Waiting for the Trade – Avengers

Waiting for the Trade

 

By Bill Miller

 

Avengers: The Contest

by Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant, Steve
Englehart and Tom Deflaco (writers) and John Romita Jr., Al Milgrom and Bob
Hall (art).

collects Contest of Champions 1-3, West Coast Avengers
Annual #2, and Avengers Annual #18.

 

Why I Bought This – It was a good mix of old and new for me, as I’d read the two Avengers Annuals before and they are
fabulous—one of the best of Avengers stories of all time that I certainly would
not mind having in trade; while I had never read Contest of Champions before.

 

The Plot: The
Grandmaster gathers all of Earth’s heroes to be part of cosmic game, and then a
follow-up contest collects both teams of Avengers.

 

This story is a lot of superhero fight scenes. Most of the
fun is in seeing who wins and how, so spoilers ahead, you’ve been warned.

 

Chapter 1 – The Avengers are training when they are suddenly
teleported away. In Russia
the Soviet Super Soldiers are battling the Red Ghost when the heroes are
teleported away. We see the scene repeated across the world with the Fantastic
Four, X-Men, Alpha Flight plus all the solo heroes who had books in the 80s like
Spider-man, Hulk, Dazzler, Daredevil, Ka-Zar, followed by a bunch of
international heroes that no one has ever heard of (several who were created
just for this story).

 

The heroes compare notes on what is going on when the
Grandmaster appears alongside a mysterious hooded figure. Grandmaster explains
he is playing game against “the Unknown” where if he wins he will get to
resurrect the Collector (a fellow Elder of the Universe—the Elders are a group
of cosmic immortals, each one of whom has an obsession. For the Grandmaster
this is playing of games, for Collector its collecting rare things, etc), but
if he loses he too will die. The two entities then draft teams while announcing
that if the heroes do not participate the Earth will be destroyed. Grandmaster
selects Captain America, Talisman (an Australian Aborigine, not the more famous
Alpha Flight hero), Dark Star, Wolverine, Captain Britain, Defensor, Sasquatch,
She-Hulk, Daredevil, Peregrinne, Thing and Blitzkrieg, while The Unknown
selects Iron Man, Vanguard, Shamrock, Iron Fist, Storm, Arabian Knight, Angel,
Sabra, Angel, Invisible Girl, Sunfire, Black Panther and Collective Man. The
teams are then subdivided into smaller squads with the game that each squad
must find a golden orb before its opponent.

 

Chapter 2 – At the north pole we get Daredevil, Talisman and
Darkstar vs. Sunfire, Invisible Girl and Iron Fist. No one is pleased with the cold
and everyone spreads out to search. In the sky Darkstar (who can make solid
objects out of Darkforce) and Sunfire (microwave-based heat powers) battle. Sue
turns invisible as she searches but Talisman senses her mystically and casts a
sound-based spell that causes her to hallucinate. Finally Daredevil and Iron
Fist encounter each other and engage in hand to hand combat. The sky battle
continues and when Darkstar deflects some of Sunfire’s heat blast it begins to
melt the ice below. This breaks Talisman’s concentration on his spell and also
takes out Iron Fist. Everyone then sees the globe in frozen waters. Taliman
casts his spell again affecting everyone but Sue, who has her forcefield up
this time, but before she can grab the prize Daredevil (presumably being immune
to hallucinations because he is blind) uses his billy club’s lasso to retrieve
it and win.

 

In an old west ghost town we get Iron Man, Arabian Knight
and Sabra vs. Defensor, She-Hulk and Captain Britain. Again everyone scatters
(although not before we get Israeli-Muslim hostilities from Sabra and Arabian
Knight) to search alone. She-Hulk tackles Arabian Knight off his flying Carpet
but Sabra comes to his aid by shooting quills from her fingers which allow her
to temporarily drain strength from her target. She then tries to go physical
with She-Hulk. Iron Man is attacked by Defensor, whose magic shield reflects
Iron Man’s repulsors back at him. Iron Man counters by picking him up and
throwing him through a wall. Captain Britain (at this time using a magic
scepter as his power source instead his more familiar battle armor) takes the
fight to Arabian Knight’s magic sword as we get a weapons duel. As She-Hulk’s
strength returns she pounds Sabra good. Captain Britain defeats Arabian Knight only
to be taken out by Defensor’s body. This leaves Iron Man and She-Hulk and Iron
Man wins with one electric blast (which seems way too easy) and this allows his
teammate Arabian Knight to grab the globe.

