed one more person since Ryan’s sister dropped out. Tim remembered this girl (my future wife) that he knew in college loved sports so he asked her to play. We played a season and were gearing up for another, she wanted to know which day the draft started. My email was the last one in her deleted box (this was the early 2000s and we did our draft at work via email), so she emailed me. We got to talking, I asked her out and the next thing you know we’re getting married and having kids.

The above wasn’t some sort of look-at-how-precious-my-world-is, but it’s an example of the Butterfly Effect (not the shitty Ashton Kutcher), where if one seemingly small thing is off (say my mother sits next to someone other than Ryan’s mother in ninth grade) then other people’s histories are completely altered in a lot of ways.

The same sort of coincidence happened to the Champions. But instead of the campus of Fairfield University and the neighborhoods of South Lawrence, Massachusetts, the setting is the University of California Los Angeles. The opening pages show ex-X-Men Iceman and Angel in their civilian identities as Bobby Drake and Warren Worthington III* bitching about going to class and wondering if being a normal person is worth it. ** All of a sudden, they and their fellow students are attacked by the Harpies from the legends of ancient Greeks. The two bitchy students spring into action.

* This is such a shitty, 1%, lacrosse-bro sounding name, I kind of don’t mind that the Angel got his wings ripped off his shoulders in the 80s. Stan Lee could be really tone-deaf sometime.

** I wonder how these two got into UCLA anyway? Iceman said that Professor X helped get them into the school, but what does that mean? It’s not like their transcripts from the Xavier School for Gifted Youngsters were stellar. I mean are they even an accredited school? Is there a course that Xavier teaches to? Guidelines? What kind of transcripts are Drake and Worthington even sending in to the UCLA Admissions Department? I bet Xavier just mind fucked the head of the Admissions Department and got them in.

As always, remember this, kids:

(You tell 'em, Kitty!) 

Anyway, Natasha Romanov (aka the Black Widow) is on the other side of campus and she’s waiting for an interview with a dean about a position as a Russian teacher. Her bodyguard Ivan (who turns out to be her dad, I think) is hanging out with her. The person she’s meeting with comes through the door and all of a sudden, they’re subdued by Amazon soldiers. The Black Widow leaves Ivan behind and escapes with her interviewer (big points on the interview scale BTW, “Uh, she doesn’t actually know much Russian, but she saved me from being killed! She’s hired!) by busting out a window.

The next scene is Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, who is monologuing about what he’s doing at UCLA while riding around on his motorcycle. He almost gets plugged in the head by a hammer from Cerberus, the ancient Greek guardian of Hades (are you starting to sense a pattern?). Only it’s not the famous three-headed dog Cerberus, it’s a big, troll looking guy. Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider and Cerberus tries to one-up him by turning into a one-headed giant purple dog. So sort of like Clifford, the Big Red Dog, except meaner. Ghost Rider leaves.

Finally, Hercules, real name Hercules or if you’re being pedantic: Heracles, is on another part of campus getting ready to guest lecture a bunch of kids about the reality of myths and legends. I think that Hercules took the gig to meet some chicks and get hammered but that’s not really discussed. What is discussed is between Herc and his Lecture Agent*, who is talking about the last guy he got to lecture the kids. He called him an “an off-beat … a real Hitchcock type … a scrawny mop-haired New York writer (italics and bold, their’s) who spends all his time writing about some blood thirsty barbarian named Co –“). He is stopped when a bunch of mutate trolls attack Hercules. I don’t know whether the Lecture Agent is talking about Conan’s real creator Robert E. Howard or his comic creator Roy Thomas, but it’s a nice little burn.

* Is Lecture Agent a real thing? Seems like a comic book-y type, made up job. But I suppose it could be a thing. Who knows?

Hercules fights them off and then sees Ghost Rider. Since GR looks like a demon, Hercules is about to punch him too but Ghost Rider convinces him that he’s a good guy. Then GR tells Herc to ride bitch on his bike because he’s got to find Cerberus. They start comparing notes and find out that the each group of bad guys that they’ve been fighting both have the same goal: find the Greek goddess Venus, who also happens to be at UCLA – plus she’s Hercules’ half-sister!

The demon and the demi-god meet up with the two mutants and the Russian spy and a battle royale occurs. The Champions beat up their tormenters, Venus reveals herself as the Widow’s interviewer (interview, totally nailed BTW!) and they’re about to celebrate. But guess who stops the party, Hercule’s jerk of an uncle, Pluto. He wants Venus to marry Ares (who I think is technically her brother) and Hercules to marry Hipployta (who I think Hercules might be related to). I had no idea that Pluto was a backwards hillbilly. We’ll find out what happens in the next issue.

So that was a lot of explanation, which shares a lot with this issue. Writer Tony Isabella over explains a lot of stuff. Like, really over explains stuff. There’s not a lot of subtly (except for the Conan the Barbarian joke) and everything is laid out so that even a five-year-old could understand it. Which is fine, I get that the first issue of a comic – especially a team comic – is a lot like the pilot of a TV show. You need to figure out a way of explaining why these people came together. It’s easy with the Fantastic Four: four people go up into space because the leader is an impetuous, egotistical dick who doesn’t double-check anything. The X-Men are a bunch of mutants who need to hang out with each other, so that the world won’t kill them. The Avengers are a group of alpha-person heroes who fight the good fight.

But why do the Champions need to be together? Oh, because they had a Meet Cute at UCLA once is about as good of a reason for bringing them together as anything else, I guess.

So I get the reason for the expository language, it just doesn’t have to be so dry. It’s really not that bad, but I’m hoping that it gets jazzed up in future issues.

The art by Don Heck can best be described as “workman-like”. I can tell who the characters are, Hercules doesn’t look like Iceman, but there’s nothing really dynamic about the panels. The cover looks pretty bad ass (see above) but the inside art is very static and there’s not a lot of movement. Even in the fight scenes, the characters look as if they’re just standing around next to each other and their opponents.

All in all, I give this issue three Angel vests* out of five! 

* Trust me, we will be talking about what Warren Worthington III was wearing in future blog entries. Seriously dude, you’re loaded, get a fucking tailor who isn’t blind.