When I last wrote about Contest of Champions (365 Comics #59) I noted how the second issue of the series took me on quite a nostalgia trip. So overwhelmed by the power of this nostalgia, the rest of the series (all 3 parts) went onto my list of comics to find, even though I knew that issues 1 and 3 were not going to have the same impact. I never owned these issues afterall.
But delving into the first issue of this series, and once more a flood of sense memories took me over. No, I did not own this comic, but my childhood best friend did. As much as I poured over my meager comics collection again and again and again, so too did I go through his over and over and over, whenever possible. He wasn't much of a comic fan, certainly not in the same way I was. His favourite hero was Groo, and when it came to Star comics, he had Heathcliff instead of He-Man. I liked going to his place, his parents were friends with my parents, his sister was the same age as my sister, they were like family. I remember cherry cheesecake and the smell of their Lhasa Apso that permeated the household. I remember playing G.I. Joes, and watching Commando in reverse on VHS (yep starting at the end and watching it holding the rewind button down for about 25-ish minutes). Sleepovers and Commodore 64 games (press play on tape). Crank calls and crab apples in the back yard. Again, all this comes back, thanks to a comic book.
We don't talk anymore. Sure, there was a falling out in grade school (an interloper in our friendship and my own damn stupidity to blame), but we reconciled that, although it was never the same, not bestest friends anyway. We would see each other, and I even lived at his place for half a year while in life transition a dozen years back, but when I moved away, and then he moved away from the old hometown, communication just sort of fizzled. My folks are still friends with his folks, so I hear updates from time to time. Sounds like things are good. I'm sure I'll see him again at some point, it would be good to catch up.
As for Contest of Champions, what a ridiculous comic. Like 8 pages of superheroes getting zapped away by the Grandmaster, until all of them are together in an orbiting sports dome (in a gorgeous John Romita Jr. 2-page splash). There we get another 3 pages of them hanging out and being confused and chummy until the Grandmaster and his companion (so obviously Death) arrive to explain just what's going on exactly. And then there's 2 pages Grandmaster and Death picking teams. Did I say ridiculous... what I meant was, this book is amazing. Baffling, but amazing. It's the product of Mark Gruenwald, Bill Mantlo and Stephen Grant, with Mantlo writing the script, and it's Basically superhero hangout club. There's 0% action in this book and it's still a swell time. There's theoretical stakes at play, but really it's a goofy little farce and the early JRJR art, with masterful inking by the great Pablo Marcos, is delicious.