 

Chapter 3 – In China
we get Vanguard (Russian hero with magical weapons that if crossed make a force
field), Angel and Black Panther vs. Wolverine, Thing and Pergrine (basically a
French version of the Falcon). Yet again everyone separates to search alone to
solo battles. In this case Black Panther and Wolverine meet for some hand to
hand combat, Angel and Pergrine meet in the air, and Vanguard turns on his
forcefield to keep Thing at bay. Wolvie pops his claws and gains the advantage
on Panther, While Angel defeats Pergrine by hitting him in the head with a
stick. Thing pulls Vanguard’s hands apart, which drops his forcefield and then
takes him out in one punch. Thing criticizes Wolvie for using his nails in this
game which allowa Panther to make the fight more of a stalemate and while those
two keep each other busy, Thing walks over to the globe and wins for his team.

 

Chapter 4 – In the jungles of South America we get Storm,
Shamrock and Collective Man vs. Captain America, Saquatch and Blitzkrieg.
Again everyone separates with Collective Man spawning five clones to search faster.
In the air Blitzkrieg encounters Storm, he tries to imprison her in a
lightening cage but she makes it scatter with a thought. Cap and Shamrock meet
in the tree tops and she uses luck based powers to avoid his grasp. Collective
Man uses kung fu on a Sasquatch to no effect and gets punched away but lands on
his feet. He pulls his clones into him to increase his strength but even the
strength of five men is nothing to Sasquatch. Meanwhile Storm uses hurricane
winds to win her fight, while Shamrock summons a snake to battle Cap for her.
Sasquatch has Collective Man pinned so he summons the physical strength of the
entire population of China making him ridiculously strong. He then easily wins,
but passes out from the strain of channeling too much power. Blitzkrieg retrieves
Cap and makes him a flying platform. The two search but Shamrock finds the
globe through luck.

 

Back in space before the assembled heroes, Grandmaster has
won 3-1 but before he can claim his prize. Talisman confuses everyone to allow
Sue to take off the Unknown’s hood and reveal that she is Death. Death then
reveals that while the globe Grandmaster collected can resurrect Collector it
must be charged with another immortal’s lifeforce to do so, and Grandmaster agrees
forfeiting himself to Death so Collector can live and with that the heroes are
all returned to where they were plucked from.

 

Chapter 5 – The East and West Coast Avengers are playing
baseball against each other when Silver Surfer comes racing in to deflect a
bolt of cosmic energy. Alas he was only half-successful and the East Coast team
is all dead. Surfer takes the WCA to the Collector, who tells them the
Grandmaster has pulled the Avengers into Death’s realm in a bid to escape. He
gives them a poison potion so they can die and save their teammates, although
Firebird proves to be immune. Meanwhile in Death’s realm Grandmaster gives the
East Coast the same story in reverse blaming the Collector so when the WCA
arrives we get the inevitable super hero fight and with each team having seven members
they decide to split it into a series of individual battles while Surfer goes
looking for answers on his own. The East Coast team is Cap, Thor, She-Hulk,
Captain Marvel, Wasp, Dr. Druid and Black Knight while the West Coast team is
Hawkeye, Mockingbird, Tigra, Wonderman, Iron Man, Hank Pym and Moon Knight.

 

Iron Man vs. Captain Marvel – Tony tries his repulsor blast
but they go through C.M.’s energy form. She tries to short out his armor but he
counters by disrupting her wavelength. She reforms and resumes overloading his
armor but he takes the excess energy he’s absorbed from her and blasts her with
it for the win.

