Friday, June 09, 2017

Mad Dogs and Businessmen

Welcome to the thrilling conclusion of the Champions meet Rampage! Even if you weren’t alive in the mid-70s, I’m sure you know all about this glorious two-part comic run. In high school history classes, we skipped over World War II, just so we could spend the last few weeks in June thoroughly going over Champions 5-6 to plumb the intricacies of the story and parse the art. It really made that much of an impact, not only on the American zeitgeist, but the very fabric of American life.

I don’t know why I’m being unnecessarily snarky. This was a really decent issue of the Champions and honestly, out of all the issues I’ve looked at, this is probably the best one. There are some flaws—like the art is still a little too sketchy for my tastes—but I think that Tony Isabella has started to get a handle on these characters and has turned them into a group. They’re not quite a team yet, but it’s no longer four people hanging around while someone did something, like it was in earlier issues.

Last time we saw the Champs*, Rampage had Angel by his hair and was threatening to ram his fist through his skull. In a deft move, the Champions pretend to walk away in defeat, which allowed Rampage to drop Warren Worthington III. But the Champions weren’t done yet, because as soon as WWIII’s head smacked off the ground (it hits pretty hard) Ice Man swings around and puts Rampage in a block of ice, allowing Hercules the time to pick up his fallen (and probably concussed) teammate.

* I forgot to mention this from the last issue, but in the book’s penultimate panel Ice Man actually says, “That creep’s got us by the short hairs!” Bobby is talking about the team’s collective pubic hair here, right? I mean, it can’t be anything else. This line genuinely made me laugh out loud. Isabella, you magnificent bastard! I guess someone at the Comic Code Authority was sleeping at the wheel.

As Herc runs away with the Angel, Rampage breaks free and tries to punch Black Widow. But he misses, hits B-Dub’s valet Ivan and hurts him pretty bad. Hercules gets pissed and punches the shit out of Rampage, who gets away. BTW, how Rampage gets away is hilarious: he flies to the top of a roof, finds a wooden crate, shoves his Rampage suit in there (he was wearing a three-piece suit, with tie! under his Rampage outfit) and then just walks past our heroes and the cops with the crate on his shoulder. No one questions him, no one cares.

Black Widow is exceptionally pissed that Ivan is hurt and threatens to murder to fuck out of Rampage, which wakes up WWIII who self-righteously tells her that killing someone is not the answer. “We’re the Champions – NOT the Avengers!” he concludes. Dude, you don’t know how right you are. This bullshit speech (and the Angel must’ve majored in this at the Xavier Institute because he is chock full of them) actually calms Natasha down and the team starts talking about who should lead them.

Hercules is all like, I’m not taking orders from you two little shits*. Ice Man and Angel are like, don’t worry, we suck. Angel then suggests that Black Widow be the leader of the Champions and even Hercules says, “There’s no quest Hercules would not dare for a leader such as this” as he has both hands on her ass. Way to go, brother.

* In addition the word “comrade” being used in every issue up until now, Hercules, Black Widow, Ghost Rider (when he’s around) and even Ivan are always giving WWIII and Bobby shit about being young. They call them “youths” (which is kinda weird) and they’re always bringing up their relative lack of experience. Which is wrong. Angel and Ice Man were original X-Men, which means they’ve been fighting bad guys since the dawn of the Marvel age. They may be kids, but they have just as much experience as anyone else (save Hercules). If I was one of those guys, I’d say, “You know what Black Widow, the next time you fight Magneto to a standstill, let me know. Then I’ll tell you about the dozen fucking times I’ve done it.”

Meanwhile the Rampage attack is being broadcast on TV and the guy (Amos Crawley) that Rampage fired in the last issue (when he was just millionaire Stuart Clarke) is watching TV. Due to being shit-canned, Crawley decides to drop a dime on his former boss and rats him out for being Rampage. This really is the American dream isn’t it? You see the guy who fires you on TV fucking up and you’re able to get him into deep trouble. Karma!

The cops (in some really, really terribly drawn cars) show up to Clarke’s labs and there’s a standoff. Rampage freaks out and injures another person as he tries to bust out of the place. Black Widow has stationed Ice Man near the radio (HA, HA! What a shitty job) and he hears all about it. He alerts the rest of the team who have been watching over Ivan and they spring into action.

Hercules gives Angel a mace* “fashioned by Hephaestus himself!” and WWIII smashes it over Rampage’s head. Then he talks shit as Rampage tries to get him and whine about how he wanted to leave LA “quietly”. Black Widow bosses Ice Man around before deciding to hit Rampage in the back with her ass, which knocks out his jet pack. Hercules punches Rampage in the jaw, Angel hits him in the head again with the mace, before Hercules throws him through a wall.

* I was thinking about this the other day, Angel really can’t do anything but fly. And he has these giant wings, which villains, if they so choose, could use as gigantic targets. That’s all he can do. DC has a similar character in Hawkman, who does the same stuff. BUT Hawkman has this really big mace that’s studded with sharp metal tips. He can do some serious damage with that thing. I was unsure as to why the Angel didn’t have a mace or a gun or something, so I’m glad to see Hercules hand him a weapon.

(Despite his stupid looking mask, Hawkman looks a million times tougher than this:)

(C'mon man, arm yourself.)

Rampage realizes that he’s pretty screwed, so instead of going to prison, he has decided to kill himself by blowing up his jet pack. Ice Man stops him from doing that by containing the pack by surrounding everyone with an ice shield. It knocks Rampage out, the cops come and get him and Ice Man opines that he’s going to spend the rest of his existence in either “the slammer or some asylum”, which is kind of a shitty way to live. In other words, Ice Man feels bad about saving him and thinks that he probably should have let him die. B Dubs says, “He’s alive, Ice Man. You gave him that much.” Which is kind of the fucking point, Natasha. What life did Ice Man give him?

So the issue ends on a down note, but the coda is even worse. In the last three panels, Crawley shows up and thinks about how Clarke never got around to altering Crawley’s power of attorney status. Therefore, if Crawley moves fast enough, he can sell Clarke’s company and make a shit load of dough for himself. “My what a pleasant evening this has turned out to be,” he says to himself as the book ends.

I’ve read cynical stuff, but this really takes the cake. You really can make a parallel between how people (and I think that we’re supposed to relate to Rampage a bit here*. He’s a bad guy, but he’s not really a bad guy, to quote Wreck it Ralph) felt about the US government and the economy back then and how they feel about it now. Like even when you try to take the power back and get some sort of control over your life, you’re still fucked. Look at Stuart Clarke: he’s in jail, dead broke and the guy he fired ends up taking all of his cash. That would make anyone lose their mind and go on … wait for it … wait … a RAMPAGE!

* I’m not sure what to think about the Champions in this story. Are they the good guys? Are they an unwitting and unknowing pawn of the Man? Ostensibly, they’re supposed to be on the side of law and order, but what good is that if the odds are stacked against the working stiff? Ice Man seems to understand it a bit, but the rest of his buddies don’t.

I give this issue another four vest-wearing Angels out of five! And don’t sleep on this issue’s cover, it’s great. Why? Because it’s drawn by none other than Jack “The King” Kirby. Go back to the top of this blog entry and really give it a look over. I sized it extra-large because it’s that tremendous.


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