Champions #2

Issue Date: 
January 1976
Story Title: 
Whom The Gods Would Join...

Tony Isabella (writer), Don Heck (penciler), John Tartag (inker), Phil Rache (colorist), Irv Watanabe (letterer), Marv Wolfsman (editor)

Brief Description: 

Pluto has made a pact with several other death-gods and rulers of the Netherrealms, and blackmails Zeus by threatening an attack on Olympus. Knowing that not even Olympus could withstand a war with several domains of the Dead, and that the universe itself would be threatened should Olympus fall, Zeus has no other option but to accept Pluto’s demands, which is that Hercules and Venus are to be wed to his close allies, Ares and Hippolyta. Little does Zeus suspect that this is just a clever plan to bind the sole two Olympians capable of stopping Pluto’s schemes from doing so, for an ancient law forbids husband and wife to confront each other in battle. When Pluto and his allies travel to Earth and approach Venus and Hercules (along with the rest of the Champions), they refuse to believe Pluto and start a fight. The heroes barely manage to drive them off and Iceman seals off the portal the villains came through with a block of ice. However, it isn’t over yet, for Pluto returns to Olympus and demands from Zeus that Hercules and Venus are ordered to comply. Once more having no other option left, Zeus deploys the Huntsman, the sole being capable of overpowering any Olympian, and sends him after the Champions. Already with his first strike, he renders Hercules and Venus unconscious. While the Ghost Rider remains to guard these two, the Black Widow, Angel and Iceman try to tackle the Huntsman by themselves. During the fight, the Widow quickly establishes herself as leader of the group and, using effective teamwork, the three heroes manage to defeat Menoetius, a Titan composed of living energy and summoned by the Huntsman. However, the heroes are then outsmarted by the Huntsman, who teleports them back to the Ghost Rider and creates the illusion of them being Pluto, Ares and Hippolyta. Perceiving this to be another attack, the Ghost Rider fires at his own teammates, knocking them out. In the confusion, the Huntsman takes Hercules and Venus and teleports away with them. The remaining Champions wonder what to do, as they, as mere mortals, have no way to go to Olympus.

Full Summary: 

On the campus of U.C.L.A., six gathered heroes - the Angel, Iceman, Venus, Hercules, Black Widow and Ghost Rider – stare in disbelief at the three figures that have stepped out of a glowing energy portal that materialized right in front of them. Hercules and Venus are well familiar with them, for the three are none other than Ares, the Olympian Gods of War, Pluto, the Olympian God of Death, and Hippolyta, green-tressed Queen of the Amazons. Pluto explains that they have come because of a decree of Zeus, the ruler of the Olympian Gods: Before the day is done, Hercules shall wed Hippolyta to forever serve her, and Venus is supposed to marry Ares. If either one resists, the universe will die.

Venus wonders if he could be speaking the truth, whereas Hercules is convinced that his father, Zeus, would never condemn him or his cousin to such fate. He accuses Pluto of being a liar and angrily storms forward, but he never reached the God of Death, for Pluto lets Ares deal with the situation and he punches Hercules in the gut. Just as Ares teases Hercules about his half-human heritage, the demigod recovers and returns the blow that was just landed on him. Hippolyta now gets involved, and she warns Hercules that whoever strikes her allies must also face her sword, although she has no desire to harm her “husband to be.” Being addressed with these words annoys the Olympian even more and, while he slams Ares right into Hippolyta, he angrily yells that he would rather marry all three of the Gorgons rather than her.

The two lackeys being dealt with, Hercules’ attention shifts back to Pluto, ready to battle him. The god of death has only laughs for him, though, for as soon as Hercules makes contact with him, he weakens. Pluto easily overpowers Hercules and holds him in some sort of wrestling grip, reminding the demi-god that battle is betwixt equals, and that Hercules is far from being on the same level of power as Pluto. Seeing their comrade in danger, Angel, Iceman and Ghost Rider want to help him, however the Black Widow stops them. She reasons that, even with Venus on their side, they can’t withstand the power of Pluto. However, she has a different plan how to help their friend.