 

Mockingbird vs. Captain America – Mock goes on the attack
with her metal staff but Cap easily avoids and blocks with his shield. He lures
into thorn bushes and quickly disarms her but rather than hitting her Cap
retreats and leads her further into the thorns where her costume becomes
tangled and immobilizes her for the win.

 

Meanwhile Surfer finds Death but she doesn’t speak to him
before we cut to Pym vs. Wasp. At this time Pym is using shrunken weapons that
he reenlarges rather than changing size himself. Wasp shrinks and zaps hum a
bunch of times until Hank pulls out a shield. He then throws three flying laser
guns to chase after her. She hides behind his head and Hank gets hit with his
own lasers but when Wasp goes to check on him he stuns her with sleep gas while
revealing he’s immune to the lasers that he sent after her.

 

Wonderman vs Thor. They trade punches back and forth until
Thor throws his hammer at Simon to put him down.

 

Tigra vs Dr. Druid. Druid makes of illusions of monsters he
pretends to summon mystically but Tigra’s sense of smell clues her in. He
throws an illusion of a boulder at her and she sees through that too, but when
Druid then telekenicaticlly moves a real boulder at her she ignores it and it
lands on her tail. Then he possesses her while she’s trapped for the win.

 

Moon Knight vs Black Knight – Moon Knight tries to make it a
distance fight to avoid BK’s magic sword but anything MK throws at BK, BK cuts
in half.  MK manages to bola BK’s legs
but when he moves closer brandishing an axe, BK cuts both the axe and bola in
half. MK then lunges on the sword shouting “death before dishonor” and Dane
fears the sword’s curse has been activated but MK had done trickery with his
cape to only fake being impaled and uses the opening to konk BK on the head for
the win.

 

Hawkeye vs. She Hulk – With the teams tied 3-3 this is the
deciding battle. Clint hits her with a dynamite arrow and Jen replies by
throwing a boulder at him. Hawkeye dodges but She-Hulk closes the distance and
breaks his bow in half and tears his quiver off his costume. Clint lures her to
a rocky jetty and she breaks it and falls into a lake. Clint throws more
explosive arrows on her head to buy time and make a new bow. As She Hulk comes
up for air he fires a sleep gas arrow into her mouth for the win. The Avengers
go to confront the Grandmaster only to find out he’s imprisoned Death.

 

Chapter 6 – So the combined Avengers attempt to stop the Grandmaster
but he pushes them back with a wave of his hand, then explains how everything
going back to Contest of Champions was a plot to usurp Death’s power. Having
done that he creates five bombs that he intends to spread across the universe
that when detonated will destroy the entire universe. But true to his nature he
offers the Avengers a chance to stop him in a game: he will transport them to
the site of the bombs and then send members of the Legion of the Unliving after
them, the rules are the Avengers must disarm the bomb before the undead kill
them and/or it detonates.

 

Thor, Pym and Hawkeye then find themselves in Hades. They
are met by Nighthawk (former Defender with a winged flight suit and low level
super strength), the Executioner of Asgard and Swordsman (Hawkeye’s mentor and
a former Avenger).  Pym throws a grenade
at Nighthawk while Thor and Executioner go toe to toe and Hawkeye fires arrows
at Swordsman that he deflects with his sword. Pym uses a laser to clip
Nighthawk’s wings but it accidentally triggers a cave-in. Pym attempts to grow
a brace to hold the ceiling but Nighthawk fatally stabs Pym from behind with a
stalagmite. Thor and Hawkeye win their fights but the bomb is about to detonate
so Thor locks it in a vortex which costs him his life as well leaving Hawkeye
as the sole survivor.

