The last issue of The Champions was published just three months earlier and a blurb on the last page said that the team's story would continue in the pages of The Avengers. Instead we get a rushed flashback in the unlikely pages of a Spider-Man comic.
Meanwhile, the titular hero of the piece last appeared last issue in Spectacular Spider-Man #16, taking on the Beetle.
|Cover Art:||John Byrne|
|Reprinted In:||Champions Classic #2|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #228 (Story 1)|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1|
|Part Reprint In:||Spider-Man Comics Weekly (UK) #302|
Pete oversleeps and has to rush to the airport to make his flight to L.A. and his assignment to cover the end of the Champions. As he arrives at the deadly Champions building, two panes of glass mysteriously fall from the fifteenth floor. A police officer (who must be a physics professor in disguise) predicts that it will fall to the ground in eight seconds!
Upstairs the Angel quickly removes his harness and swoops down toward the heavy panes. He manages to intercept one and hurl it toward Santa Monica bay but the other one is headed toward a fairly oblivious Peter. Finally, his spider sense kicks in and he manages to avoid it with a Spider-like leap.
The Angel realizes that Peter's the photographer that was to document the end of the Champions and replaces his broken camera. Upstairs he tells the photographer of the last days of his group, that ended two weeks before...
In a flashback, we see the Champions standing over the shattered remnants of the psuedo-Sentinels used by the Vanisher and his cronies to attack them. They all reiterate how tired they are of this building that seemed to constantly vex them. Ghost Rider leaves, saying no one wanted him there anyway. Darkstar also decides to leave, saying she misses Russia. Iceman protests but Laynia says they were never really more than friends anyway.
Angel tries to console Bobby but the youngster grows angry - "Flap off, Daddy Warbucks!" - and storms off. Hercules and Black Widow also decide to leave, leaving an angry Angel to exclaim, "You can walk off - but the world still needs Champions!"
Pete asks where they all went next but Warren seems to evade the question of Iceman's whereabouts. Sensing a mystery, Spidey returns later that night to investigate. He notices that the windows had been pried out of their frames and then comes upon Angel arguing with a bandaged man in a wheelchair with an ominous figure standing behind him. The man is Stuart Clarke, who was known to Champions readers as another name. And when Angel angrily confronts Clarke about his plans to destroy all the Champions, the crippled man pushes a button and Rampage attacks!
The man in the Rampage exoskeleton punches the Angel, sending him sprawling, but Spidey's webbing saves him before he can crash into a wall (Spidey must be using a new quick-dissolving webbing). The recovered Angel tries to keep Spidey from battling Rampage but Clarke (the original Rampage) is in control of the exoskeleton and has his thrall attack again. Spidey fights back but the Angel again tries to stop him..."There's a human being inside that armor..." Says Spidey, "So? What do you think I am underneath this union suit?"
Rampage attacks again and Clarke orders him to kill Spider-Man. The Angel tries to get Spidey to leave, but the wall-crawler realizes Clarke has some leverage over him. He bops Angel to get him out of the way and attacks Clarke while evading Rampage. Clarke has a force field so Spidey can't get to him.
Angel awakens to see Rampage crushing a struggling Spider-Man. He knows he has to do something and hurls a power rod at Clarke, shorting the force field and Clarke's chair's control unit.
The man in the exoskeleton screams and as Angel and Spider-Man looks on begins to change. Not only have Clarke's last hateful orders to kill been transmitted to the man's brain, but wearer of the now-destroyed Rampage suit turns out to be none other than Iceman himself.
The Champions series was sometimes maligned and not all unfairly in my opinion. Although the series did have some high-points - including early art by John Byrne - it was mostly a disappointment. There were forced attempts to create tension between the members, the art was bounced from team to team and the idea of the Champions' building being poorly built really did create the feeling that the very infrastructure of the concept was weak.
Rampage was a villain "born out of the recession" as I believe the cover copy said. It was a heavy-handed concept that tried to make a commentary on the economic state of the U.S. at the time. The design of the Rampage costume looked like it was rescued from Jack Kirby's "discard" pile.
Speaking of artwork, if Sal Buscema and David Hunt had been the art team on The Champions, maybe it would have survived a bit longer. Other than Byrne's excellent work, they have never looked better than in the flashback scenes in this issue. The iconic panel of Angel shouting "The world still needs Champions!" is a classic.
The story isn't a terrible one, even if it was probably obvious to readers at the time who was behind Rampage's costume. It was an interesting choice to make Clarke be wheelchair-bound, an allusion, perhaps, to Angel's and Iceman's mentor, Professor X.
Despite my mixed feelings over the Champions series, it deserved a better send- off than the flashback here. Having all of the Champions leave mere moments after their fight? A little too condensed and convenient.
The story does have other negative elements that detract from it. How on earth does the policeman know that the windows will fall in exactly eight seconds?!? Writer Bill Mantlo tries to create drama with Angel trying to rescue Peter, but the choice to have the cop state the time instead of in a narrative box was a poor one.
Plus Spidey's webbing usually doesn't fade away quite that quickly. After rescuing Angel they are suddenly gone, a fact noticed in more forced dialogue by Clarke: "Saved by webbing - which even now dissolves and falls away from you!"
Spidey also seems to recognize the figure in the Rampage costume: "Something disturbingly familiar about him..." This seems unlikely. It's doubtful that Peter and Bobby really hung out that much so that he would realize it was him in a suit of armor (unless you count Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends!). Sure, his chin and mouth are showing but it's just not enough.
Some solid art and interesting story details can't rescue poor writer choices and the rushed Champions finale.
Full confession: I've reviewed this issue using Marvel Tales #228, since I don't have the original issue. The reprint features a Todd McFarlane cover and was part of the mutants reprints series going on in that title. There's a backup story featuring Spider-Ham taking on the Punfisher and Tombenstain(!).
Thor #270 was also published in April, 1978, so I've dug that out of mothballs to see what interesting extras might have been included in that month. Not much of interest besides a Spidey Hostess ad ("Spider-Man Spoils a Snatch"). Stan's Soapbox announces the publication of "How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way" by him and John Buscema.