Review by Frank Plowright
The Champions teamed Angel, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Hercules and Iceman. Over what was reprinted in volume one, the writers gradually made some sense of this pig’s ear combination, having Angel as Warren Worthington finance the team and appoint civilian advisors, while leadership was left to Black Widow. With this second collection there’s actually some quality on display.
John Byrne may have cared no more for the individual characters than George Tuska, but unlike Tuska he considered it an opportunity relatively early in his Marvel career, and uses the pages to show what he can do. There are still few rough edges, noticably everyone’s face being the same, but even though at times he’s as background-shy as Tuska, the variety of viewpoints and panel breakdowns are far more dynamic. Bill Mantlo responds with interesting and unpredictable developments. How he jumps from the Stilt Man to the Stranger in the opening episode is neat, and there’s effort applied in tying it into a couple of older stories, while both creators enjoy the pulp feel of a villain created entirely from bees. Mantlo’s very fond of Darkstar, who evolves considerably from the Russian villain bequeathed to him in volume one, and has her save the day twice over five stories. His methods are very much of the 1970s with thought balloons and expository dialogue, but look past that and his plots work, there are mysteries to be solved and he keeps the suspense going until the end. There is a caveat. Beware most material not sourced from the Champions’ own title or crossovers. Mantlo setting Magneto against Doctor Doom is a disappointment, and the sheen evaporates when Tuska or Bob Hall are drawing.
The best story is the wake for the Champions following cancellation. Mantlo and Sal Buscema are responsible for a two parter beginning with Angel reflecting on how the Champions were never really any kind of success, how they broke up and the dangers of their headquarters building. Mantlo then phases in an old enemy given a new twist hiding a big surprise. Once revealed, though, the story tails off altogether.
While improving on the first Champions collection, there’s still not a great deal that matches the baseline standard for a 21st century superhero adventure. It’s now combined with volume one as The Champions Classic Complete Collection, or if money’s no problem and your shelf space infinite, then there’s also a hardcover Marvel Masterworks edition.