 

 Captain Marvel,
She-Hulk, Moon Knight and Tigra find themselves on a tropical island with the
bomb floating in the sky. As the only flyer C.M. attempts to disarm it only to
be intercepted by Captain Mar-vell and Drax the Destroyer (cosmic heroes who
were key in stopping Thanos the first time out) both of whom have energy
absorbing powers that they attempt to use to rip Captain Marvel in half.
She-Hulk throws a tree to allow C.M. to escape. Drax and She-Hulk exchange
punches while Green Goblin arrives to attack Tigra and Moon Knight. Moon Knight
is actually doing well against the Goblin when Death Adder (former Serpent
Society member with fast-acting posion talons and tail spikes along with gills)
attacks Tigra and drags her into the ocean. C.M is using her speed (literally
light speed) to outmaneuver her predecessor and She-Hulk proves to be stronger
than Drax until he flies into orbit and dive bombs her breaking her back.
Goblin uses hallucinogenic gas to disorient Moon Knight and puts him down with
a laser blast from his glove. Tigra escapes to a tree and claws Death Adder
when he follows but as Adder falls his tail catches her and she’s poisoned.
C.M. successfully deactivates the bomb. Tigra and She-Hulk die after seeing
their team’s victory; but then the villains attack C.M. anyway and fatally
disrupt her energy form.


Silver Surfer is in deep space with his bomb when he finds Korvac (cosmic
powered foe of the Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy from the late 70s whose
story I’ve never read) awaiting him. Korvac fires energy bolts and asteroids at
Surfer to little effect but he’s protected the bomb in a forcefield that Surfer
is having trouble breaking. Surfer cracks the forcefield so Korvac jumps on Surfers
board and absorbs his cosmic power reverting Surfer to his mortal form while in
deep space. Surfer uses his dying will-power to collide his surfboard into the
bomb and deactivates it while destroying Korvac.

 

Iron Man, Dr. Druid, Mockingbird and Black Knight find
themselves in the ruins of an ancient alien civilization. They spread out to
search for the bomb and Dr. Druid finds himself attacked by Dracula.
Mockingbird meets Red Guardian (Russian version of Captain America) and they go
at it. Iron Man is attacked by Terrax (former Herald of Galactus) who throws a
mountain at him which Iron Man tries to deflect with his full power repuslors.
Black Knight meets the original Black Knight of King Arthur’s court (and who
possesses the same magic sword) and we get a sword fight. Druid meanwhile is trying
take on Dracula in a telepathic dual of wills while Mockingbird defeats Red
Guardian with her staff. Iron Man is wobbly and low on power when Terrax
attacks with the Power Cosmic which Iron Man absorbs and redeflects to take out
Terrax but the feedback destroys his armor. The two Black Knights are
stalemated while Dracula kills Druid. Tony in his underwear tries to disarm the
bomb while Mockingbird stands guard but when Dracula arrives he kills her with
ease which distracts Tony and the bomb detonates destroying one-fifth of the
universe.

 

Captain America, Wasp and Wonderman find themselves on a
frozen wasteland planet. They are attacked by Hyperion (Superman analog from
Squadron Supreme), Bucky and Baron Blood (Nazi vampire foe of Cap). Bucky goes
right for Cap and confronts him with guilt over allowing him to die in World
War II. Blood tries to catch Wasp but she is too small for him and then flies
into his ear to fire her lasers. Hyperion and Wonderman trade blows and Hyperion
is much stronger breaking Wonderman’s ribs with one of his punches. Wonderman
tries throwing icy boulders at him but Hyperion has heat vision to block. Cap
dropkicks Blood as he and Wasp trade partners and she gets Bucky on the run
with her laser blasts. Bucky backflips over her and punches her out of the sky.
Cap manages to stake Blood only to turn and see that Bucky squished Wasp like a
bug. Hyperion meanwhile flies Wonderman through the core of the planet, emerges
from the other side and tosses him into the sun. Cap finds the bomb, puts down
Bucky and successfully disarms it.

