I love comics. I love superheroes. I have loved both for more than 30 years and have amassed a fair sized collection of comic books and collectibles over the years. Yes, I’m a grown man, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still be a fan, collector, or aficionado of both the medium and its most popular format. It used to irk me when people made fun of me for being a collector – as if being into comics and toys stunted my growth or made me less of a man. Well, as the years went on I’m still a fan of comics and superheroes and toys; I still have the items I grew up with and I still appreciate them with much fondness. I can’t say the same for all of those naysayers. They are a fading memory.
As the years passed, and as my reading habits matured, many different characters became favorites of mine. I like many comic book characters, superheroes or not, but in this posting I would like to discuss my favorite characters — I’ll describe a little bit about their history and origins, appearances in other mediums, and pinpoint the defining moment in the character’s rich history that made me their…Super-Fan!
Who are THE CHAMPIONS?
The Champions were a ragtag group of superheroes that initially formed to combat an immediate threat on a University campus. In much the same manner as the formation of the Avengers, five heroes join forces to thwart the otherworldly plans of conquest by a power-hungry deity. Warren Worthington III and Bobby Drake (the X-Men’s Angel and Iceman, respectively) are attending formal classes at UCLA, while the mighty Hercules is also on campus as a guest lecturer on Classic Mythology. The Black Widow and the Ghost Rider also “just happen” to be on the campus as well when the Olympian Gods Pluto, Ares, and Hippolyta arrive to collect Hercules and Venus (seriously, another God teaching at this school?) as they have been promised by Zeus to wed Pluto’s two accomplises. Believing his father Zeus to have been duped into making the decree by The Lord of the Underworld, Hercules battles the trio and is joined by the aforementioned heroes on campus. When all was finally settled, the Angel (missing being an active superhero) suggests that they form a new group. As he is incredibly wealthy, Worthington also opts to house and finance the team as well.
The team continued on for several missions, battling various established Marvel villains including Pluto, the Griffin, Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, The Stranger, The Possessor, several Sentinels, Magneto and Dr. Doom. They also fought new menaces like the Iron Man rip-off Rampage and the hive collective Swarm. The team eventually folded because of a lack of unity and because of distrust. Ghost Rider was never fully accepted as a teammate (possibly due to his hellspawn pedigree), and Iceman really didn’t want to be in the superhero game at this period of his life.
Although various writers and artists worked on the title on its short 17 issue, 3 year run, The Champions were the brainchild of Tony Isabella (creator of DC Comic’s Black Lightning), David Kraft and Don Heck (notable longstanding artist on numerous Marvel and DC titles including the Avengers, the Flash, Justice League of America, Daredevil, Ghost Rider, and Wonder Woman to name a few). The team bore similar thematic story beats that mimicked the formation of the Avengers – five random superheroes including four male and one female (Black Widow in lieu of the Wasp) gathering together to stop a devious God (Pluto ala Loki); they are financed by a billionaire superhero (Angel standing in for Iron Man), have a God amongst their ranks (Hercules pinch-hitting for Thor), distrust and fear the outcast monster in their squad (Ghost Rider doing his best Hulk impression), and have a low self-esteem reluctant superhero (Iceman substituting for Ant-Man). Even though the name wouldn’t be used for another 10 years, this happenstance super-squad could very well have simply called themselves the West Coast Avengers.
The book had incredible potential. It had action, conflict, exciting characters, and an untapped setting for stories. In 1975, the Marvel Universe did not have as many superhero teams as it does today. Back then, only the Avengers, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Defenders were established teams with their own titles…and all of them were stationed out of New York City! Having a superteam catering to the west coast was a good business plan and a chance to expand into other parts of the globe. Of course, in just a few short years The NEW Defenders re-located to Colorado, the Soviet Super-Soldiers formed in Moscow, Alpha Flight took root in Canada, and even the X-Men did a stint “down undah” for a while. But unfortunately, constant delays between issues and dwindling sales bested this Los Angeles based club and The Champions were no longer that. They were abruptly cancelled with issue #17 with no proper ending. Three months later, the story was given somewhat of a denouement in the pages of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #17 with the Angel explaining the team’s disbanding and the former member’s current whereabouts.
Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September 1963)
Secret Identity: Warren Worthington III
Team Affiliations: X-Men, Champions, Defenders, X-Factor, Hellfire Club, X-Force,
Powers: Flight, Enhanced Strength, Aerial Adaptation, Peak Physical Attributes
Warren Worthington III was born a mutant — a being genetically born with special powers and abilities — and when his wings manifested as a young teenager, his rich father tried to hide this fact from the public and sent Warren to various boarding schools. Eventually, the young winged wonder enrolled in Professor Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters as a teenager, but not before he dabbled in a short-lived solo crime-fighting venture as the Avenging Angel. Convinced that he could better hone his flying abilities and skills at the school, Warren abandoned his superhero gig and headed to Westchester New York where he matriculated with several other gifted youngsters and formed the founding team of X-Men. The Angel has had many adventures, and been associated with many other teams and partnerships over his heroic career. He was altered a great deal when he was killed by the Marauder’s and resurrected under the service of the ancient evil of Apocalypse as Archangel one of the deadly Four Horsemen. Warren eventually wrestled control of his life back from his menacing master, went many years without influence, but succumbed once again to Apocalypse’s power and became Archangel once more. After a spectacular battle, Warren was left amnesiac of his past life and is currently a student once again at the Jean Grey School for Gifted Youngsters (former Xavier School).
