ANGEL, GHOST RIDER, BLACK WIDOW, & HERCULES
In wake of the success of the Avengers and the Defenders, in the ’70s, Marvel was looking for another big team-up book to push. In 1975, Tony Isabella and Don Heck introduced the Champions, a collection of two X-Men, two fan favorite solo acts, and a former Avenger. The team wasn’t really a smash success, running only 17 issues, before the team disbanded and the members were absorbed into other projects. They remained a favorite amongst die-hard fans, though, as well as having a pretty strong line-up, which led to them getting an Action Figure Express-exclusive boxed set in 2009.
THE FIGURES THEMSELVES
These four were released via AFX at SDCC 2009. They cover four of the five founding members. Sadly, we’ve never gotten a proper Iceman to match the other four, but there are a few stand-ins…anyway, onto the four we actually got!
We’d had two Archangels prior to this figure’s release, but this was the first proper Angel ‘mate. Angel notably had two distinct looks over the course of the series. This figure is based on the second, less dated of the two, which was a variant of his blue and white costume from the ‘60s. This is one of the character’s longest-lived looks, so it was definitely a well-deserved variant. The figure is built on the basic ‘mate body, so he’s 2 1/4 inches tall and has 14 points of articulation. He gets an extra two points via the ball-joints for the wings, which brings his count up to 16. Angel had four sculpted add-on pieces, for his hair/cowl, harness, and wings. The hair is a new piece (which would see re-use later down the line for two other Angel variants), and, aside from the cowl being a little bulky at the sides, it’s a good match for Angel’s style of the time. The harness is the same one first used on Archangel, with a new set of feathery wings attached to it. The new wings are a marked improvement over the DCD Hawkman wings, with greater size, greater posablity, and a far more durable point of connection. Angel’s paint is privy to its ups and its downs. The detail lines are all nice and sharp, and the face does a pretty great job of capturing Angel’s pretty-boy persona. The colors are all very bright, and match up with the comics in that regard. The big problem is with the application of the paint. The changes from red to white are particularly sloppy, and the yellow for the gloves and boots is too thin to fully cover the reds in some areas. It makes for a somewhat sloppy figure. Angel included no accessories, but with the wings, it’s not too much of a loss. I suppose an extra hair piece might have been nice.
The fourth Ghost Rider, and technically the second Johnny Blaze, this figure marks the first, and to date only, ‘mate of the classic incarnation of the character. Ghost Rider makes use of sculpted add-ons for his hair, collar, glove cuffs, and belt. His hair and cuffs are re-used, with the hair coming from the Series 8 Human Torch, and the cuffs being the rolled-up sleeves from the Spirit two-pack. At first glance, the collar looks to be the same one from the DCD Star Sapphire, but it’s not quite the same. The belt is likewise a new piece for this set. The collar sits a little high on the torso, and hides his neck, which looks a little off. Otherwise, the parts make for a pretty solid recreation of Ghost Rider. Ghost Rider’s paint is a marked improvement on Angel. Perhaps it’s the variations of blue helping matters, but application seems to be cleaner and sharper than it was on Angel. The new head also does a tremendous job of handling GR’s flaming skull, doing it in a much more pleasing way than prior variants had handled it. Accessories are pretty much going to be the failing point of any Ghost Rider Minimate ever, since contractually he can’t have the Hellcycle that actually makes him a “rider.” As the classic version of the character, this one’s even lighter than other variations of the character, since he didn’t yet have the usual chain whip. This one instead just gets a flame effect piece, which is certainly better than nothing.
This set marked Black Widow’s Minimate debut, and she served as a prominent selling point for a lot of people. Like the others, she’s seen here in her classic ‘70s garb. Not quite as timeless as some of the others in the pack, but a very good choice nevertheless. Widow has four sculpted add-on pieces; one for the hair, two for the widow’s stingers, and one for the belt. Apart from the belt, which is shared with the Ghost Rider from this set (and let’s be honest, was really designed for her and re-used on him), all of her pieces were new. Sharp detailing, and good recreation of her look from the comics. Widow’s paint is by far the best in the set. The shiny black for the body suit looks really spiffy, and the detailing on the torso is an amazing feat in adding dimension to a flat torso block. The face could perhaps stand to be a little more emotive, but it still feels true to the character. There are no accessories for Widow in this set, which is a bit of shame, but not totally surprising, since Widow’s primary means of attack at the time was her widow’s stingers.
Like Black Widow, Hercules made his Minimate debut in this set, though unlike her he’s yet to get a follow-up. There are a number of options when it comes to Herc’s design. This one is the one he was sporting for the entirety of his time with the Champions, and it had just gotten a revival right around the time of this figure’s release, courtesy of Herc’s role during World War Hulk and its subsequent fall-out. Hercules has five add-on pieces, for his hair, his chest cap, his wrist bands, and his skirt. The hair piece is new to Herc, and it’s a really goof piece. The detailing on the hair is quite sharp, and the flow to his hair is quite realistic. The rest of the parts are re-use, with the torso coming from the Wave 22 Hulk, the wrist bands coming from the DCD Ocean Master, and the skirt coming from the Star Trek line. It’s an okay combination of parts, but not one that’s held up the best. The chest cap in particular was always rather flawed design, with the shoulders in particular giving the whole thing a rather strange appearance. As one of those sort of in-between characters size-wise, DST was undeniably in a tough as to how to handle him. Herc’s paintwork is fairly decent work. The face captures Herc’s likeness well (though I might have liked something a bit more intense or angry, following after the cover to The Champions #1), and has a lot of detailing in the brow and beard in particular. The rest of the details are pretty well defined, but the orange and green sections of the skirt could probably have stood to get an outline, if nothing more than to match the strap on his torso. Hercules was packed with his club, which was a newly sculpted piece. It follows the comics design well. It can be stowed on his back, which is a cool touch.
THE ME HALF OF THE EQUATION
I’ve never been to SDCC, so it follows that I wasn’t there in-person to get this in 2009. Fortunately, AFX was good about getting their exclusives up online, so I was able to secure myself a set without much trouble. I was happy to get this set, because I’ve always really liked the Champions, and I’m excited for any recognition they get. Apart from the lack of accessories, I think Widow is this set’s strongest offering, and still holds up as one of the best variants of the character. Angel is a very good ‘mate held back only by some issues with paint application. Had the paint been a little better, he would have been darn near perfect. As is, he’s just close to it. Ghost Rider is yet another version of the character that’s missing his cycle, but at least this is a solid ‘mate in his own right. Herc’s not the strongest figure in the set, and is somewhat compromised by some of the pieces used for him. Still, he’s far from a bad offering, and rounds out the set quite nicely.