If you’re anything like me, you’ve dreamed up adventures of DC and Marvel superheroes- perhaps even your own characters. I still daydream about projects I’d like to have seen and Bronze Age Babies picked up on a suggestion of mine recently: an imaginary line of 70s b/w magazines from DC that mimicked Marvel’s Savage Tales or Dracula Lives. http://bronzeagebabies.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/suggestion-unboxed-dcs-black-n-white.html
Some commentators suggested that conservative DC’s comics line was skewed at a younger market than Marvel’s and certainly, mid-Bronze Age, I can see a certain truth in that. As you may recall, I have fantasised about the Justice League circa 1975, positing a move away from the Silver Age nostalgia of Kanjar Ro and the Weaponers of Qward. Instead. I fancied Bob Haney, author of the fantastically popular, continuity busting Brave and the Bold writing a street-level League of vigilante heroes like Batgirl, Green Arrow and the Creeper and dispensing with the “Super Friends”.
This week, I was thinking about those ousted JLA icons and came up with a Californian League for the Bronze Age that could go “Headshop Kozmic” like Englehart’s Avengers at the House of Ideas: Aquaman ( but preferably the recent “outrageous” animated version) ; buddies Hawkman and Atom; Deadman and the Mod Diana Prince Wonder Woman (just before her reversion to Amazing Amazon):
Then it hit me: I had assembled the Champions.
It’s forty years since the Heroes for the Common Man made their October-cover-dated debut although I didn’t make their acquaintance until March 1976. That autumn into winter period was the era where everything changed: colour US Marvels flooded my local newsagent and I discovered all sorts of new characters: Tigra, Black Goliath, the All-New X-Men. While, as was often the case, I had missed issue one, I felt I was getting in on the ground floor with the Champions- a sentiment shared by Karen Walker of BAB ( see Back Issue 65 , Jul 2013)
Originlly pitched by Tony Isabella as a buddy-book for Angel and Iceman and then altered dramatically by editorial dikatat, the Champs were really the West Coast Avengers a decade early. Although it was a comic that never caught on, faltering and failing under tyro artists and an irregular publishing schedule, it was one I was drawn back to, time and again. This, despite the fact that none of them were remotely favourites of mine…and despite the Angel’s goofy headband.
My first issue introduced me to Bill Everett’s Venus and it was really the first time I’d read a Ghost Rider story. My second issue was a Claremont guest script, utilising an old Marvel standby, the team-mates brawl.
As ever, Scottish distribution meant I missed the two-parter introducing the recession-born meance Rampage but my next introduced me to the Griffin and Darkstar, who would be a mysterious floating member in the near future. By this time, Isabella had departed for DC where his most significant creation would be Black Lightning. The new creative team was Bill “Rom” Mantlo and novice Bob Hall.
Issue 8 turned up in a Grab-bag in Morecambe; I bought 9 in Strathaven as usual for its Kane cover but it was 11 and 12 that really grabbed me. They were among John Byrne’s early Marvel works and the Champs suddenly looked sleek and dynamic. There was a cameo by the Two-Gun Kid: FOOM magazine had given me the erroneous impression that the masked cowboy was actually an Avenger, and that bizarre idea made me more interested still. Black Goliath stuck around and the Champs went Kozmic with the Stranger and the Possessor.
Unfortunately, however, I never saw any more US issues although I read reprints in early 80s issues of Marvel Superheroes. The team’s final exploit featured the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants (and one of my favourite mutates, the siren Lorelei.)
The ignominous collapse of the Champions through internal friction had been recounted a couple of years earlier, in b/w reprints in Super Spider-Man in late 1978. The team’s facilities and equipment -specifically the flying Champscraft- had been sabotaged and constructed with the cheapest materials. It seemed like an oblique comment on the creative process of the mid-70s.
Mantlo had further plans for the majority of the team, however, as implied by this Avengers cover:
Bill Mantlo was pegged to become the regular scripter of the Avengers in the early 80s but in fact, as we know, the role went to Jim “Secret Wars” Shooter. Mantlo seems to have had plans to merge the Champs and the Avengers but that never happened since Shooter memorably brought us the downfall of Yellowjacket. Herk and Tasha did become mainstays of the Avengers in the 90s, however.
For my own imaginary Justice League West, I thought of up-and-coming tv star Supergirl for the Darkstar role. I think the roster has enough panache and dynamism to work but was there any way that the “real” Champions could have established an identity that was different from Marvel’s other team books?
The FF is a family; the X-Men a student body; the original Guardians of the Galaxy were a resistance group; the Inhumans a cult; the Defenders infamously, a non-team; the Invaders were a militia and the Avengers were a strike force of the heaviest hitters. The Champions, as we’ve seen, were Avengers wannabes but it was their milieu that was unique. Scuzzy, nigh- bankrupt NYC was replaced by sunny LA, perhaps mirroring Marvel’s tentative steps towards the wider entertainment industry during the latter half of the 70s.
The FF had satirised the Hollywood lifestyle in their earliest days; Infinity Inc. would embrace it. I once saw an imaginary incarnation of the Whackos in Wizard and it consisted of the most glamorous, celebs in the MU: Angel, She-Hulk, Starfox, etc. That’s the route the Champs should have gone: the red carpet treatment. Instead, a strange focus on being surface and shoddy and a lack of any A-listers combined with a carousel of creative teams sank the Champions.
Coming soon: Thunderbird, Sensor Girl and the real Guardians of the Galaxy
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