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by yo go re

Some comicbooks have high concepts, well-balanced characters, and a clear vision of what they want to accomplish. Others just throw things against the wall and see what sticks.

Former X-Man Warren Worthington III founded Champions, Inc. as an alternative super-team consisting of "heroes for the common man." Along with fellow mutant Iceman, Angel would remain with the team until the end.

Creator Tony Isabella originally meant Champions to be a buddy book with Angel and Iceman (recently kicked out of the revamped X-Men book) tooling around having adventures together. But editor Len Wein wanted a team book, and told Isabella to add three more characters - a woman, a strong guy, and somebody with their own book. Wein didn't care who was used, as long as those three criteria were met.

There's been an Archangel Minimate before, but this is our first plain Angel, meaning we've finally completed our original X-Men team, even if thy're not in their original costumes. Marvel Minimtes have only been around for, what, six years? Took long enough. Thankfully, Warren is wearing his second Champions costume, not the pink monstrosity he started with. It's painted cleanly, but the yellow is too thin to properly cover the red in a few spots. His eyebrows are definitely nice, though.

Angel doesn't have any accessories, but he does have new wings. They're each as tall as he is, and detailed with individual feathers. The frame that holds the wings on his back is the same that came with Archangel, logically, so the wings are each mounted on balljoints. Now, obviously the wings are going to make him back-heavy, but you can rest the lower tips against the ground and keep him stable.

The outcast of the group, Johnny Blaze would transform into the fearsome Ghost Rider to assist the team with all manner of mystical and other-worldly threats. His superhuman strength, ethereal flames and Pennance Stare would prove invaluable.

Ghost Rider was the last addition to the team, filling the "has his own book" requirement. Another finalist for the position was Power Man, but Johnny won out because Isabella was also writing the Ghost Rider comic at the time. You'll recall that Art Asylum always tries to include one figure in these four-packs who would otherwise never be made, and in this set, that's probably Ghost Rider. Remember, Johnny was meant to have some Minimates before, but Series 15 was canceled.

We normally complain about changes made to the paint apps between the promo photos and the production figure, but this time we're going to turn that around: the back of the box shows GR with a complete bone-white head, much like the Danny Ketch Minimate had all those years ago; the actual figure, though, has a white face painted onto a translucent orange head. That allows light to shine through the "flames," and even gives him realistic glowing eyes. Win!

Johnny's wearing his dark jumpsuit, and the high, up-turned collar is a separate piece. There are painted stripes on his arms and legs, and another outlining the panel on his chest. He has folded cuffs on his wrists, and the boots are painted a slightly different color than the legs. It's not really enough of a difference, honestly - it just looks like the sripes end suddenly. And because sometimes Johnny could shoot flames, he has a translucent fireball over his left fist.

Former Russian super-spy Natalia Romanova served as Champions team-leader - utilizing her martial arts, sharp-shooting, espionage and slowed aging to defend the West Coast as the Black Widow.

Slowed aging? Guess that explains how she could have been a child during WWII and still smoking hot today. When The Champions started, Black Widow had just broken up with Daredevil, so she may have been the most high-profile female character who wasn't already on a team. After all, there may not have been as many teams back then as there are today (only one Avengers, for instance, not three [or four if you count The Initiative/New Warriors], and the X-Men hadn't branched out), but still, Black Widow was near the top.

Natasha is wearing her familiar black catsuit, which is standard for the character. They weren't about o put her in her original costume, an evening dress with a domino mask, and the only other choice would be to give her the leather jacket she wore in the '90s. But more importantly, this is the '70s, so she needs to look retro - that explains the near-bouffant she's rocking.

The hair is a new piece, and so are the "Widow's Sting" bracelets. Can't skimp on those! Amusingly, Widow and Ghost Rider have the same belt - it's just done in different colors. The front of Natasha's chestblock is the only bit to get any paint. It's done with multi-tone highlights to suggest shiny leather, while the rest of the figure settles for merely being gloss black.

The super-strong and immortal Hercules left the tranquility of Olympus to to battle in man's world. His ties to the Greek pantheon of Gods proved invulnerable in battles against Pluto, Hippolyta and even Zeus himself!

Yes, it really does say "invulnerable," not "invaluable." That's what happens when you have to speed through the proofing phase to get your packaging done in time. Unless they were trying for some sort of subtle pun. Angel asks "should we bring Hercules along with us on this mission against the Greek gods?" Black Widow thinks it over and says "Ah, couldn't hurt." Invulnerable, can't get hurt... get it? Yeah, no, it's just a typo.

Herc's star has never been brighter in the Marvel Universe. In the aftermath of World War Hulk, the book Incredible Hulk was renamed Incredible Hercules starting with #113, and has been running under that title ever since. The guy's only ever had miniseries before, and now he's been headlining his own book for two years? Good for him! Now when will we get an Amadeus Cho figure? [with Kirby the coyote! --ed.]

There are a lot of add-on pieces giving Hercules his might. His hair/headsleeve is new, and he's got one of the big chests that came out of the Hulk movie Minimates. His has an extra hole molded in the back so you can plug in his familiar mace. He's wearing a skirt, and thick golden bracelets, and the unique armor on his legs is just painted on. The Minimate does a great job of making him look beefier than everyone else. Plus, the paint even goes all the way over his shoulder, which a lot of Minimates miss.

The Champions only lasted 17 issues, so a lot of people think the book was a failure. But the thing is, it came out in the mid-to-late '70s, when almost all books started out as bi-monthlies; since there was no direct market yet, it took four months to get realistic sales numbers from distributors, and it wasn't unusual for new books to die within six issues. So Champions may have been a hastily assembled team with no cohesion and no clear purpose, but the book still lasted for more than two years, and that's a hell of a thing. This exclusive set has given us four new characters, and if you got the Iceman and Firestar set back in the day, you can have the complete Champions team at last!

-- 08/31/09

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