Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Man Who Created the Black Window

This is another good issue of the Champions, writer Tony Isabella has really found his groove and things are going along pretty well. This is a classic set-up issue where stories are being laid out, so there’s not a ton of action. Well, meaningful action.

It opens with Hercules, Ice Man and Champions business manager Richard Fenster being attacked by some sort of remote control bomb. It takes them about three pages for the trio to capture it and then they give it to Natasha and her pal Ivan. The Russian ex-pats are going to look into this thing because something seems a bit too familiar about this rocket.

While this is going on, Ghost Rider and the Angel are visiting Stuart Clarke, aka Rampage, in the hospital. The Angel is trying to get Clarke to accept his gift of a lawyer, so that he can be defended in court. Clarke doesn’t want it (I don’t blame him) and he’s being a bit of a dick about it too. Oh yeah, he’s smoking. In a hospital. The 1970s were a weird time, man.

Angel wants to help Clarke because he feels bad for him. Johnny Blaze is like, “Dude, that’s dumb. I’m going to turn into Ghost Rider and scare him into taking your charity!”

As he bursts into the hotel room, he sees the villains Darkstar and the Griffin taking Clarke. Ghost Rider is so taken aback he yells, “Sweet jumping catfish!”

I didn’t read a ton of Ghost Rider books when I was a kid, but I don’t remember him talking like a stereotypical 1950’s TV cowboy. It’s really strange to see a guy with a flaming skull for a head, speak with these south western, homespun axioms. I’d think that you want a guy who looks like a demon, to talk like a demon. But that’s just me.

Otherwise he sounds like Jethro Bodine.

(I know this guy isn't a cowboy, but man alive Ghost Rider, any second now you're going to be prattling on and on about your ce-ment pond and Mrs. Drysdale. BTW, I really did not like "The Beverly Hillbillies". Even when I was a kid, I thought it was too low-brow and I genuinely like "Car 54, Where Are You?" and "Gilligan's Island")

Speaking of looks, the Griffin looks absolutely ridiculous. He’s got brown wings, a chalk white face that surrounded by shockingly yellow mane and he’s clad in a bright red onesie. Ghost Rider calls him “a homicidal maniac”, but he looks completely ridiculous.

(He even has a picture of a griffin on his belt! The fuck, dude?) 

While GR is fighting the bad guys, Angel rescues Clarke. How does Clarke repay WWIII? He punches him in the gut with one his exo-gloves that Darkstar smuggled in for him. Angel and Ghost Rider regroup and go back to the Champions headquarters, located in downtown LA.

Hercules, Ice Man and Fenster are walking around looking for the bomb perpetrator and the Champions business manager won’t shut up about tomorrow. Apparently, the Champions are going to announce to the world that they’re a new super team and looking for a bad guy in their headquarters could be bad publicity. Ice Man gets pissed and calls Fenster, “Dickey Boy” all while completely missing one of the bad guys hiding behind a file cabinet.

Apparently, Ice Man can either come up with a sick burn or be a detective. HE CAN’T DO BOTH!

The trio think that they stumble upon the bad guy, but it turns out to be a crybaby kid who wants the Champions to help him. We don’t know what, exactly, he wants them to do but he starts sobbing on Hercules and hugging him. Zounds indeed! The stealthily hidden villain, who I think is the Outcast (they never get around to mentioning his name), goes down the back staircase and out the door to freedom.

Which is fine because we move our attention to Ivan and Natasha. Ivan has taken apart the bomb and realizes that it wasn’t really a bomb at all, it was a remote-controlled device that was delivered a message. The message? One black pearl. That’s all Black Widow needs to hear and she jumps out a window. Was the pearl scary? No, she saw a guy on the rooftop, so she decided to track him down.

She meets up with him and realizes that it’s her old teacher – they guy from the title of this book! The man who created the Black Widow! He was about to tell her something, but he got shot by the Titanium Man. And that’s where this book ends.

When you think of classic Marvel teams like the Avengers or the X-Men or the Fantastic Four, they all came about in the early 1960s. The Champions debuted 15 years later, which isn’t really that much time, yet it feels like a completely different dynamic. Like I said, I think things are starting to go in the right direction for this book, but it still has a weird, ad-hoc sort of vibe to it.

When you go back and read those other team books, it seemed like there was more cohesion, it was more tightly knit. And I’m not sure whether that’s due to the writing of Stan Lee and art of Jack Kirby (two of the all-time titans of the industry). Or whether it’s because I didn’t read those first books until much later, after I already knew the stories and the background, so I was more familiar with the characters and willing to smooth over the rough, early patches.

But even though Isabella is doing a fine job and the books are entertaining, something seems to be off. Perhaps it’s because I know that I’m reading a finite book that most people have forgotten and that has colored my view – almost as if I’m looking for the one panel where the collective comic community threw up its hands and said, “We’re out!” but there’s no real sense of gravitas here.

It sounds as if it’s me, I’m the one who needs to change my perspective on this book and just read it for what it is: a fun, weird book centered around some C-list Marvel characters and not worry about any larger significance. One of the things that bugs me about modern comics is how super serious every character seems to be. I like books, like Kate Bishop: Hawkeye (I know that’s not the title), where there are some stakes, but the writing is bouncy and fun. The Champions are a lot like that, but in a more ironic way. It is intended to be serious and full of consequences (Ice Man has been having an existential crisis and bitching about quitting the super hero game to become an accountant – which sounds really funny after I reread it) but it’s not.

In a few issues, the Champions are going to fight a former Nazi scientist who’s made of bees. And that sounds pretty damn awesome.

BTW, despite the aesthetics of the Griffin, the cover is pretty damn dope. Six out of seven!

Anyway, I’d give this issue of Champions three out of five Angels wearing a vest.

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