|Publication date||October 1975 – January 1978|
|No. of issues||17|
|Main character(s)||Angel, Black Widow, Darkstar, Ghost Rider, Hercules, Iceman|
|Created by||Tony Isabella|
|Written by||Tony Isabella, Bill Mantlo|
|Penciller(s)||Don Heck, George Tuska, Bob Hall, John Byrne|
|Inker(s)||Mike Esposito, John Tartaglione, Vince Colletta, Bruce Patterson, Bob Layton, Frank Giacoia, John Byrne|
The Champions are a fictional team of superheroes appearing in American comic books published by Marvel Comics. The team first appears in The Champions #1 (October 1975) and was created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Don Heck. Their titular series is regarded as an example of a failed superteam comic, suffering from constant turnover in the writers and artists working on the series, lack of a consistent direction or concept, and mediocre sales.
According to the letters page of Champions #6, writer Tony Isabella developed the concept of a new team of superheroes and originally wanted the roster to consist of former X-Men the Angel and the Iceman, and the newly created Black Goliath. Black Goliath became unavailable when the character debuted in his own title, forcing Isabella to rethink the concept. Editor Len Wein insisted on at least five members, and Isabella added three established heroes: Russian spy Black Widow, the Greek god Hercules, and the supernatural avenger Ghost Rider. Captain Marvel, Power Man, and the Son of Satan were all considered for the final place on the roster before selecting the Ghost Rider. Writer and publisher David Anthony Kraft is credited with naming the team, with the title originally intended to be published in the Giant-Size format as Giant-Size Champions. Production difficulties, which caused a three-month delay between the first and second issues, prevented this.
Isabella has disputed this account on several points. First, he said, his original concept for the series was not a team book at all, but a humorous heroes-on-the-highway series in the vein of Route 66 with Angel and Iceman. Black Goliath was not discussed during the meeting which laid out the series concept, but rather was a character he planned to have join the Champions later, precisely because he was a character with his own series, also written by Isabella. Finally, he insisted that the series was always going to be in a regular size format, and has hypothesized that the "giant-size" story was put forward to cover up the fact that the team was missing deadlines. He also said that he chose the Black Widow, Hercules, and the Ghost Rider for the group under the editorial requirements that the team must have a woman, a strong man, and at least one character with their own series.
The title was eventually published as The Champions, and ran for 17 issues from October 1975 to January 1978. Publication continued to be erratic; the series went back and forth between monthly and bi-monthly throughout its run. The creative team saw an exceptionally high level of overturn, with 12 different writer/penciller/inker combinations over the course of just 17 issues. In addition to Don Heck, artists who drew the series include George Tuska, Bob Hall, and John Byrne. Starting with issue #8, the remainder of the series was written and pencilled by industry newcomers still learning their craft with the sole exception that the final issue was pencilled by Tuska. Though the reason for this is not known, it has been hypothesized that the series was already on the brink of cancellation at this point, making it a less risky place to field rookie creators.
A common criticism of The Champions was that the team lacked any sort of theme or reason for the members to continue working together. Isabella intended from the beginning for the Champions to be a superhero team for the common man, but admitted that the series never brought this theme across in a convincing way. The team never acquired their own rogues gallery, and instead battled established Marvel villains such as Pluto, the Stranger, and Kamo Tharnn, along with the occasional new foe such as Swarm. The Black Widow is elected the leader of the Champions in issue #5, and in issue #7 the team gets a headquarters. Russian heroine Darkstar became a regular character starting in issue #10, though she never actually joins the team. Black Goliath guest-stars in issue #11.
In an effort to boost the series's flagging sales, the Champions were featured as guest-stars for three consecutive months: in Iron Man Annual #4 (August 1977), The Avengers #163 (September 1977), and Godzilla, King of the Monsters #3 (October 1977). The attempt failed, and Champions was cancelled with issue #17. The second-to-last issue continued a story involving a power struggle between villains Doctor Doom and Magneto from the title Super-Villain Team-Up. Loose plot threads left by the last issue were wrapped up in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #17-18 (April-May 1978), in which the Champions disband.
In the short story "On the Air", published in the 1996 anthology The Ultimate X-Men, an interviewer asks the Angel about the Champions. The Angel defends the group's worth, saying they should be judged not by the short time they were together, but by how many people they helped. The group briefly reunite in an X-Force/Champions Annual. An issue of The Incredible Hulk features an untold tale of the Champions.
In 1987, Heroic Publishing began using the name "The Champions" for a role-playing game series which has been adapted into comic books. The United States Patent and Trademark Office ruled that Marvel had abandoned its trademark of the name and could no longer use it, causing a planned 2007 revival of the series to be renamed The Order. This has since been resolved, with Marvel publishing a new Champions series that debuted following their Civil War II event.
- Champions Classic Vol. 1 collects The Champions #1–11, 208 pages, July 2006, ISBN 978-0785120971
- Champions Classic Vol. 2 collects The Champions #12–17, Iron Man Annual #4, The Avengers #163, Super-Villain Team-Up #14, and Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #17–18, 216 pages, January 2007, ISBN 978-0785120988
- The Champions: No Time for Losers collects The Champions #1–3 and 14–15, 100 pages, October 2016, ISBN 978-1302908577
- Champions Classic: The Complete Collection collects The Champions #1–17, Iron Man Annual #4, The Avengers #163, Super-Villain Team-Up #14, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #17–18, and Hulk Annual #7, 472 pages, July 2018, ISBN 978-1302911805
- Smith, Gary (June 27, 2017). "No Team No! The 15 Most Terrible Super Teams In Comics". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on October 15, 2017.
