TITLE: Contest of Champions – Vol. 1, Issue 1
YEAR: June 1982
COMPANY: Marvel Comics
Story by Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo, Steven Grant
Script by Bill Mantlo
Pencils by John Romita Jr.
It was 1982 and I was only a ten year old kid, with only a few dollars to spend on comic books.
I can actually remember it clearly, I left the party that my parents took me to, walked to the only store that sold comic books at the Navy Base and I picked up three comic books. An issue of “Fantastic Four”, “Iron Man” and “Contest of Champions”.
This series literally was the epitome of everything that was good at the time for a young Marvel fan, seeing the popular and iconic Marvel superheroes all on the front cover.
If it was available back then, I would have begged my mom to purchase a poster-sized version of this cover to hang up in my bedroom, because I loved it so much.
Reading it again in 2017, 35-years later is quite a trip. Memories of my childhood and buying this issue came back to mind but reading it again, I was quite content but I can’t deny there were quite a number of cheesy ’80s moments but also realized how much writers tried to fit in there, in terms of political context and sexual innuendo (as subtle it may be).
The first issue of “Contest of Champions” revolves around a wager that the the Grandmaster and a hooded being known as the Unknown has made.
In an effort to save his immortal brother known as “The Collector”, the Grandmaster waged that if he wins the “Contest of Champions”, his brother would be restored. If he loses, both he and his brother lose their powers and will be cast out to oblivion.
As Earth’s mightiest heroes (not including the immortal Inhumans, many Atlanteans or aliens) from all over the world are whisked away to an unknown place, the humans of Earth are put in a stasis. If the heroes do not fight, the humans will be kept suspended in time.
As far as cheesiness goes, you have the words of the time such as the Beast saying to Captain America “It’s just such a gas to be back in the Avengers Mansion”
Or Spider-Man saying it must be “kismet” for him and Spider-Woman to meet again. And immediately, I remembered saying to myself as a kid, “what is kismet?”.
It was quite interesting to see Shamrock and Captain Britain giving each other the eye. At the time, I didn’t understand the conflict between both countries. So, it was interesting to see that certain panel featured.
Also, to see Bobby Drake as the playboy that he was back then and his relationships with women. Of course, that is not the case for the Bobby Drake featured in the comic books now and with today’s comic books becoming more inclusive of races, sexuality, religion and readership reaching out to many demographics, the change of direction in today’s comic books is aligned with today’s social atmosphere.
And it made me think, what if “Contest of Champions” was released today. Would it be more darker? More violent? Would political lines between superheroes from other countries be more pronounced?
Needless to say, the chosen heroes to battle things out for this mini-series was rather interesting.
Even in 1982, writers were doing all they can to be inclusive, while staying within the Comics Code.
We have superheroes from various countries taking part in this battle, not just American superheroes.
From Russia’s Super Soldiers such as Darkstar and Vanguard, Canada’s Sasquatch, Japan’s Sunfire, China’s Collective Man, Ireland’s Shamrock, Britain’s Captain Britain, Saudi Arabia’s The Arabian Knight, Germany’s Blitzkrieg, Israel’s Sabra, Africa’s Black Panther, Argentina’s Defensor, France’s Perigrine and Australia’s Talisman to take part in the battle.
This is what caught my attention as a child, the fact that there were so many superheroes from other countries other than USA and Canada featured in a Marvel comic book. And even today, reading it again, I’m impressed with Marvel writers at the time pushing for an inclusion of superheroes from other countries for this limited series.
I know the battles don’t start until the next issue but still, this first issue of “Contest of Champions” is still an important part of my childhood.
If “Contest of Champions” does have any recognition in Marvel history, it was the first limited series for Marvel showcasing a major event that shook up the entire Marvel Universe.
And as many writers are pushing for inclusion of race, religion and sex, I think it’s been long overdue to see another major Marvel storyline to showcase superheroes from all over the globe in a single setting once again.