Friday, November 26, 2010

Champions #1 & #2

Back in the early 80’s the idea of a bunch of friends sitting around a table and pretending to go on fantastic adventures through the use of dice, statistic sheets and miniatures was starting to find a wide audience. Bored during a college lecture one day, George MacDonald started doodling the basics of such a game about superheroes in his notebook. Eventually that game became Champions, groundbreaking in both being a game about playing superheroes and having a system angled toward letting the player create exactly the character they wanted to play. Other RPG's would generally decide your character's abilities through random die-rolls and a job system, while Champions would give you a pool of points you could spend toward making your character stronger, faster, smarter and giving them skills, powers and weapons with the precise advantages and disadvantages you yourself came up with. In 2010 it’s been revamped into its sixth edition, there’s an online game, and the system has been expanded for use with nearly any genre one can imagine.

In 1986 Eclipse Comics released a six-issue miniseries based on the game, using the player characters from the first campaign ever run as protagonists, which is what we have before us here.

There are a lot of characters in these comics, but rather than give you a rundown before the review, it would feel a lot more like actually reading the comic to present the information when the comic itself does. So unless there’s a point of contention that requires more background than what you’d have by that point in the comic, that’s what’ll happen.

Before we begin the comic proper, the inside cover of the first issue has an editorial from editor-in-chief Catherine Yronwode talking about the then-current Chernobyl disaster. According to Cathy, “I’ve got news for you, folks: Science isn’t on anybody’s side” and “Nuclear power will NEVER be safe” and “It’s too bad so many reds had to die to prove that simple scientific law.” Not saying anything, just know that’s what they decided to present first to people buying a comic book based on a role-playing game.

Well, you might also consider that when a sourcebook made up of Soviet villains was released for this game, Chernobyl was used as the source of one of the character's powers: Cosmo (Real name Vladimir Cossack. Seriously). Who has vast cosmic powers enabling him to do basically anything, but not the discipline or attention span to accomplish much of use with it. Basically a comic relief character with Phenomenal Cosmic Power.

The story opens on San Francisco, more specifically the house of Dr. Clinton Avery (actually the retired super-wizard Dr. Arcane), where a costumed malefactor by the name of Foxbat is trying to blowtorch his way into a safe with no success.

Oh, and Dr. Avery’s friends with the current generation of heroes. Flare, a man-crazed blonde with light powers, and Icestar, a wisecracking hero who might seem familiar to people to whom the name “Robert Drake” means something, show up and try to stop Foxbat. Mostly they argue amongst themselves and trip over their own feet.

Icestar even manages to make Foxbat more dangerous by using his powers on Foxbat’s trick gun, making the shots come out packed in ice for another die worth of damage. Not only that, but Foxbat mocks him because evidently they’ve fought enough times he should know better. Our heroes. Not just our heroes, but judging by the villains they throw down with in later issues, one of the most formidable teams around.

Foxbat gloats about his plans to sell the crown he gets out of the safe to DEMON. His plot is foiled when the psychic heroine, Rose, shows up and shoulder-checks him through a window. Dr. Avery, or as he was known in the 40’s, Dr. Arcane, tells Rose to help him round up the rest of the Champions; if DEMON’s involved, they’ll need all the help they can get. Yes, if your performance against Foxbat is any indication.

See, Foxbat’s one of the seminal villains of the Champions game, but that’s because he’s an over-the-top loony who thinks he lives in a comic book. He exists to give people running the game a premade antagonist for comedic adventures.

Okay, this comic was printed when the game was still young and they probably hadn’t quite evolved him into the raging goofball he is now. The comic does, however, portray him as a middling threat, making it hard to believe he’s giving such prestigious heroes so much trouble or easily bypassing the security measures of a veteran mage hero (Dr. Arcane keeps demonic artifacts he’s confiscated in his house, he better have some great security measures).