Meanwhile, Hercules has passed out, and Pluto has dragged him into the portal, while gloating that the Olympian Avenger must have some lack of memory for having forgotten about the unbreakable Olympian contract he signed that renders his powers useless against Pluto. Right then, Angel and the Ghost Rider start an attack on Pluto, but he sees them coming and releases a force blast against the two, by merely raising his hands in the air. The blast has a devastating effect: the Ghost Rider is knocked of his bike, and Angel out of the sky.

Their attack was only meant as a distraction, though, and, while Pluto was not looking, Venus and the Black Widow dragged Hercules out of the portal, back to safety again. Iceman uses his powers to seal off the glowing portal, to stop Pluto and his comrades from pursuing them. Still, the heroes fear that the ice-shield won’t hold for long and, with Hercules still out cold, the Black Widow suggests for them to clear the area until he recovers. No sooner said than done and, while Iceman carries most of the others on his ice-ramp, he can’t help but think that, in spite of what they have just gone through, Warren seems more together than in months.

On the other side of the now-blocked portal, Ares pounds on the ice-shield with his blade, but it doesn’t break. Hippolyta urges Pluto to help break the barrier, as otherwise they can’t pursue their foes, but the god of death declares this an unnecessary effort, for Hercules and Venus will never submit to them. That’s also the reason why he has already returned their defeated allies to Olympus. Pluto reasons that there is only one person who can compel Hercules and Venus to obey, and so he decides that they have to leave and seek an audience with Zeus, as after all it was his “wish” that they would be married.

(partially flashbacks)
No sooner said than done, with one gesture does Pluto teleport himself and his two allies to Olympus, right in front of Zeus and some other gods assembled there. Zeus is rather unhappy with this intrusion, and exclaims that it is already enough that Pluto has led him to betray his own son; he doesn’t want to be bothered by the sight of the god of death. Pluto remains calm, though, and simply reminds Zeus that the balance of power in the universe has shifted somewhat. Zeus knows what Pluto is referring to, but that doesn’t stop the god of death from repeating his tale of how he realized that other rulers of the dead throughout the dimensions might have felt oppressed by their peers, and how he contacted them about forming an alliance. Some refused most haughtily, but the majority welcomed Pluto’s offer with open arms. A pact was made, and Pluto claims that the rulers of the dead seek nothing but peace and security. He reminds Zeus that not even Olympus could withstand an attack by this alliance for long, not that this is what he and his allies are intending. All he desires in exchange for continued harmony between Olympus and Hades, is that two of Zeus’ loyal subjects to be wed to Ares and Hippolyta. Pluto concludes his narration with the statement that marriages have been arranged with far less cause.

Zeus answers that Pluto well knows that, if Olympus falls, the universe would soon share its fate, and this is the only reason for why he agreed to Pluto’s demand. The Lord of the Underworld couldn’t care less for Zeus’ reasons, all he insists on is that Venus and Hercules will be made to abide Zeus’ command into marriage. Zeus’s temper gets the better of him; he smashes the landing of the balcony he is standing on and says that they will abide, but then threatens Pluto – if there is any further deceit on his part, he will feel Zeus’ wrath like no man or god has ever felt it before. He then storms away into the palace, leaving a grinning Pluto behind.

Of course these marriages aren’t all he desires, they are just one step on the way to reach his goal. There is a certain law, one that Zeus himself inscribed, which says that wife may not oppose husband, nor husband wife. By wedding Hercules and Venus to his loyal allies, Pluto binds the sole two Olympians who could prevent his attempt to overthrow Zeus. Just of the thought of replacing Zeus is enough to make Pluto gloat, Hippolyta and Ares further encouraging him.

Back on Earth, Hercules has recovered, and the gathered heroes are talking about the situation. Iceman and the Angel still feel a bit out of their league – a goddess posing as a university professor standing right next to them, and it having been the Grecian god of the Underworld who just kicked their tails. The Black Widow wants to correct Iceman on that statement, but Bobby points at the Ghost Rider, who is driving by, and reminds the others of how Pluto blasted him and his bike about thirty yards. Hercules asks what the Ghost Rider has discovered while scouting around on the campus, and he tells him that all of their opponents from Greek mythology have disappeared, just like the glowing energy portals they came through.

Hearing the bad news, Hercules gets angry. He wonders out loud what evil game Pluto is playing with him, or who else could be behind the attacks. Warren tries to calm him down, reasoning that they have only Pluto’s word for Zeus’ involvement. Iceman agrees with his friend, after all Pluto didn’t seem to be the most trustworthy. Hercules doesn’t believe them, though, for they have no conception of Zeus’ power. It is so overwhelming that nobody, not even the Lord of Hades, would dare to use his name in falsehood, he claims.