- Buxton, Marc (April 2, 2013). "The Absolute Worst Superhero Teams EVER!". Den of Geek!. Archived from the original on October 15, 2017.
A team of five heroes that have absolutely nothing in common. I mean, there was no chemistry, no reason for them to be together, just a mish mosh of heroes doing stuff for seventeen issues.
- Isabella, Tony (w). "Cables of Champions (text article)" The Champions #6 (June 1976)
- Isabella, Tony (w), Tuska, George (p), Colletta, Vince (i). "Black Goliath" Black Goliath #1 (February 1976)
- Markstein, Don (2009). "The Champions". Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Archived from the original on April 14, 2012. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
Editor Len Wein...saw them as a two-man group, and mandated that a group must have at least five members. One must be super-strong, one must be female, and at least one must have his own comic. Hence, the addition of Marvel's version of Hercules as the strong guy, The Black Widow (fresh from a relationship with Daredevil) as the female guy and The Ghost Rider as the guy with a title of his own.
- Sanderson, Peter; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2008). "1970s". Marvel Chronicle A Year by Year History. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 171. ISBN 978-0756641238.
Created by writer Tony Isabella and artist Don Heck, the Champions consisted of the Angel, the Iceman, Hercules, the Black Widow, and the Ghost Rider.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Walker, Karen (July 2013). "'We'll Keep on Fighting 'Til the End': The Story of the Champions". Back Issue!. Raleigh, North Carolina: TwoMorrows Publishing (#65): 17–23.
- The Champions at the Grand Comics Database
- Isabella, Tony (w), Heck, Don (p), Esposito, Mike (i). "The World Still Needs...the Champions!" The Champions #1 (October 1975)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Byrne, John (p), Layton, Bob (i). "Did Someone Say...the Stranger?" The Champions #12 (March 1977)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Byrne, John (p), Layton, Bob (i). "The Doom That Went On Forever!" The Champions #13 (May 1977)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Byrne, John (p), Esposito, Mike (i). "The Creature Called... Swarm!" The Champions #14 (July 1977)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Hall, Bob (p), Giacoia, Frank (i). "One Man's Son Is Another Man's Poison!" The Champions #10 (January 1977)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Hall, Bob (p), Perlin, Don; Vohland, Duffy (i). "A World For the Winning!" Super-Villain Team-Up #14 (October 1977)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Hall, Bob (p), Esposito, Mike (i). "A World Lost!" The Champions #16 (November 1977)
- Manning, Matthew K.; Gilbert, Laura, ed. (2012). "1970s". Spider-Man Chronicle: Celebrating 50 Years of Web-Slinging. London, United Kingdom: Dorling Kindersley. p. 101. ISBN 978-0756692360.
Bill Mantlo was the regular scribe of both Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man and The Champions...The Champions had recently been cancelled, and Mantlo decided to tie up a few of the title's loose ends in his other comic.CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Buscema, Sal (p), Hunt, Dave (i). "Whatever Happened to the Iceman?" Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #17 (April 1978)
- Mantlo, Bill (w), Buscema, Sal (p), Hunt, Dave (i). "My Friend, My Foe!" Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #18 (May 1978)
- Bierbaum, Tom; Bierbaum, Mary (w), Shoemaker, Terry (p), Parsons, Sean; Candelario, Harry (i). "Demon From Within" X-Force / Champions '98 #1 (1998)
- Pak, Greg (w), Frank, Gary (p), Sibal, Jon (i). "Warbound, Part 1" The Incredible Hulk v3, #106 (July 2007)
- Jusino, Teresa (August 23, 2016). "Marvel's Champions Firmly Pushes Its Young, Progressive Characters Into the Spotlight". The Mary Sue. Archived from the original on September 23, 2016.
- Cronin, Brian (January 28, 2010). "Comic Book Legends Revealed #245". Comic Book Resources. Archived from the original on January 20, 2013. Retrieved January 20, 2013.
Marvel did seek and was granted registration of the trademark it was using for that title. That registration, however, was not granted until several months after the title had ceased publication. In the mid-80s, on the basis of that registration, Marvel contested registration of the mark Hero Games was using at that time for its Champions role-playing game. The trademark board took notice of Marvel’s abandonment of their earlier mark, and cancelled that registration.
- Griepp, Milton (August 16, 2016). "ICV2 Interview: Marvel's David Gabriel – Part 3". ICv2. Archived from the original on August 21, 2016. Retrieved August 20, 2016.
I think I probably said to Tom Brevoort, I think this book should be called The Champions. And he, of course, got a tear in his 40-something year-old eye, and said, 'it’ll never happen.' And I said, 'someone told me I would never get a million unit sales of Star Wars, so we’re going to make this happen.' I badgered our legal guys and we got everybody who needed to be involved in getting the name back, and we got it back.