And the comic's already in trouble because of it.
 The comics try to justify his presence in a storyline like this by saying he knows more about the Champions than anyone and is a lot more capable than he lets on. Probably on account of the edge knowing he lives in a comic book gives him.

The real reason is the creators loved him. They loved him so much that when some of the developers decided to leave and devote themselves to this comic and the others stuck around to devote themselves to the game, both groups hung onto a version of him. These days the comics call him The Flying Fox.

We travel to Henderson Electronics, the company run by the hero Marksman in his secret identity. He stops some guys from getting (most of) an illicit weapons pick-up for this “DEMON” when Rose contacts him telepathically and tells him to report to headquarters.

Why's Burt the only one who listens to me?
Dr. Arcane likewise projects himself into the bedroom of Jim Jensen and his wife Joyce. Jim is the superhero Giant, or rather was, because he recently hung up his magic harness to devote that effort to raising his family. Joyce angrily throws a lamp at Dr. Arcane for having the audacity to call her husband back in from the cold. Meaning she either knew he was just an astral projection and decided to wreck a lamp (and the wall) for no good reason, or thought he was actually there and decided to throw a heavy object at an old person. Not making much of a first impression in either case.

“You married a hero. You knew the risks,” Dr. Arcane retorts. You’d have to think so, seeing as Giant was the original superhero and her father, as well as one of Dr. Arcane’s old teammates. Joyce was the one who agreed to give Jim, her then-boyfriend, the divine harness that turns him into an immortal hero who grows to giant size so he could fight crime with it.

Speaking of the harness, if its owner decided to retire wouldn’t he have some kind of obligation to pass it on? To give it to Dr. Arcane and say “find someone worthy of this”? Passing on the mantle of this hero doesn’t involve any training or preparation, Giant’s his own being who knows how to use his powers, kind of like the Hulk and Bruce Banner. All it involves is giving a trinket to someone they know can be trusted to use it for good. Gee, since Giant’s his own being it’s possible the harness can’t even be used for evil.

The next scene opens in the Champions’ secret base where we learn various things, one of lesser importance being that Flare has a huge crush on Giant despite him being married.

Another thing of lesser importance is Icestar’s somehow surprised to learn that Dr. Arcane is, well, Dr. Arcane, the legendary Golden Age hero. If you’re going to get three superheroes to guard a house the fact that it belongs to a retired superhero himself seems like something you’d mention, is all.

Something of major importance we learn is what DEMON is. Basically, DEMON is an Evil Organization bent on gaining worldly power through magic and the acquisition of magical artifacts, though the rank and file use technological weapons. And it’s one of the greatest, if not the greatest, threats to life as we know it. All of the Champions have had dealings with them in some way: the Nazis that gave Flare and her siblings their powers were bankrolled by DEMON. Icestar’s archenemy, Madame Synn, supplies them with weapons. Rose has kept gullible old women from inadvertently funding them. Marksman has thwarted their efforts to infiltrate government offices. And the crown they sent Foxbat to steal has a connection to Giant’s archenemy we’ll get to later.

Just as they’re talking about what a nasty bunch DEMON is, a war party sent by the organization smashes through the roof and demands the crown…

Like any comic based on an RPG ought to, the Champions series printed pages giving statistics for the characters so readers could use them in their own games. This issue we have Flare and Foxbat.

About Flare we learn, besides having power over light, she’s the newest member of the Champions and along with three siblings was raised by escaped Nazis in South America who gave them superpowers. Thanks to the experiments that gave her her powers, she ages twice as fast as normal and her skin being cut causes feedback that hurts her more than usual, giving her a pathological fear of knives. And besides having light powers, she’s also about as strong as people get. Part of that whole “master race” thing the Nazis were going for.

And there’s Foxbat. Basically a boorish evil version of the Adam West Batman, his weapon of choice is a souped-up version of those toy guns that shoot ping pong balls. He was a decent but weird rich kid until his house was destroyed during a fight between Icestar and some goons, which also wiped out his fortune. He decided to become a costumed villain and get even with Icestar. And for some reason fire causes twice the shock to his system it does to a normal person (back in the old days nearly every character for this game was vulnerable to something, no matter how squishable they were or how little sense the vulnerability made).

