This story is part one of “Champions Reunited,” a story I’ve been looking forward to. I’ve been a fan of the Champions since very early in their original run, which began back in 1975. The team was an odd mix of leftover Marvel characters, none of them (then) heavy hitters. Under the capable guidance of Tony Isabella and Don Heck, and later Chris Claremont, George Tuska, Bob Hall, John Byrne and most prominently Bill Mantlo, this team of second stringers did something that hadn’t really happened before: they tried to intentionally build a super-team. They incorporated, bought a headquarters, had lawyers and accountants and PR agents, all with the goal of giving Los Angeles, a much-neglected venue at Marvel in the 1970s, a super-heroic presence.
All of this was done as the team that was going to dominate Marvel for the rest of the century and beyond, namely the X-Men, was just being reborn. I don’t believe I’ve ever read just what possessed Marvel to create this team, but I assume it was an attempt to assemble the smallish fan-base of each character into a large fan-base. We had Hercules, who, outside of the pages of Thor or The Avengers wasn’t often seen. Black Widow had just broken up with Daredevil and ceased to be co-star of his title. Iceman and Angel, founding members of the aforementioned X-Men, had graduated from Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters and left the team. Only Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze, had his own title at that point. I guess he counted as the heavy hitter.
A Soviet expat named Darkstar joined the team midway. Or was she an expat? After Champions was canceled, in the pages of Iron Man, writer Bill Mantlo had her declare to Tony Stark that she had never abandoned her loyalty to her country.
I was happy to see this team reunited, albeit minus Black Widow, who is currently dead. (“Currently.” Hercules has been dead. And Angel. And Johnny Blaze. And Darkstar. Iceman, Bobby Drake, is the only member of the team who hasn’t been temporarily dead. And let me take this moment to say again that I hate, hate, hate the gimmick of Natasha Romanoff being dead as a result of the overblown “event” that was, um… Secret? No maybe it was Sacred? Shadow? Feud? Battle? War? Hegemony? Vested Insurance Trust?
Secret Empire, right. See I have trouble remembering it because it was taken once, back in the 70s, and used for a good story.
Anyway, the schtick here is that the surviving Champions gather at their old headquarters building to have a drink and honor Tasha’s memory. (In the Marvel Movie era, we call her “Nat,” but she was “Tasha” in the 70s.) But their old HQ is now a gym, and that kills the mood.
So they go to a bar. Johnny’s idea. Darkstar shows up late. They reminisce. They discover that there are Sentinels in L.A., Sentinels being both the last adversaries the Champions fought back in 1978, and really, really bad news for mutants, which Iceman and Angel are.
And, oh yeah, Bobby meets a guy. Don’t recall his name. Random guy who taunts Bobby about not being good at being gay, and suggests that he needs to be taught.
Random guy annoyed me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m completely on board with Bobby being gay. It makes sense. He was overcompensating for years, hanging all over any girl in range (except his big sister Jean Grey), trying to be a Lothario. I appreciate the irony that it took his younger self coming forward in time and, in the freer atmosphere of the 21st Century, realizing what his real sexuality was, for older Bobby to realize his too. I just don’t like Bobby’s first kiss coming from Random Guy Number 4, and I don’t really care for the suggestion that it takes “special training” to be, well, what you were born as anyway. It all just felt a little forced.
Also, after waiting 39 years to see the Champions together again, I wanted to see more of the Champions. Looks like that’s coming next issue. I also wanted, having been a fan back in middle school of their budding relationship, to see a little more acknowledgment between Iceman and Darkstar that they once had a boyfriend / girlfriend thing going, if only for a little while. I did like the easy way they slipped back into friendship, though, with Laynia just taking over Bobby’s beer without asking.
Beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose. Any excuse to see the old team back in action.