I’m not entirely certain why I bought this issue of CHAMPIONS so early into my time exploring the Marvel books. If I had to take a guess, it’s that i recognized Angel and Iceman on the cover from X-MEN #1 in SON OF ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS. having read the current issue of X-MEN, I knew they were no longer in that series, and so perhaps I took the gamble. And maybe some of it was the Ernie Chan cover–he had been the regular cover artist on the super hero titles at DC for several years while I was growing up (though he certainly didn’t do the composition for this piece–my guess is that the sketch was by Dave Cockrum.)
CHAMPIONS was a weird series, one that never really found its footing. And no wonder. It started life as a pitch for an Angel & Iceman buddy book, but then-Editor in Chief Len Wein wanted it turned into a full-on super team title, and had a formula that needed to be followed: the series needed a strong guy, a woman, and somebody who had their own solo series. This led to the addition of Hercules, the Black Widow and Ghost Rider–a whole bunch of characters that really didn’t have anything uniting them. To add further absurdity, the Champions positioned themselves as “The Team For The Common Man”–despite the fact that there wasn’t anybody who could remotely be considered a common man in the bunch. There were some decent stories along the way, but conceptually the book was a mess from the jump.
The story here doesn’t waste any time in getting started, with the Blob, Unus and Lorelei, three of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, bursting into Champions headquarters and being pursued by the Sentinels, colossal mutant-hunting robots who can neutralize mutant powers. The embattled evil mutants have come to the Champions looking for aid, and knowing tat their old foes Angel and iceman are part of the team. but only the Black Widow and Hercules are at base at present, and they are hard-pressed to halt the Sentinels’ attack. And in the shadows, another figure thinks that all is going according to plan.
The Black Widow, though, is able to activate the Champs’ alert signal, in which the lights in their building form a giant C-pattern–think for a moment just how ineffective an alert signal that truly is. Fortunately, Angel happens to be flying by on his way to the premiere of the Stunt-master movie that Johnny Blaze provided stuntwork for, and he’s able to gather up fellow team members Ghost Rider, Iceman and hanger on Darkstar. The LA crowd is pretty pissed to discover there are mutants in their midst, underscoring the prejudice that created the Sentinels in the first place. Anyway, sniping at one another in the approved 1970s super-team style, the assorted heroes race back to the Champs building.
The mystery figure watches their arrival and is delighted that they have shown up–now everything is truly going according to plan. This splash page in which the heroes join the fight is pretty awkwardly-composed, focusing mainly on the backs of the various Champions. Artist George Tuska was a comic book mainstay and his storytelling and acting was always top-notch, but he’d occasionally make weird decisions like this one–you can’t even really see the Sentinels clearly here, so it’s a bit of a waste of a splash.
Amazingly enough, the Sentinels are no match for the reunited Champions, who are able to turn the marauding robots into scrap in pretty short order. From there, Unus gives them the lowdown–including information that the Camps neither knew or cared about, but the continuity-minded readers might, such as how the Brotherhood was restored to their correct ages after being reduced to infants in an earlier story. But Angel and Iceman don’t trust their guests–and with good reason. before anybody can do anything about it, they’re all zapped from behind by the shadowy figure, who turns out to be the Vanisher, another evil mutant.
These Sentinels were all the Vanisher’s puppets, and he staged this whole drama with the brotherhood to get the Champions to lead them to the X-Men, the people he really wants to kill. It’s a typically daffy 1970s villain plan–but now that the Champs are down, Vanisher just intends to kill them instead. But Darkstar isn’t quite unconscious, and she uses her darkforce abilities to manipulate the Sentinels, who have been made proof against the Brotherhood’s powers, into attacking and defeating them. And when Vanisher tries to teleport away, Darkstar stops him horrifyingly in mid-teleport! Will Vanisher survive? Alas, this was the final issue of CHAMPIONS, so we wouldn’t learn the answer to that question for several more years.
The next issue box and the letters page promised that the saga of the Champions would be followed up on in a future issue of AVENGERS. That turned out to never happen. Instead, writer Bill Mantlo would take up the question of how the team disbanded in a pair of issues of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, one of which I would read off the racks. But we’ll get to that in due time.