But there is one who is freely given to call upon the name of Zeus! For he is the only being in all the cosmos to be endowed with a fraction of thy father’s matchless energy!” someone answers from above. The heroes look up and Venus immediately recognizes him as the Huntsman – the one creature that no Olympian can conquer. Iceman is surprised and questions how such a skinny guy could pose any threat. The Huntsman tells him not to disparage his physical appearance and that, besides his Zeus-given abilities he now also commands the flaming weapons of Pluto as well.

To prove his words right, the Huntsman throws a flaming spear at the gathered heroes, capable of paralyzing those it strikes. The six heroes are engulfed in mystic fire and, indeed, they can’t move – all but one. The Ghost Rider feels that his satanic power is protecting him, and he decides to use his own fire powers against his unsuspecting opponent. The Huntsman is hit by the hellfire bolt, and is knocked out of the sky.

His power disrupted, Angel, Iceman and Black Widow are free again, however Hercules and Venus are both unconscious. The Widow reasons that the Huntsman’s weapon must be most effective against Olympians. Warren doesn’t like that one bit, for the way the Huntsman blinked out before hitting the ground, it’s obvious that he isn’t defeated yet. Iceman tries to revive Hercules and Venus with some cold-compresses, but it’s no use – they won’t wake up. Warren answers that then it’s just the four of them who have to battle the Huntsman, but the Widow corrects him – just the three of them. She explains that, as the Ghost Rider is the only one who can withstand the Huntsman’s spears, she wants him to stay with their unconscious friends and guard them. None of the males can argue with that, and Warren comments on it looking like as if the Widow has become their team leader in record time. In a frosty tone, she questions if that is an objection, but he quickly says that he doesn’t have any problem with that. In fact, she is a darned sight more attractive than the last team leader he worked with.

That settled, the Black Widow, Iceman and the Angel depart and have soon spotted the Huntsman nearby. Recognizing his pursuers, the Huntsman thinks himself a fool for having trusted in Pluto’s devices and prepares to use his Zeus-created staff to battle the heroes. Holding the glowing staff in front of him, the Huntsman recites a certain enchantment:
Slain by Zeus’ dread thunderfire –
Rebel thou were and so thou you died –
But now, o Titan from Hades’ mire –
Arise to do battle at my side!

No sooner has he finished the spell than does a giant figure appear, four times as big as the average human, his entire body alit, glowing with crackling energy. His pitch-black, inhuman eyes burn with hatred and rage. This is Menoetius. In the early days of Zeus’ reign, he and his fellow Titans went to war against Olympus, and Menoetius was felled by one of Zeus’ awesome bolts; so awesome that it transformed portions of the giant’s own flesh into living energy. Forced into obedience by the Huntsman’s summoning, Menoetius attacks the three attacking heroes and tries to grab the flying Angel.

Iceman lends his fellow mutant a hand and zaps the giant with a frost blast from behind, which shows next to no effect. Menoetius turns and, more annoyed than actually harmed, he releases a burst of energy towards Bobby, shattering his ice-ramp. Still the long hours training in the X-Men’s Danger Room weren’t wasted, for Iceman manages to form a second slide in mid-fall, and he even comes back fighting, now making the ground slippery with his ice. Menoetius topples and falls backwards.

Meanwhile, the Black Widow has climbed up a nearby building, well aware that the victory is only temporary; while for now Menoetius can’t regain his footing, his intense energy will melt the ice in no time. Remembering her past experience with fighting electrical empowered opponents, the Widow comes up with a more permanent solution. She wraps her spare web-line around a steel flagpole, and tosses the other end into the smoldering mixture of fury and ice.

The results are devastating; Menoetius is struck down in the short-circuit, followed directly by the Huntsman receiving a similar shock. Strangely, his staff that is made of Olympian wood, is conductive. Forced to let go of his staff, the Huntsman can only watch as the Angel grabs his weapon and flies away with it, out of his range. The heroes believe themselves victorious, now that the Huntsman can’t conjure up some other creatures, and prepare themselves for engaging him in a direct battle. However, they have underestimated the Huntsman yet again. With a few gestures, he taps into his own powers and teleports the three heroes in front of him away.

Nearby, the Ghost Rider is still watching over the unconscious Venus and Hercules. He doesn’t like waiting, while the others fight, when suddenly there’s a strange glow in the air. A portal forms and, from its center, the Ghost Rider see three figures approach – Ares, Pluto and Hippolyta, all charging forward. Ares wonders what has happened to the Huntsman, while Pluto says that they are back where they left the Ghost Rider. Hippolyta wonders why he doesn’t see to be recognizing them. Not willing to let the three Olympians make another grab for Hercules and Venus, the Ghost Rider blasts at them, nailing them all with on blast. However, as the three collapse on the ground, their forms change, and the revert to their true looks – Iceman, Angel and Black Widow.

The Huntsman not only teleported the three heroes, he also created illusionary disguises around them. While the Ghost Riders is still in shock over having possibly killed his friends, the Huntsman sneaks up from behind, and knocks him over with a punch to the back of his head. Also having regained his staff, the Huntsman then teleports away with Venus and Hercules. His parting words are “Rejoice, o’ humans! This day there be weddings most auspicious in fabled Olympus!

Seconds later, the remaining heroes come around. Iceman blames the Huntsman getting away on the Ghost Rider, who now no longer has his flaming skull appearance but has reverted back to hum. Bobby angrily questions where his ghost tricks are now, now that he has screwed everything up for Hercules and Venus. Johnny Blaze tries to explain that he only turns into Ghost Rider when there is some danger present. Bobby is still mad and says that, with Pluto having got what he wanted, the danger has sure passed. The Black Widow tries to comfort Johnny Blaze and tells him not to blame himself, they can track down the Huntsman and rescue the two Gods. Johnny knows better, though, and asks how four mortals should track somebody to Olympus. None of the heroes has an answer, and they fall quiet.

Characters Involved: 

Angel, Black Widow, Ghost Rider, Hercules, Iceman (all Champions)

Ares, Pluto, Venus, Zeus, several others (all Gods of Olympus)
Hippolyta, queen of the Amazons
The Huntsman

In flashbacks:
several other rulers of the Netherrealms

Story Notes: 

The cover wrongly portrays Hippolyta with brown hair. Actually, it’s green.

The Gorgons are three sisters from Greek mythology, who usually are portrayed as half-human beasts, whose hideous sight could turn a person, most particularly men, to stone just by looking at them. Medusa is the most famous of the three, the names of the two other sisters being Stheno and Euryale. That Hercules prefers rather marrying them rather than Hippolyta is definitely not a compliment.

In one of Hercules' sojourns on Earth, Pluto appeared on Earth the guise of Hayden P. Hellman (nicknamed "Mr. Pluto"), a movie producer at California's Stardust Studio. Thus disguised, Pluto had the naive Hercules sign a contract that Hercules believed was for appearing in a project film. But in fact, it was an Olympian contract binding Hercules to become Pluto's successor as ruler of Hades. Having signed the contract, Hercules was unable to battle Pluto on his own behalf, but the Asgardian god Thor fought against Pluto's forces to free Hercules. Shocked by the massive destruction wreaked in Hades by Thor, Pluto realized that he loved his kingdom and could not bear to forsake it. Pluto therefore released Hercules from the contract. [note taken from the Marvel Directory] Apparently, Pluto just released Hercules from having to become his successor, whereas the inability to battle Pluto remained intact.

The origin of the Huntsman is so far unrevealed, and he has no counterpart in Grecian Mythology. In Marvel Comics, he first appeared in Ka-Zar (1st series) #1. Apparently, the Huntsman was created by Zeus, with the purpose to keep the Olympian Gods in check, should they turn against him. When he is first called, the Huntsman mentions that it’s been a long time since he has been summoned, maybe centuries, if not millennia.

The previous team leader that the Angel refers to is, of course, Cyclops of the X-Men.

In Greek mythology, the name “Menoetius” refers to several different people. Meant here is obviously the son of the Titan Iapetus and the Oceanid Clymene, who was struck down by Zeus with a lightning bolt for being insolent to him.

The Black Widow mentions to have experience battling “living lightning bolts.” She is referring to Electro, whom she encountered in Daredevil (1st series) #89.

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