Review by Ian Keogh
The first of the two stories included here features almost all Avengers, but in extremely minor roles, being what was originally issued as Contest of Champions in 1982, and restored to that title in the 2016 digital version when Marvel’s online game came out under that title.
The Grandmaster is seeking to restore the life of his brother the Collector. To this end he’s challenged what surely any reader conversant with Marvel’s universe will recognise as their hooded and cloaked personification of death. Every superhero on Earth is gathered, two teams of twelve are selected, and from them four teams of three complete for quarters of a golden globe. The writing team of Bill Mantlo, Mark Gruenwald and Steven Grant have a mission to showcase Marvel having superheroes in every nation, so alongside the more familiar likes of Captain America, Daredevil and Invisible Woman, we have some real obscurities, some created for the series. Few have been seen in any consequential manner since, especially strange considering Talisman, an Australian mystical hero, plays a prominent role.
Nearly all the dialogue is heroes introducing or explaining themselves, but that’s mitigated to some degree by the battles being thoughtfully matched and choreographed. John Romita Jr draws most of the book (with a little help from Bob Layton), but from long before he developed his distinctive style. He mixes the characters well, giving them all space to breathe, and delivers the varied environments in which they’re placed.
A mistake is made in the story. Enjoy discovering it. A two part Avengers story is a continuation, reversing the roles, with the Grandmaster now needing restored to life. In the 1980s the Avengers operated both an East Coast and West Coast branch, and the individual members of each are pitched against each other in a series of conflicts averaging out at four pages, after which the collected membership individually face some characters who’d died. Neither portion is perfect. Steve Englehart’s plotting of the first segment involves some interesting battles, but all life is sucked from it by Al Milgrom’s very basic art. He’s trying for Jack Kirby, but lacks the talent. The variety of artists used on the concluding segment is better, with Jackson Guice inked by Kevin Nowlan the standout chapter, with Bob Hall’s layouts finished by Tom Palmer are also good. Tom DeFalco’s dialogue induces wincing in places, but his plot’s solid and entertains, with Hawkeye’s audacious final contribution a treat.
For The Contest to be worth your money as a hardcover you either have to have it indelibly ingrained from childhood, or be prepared to make a massive allowance for it being of its era. Alternatively, try finding a used copy of the 1999 collection.