Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Shadow from the Stars

Champions 11 has the “pulse-pounding pencil” debut of John Byrne. To say that John Byrne was my favorite artist as a kid, is an understatement. I thought that his realistic and detailed take on comics was amazing. He had a style that was second-to-none as both a draftsman and in his perspective.

Heroes were always drawn bigger than life, when a dramatic moment was shown, Byrne zoomed up close and we saw the worry of favorite heroes. He had a way of drawing that was hard to beat: detailed, but at the same time minimalistic. Lines weren’t drawn just for the sake of drawing them. There was a reason. And every character was distinctive and had that unmistakable John Byrne flair.

So yeah, I’m a bit of a fan and even though he’s a bit raw in these pages, he’s much better than Bob Hall, George Tuska or Don Heck. Those guys weren’t bad, per se, but their art didn’t have much weight. They looked like two-dimensional drawings on a page. Byrne provides a 3D world for these characters to play in.

With that out of the way, the Champions are flying home in their brand new Champion Sky-Car when Angel yells to Black Widow, “What do you mean the controls are frozen!” Shit is going down, son! The thing is is that he’s the only one that seems freaked out about this, which is weird because Hercules, Ice Man and Black Widow (the others in the car) can’t fly.

Scientist Bill Foster is watching this happen from the roof and he’s worried because he’s the one that designed this sky-car. Good thing for Foster that he’s Black Goliath and he grew and caught the car before it hurt anyone. The Champions are a bit perplexed, Ice Man dances around the fact that Foster isn’t white guy, Hank Pym. Hercules hasn’t got time for the PC bullshit and comes right out and says, “Aye, in truth thou art neither Henry Pym or Clint Barton (Hawkeye, but he went as Goliath for awhile)! The Prince of Power hath fought beside both and – and they skin color doth mark thee as another!”

 (The costume from the middle panel is what BG looked like in this issue. He didn't get that more groovy uniform in the third panel until later.)

Real smooth, Herc. I’m sure your NAACP card is in the mail. Foster then explains who he is and why his name is Black Goliath*.

(The guy on the left is Clint Barton and the dude on the right is Henry Pym -- you can't sneak anything past the Son of Zeus!)

* There was an issue of Marvel Two-In-One (an excerpt shown above) where the Thing is talking to foster about his name. He basically said, “Everyone knows that you’re black (except Daredevil, I suppose), why do you need to have the word ‘black’ in front of goliath? Seems kind of dumb.” And Foster’s like, yeah, that is sorta dumb and kinda racists (he didn’t say the last part, but it’s implied) and changes his name to Goliath. It would be cool if he had a talking dog named Davey (reversal!), but he doesn’t.

 Oh yeah, remember how Darkstar was a bad guy for the last four issues? She’s a good guy now and everyone seems to dig her, especially Ice Man. But Black Widow is unsure. Which is kind of shitty because Natasha was a bad guy once before too before she signed on with the Avengers. They gave you a chance, girl. Pay it forward for your Russian pal.
All of a sudden Ghost Rider is in Arizona and he’s got in the middle of a cow stampede. He’s about to get trampled when all of a sudden Hawkeye (he’s white!) and the Two-Gun Kid show up to save his ass. Seems as if there’s a UFO in the area and it’s driving people plum loco. They look over their collective shoulders, and there it is right there on top of that mesa!

The Champions are working on their sky-car when the Disaster Scan picks up news of the UFO, which has been turning farmers/cowboys into zombies. One, how many farms are in Arizona? Two, how many real cowboys were there in the mid-70s? The scan showed Ghost Rider and Ice Man is all pissed off, “Ghost Rider! That flaming cycle freak’s right in the middle of it – we have to hear it on the boob-tube! So much for all our ‘one for all’ jazz!”

But Bobby forgets about it and starts hitting on Darkstar again who gives him the, wait for it, the, one more second, the COLD SHOULDER! The Champions fly off to Arizona leaving Black Goliath sitting around their headquarters. Sweet vetting process, Champions, Jesus. You just met that guy and you’re giving him the keys to your house.

They get to the Arizona desert and it turns out that the Warlord Kaa is back to bring havoc on the world. He’s a shadow alien who takes control of your mind if you’re in his presence. Basically he turns you into a zombie and you’ll fight for him. So the challenge for the Champions and Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid is beat the crap out of Kaa and his buddies, but not harm the zombie farmers and cowboys.

To make a long story short, they do and everything is great. Until the last panel. Look at this!

(The Stilt Man, Fool!!! indeed) 

Here’s a few things we learned in this issue:

-       Remember how I was complaining about the lack of coherency in Ghost Rider’s diction? One panel he’s talking like a demon, in the next he’s speaking like a surfer from Malibu? Turns out that’s on purpose. Ghost Rider does it on purpose. I guess to scare people, which is weird because you would think that a flaming skull might set people on edge. But I guess not. What is interesting is that the Angel is sick of how Ghost Rider talks and says, “Why don’t you knock off the spook routine and get on with it!” Truer words were never spoken, Warren.

-       I guess writer Bill Mantlo is trying to create some more tension. Black Widow feels weird about Dark Star, Ice Man doesn’t particularly like how they found about Kaa, Ghost Rider thinks that Hercules thinks he’s a demon (he does, he keeps telling it to his skull) and Angel thinks that GR shouldn’t be so fake. Which I know I agreed with you a paragraph ago but, fuck you, WWIII. I’m not sure if this tension is good or not, but it does seem to be a plan for future bitch sessions.

Overall, I liked this issue a bunch. It gets an extra Angel for the art alone and I liked the low-stakes action of it all. Plus, the cover is boss as hell. I’m going to give Champions 11, FIVE out of FIVE ANGELS! First time.

No comments: