The original Contest of Champions was nominally the original Civil War, pitting a multitude of Marvel heroes against each other for a cosmic-level reward.
One of the most stable elements of the Marvel Universe is the tendency for heroes to come to blows at major events, with a history rich in heroes who clash. And in 1982, the very first Marvel limited series even centered such a conflict at the heart of the story.
Contest of Champions by Mark Gruenwald, John Romita Jr. and Bob Layton may have been a light entry into the history of Marvel events – but it also helped set the precedent that future stories like Civil war would use to pit the heroes of the Marvel Universe against each other in combat.
The original Contest of champions pitted the Grand Master against an enigmatic figure called only the Unknown. A powerful and mysterious entity, the two have decided to settle the fate of the eldest of the universe’s grand master, the collector. Each would select a group of competitors from among the large number of superheroes in the Marvel universe, with the express mission of collecting the pieces of the Golden Globe of Life. A victory for the Grand Master would bring the Collector back to life. Defeat would cause the great master to join his brother in death. As an additional prize for heroes participating in the conflict, a victory for the Grandmaster ensures that he will never interfere with humanity again – while the Unknown promises to extend the lifespan of Earth’s sun from million years if its champions win.
To ensure the hero’s participation, however, Earth is kept in suspended animation – with the threat that if the heroes don’t rebuild the Golden Globe of Light from the pieces, this Earth will remain in such a state for the rest of the time. Quickly, the teams are assembled – the Grandmaster selecting Captain Britain, Captain America, Daredevil, Darkstar, Defensor, Peregrine, Talisman, Sasquatch, She-Hulk, Thing, Wolverine and Blitzkrieg as his champions, while the Unknown chooses Angel, Arabian Knight, Black Panther, Collective Man, Invisible Woman, Iron Fist, Iron Man, Sabra, Shamrock, Storm, Sunfire and Vanguard for their team. Each battle becomes a quick challenge, with the heroes showing respect to each other even as they engage in the duel.
The first battle takes place in the Arctic, with Sunfire, Invisible Woman, and Iron Fist against Darkstar, Tailsman, and Daredevil. Talisman’s abilities help Daredevil take hold of the first track, giving the Grandmaster a fast lead. Despite tensions within the team of Arabian Knight, Sabra and Iron Man, the latter finds the next piece – giving them a victory over Defensor, Captain Britain and She-Hulk. In China, Black Panther, Angel, and Vanguard find themselves in duels against Wolverine, Thing, and Peregrine – with Thing taking the win by finding the coin. Finally, Storm leads Shamrock and Collective Man in a jungle battle against Captain America, Sasquatch, and Blitzkrieg. Although Captain America is on the verge of claiming the prize, Shamrock’s luck allows him to reach it first – and give the Grandmaster the victory.
The Unknown then reveals his true form, that of Death itself. Revealing the full game to the Grandmaster, she reveals that the act of reviving her fallen brother will cost lives – her own or those of her champions. But with his honor forcing him to abide by rules he accepted – including his vow not to interfere with humans if they were victorious – and allows himself to die to restore his brother.
Even if Contest of champions did not have the weight and scope inherent in Civil war, it was a fun opportunity for the heroes of the Marvel Universe to face off against each other in a large setting that went beyond traditional team-based conflicts and set a precedent that future events like the original Secret wars after that Civil war would let go.
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