The second issue begins with the DEMON flunkies repeating their demand for the Hellfire Crown and Flare, Marksman, Icestar and Giant stepping out for a minute to shut them up. They’re doing pretty well until the Morbanes, the wizards who serve as officers, combine their magic and take the heroes down.

While this is going on some kind of hellhound sneaks into the base looking for the crown while Rose and Dr. Arcane discuss its properties (after she fails to medicate him).

“This crown is more than the perfect mystic defense no energy harms it!” the good doctor exposits, but Rose proves to know more than he does. “What goes in cannot come out.” Right then the hellhound attacks them, and we cut away. Apparently they make friends with it off-panel, somehow.

After the other Champions finish getting smacked down Rose is outside jamming the crown on the head of one Morbane  to fry him with his own black magic. Instead, he disappears along with the crown.

Now you're a happy king. Dun da dun dun dun.
Back at DEMON HQ the Morbane appears with the crown, but it sucks up his life force until there’s nothing left but dust. His boss, a fella by the name of the DEMON Master, is willing to consider this an acceptable loss until he realizes three black diamonds that give the crown its real power are missing. Foxbat says there were no jewels in the safe either, and when DM asks why he didn’t mention that before, the Bat of Fox replies, “You didn’t ask,” which makes the evil overlord laugh.

The evil overlord who just did this.

After all, the writers love Foxbat, and they have him advise DM on what the Champions will do next. His encyclopedic knowledge of the heroes tells him they’ll split into three groups to track down each of the three jewels. How does he get inside their heads like that?! </sarcasm>

Also, don't park your Foxbatmobile in front of a fire hydrant.
 This bit of intel apparently impresses DM so much that he puts Foxbat in charge of kidnapping Dr. Arcane’s granddaughter, Donnah.

We cut to the first of those three groups, Flare and Giant, as they fly to a tiny island. Giant leaves Flare on the beach and enters a cave that he opens by plugging his harness into.

Inside is some kind of ghostly woman he calls Melissa and Malice, who talks like they used to be an item before realizing he’s not the original Giant. And talks in that pseudo-Shakesperian way ancient beings in cheesy comics do, even though when we actually meet her she won’t.

Giant gets bounced around until Flare, who’s stripped to her leotard for some reason, shows up and lifts ghost-Melissa into the air and blows her up. Flare breaks her arm in the fall, but at least she got the jewel off ghost-Melissa in the process.

This issue’s character sheets are for Icestar and a DEMON morbane.

Nothing too unexpected here, except Icestar’s a shameless flirt despite having a regular girlfriend to whom he’s supposedly very devoted. A trait that probably goes over better in a character we’re supposed to like when the audience is four of your gaming buddies instead of thousands of comic-buying strangers. Oh, that’s not all. According to his Gaming Notes Icestar “isn’t likely under normal circumstances to do anything more than flirt with members of the opposite sex.” So he would take it to the next level if the price was right. Like if he found out what his girlfriend’s real job is…

Doesn’t really help that he has a fan club that looks to be made up entirely of nubile women.

In the wilds of Canada and the French Quarter of New Orleans the last two teams race to recover the last two gem stones. But can the other Champions even hope to handle the soul within? Find out in thirty days!



  1. Thanks for that, it made me chuckle at the knuckleheadedness of it all. Foxbat is kind of like the Champions equivalent of Deadpool... and always just as welcome.

  2. if I didn't know "cat yronwode" (nice fake name) was a real person, I'd think Fox News made her up as a mockery of kneejerk liberalism.

  3. One wonders how wise it is for your superhero HQ to have some kind of weird glass ceiling easily accessible by one's enemies. I guess they save on light bills in the sunny months...