Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Battle of Los Angeles

Lights out
Guerrilla Radio!
Turn that shit up!

Lights out
Guerrilla Radio!
Turn that shit up!

Those aren’t the words of Hercules or the Angel or even Ice Man, but of Zack de la Rocha front man of the 90s group Rage Against the Machine. Why did I quote this band for this comic book? Because the title of Champions 9 shares the same name as Rage Against the Machine’s third studio album, “The Battle of Los Angeles”.

Am I suggesting that RAtM* are secret Champions fans? No. I’m overtly saying it and I think that Tom Morello and company owe someone at Marvel Comics a lot of money.

* When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I loved Rage Against the Machine. “They sang about real things, man. Important things. Things that we should be doing,” I’d argue to myself. And argumentative me was right, they were highly political and they did sing about a lot of things that were important and they did it in an aural pleasing (debatable, I know) way. But being pissed off all the time takes its toll, not only on the musicians but the listener too. I loved Public Enemy but after a while, it felt as if each album was an hour-long bitch session. Not everything has to be the “Humpty Hump” but at some point, you have to let your fans breathe. RAtM was a lot like that. I’m sure they’d take that as a compliment, which is fine.

Back to the Champions. We open up with Hercules and the Angel having to take on the Crimson Dynamo, the Griffin and the Titanium Man all by themselves because Ghost Rider took Rampage to the hospital, Ice Man is off with Ivan searching for the kidnapped Black Widow. Hercules is down for trading fists, but the Angel is understandably worried, so he falls back to crowd detail and lets Herc fight. Don’t worry, former California governor Jerry Brown got away, safe and sound.

The Scion of Zeus does a pretty good job with Crimson Dynamo and once the crowds are safe, the Angel handles the Griffin. At this point, Ghost Rider comes back and joins the fray. With an assist from Hercules (TEAMWORK!) he knocks the Griffin out with Herc’s mace. The cool thing about Hercules' mace? It has a big gold H on it. Proper. 

Hercules gets tired of fooling around with Crimson Dynamo and punches him out too. As this is going on, Warren Worthington III, aka the Angel, is goofing around with the Titanium Man. He kicks TM in the head, which causes the green Russian Iron Man to fall on Hercules, who is cooked.

When I was a kid, I remember the Titanium Man being a bigger deal than this. He used to go toe-to-toe with Iron Man and he was drawn as a bigger, more menacing villain than he is here. According to the Internet, he's over 7'1" and 425 pounds. He doesn't look like it here.  I don’t want to say that he’s used here for comic effect, but he’s not the hulking presence that he usually is. Though I guess if you have to fight the Angel, a writer can’t have WWIII fight the toughest dude from Siberia.

(Look at this dude. He should be able to make borscht out of the Angel.)

Titanium Man’s fall gets Ghost Rider’s attention, which allows the Griffin to get a jump on him. He slashes GR in the back and now Johnny Blaze is snuffed out. What’s strange is that Johnny Blaze’s head turns into a skull when he transforms into the Ghost Rider, why wouldn’t the rest of his body turn into a skeleton too? And if it did, then being slashed really shouldn’t do much, right?

Whatever. The Angel gets blasted out of the sky by Crimson Dynamo.

The weird thing about this whole fight is that the good guys were beating the crap out of the bad guys. They knocked them out numerous times, but like Chumbawumba, they always got back up again. On the other hand, as soon as the Champions get knocked to the ground, they are down for the count. I get that you have to make the villains a tough out, but this is a bit beyond the pale.

As the story moves on, Ivan and Ice Man are still on the trail of the Black Widow—via a black pearl (don’t ask). Ivan is all piss and vinegar about getting his Natasha back and freaks out when Ice Man suggests that they scout out the warehouse where BW is. He goes completely off the collective and accuses Ice Man of running out on his teammate. Ice Man is like, “The fuck are you talking about? There’s like a 30 foot drop from here to the warehouse, I just wanted to warn you about possible bad dudes and make an ice bridge. But if you want to figuratively and literally jump, fucking do it, Pops.”

At this point Titanium Man, the Griffin and the Crimson Dynamo show up with the three knocked out Champions (which seems like kind of a dumb name to call them right now, right?). They kick Ice Man’s ass pretty easily as Ivan uses the ice bridge to get to the warehouse.

Meanwhile, Black Widow and her former teacher, Alexi Brushkin, have broken free of their ropes and have gotten the drop on their captor Darkstar. They fight. And when Ivan breaks in through a skylight, they kick her butt. Unfortunately for them, the bad guy cavalry busts in with their smashed up friends. It’s then where the Crimson Dynamo rips off his mask and reveals that he’s Ivan’s son, Yuri Petrovich.

Not so talk-y now, are you Ivan?

For the second issue in a row, Bill Mantlo assumed the writing duties, putting Champions creator Tony Isabella on the sideline. I don’t want to rip the guy, but it’s for the better. The issues move a little bit quicker, a little smoother. There isn’t as much clunky exposition and it’s just a better book.

But I don’t want to be too hard on Isabella. For one thing, these books were coming out every other month and weren’t meant to be binge read. So, if you’re reading this book every two months, you’re going to need some reminders as to what happened in the last issue. Also, this is a new book filled with C-list characters, so the shortcuts that are in established books like the Avengers or the Fantastic Four or the X-Men aren’t there. Third, there’s an unwritten rule that every comic is someone’s first comic, so you have to thoroughly explain what’s going on every issue.

Some guys are deft at this, while other guys are a bit more clunky. Isabella did a pretty decent job of establishing the Champions’ universe—which is in Los Angeles while most teams usually make New York City their base of operations. So all-in-all; good job, Tony Isabella.

In terms of how this cover stacks up with others, it’s pedestrian at best. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t have the same panache as the others do.

Three out of five vested Angels.

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