Created By: Stan Lee and Don Heck
First Appearance: Tales of Suspense #52 (April 1964)
Secret Identity: Natasha Romanova
Team Affiliations: S.H.I.E.L.D., Avengers, Champions, KGB, Lady Liberators, Thunderbolts, Heroes for Hire
Powers: Slowed Aging, Enhanced Immune System, Abnormally Superior Athletic Condition,
Extensive Military, Hand-to-Hand Combat, Martial Arts, and Espionage Training, Hypnosis, Enhanced Psychological Defenses
Natasha Romanova was an orphaned young child during World War II that was raised by the U.S.S.R’s Black Widow Ops program. There, she was bioengineered to become a superb Russian Spy. The process she underwent has given her remarkable abilities and a very slow-aging process. She is an incredibly skilled marksman and hand-to-hand combatant. In her early days she plagued Iron Man looking to steal technological secrets from Tony Stark to bring back to her Russian leaders. She partnered up with Hawkeye on several occasions and her affection towards the bow-slinger prompted her to defect to America. Soon she was partnered with and romantically linked to Daredevil, and later became a respected member of the Avengers as well as a high-ranking officer with S.H.I.E.L.D.
Equally skilled between the sheets as she is kicking ass on the streets, the Black Widow has been romantically linked to a number of costumed adventurers including Hawkeye – Daredevil – Hercules – Iron Man – the Winter Soldier – amongst others.
Created by: Gary Friedrich, Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog
First Appearance: Marvel Spotlight #5 (Aug. 1972)
Secret Identity: Johnny Blaze
Team Affiliations: Champions
Powers: Limitless Superhuman Strength and Durability,
Ability to Project Regular and Ethereal Flame, Ability to Travel Between Interdimensional Realms and Along Any Surface, Enchanted Hellfire Chain, Immortality, Flaming Motorcycle, Hellfire Shotgun, Penance Stare, Resurrection, Accelerated Healing Factor
Stunt Man extraordinaire, Johnny Blaze, made a deal with the devil (Mephisto) to heal his father of an incurable disease. His soul in exchange for a cure, Johnny accepted the sinister deal and his father was indeed cured. When his dad died attempting a ridiculous stunt, Mephisto arrived to claim Johnny’s soul and declared that the younger Blaze would now become his servant at night and during the day he would hang out with him in hell. After some negotiation, by day Johnny Blaze went about his life amongst the living, but at night his head would catch fire and he became the Ghost Rider — servant of hell. Johnny Blaze performed in a traveling stunt show which brought him from town to town and soon realized that he could transform into his demonic alter-ego not only at night but whenever evil was afoot. That evil would then quickly try to run away as fast as they could, because a man with a flaming skull riding a flaming motorcycle racing towards you at top speed can’t be good. Although the Rider has attempted to join a superhero group briefly, it never panned out as he is too much of a loner.
Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
First Appearance: Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965)
Secret Identity: Heracles, Harry Cleese
Team Affiliations: Avengers, Avengers Academy, Champions,
Damage Control, Defenders,
God Squad, Heroes for Hire, Olympian Pantheon, Renegades
Powers: Superhuman Strength, Speed, Stamina, Reflexes, Endurance, and Durability, Immortality, Healing Factor,
Immunity to all Earthly Diseases,
Limited Resistance to Magic,
Skilled Hand-to-Hand Warrior
Hercules, Son of Zeus the almighty Olympian God. Hercules, the Lion of Olympus. Hercules, the mythical warrior that completed 12 impossible tasks. Hercules, the mighty. Hercules, the Prince of Power. Hercules, the Avenger. Immortal, Hercules has walked the Earthly plane for Eons participating in countless battles and adventures. Hercules is one of the strongest and most powerful beings in existence — even though he did get the beats from Thor, the Hulk, the assembled Masters of Evil, and a few other really tough dudes. In fact, Hercules has duked it out with just about every super-powered being in the Marvel Universe. He’s quick to temper, enjoys heavy drinking, is on the fence about being led by a woman whilst on a team (he respected Black Widow`s command while on The Champions but was repeatedly at odds with the Wasp when she was Chairwoman of the Avengers), he enjoys referring to himself in the third person, and loves to boast about his abilities and conquests.
Created by: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
First Appearance: X-Men #1 (September 1963)
Secret Identity: Bobby Drake
Team Affiliations: X-Men, Champions, Defenders, X-Factor
Powers: Thermokinesis, Cryokinesis,
Hydrokinesis, Molecular Moisture Inversion and Conversion, Thermal Vision, Augmented Strength and Durability when in Ice Form.
Iceman is now a teacher at the Jean Grey School for Mutants, but at one time was the school’s youngest student. Often suffering from low self-esteem and repeatedly having his heart broken by girls that left him for other heroes such as: fellow X-Man Polaris who left him for Havok, the Russian Darkstar who was just not that into him, New Defender Cloud that walked around as both man and woman and eventually revealed themselves to be an alien entity which turned Bobby off, the strange mutant Infectia which…come on her name was INFECTIA, human Opal Tanaka that drifted away from him when her former lover died protecting her and Iceman from an attack, Nurse Annie who was actually in love with Havok (AGAIN!! That guy’s a total c*ck-block!) and split on Bobby for him, and Mystique who was just playing him. The poor young man is left cold at every attempt at love. However, despite his reservations about being a hero, and his inability to maintain a long lasting meaningful romantic relationship, Iceman is an Omega level mutant and one of the most powerful on the planet.