Ooooh, it's one of those orange-flavored
chocolate balls! I love those things!
Contest of Champions was Marvel's premiere super-hero gangbang long before Secret Wars and the inevitable, all-inclusive, annual X-Men crossovers. Released in the Summer of 1982, the series was actually originally intended as a Marvel Treasury Edition (you remember those things, don't you? Oversized comics which were largely reprints and stood about half-as-tall as the average comics reader of the day. You could build a tree house with a half-dozen of the damn things and a stapler) meant to coincide with the 1980 Olympics. Or, you know, to replace …
For those of you weak on your Cold War playground politics, the USA (and five dozen other countries, but we're not talking about their self-indulgent comic book crossovers here) boycotted the Olympics, which were taking place in Moscow that year. In return, the Soviets and more than a dozen of their frat brothers boycotted the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. Besides upending the playing field in favor of the host countries and earning each super-power enough gold medals at their respective events to make Richie Rich wet himself and fall down weeping, it also sort of soured the plans to release Contest of Champions as an unofficial Olympic tie-in.
"...Flamboyant Atomic Samurai?" Did Sunfire
write this himself?
So the whole thing got re-imagined as this self-proclaimed innovation called a “Limited Series!” There's an eidtorial blurb in the back of the first issue, touting Marvel's ingenuity at bringing the reading public a dynamic new series of comics which run a “finite” number of issues. This is as opposed to those comics which are running an infinite number of issues (PS - I understand that Fantastic Four #309,876,291 will be a special nine-cent promotional issue).
So YAY Marvel ingenuity, YAY dynamic new concepts, YAY - hold I, did I say Dynamic Concepts? I must've, cause to be fair, Marvel's competitor DC had already DONE the mini-series, as early as 1979, when Contest of Champions was only a glimmer in Marvel's editorial eye. The Distinguished Competition (I always hated that smarmy, too-clever moniker) had already released World of Krypton, as well as The Krypton Chronicles, The Phantom Zone, The Untold Legend of Bat-Man and Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes by the time C of C hit the stands.
Would ... would one really be better
than the other, Iron Man?
than the other, Iron Man?
Oh, but wait, those're MINI-series, not LIMITED series! My bad! Carry on, Marvel …
So anyway, enough geo-political swaggering and funny book semantics, this isn't some sort of retarded McLaughlin Group (Actually, yes, yes it is).
C of C comes to us courtesy of the Dudley Boys of early Eighties comic writing: Steven Grant, Bill Mantlo and cruiserweight underdog Mark Gruenwald. This might be a lot of cooks for one stew, but outside of Roy Thomas, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have handling this glorious mess.
After a splash page exposition (and there will be a LOT of splash pages in this thing), letting us in on the fact that cosmic muck-a-muck The Grandmaster and a mysterious peer of his are engaging in a high-stakes game using the super-heroes of Earth, we find ourselves at Avengers Mansion. The local roster of Earth's Mightiest Heroes are about to get swept off, along with the rest of Marvel's superheroic spandex set, to the cosmic waiting room set up by Grandmaster and his pal in the floor-length hoody, but for now they're working out. Wonder Man's lifting weights, Beast and Wasp are jumping around, Vision and Iron Man are jogging …
Comics were stupid before this, and continued to
be stupid afterwards, but this moment of stupidity
holds a very special place in my heart, no doubt.
This one always stops me cold. See, Vision's an android, right? Mechanical, pretty much. So he doesn't really have muscles or a cardiovascular system, so jogging can't do much for him. And Iron Man, that peckerwood's got a robot jumpsuit that does all his heavy lifting for him. Thus I ask: JOGGING? Come the fuck on, people.
Anyway, the Avengers and all of Earth's other heroes are swept up by cosmic rays and transported to the Grandmaster's Cosmic Game Dome (renamed OfficeMax Arena two years ago), and apparently in such a way that it appears to have made the Falcon cry.
What follows is several pages of characters walking around and introducing themselves to each other, and the readers. Since there're so many goddamn super-heroes in this story, we get some wonderful dialogue exchanges, as everyone tries to find an excuse to use each others' names. It goes a little something like this:
Captain America: “IRON MAN, what's happened?”
Iron Man: “I don't know, CAPTAIN AMERICA. THE VISION and I were going to ask MACHINE MAN if he knew!”
Vanguard: “DARKSTAR, URSA MAJOR and I, VANGUARD, of the SOVIET SUPER SOLIDERS would also like to know! Let's ask our friends IKARIS and FIREBIRD!”
Ant-Man: “Sure, NAMOR, SPIDER-WOMAN, HAWKEYE, DR.STRANGE and THE THING were just asking SASQUATCH, RED WOLF, THE TEXAS TWISTER, BROTHER VOODOO and the pre-natal POWER PACK if they had any ideas!”
Iron Man: “And what was their answer ANT-MAN? Or didn't even REED RICHARDS of the FANTASTIC FOUR know?”
Thundra: “I, Thundra, have mighty strength greater than any man's!”
Thundra: “Uhh … oh, such as THOR, STINGRAY, or … shit, I dunno, THE PROWLER! That guy, in the cape, whoever he is! That's the Prowler, right? Sorry guys.”
Whoops, Hulk farted!
Eventually, Hulk neglects to go apeshit and kill anyone, and the meet-and-greet settles down. Grandmaster and Darth Vader spill the rules, which are that each of them will pick twelve representatives from the gathered heroes of Earth, who will compete against one another in contests to locate the four segments of some big damn magic space-globe. Four segments. So it's best … three out of four, I guess, and in the case of a tie, it comes down to dodgeball.
Daredevil, you ASS!
So we're off to the races, and the entirety of the next issue and a good part of issue three are spent following eight teams of heroes at the four corners of the globe searching for galactic lemon wedges. We start off with Invisible Girl, Sunfire and Iron Fist up against Daredevil, Darkstar, and an aboriginal Australian superhero name of Talisman. You ever notice that Australian super heroes tend to be aboriginal? Considering what little I know of certain problems in that part of the world, I'd be one nervous white Australian if all my super-humans had been here before great-grandpa's ship docked. Imagine if the only folks who could chew steel and spit nuts and bolts in the U.S. were the same folks wondering who the pasty people in the funny hats at Plymouth Rock were …
Anyway, this first battle led me to repeat a mantra over and over in my head: namely, SHUT UP DAREDEVIL! The Man Without Fear is also The Man With Too Much Exposition Going On. His thought balloons, through the course of the story, fill us in that he's no longer in the space arena, Darkstar's a young woman, Sunfire's taking off, having people around confuses his radar sense, he's blind, he HAS radar sense, it's cold in the arctic, his dad was a boxer, the ice confuses his radar sense, the ice no longer confuses his radar sense, the water confuses his radar sense, SOMETHING confuses his radar sense, he has to concentrate, the prize is being lifted from his hands, and SHUT UP DAREDEVIL!
Well ... maybe I wanna
be your friend, baby,
know what I mean?
First round to Grandmaster's team, now we're off to some western Ghost Town where She-Hulk, Captain Britain and El Defensor face off against Sabra, Iron Man and the Arabian Knight. Sabra and the Knight get into a little snit here, because of the historic differences between Israel and … Arabian. Notice, however, that Sabra apparently has no problem being on the same team as BLITZKRIEG, a German superhero actually named after a Nazi war tactic! SURE WHY WOULD SHE??
Anyway, this one's got the hotbed of poltical and social activism at work, which is sort of a theme running through the series - you'll note, of course, the rather famous (as far as this site's concerned, anyway) casual confrontation between Shamrock and Captain Britain on the waiting room floor. Well, this chapter not only has Arabian Knight and Sabra acting like an old married couple, but Arabian Knight and Captain Britain through a few back and forth, and for the heck of it, She-Hulk and Sabra wax on male chauvanism. For an eight-year old, this is heady poltical awareness. Also, it's killing a couple panels before someone gets zapped by mind lasers POW POW BAWOOOM!!!
Arabian Knight colects one for "The Unknown's" team, and we're in China with Vanguard, Angel and Black Panther up against the Thing, Le Peregrine and Wolverine.
What's French for "Tool?" Le Tool?
Now, Grandmaster, he's supposed to be the universe's consummate gamer, right? Like, there's no sentient being in the universe with more strategic and gambling experience under his belt, he really knows how to pick his players and hedge his bets, right? So he had his pick of all of Earth's heroes - Thor, the Eternals, the Inhumans, all the Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men - and he chose for his team -- the French guy who can fly, Le Peregrine.
CAN'T THEY ALL FLY? I mean, like, EVERY SUPER HERO EVER? Even the Atom can FLOAT, MAN! Sure, the Unknown picked the Angel, whose sole power at the time was ALSO flight, but why would you need to merely balance out the flying guy? Nighthawk has wing lasers, Dr.Strange can shoot mystic bolts out his ass, Namor's got super-strength, as does Wonder Man and Quasar and and and ... so anyway, yes, Peregrine and the Angel sure do indeed fight one another, and their sole contribution to this match was to get out of the way and let the other four GOOD PICKS do their job.Batroc the Leaper would've been better ...
Anyway, Thing wrecks a Chinese landmark for the sake of the Grandmaster, and we're off to the Amazon where Sasquatch, Captain America, and the wonderfully named Blitzkrieg - who I'm sure was really popular at those international gatherings of super-heroes - face off against Collective Man, Storm and Shamrock.
"...which I will do over here, far away from you two maniacs."
So, yeah, one second. Why exactly, I have to ask, did Grandmaster put the enormous shaggy creature who actually lives and operates in the frozen tundra of Canada - that's Sasquatch I'm talking about - in the fight in the AMAZON, while he sent a blind dude and a near-naked Australian magician to the North Pole? And for that matter, wouldn't the Collective Man, China's national hero, actually have had a home field advantage in the battle in China? Like I find myself asking most Monday nights, WHO BOOKED THIS CRAP?
Collective Man, for you fans of state-controlled birth allowance facts, has a really amusing power for a Chinese national - he's actually five identical quintuplets who can merge into one being. My guess is, you're a set of Chinese quintuplets, you LEARN to merge into one solitary baby boy FAST.
So anyway, besides being a national embarassment for all of Ireland, Shamrock also proves her use by basically dooming Captain America to death, and then grabbing the last magic lemon wedge for the Grandmaster's team! HOORAY! We were all rooting for the Grandmaster the whole time!
We get back to the intergalactic Staples Center where Grandmaster, having won, gets to have his brother The Collector brought back to life, as a prize. Well that's nice. Oh, but it turns out his unknown peer is Marvel's persistent cosmic hottie DEATH, and the only way she'll allow Grandmaster to return his brother to life is if he sacrifices his own life!
This image is ... disturbingly erotic,
and I really can't put my finger on why...
And the heroes of Earth react to this by ... standing back and letting it happen. hey, I'd be reluctant too, probably more than a little pissed off. Imagine, especially, if you're the Eternals or Inhumans, and you got sucked all the way across space just to sit in a room with a bunch of roid-tards in sweaty spandex and the Hulk babbling about kitties or bubble gum or something, and Machine Man's trying to get everyone to sing-along or have a dance party because he's trying to understand our difficult human concept of 'rocking out,' and in the end it's all only to just be sent home at the end. Yeah, fuck you too, Grandmaster, I'm glad you're dead!
So anyway, that is legitimately the end of the story - the super-heroes I guess esort of in their own way if you kind of look at it askew and squint a little .. WON! I guess. Ah, what the hell, it was neat to see Wolverine almost kill whole bunches of folks ...
In the back of each issue, there were abbreviated biographies for Marvel's super-heroic roster of the time, from Acroyear to Wonder Man. Most likely the larvel stage of information available for the Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which follows a year or so after C of C, the bios are cursory but pretty complete. They've generally got the hero's real name, civilian profession, nationality, very very brief description of their origin and powers, current whereabouts and first appearance. Indispensible stuff for the obsessive comic geek of the day, it was. Take a look here at a sample entry:
H - hold on. Black American? Well ... hey, Black Goliath kind of sounds like a bad guy at first glance, so maybe it's necessary to indicate that the "Black" didn't refer to his character, right? Like, other black heroes weren't identified as ...
Okay, now ... I mean, I'm sure the ethnicities of other super heroes are mentioned. Sure, Golden Girl is listed as Japanese-American, White Tiger is clearly identified as Puerto Rican, and the caucasian heroes must have ...
Oh, now, hold on for realsies.