Contest of Champions (1982)

Let's have a quick look at 1982's three-issue limited series Contest of Champions. (Apparently, it's been adapted as a game for your mobile, due out in 2015.)

I almost wasn't going to write this post, but I didn't want to have advertised another "coming soon" blog post and not follow through on it. So, here we are. (I'm a terrific salesman.)

As a kid I only came aboard for the third and last issue:

That was okay, though, as in those days, comics were designed to catch anyone up to speed at any entry-point. 

While I'd never read the first two issues until just today, I did have this picture up on my wall. I'm not sure how - I can only imagine it was advertised somewhere and I clipped it. 

Some background courtesy of supermegamonkeymind:

"The story behind this mini-series is that it was originally created to be a Marvel Treasury Edition intended to coincide with the 1980 Olympics. But the project was abandoned when the US pulled out of the Olympics in protest of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. But, no one told inker Pablo Marcos. So, a few years later, he turned in the art on the pages he'd received so far, and editor Tom DeFalco and Mark Gruenwald scrambled to determine what to do with it. A number of changes had to be made to bring characters up to date with the developments of the past two years (that's why Bob Layton gets art credits on the first issue.) But the story got finished by the original creative team and was published as a 3-issue limited series - the first limited series that Marvel published."

What struck me most this time around is how little actually happens. The Grandmaster and a mysterious purple-robed figure transport all of Earth's heroes to the orbiting arena pictured above, then pick two dozen of them to stage a contest.  

If the Grandmaster's team wins, his brother, the Collector (killed in the Korvac saga from Shooter's run on The Avengers) is restored to life. If the mysterious figure's team wins, the Grandmaster dies. If the heroes don't fight, the Earth will be held in suspended animation for all eternity.

Quick word on this "unknown figure." 

The big reveal is that the Grandmaster's opponent is Death. Hasn't Death in the Marvel Universe always appeared in a purple hooded robe? I think everyone there who has seen Death would recognize her, don't you think? It'd be like if Captain America tried to hide the fact that he was Captain America by tying a handkerchief around his mouth while staying in his costume.

Good thing Doctor Strange wasn't there. (EDIT: See below.)

Many of the characters are suddenly introduced, to round out the Marvel universe's international profile.
I don't know if any of them ever came back around in later Marvels; anyone?
This guy certainly did.

Also introduced is an interesting character called Talisman: 

an Australian aboriginal not to be confused with the later Alpha Flight character.
Alpha Flight is shown spirited away for the games, as well, but Talisman had yet to materialize (as had Alpha Flight's monthly series.)
Talisman (Elizabeth Twoyoungmen) first appeared in issue 19. I know.
Most of the international heroes we see that weren't created especially for Contest of Champions were introduced during Mantlo's run on Incredible Hulk.
Such as the Arabian Knight and Sabra.
Or the Soviet Super Soldiers.
I'd watch a Talisman, Soviet Super Soldiers, and/or an Arabian Knight and Sabra show. In a heartbeat. Netflix! Get on this. 

I chuckled at the anachronistic offense of Wolverine calling Black Panther - Marvel's foremost African superhero - "blacky."


Granted, he's doing this a la the Stan Lee school, i.e. having characters refer to one another through variations of their alias. (Caps, Wolvie, Spidey, etc.) But that sure jumps off the page in 2014, doesn't it? Somewhere, a college band is naming itself The Racist Wolverines.

So the two teams battle various times, and the winners acquire what look like giant-sized Trivial Pursuit wedges or half-wheels of cheese.

The weirdest part about it all is that although the Grandmaster claims victory, it's actually a tie; both teams end up with two of the four pieces. 

Mark Gruenwald addressed this in the lettercol for Avengers #228: "And speaking of No-Prizes, this editorial office recently awarded over 1000 of them to those nimble-eyed Marvel mavens who caught the scorekeeping error in Contest of Champions #3... Guess Death had the game rigged even more than we thought, letting Grandmaster win when he actually only tied."

As that Supermegamonkeymind site (aforelinked) details, this was conceptual precursor to the mega-crossovers to come. 

Hell, Secret Wars is practically an out-and-out reboot.
And like those, it caused some problems with continuity-minded folk - this next section For Comics Kamikaze Madmen Only:

"It has to take place with the Hulk is still "dumb" (so, before Hulk #269.) It has to take place after the X-Men return from space (Uncanny X-Men #167) and before Ka-Zar gets shot in the head (Ka-zar the Savage #18.) And it has to take place after the Black Knight returns to the present day in Avengers #226. 

But the biggest conundrum is presented by the Defenders. Beginning in Defenders #106, the team is away in another dimension. Half of the team, including the Hulk, Sub-Mariner, and Dr. Strange (all of whom appear in this series *) do not return until Defenders #115. But Nighthawk dies in issue #106, and the Devil-Slayer goes to jail some time after Defenders #110. Captain America #268 takes place directly before Defenders #106 and Captain America #276 takes place before Fantastic Four #250, which must take place before Uncanny X-Men #167. (Given the cross-overs of characters between these titles.) And the X-Men issue must take place before Contest of Champions

We'd like the whole run of Defenders #106-115 to take place before Contest of Champions, so that Nighthawk can still be alive and Devil-Slayer not incarcerated, but due to the above chain of events, it's just not possible."

* Guess he was there after all! Actually, very sloppy work on my part, as he's only on the freaking cover of issue 1, as well as in at least one of the crowd scenes.

Pardon the obtrusive arrow, left. I don't like how it came out.
I actually looked up all the events in the issues mentioned to see what he meant, and he is absolutely correct. It's too convoluted to get into - posting the above is probably convolution enough - but I tip my cap to good police work.

All in all, Contest of Champions is a pretty scant piece of work, but I certainly read issue #3 enough during my formative years, so I remember it as more epic than it actually is. And I could access it via reading, so hey! Win for me. Nevertheless, its status as forerunner of the innumerable limited series and crossover events that came in its wake assures it a place in comics history.


  1. I thought I recognized Shamrock. She appears, among other places, in ROM 65. I ran across her when I finished up my run of ROM recently.

    Turns out she lost her powers and became hairdresser to superheroes.

    1. That is such an unexpected twist - I kind of love it. Very entertaining.

  2. Any Marvel comic that includes an appearance by Sasquatch is okay in my book.

    I'd never ever heard of this one, though. Seems kind of cheesy, but in that wonderful way that lets most Marvel of that era off the hook with me.

    1. Sasquatch had a cool visual, eh? I have all the Alpha Flights, but an attempt at a re-read a few years back didn't do much for me.

      (V. 1, I mean, the one from the 80s - I don't know what happened to them or anyone else, really, after that.)

    2. I never actually read anything with him in it except his entry in the Marvel Encyclopedia or whatever. But visually, yeah, he always appealed to me.

      My favorite thing you talk about here is all the superpowered people from "foreign" countries. I'm a sucker for stuff like that. It's always fun to think that every country has it superheroes/villains -- like, who's the Superman of Monaco, you know?

    3. Another show I'd totally watch. Hopefully he'd have some kind of strategic partnership with the Superman of Monte Carlo, as well. Think of the location shooting! It'd be beautiful.