Greetings from the Odinson,
This is the one that started it all, boys and girls. Before Secret Empire, before House of M, before Age of Apocalypse, and even before Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars there was Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions!
The Odinson Celebrates the 35th Anniversary of the Very First Marvel Limited Series/Big Event: Contest of Champions
Contest of Champions was the very first Marvel limited series that featured a companywide gathering of its greatest champions. The Elder of the Universe known as the Grandmaster challenges another mysterious cosmic entity to a game. A game with the immortal soul of the Collector hanging in the balance. The Collector, also an Elder of the Universe, was slain during The Korvac Saga. So, every single super hero in the world was magically transported to an arena in space and from their ranks, the cosmic contestants choose their teams to compete for the prize. And, when I say every single super hero, I mean every single super hero. That double-page-Splash page in Contest of Champions #1 by John Romita, Jr. is absolutely eat-your-heart-out-George Perez beautiful!
The actual plot is really quite simple when compared to some of today’s modern Big Events. However, this original Big Event limited series had many surprises, spectacular moments, and even some moments that would pay big dividends down the road.
The Seeds of the Illuminati – Like Avengers #88 and Incredible Hulk #140, Contest shows us the Illuminati hard at work trying to control the course of Marvel History years before Brian Michael Bendis revealed their presence and purpose in the pages of New Avengers #7. When the heroes are kidnapped, Mister Fantastic, Iron Man, Professor X, and Doctor Strange are seen conversing, with Prince Namor and Black Bolt also close by. Isn’t it peculiar how these four particular heroes with seemingly nothing in common suddenly find themselves quite familiar with each other under these circumstances?
Daredevil vs. Iron Fist – This, admittedly, is simply a guilty pleasure. Just seeing two of the Marvel Universe’s greatest hand-to-hand combatants throwing down is just pure entertainment.
Wolverine vs. the Marvel U – Contest of Champions marked one of the earliest interactions (by publication if not continuity) between Wolverine and other Marvel super heroes, and, as was the case many times early in Logan’s career, he didn’t go out of his way to endure himself to his fellow heroes. The only other times that preceded this one, were his first appearance in Incredible Hulk #180-181, a showdown one year earlier with Doctor Doom in Uncanny X-Men #145-147 and a team-up only one month earlier with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up #117. Contest also featured a gruff exchange between Logan and Ben Grimm that would plant the seeds for their future rivalry (which played out in Fantastic Four vs. X-Men and Fantastic Four #374 and 395). However, one of the true gems of this classic is seeing two of the most dangerous men alive, Wolverine and the Black Panther, not holding back and tearing into each other.
Diversity/Knowledge – One of the main reasons this Limited Series is unique, other than its premiere status, is that it expands Marvel’s pantheon of heroes and shows that the world is bigger and holds more heroes than just the super heroes in the Big Apple. Giant-Size X-Men #1 introduced an eclectic group of heroes from around the globe – Wolverine (Canada), Storm (Africa), Nightcrawler (Germany), Colossus (Russia), Sunfire (Japan), and Banshee (Ireland) – as well as the Native American Thunderbird. The Marvel fans also knew about Alpha Flight from Canada, the Soviet Super Soldiers from Russia, and the Native American hero Red Wolf. However, the original Contest of Champions expanded Marvel’s already diverse and global roster of heroes even more.
Readers were introduced to the high-flying Peregrine from France. The Aboriginal mystic known as Talisman from Australia. The mighty Defensor from Argentina. The emerald clad Shamrock from Ireland. The legendary Sabra from Israel. The magic carpet-riding Arabian Knight from Saudi Arabia. The electrifying Blitzkrieg from West Germany. And, perhaps the Odinson’s favorite, the Collective Man from China, a hero with the ability to call upon the strength and fortitude of his countrymen. Just imagine, the ability to call forth the strength of a billion souls.
Plus, at the back of each of the three issues in the limited series was an alphabetical listing of Marvel characters, a brief dossier, and a notation of their first appearance. This could be said to be the precursor to the soon to be standard and much beloved treasure chest of information known as the Handbook to the Marvel Universe.
By the end of the Contest of Champions, the Grandmaster’s team proved victorious but his triumph would come with a dire cost. His opponent, now revealed to be Death itself, explained that an immortal soul like the Collector’s could only be exchanged for another of equal value. So, though the Grandmaster succeeded in saving his fellow Elder, he was forced to take his place in death.
This delicious little twist led to a fantastic sequel called The Contest.
In The Contest, Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, the East Coast and West Coast Avengers, joined by the Silver Surfer, enter the realm of Death to face down the Grandmaster. It seems the Elder had somehow usurped control of the afterworld and imprisoned Death itself. Now, the Avengers must engage in a harrowing contest against a cadre of the most powerful dead heroes and villains in Marvel’s history in order to not just save their souls, but the entire cosmos.
It is truly a clash of titans for the ages.
Though our heroes prove triumphant in the end, thanks to the quick wits of Hawkeye, the aftermath sees Death forever banishing the Elders of the Universe from her realm which makes them true immortals. That fact carries over into The Elder’s Plot, a classic Silver Surfer Tale I talked about last week, and the follow up to that tale in the pages of Silver Surfer #15-18.
The Elders of the Universe are quite an interesting clan of troublemakers. Every time they get involved with the affairs of Marvel’s heroes entertainment is sure to follow. The Odinson will delve deeper into their story more in the future.
Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions – 35 years ago, it was the first ever Marvel Comics limited Series event. Though it was simplistic in its execution, it was nonetheless highly entertaining, and, from sequels – The Contest, Contest of Champions II, and Contest of Champions (2015) – to its revelation – the Illuminati – to its broadening of the Marvel Universe – both in diversity and knowledge, its legacy can still be felt to this day.
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell