Friday, July 07, 2017

One Man’s Son is Another Man’s Poison

I know that it’s been a little while since I last wrote about the Champions. I’m sorry that I left you all hanging with this issue wrapping up this four-issue run of the Champions versus three Russians and a Griffin. I truly apologize.

But that title is absolutely dreadful, no? It’s supposed to be a pun of some kind. But it’s not. Unless we’re comparing one man’s son to the son of another man’s poi. Poi being the native Hawai’ian dish that mainlanders try at a luau and then promptly spit into the nearest hollowed-out coconut. If you haven’t had the root of the taro baked, pounded, moistened, and fermented (thanks!) then take it from me, it’s disgusting.

Titles aside, this was the weakest issue of this run. Mainly because the Champion men were literally stuck inside a box for three quarters of the issue. As you may recall from last issue, the boys got their collective asses handed to them by Titanium Man, Crimson Dynamo, Darkstar and the Griffin. In order to keep the good guys away from taking Black Widow, Ivan and Alexi Bruskin (Natasha’s former KGB trainer) back to the USSR, the bad guys stuffed them into a box deep below the Earth.

I know what you’re thinking, the Champions have Hercules, he should just punch his way out. Which he does. And that caused the Earth to shake. According to Titanium Man, unless Darkstar gets the Champions out, any violent move that they make will cause an earthquake. I forgot, the box is wedged on the San Andreas fault line. It’s a tale as old as time, true believers.

No one really explains how the Russians were able to do this, it just sorta happened. One minute they’re fighting, the next minute the Champions are in an earthquake box. Comics, y’all.

Hercules isn’t having any of this crap and he starts punching his way out, despite the fact that it will cause an earthquake. He said, in so many words, that this is a bunch of bullshit and he doesn’t care what happens to California. “HERCULES WILL NOT BE SHACKLED!”

You know who does care? Ghost Rider. I don’t think that any writer, up to this point, has a handle on good old Johnny Blaze. Whether it’s Tony Isabella or Bill Mantlo, GR’s syntax changes from panel to panel. One minute he’s talking like a demon “If you knew the source of my power frozen one (Ice Man) – you would not question its manifestation!” the next he’s calling Hercules “muscles” and claiming that Los Angeles is his “hometown”.

Blaze said the he doesn’t need “the spook act” all the time, which suggests that he talks like a demon on purpose and that the breezy, more colloquial diction is his normal patter. But that seems wrong to me. The incongruence of seeing a flaming skull speak like Peter Parker doesn’t mesh. At all. He talks like Poochie.

What I mean is this, everyone has their “voice”. For some reason, Hercules talks like he’s from the middle ages, even though he’s from ancient Greece. But whatever, it's consistent. Black Widow peppers a lot of simple Russian idioms in her speech. Even the Angel and Ice Man have distinct ways of talking: Warren Worthington III talks like a blue blood  prick investment banker and Ice Man whines. But with Ghost Rider speaking two different ways, it’s just disjointed and feels like the writers don’t have a handle on him yet.

The rest of the Champions jump on Hercules and tells him to cool down, they have to think of a way out of this box; not just smash their way out. Hercules is pissed at Ghost Rider and wants to kick his ass. Okay, dude. Do that once you get out, alright Prince of Power? You have bigger fish to fry right now.

Crimson Dynamo has revealed himself as Ivan’s son, which has shocked Ivan into silence (which is a big deal because this guy won’t shut the hell up, ever). That silence allows CD to explain his origin, which takes up a pretty big chunk of this book.

His origin as about as convoluted as the bad guys’ plans to keep the Champions at bay: basically a couple of “American” guys ask Ivan to defect and bribe him with American money (which, I’m not sure why they’re doing this in 1956 Russia, but they are). Ivan tells them to pound sand, he didn’t serve Russia in World War II to sell out his country. Ivan tells his wife and Yuri (Crimson Dynamo) to get out of Moscow because these guys mean business.

They show up and gun down Ivan’s wife, but kidnap Yuri. For the next nine years, the two “Americans” keep Yuri holed up in some West German safe house and educate/brainwash him into turning against Mother Russia. It doesn’t work because as soon as Yuri gets a second, he makes a ham radio and calls for help. I’m not sure who he calls, but they were on the line long enough to have cool code names: “Caged Bird” for Yuri and “Home Perch” for his saviors. They never explain exactly who Home Perch is, but they bust down the door, shoot the American dudes and bring Yuri back home.

While this is going on, some American planes are looking to take down the Russian jet, so CD tells Titanium Man to go take care of their problem. TM promptly blows all of the planes out of the air, which freaks Crimson Dynamo out. He didn’t want that at all! He goes out to talk some sense into the Titanium Man. As CD leaves the plane, Bruskin tells everyone that there’s another part of the story that Yuri doesn’t know about.

Mainly that Bruskin was one of the “American” guys that held Yuri captive for nine years. You see, it was all a big KGB plot. When CD comes back inside, Darkstar tries to tell him that there’s been a big misunderstanding (just like in Three’s Company) but instead of striking Darkstar, Yuri slugs the Black Widow (just like in Three’s Company. You recall that Jack never hit Chrissy but he beat the crap out of Janet all the time). Things go crazy and Darkstar needs to break hold of the Champions to deal with the advancing Ivan and Black Widow.

Guess who ends up in the jet? The Champions!

They kick everyone’s asses, pretty quickly and then hand Titanium Man and Griffin to the authorities. Darkstar tells everyone that she’s sorry and the group seems cool with that. Black Widow lets Crimson Dynamo go, but won’t tell them why. Most everyone is cool with that but the Ghost Rider is like, “Guys! We’re a team and we shouldn’t be keeping secrets from each other!” Between this little hissy fit and Hercules almost knocking his skull off his shoulders, it wasn’t a great day for Johnny Blaze.

This issue wasn’t exactly great. From the San Andreas fault prison to the incredibly convoluted reason why the KGB kidnapped Yuri to the perfunctory and flaccid fight at the end to the fact that 80% of the team were off panel while the Black Widow was handcuffed, this was not a good showing for the team.

The only reasons why the bad guys lost was because of Darkstar’s mistakes, there was a lot of expository backstory to a villain and the entirety of the Champions looked more like Chump-ions (SWEET PUN!) with how easy it was to capture and sideline them. I mean, the bad guys practically defeated themselves (though Hercules beat the crap out of Titanium Man, which was cool). And the tension between Ghost Rider and the team and Hercules and the team, was boring.

This was a really cool run of comics, probably the best of the book, but Mantlo simply could not stick the landing. Two Angels out of five.

BTW, another great cover. This one by former X-Men penciler Dave Cockrum. I love his heavy lines and angled perspectives, he really draws a hell of an Angel. It's all just great.

No comments: