Monday, October 2, 2023

The Surfer, The Titan, and the Dethroned


Following the introduction of Champion in the 1982 Marvel Two-In-One Annual, a story that saw him pitting his might against not only the Thing but also a grouping of Marvel's strongest characters, we catch up with the fierce competitor nearly five years later as he travels once more to Earth, having conspired with the Elders of the Universe in (to put it mildly) an ambitious plan to destroy Galactus. Yet for what purpose would he return to our planet? Having already whetted his appetite to compete against Earth's most powerful individuals, what could interest him on a world that Galactus has seemingly abandoned for good?

For the answer, we would have to turn our attention to the Antarctic continent in mid-1987, where the Silver Surfer is having an impromptu encounter with the Fantastic Four--a meeting which would lead to the Surfer finally achieving his freedom from being imprisoned on our world by his former master. Unfortunately, it's the Surfer himself who is being targeted by the Elders--and one Elder in particular, who all but announces his intentions upon landfall.

As we can see, Tryco Slatterus's arrogance as an Elder is intact, treating the Surfer with the same disdain as he would any other figure he would engage in battle with. Yet soon enough he learns what manner of foe he's challenged, at which point he becomes swept up in his fervor to triumph; but the Elders, including Champion, are known to the Surfer, and he responds accordingly.

Witnessing Champion's first loss is rather gratifying for we Earthlings, and particularly for the Thing. Yet Slatterus puts the best face on it he can, remaining in full Elder mode and only providing the Surfer with information he as the victor in their contest is entitled to know.

(A nice touch by artist Marshall Rogers with the breath condensation emitted by the FF members. We can only assume that, until now, they had the Fantasti-Car's rollover windshields in operation, rather than fly what is essentially a convertible through such a frigid climate.)

Inadvertently, of course, Slatterus' refusal to elaborate on just how the Surfer could escape Earth has been the catalyst for the Surfer and the FF putting their heads together to finally succeed in attaining the sky-rider's freedom. (You'll find bits and pieces of the Elders' plans for Galactus in the PPC, but do yourself a favor and read writer Steve Englehart's complete arc to see how it all plays out.)

Three years later in 1990, Champion makes another unfortunate choice in sparring partners--Thanos of Titan, who at this point in time has begun his search for the Infinity Gems (which were still referred to as the "Soul Gems")--one of which, the Power Gem, Champion now wears on his forehead yet remaining ignorant of its capability and only subconsciously drawing upon its energy. As a fighter, Champion has found the ideal world to provide sufficient challenge for his ability as a fighter in perpetuity--and when Thanos issues a suitably blatant challenge of his own as bait to draw his attention, a war such as this world has never seen (or, as we'll learn, shall ever see again) explodes onto an already war-torn planet.

With the "formalities" dispensed with, the battle begins in earnest for both of these men--though only one of them offers the impression of being in control of its direction and momentum, thanks to Champion's one-track mind. In the boxing ring against his Earth challengers, Champion showed signs of canny instinct and being a highly skilled opponent--yet here, on Tamarata, in spite of his claiming he's onto Thanos's "tricks," he has a ways to go in cottoning to his foe's strategy, as Thanos continues to play Champion like a violin and all but choreographs this contest.

(Gee, whatever happened to Thanos's eye-beams, which once had even Thor on the ropes? Was that strictly a Jim Starlin penchant? Yet let's bear in mind that Thanos's goal here appears to be to goad his opponent, which we'll see the result of shortly.)

Finally, of all the head-scratching tactics for Champion to resort to--one that he discerned immediately when the Thing attempted it, and which Thanos will deal with just as handily. Only this isn't the confined space of a ring--this is a world which reacts to the forthcoming devastating impact in a planet-wide cataclysm.

It seems that the Grandmaster's ploy to maneuver Death into "exiling" himself and his fellow Elders from her realm remains in effect, since I can't imagine even an Elder (whether wearing the Power Gem or not) surviving a world's destruction--though there are likely a number of such incidences in Marvel's storied history. (E.g., off the top of my head, Jane Foster's solution, as well as Dr. Strange's experience.) At any rate, the more wily Thanos now has the perfect opportunity to convince Champion to part with the gem, still playing on the Elder's belief that it's a worthless bauble. Of course, we can't deprive Thanos of having a little enjoyment with this posturing Elder in the process.

Yet while we learned in his introduction that it's a rare day when Champion offers anyone a rematch, we see he's not above granting one to himself when we jump ahead four years later to find him looking to deliver a little payback for Thanos's humiliating dismissal of him. Unfortunately for Champion's ego, he finds that Thanos can still dismiss him with impunity.

Champion ends up transported to a lifeless world, which he proceeds to destroy in his rage. For what it's worth to him, the character remained popular with future writers, who had him stirring up trouble over the span of roughly the next twenty years.


Anonymous said...

As an elder of the universe, Champion needs to be handled delicately. In order to do the character justice, not only do you need to put him in the category of Thor or the Hulk, he is probably their superior. At the same time, he still needs to be beatable since whenever he appears he'll be an antagonist.

He shouldn't be the guy you show your new villain defeating just in order to establish him as a threat. I find the Thanos Quest story seemed to handle it well. Thanos basically ambushed him unawares, and the fight still went on a long time, and Champion was only defeated in a roundabout way. But those Ron Marz panels seem way too flip. We'd never show the Hulk or Thor so easily defeated, and neither should Champion.


Comicsfan said...

I haven't laid eyes on the Marz story in a long time, Chris, but much (or maybe too little) may have happened to Champion in the interim to reflect well on his standing with readers (or writers) when we catch up with him in the four years that passed since his previous clash with Thanos. Also, in this case, it may be more accurate to say he wasn't so much defeated as he was dispatched. (Which, I might add, would have had the boxer in him crying, "Foul!" :) )

Big Murr said...

Champion holds no special spot of distinction for me, so his defeat is okie dokie by me. I do know what Chris is talking about though. Galactus is the character that springs to my mind as being used solely as a "measuring stick" punching bag. It's been so frequent, he's probably skittish about entering a dark nebula at night. Once the cosmic threat of the Marvel universe, Galactus seems to only exist to let new gunslingers make their rep.

Juggernaut is another character lately who exists only for heroes to exclaim "How did (XYZ) defeat Juggernaut!?!"

Comicsfan said...

I happened to think of Galactus recently when seeing the remake of "Dune," which among other things featured gargantuan (to put it mildly) space vessels--the sheer size of which would have rendered Galactus little more than a pin-prick regardless of what height we happen to recall him at. (It's also certainly an eye-opener insofar as the fact that it takes the life-force of an entire world to appease the hunger of a pin-prick.) In addition, if his world-ship was* indeed so large that planets orbited it, its construction (and its comparative size to himself) would have given "enormous" a whole new meaning--to the point of wondering just how long it would have taken even Galactus to explore such a construct.

*Past tense, as he was forced to obliterate it in an attempt to absorb its energy (though Dr. Doom was quick to take advantage of the act).