 

Cap and Hawkeye find themselves back before the Grandmaster
and compare notes on who they lost. Grandmaster then reveals all the dead
Avengers as members of the Legion of the Unliving and announces they will play
a second round with four more bombs. Hawkeye loses his sh*t seeing Mockingbird
dead and fires a ton of arrows at Grandmaster to no avail. Cap brings Hawkeye
to his senses and gives one of his where there’s life there’s hope speeches.
Hawkeye realizes they can’t win and challenges Grandmaster to a new game
wherein Hawkeye will place two arrows behind his back, one has one of his
modular special arrowheads and one is an ordinary arrow, Grandmaster must pick
the special arrow. Grandmaster asks why he should agree but Hawkeye goads him
by noting Grandmaster’s lived his whole life for games and here he can play a
game of blind chance for the fate of the entire universe. Grandmaster can’t
resist. He picks the wrong arrow and Death breaks free. She banishes
Grandmaster from her realm and the restores the Avengers to life in thanks. Cap
asks Hawkeye what he would have done if Grandmaster had picked the right arrow
to which Hawkeye responds Grandmaster did pick correctly but Hawkeye cheated
and snapped the modular arrow head off behind his back. Cap is shocked Hawkeye
would cheat while Hawkeye points out he wasn’t going to leave the fate of the
universe to chance. The two teams then resume their baseball game while the
Grandmaster watches them play from outer space.

 

Critical Thoughts: The
Contest of Champions story isn’t much of a story and I don’t just mean that it
is meaningless fight scenes because I can enjoy that type of story as the
second half of this review will show. It is because it is a bunch of fight
scenes made up mostly of heroes no one cares about. The trade includes notes to
explain this as the series was designed as tie-in to the Olympic Games hence
the creation of a whole bunch of new international heroes but that doesn’t explain
why all the new heroes are broad stereotypes with lame powers.

 

The Avengers story is every bit as excellent as I recall in
my youth. Oh sure I could quibble about why Death is so distracted by the
Avengers fight that Grandmaster can usurp her power, when the Avengers seem to
fight in a very orderly gentlemanly fashion with the seven one-on-one fights and
when those fights end Cap, Thor and Iron Man are like “okay Hawkeye your team
won 4-3 so we’ll follow your plan now.” But if you want a fun old-school 80s
comic when they knew how to choreograph good fight scenes this is the one to
buy. The Avengers a lot of fun and the Legion of the Unliving battle is for my
money one of the two greatest Avengers issues I’ve ever read (the other
involves Nebula and Spiderman in the early 300s by Fabian Niscieza).

 

I was also pleasantly surprised to learn Tom Deflaco wrote
the Legion of the Unliving issue, as he is not I name I usually think of as an
Avengers writer. I’ve already been of the opinion of late the Defalco is the
single greatest choreographer of fight scenes in Marvel history and finding out
he wrote this cements that view for me. (Some other Defalco classics include
Spidey , Silver Sable & Sand Man vs The Sinister Syndicate collected in the
Spidey vs. Silver Sable trade, Spiderman vs Firelord in ASM 268ish, Thing &
the Avengers vs. the entire Negative Zone in Marvel Two In One collected in
Essential MTIO volume 3, and a lot of Spidey-Hobgoblin battles in the 80s
including issue 275 plus he’s used Seth to great effect in Thor, Thunderstrike
and Spider Girl).

 

I also find that final chapter to be the definitive Hawkeye
story. It’s this story that made Hawkeye my second favorite Avenger of all
time. I love the contrast between him and Cap in the ending with Hawkeye being
willing to cheat to win. I also love how of all the powerhouses on the Avengers
in this story it’s the two most human members who are the last ones standing.

 

Anyway it’s a truly great story and if you like it you may
also want to check out Essential Silver Surfer volume 2 as it features the
second half of the Grandmaster’s plan in this story, wherein after being
banished by Death he is now truly immortal and he goes about collecting the
Infinity Gems and trying to kill Galactus.

 

Grade: The
Contest of Champions story in the C-/D+ range but I don’t care because the
Avengers story at the end gets the A+ from Christmas Story with the +’s going
around the room into infinity. So yea A+