The Champions:

A Bridge Between Genres and Time

The Champions as term and footnote

When most people hear of the term “The Champions,” they think of the iconic song created by Queen. Others think of the 1975-1978 Marvel comic series or various other meanings. However, The Champions is also the name of a British television show from the very late 1960s that has mostly been forgotten by the general public in several parts of the world. [1] [2] Though this show’s existence is a footnote in television history, it is still a relevant show. The reason this show is relevant is because it acts as both a bridge between genres and as a precursor for future shows. Examples of future shows would be Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, Kim Possible, & Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. which will be explored later in this article.

What was The Champions

The Champions combined the genres of Fantasy and/or Science Fiction with the Spy genre.[3] The core of the show in a nutshell is a hidden city’s populace grants special abilities to three wounded spies who protect the status quo. The spies then continue policing the world under their Boss/Mentor, who is kept unaware of their new skills, in the following episodes. This was an odd formula for a 1960s spy show to have for two reasons. Often the veteran spy boss/mentor character knew more of what was going on than the other “good” spies. The second reason this show was unique was that the main characters relied on enhanced abilities instead of simply high-tech gadgets to escape trouble.

The Champions’ rivals in the spy genre

Popular British spies like James Bond and The Avengers, as well as their American counterparts, The Man From Uncle and Mission Impossible, did not follow this super-human formula. Only Nick Fury, a Marvel Comics character who went from United States army sergeant turned Spymaster, has followed both the original and super-human formulas.[4] Many other famous, infamous, obscure spies existed before and after the Champions. While I won’t go on about every spy, I believe it is important to talk about the first two comic book teams called the Secret Six and the television show Kim Possible.

The original Secret Six comic series debuted in the latter part of the 1960s.  In fact, it premiered the same year as The Champions in 1968. This version of the Secret Six consisted of a secret leader blackmailing five other people. The blackmailed members went on missions for and with this leader. Each member used a different expertise, from acting to science to escape artistry. After a short run, this version of the Secret Six was canceled. Later, the series was re-launched in Action Comics Weekly in the 1980s. This attempt saw the old team killed off except for their original spymaster Mockingbird. Replacing the original team were six technologically augmented individuals who were granted replacement body parts and senses.[5] Mockingbird blackmailed this new team with the threat of kill-switches to the cyborg parts that he gave them. While The Champions have yet to be re-launched or re-imagined like the Secret Six series, there was talk of a movie with Guillermo Del Toro attached to write and direct.[6]

While The Champions were official spies with enhanced abilities, the Secret Six were highly skilled people who were forced into being spies. Even though the original premise for each spy team was different, there were a few common ideas between the two. For instance, both teams had dealings with mental torture, government-created viruses, and threats to the status quo. The 1960s version of the team, the Secret Six, dealt with the torturous knowledge that one of their own was Mockingbird, their blackmailer/spymaster. Mockingbird blackmailed the Six by different means, such as revealing information or even withholding health remedies. Like Mockingbird, The Champions boss, Tremayne, allows The Champions unofficial leader Craig Stirling, in one episode, to be interrogated by mental torture. Stirling was tortured for the somewhat justifiable reason of making sure he was not acting as a double agent. Another connection the Secret Six had was a government-created virus called V75. The mirror of this was that The Champions stopped research on a form of germ warfare created by a government during their origin story.  Both The Champions and the Secret Six protected the status quo by stopping these deadly viruses, as well as the villain of the day in each series.

A more modern and comedic set of connections can be found in Kim Possible. This was a Disney cartoon that emulated and parodied elements of high school, spying, & super-heroes among many other things. While its connection to super or enhanced individuals is somewhat limited, Kim Possible did use The Champions spy formula. Disney did this by making Kim Possible an expert at cheerleading and gymnastics, not to mention a host of other talents. In addition, Kim’s sidekick, Ron Stoppable, gained mystical powers that enhanced his fighting abilities and strengthened his character. However, the superpower dynamic comes into play the most with the villainous Shego, who has the ability to fire green energy bolts.

The main spy dynamics of secret spy organizations and villains that explain their plans were also used in Kim Possible. The best example of villains detailing their plan to the hero would be Dr. Drakken. He actually has this flaw pointed out by Shego on certain occasions, such as the pilot episode. As for the secret spy organization dynamic in Kim Possible, Global Justice is the equivalent of Nemesis in The Champions.  Global Justice also happens to pay homage to Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D. organization.  This is presumably because Disney did not, at the time, own Marvel and the creators probably liked the S.H.I.E.L.D. concept so much that they decided to duplicate it.  An example of how they copied Marvel is in the similarity between the directors of the organizations. Like Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D., the director of Global Justice has an eye patch.  Kim Possible also kept the status quo in a similar way to the other two series mentioned by always fighting threats on her level.

Shared media themes and ideas

The Champions shares a few themes and ideas in a tangential way to past and present media. It ties to past media in its use of the theme of plane crash survivors having an adventure.[7] The best examples of this are the film Back From Eternity and the original Challengers Of The Unknown comic book origin. Back From Eternity is a 1956 film that involves multiple people, all from different lifestyles, crashing in a plane. After surviving the crash, the characters have to face various difficulties, including killer natives, to make it to safety. In 1957, the Challengers Of The Unknown first appearance made use of this adventurous plane survivor theme for the initial part of the origin story. In this instance, a team of adventurers became a team due to surviving a plane crash, much like The Champions did. However, the Challengers only started going on adventures together after the plane crash and did not gain super-abilities.

There are two television shows that exemplify how the idea of The Champions is a bridge between both past and present media. The more iconic example is Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and its many variations. Power Rangers is a show that has relied on a combination of Japanese and American footage to create each episode and storyline. This is similar to how the Legend of The Champions (or L.O.T.C. for short) film came about in the 1980s. The film L.O.T.C. was an edited together version of two episodes of The Champions. The name was changed for one character and a different opening and ending were given to create this film version. In other words, while Power Rangers used a similar idea, the execution of the final product was more imaginative than L.O.T.C. Power Rangers use of Japanese/American footage was in this way different than L.O.T.C.’s mash-up clip show.

The second example of this bridge of past and present media is Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. This show is a descendant of the S.H.I.E.L.D. organization featured in the Marvel comic books and movies, but idea-wise it is very similar to The Champions. One way in which the two shows are similar is both have roots in the 1960s, in terms of media origins. S.H.I.E.L.D. also is always striving to keep extraordinary events secret, much like The Champions did regarding their own powers. Both are obviously spy shows that deviate from the typical clichés of the genre. Both are ground breaking for their time. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is breaking ground by trying to expand a film universe to television. The Champions broke ground because they were the first television show to combine enhanced abilities with spies.

Closing Reasoning

The Champions, mostly having been forgotten by the general public, allowed the present media like Kim Possible, Power Rangers, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. However, the fact that it existed even for a short amount of time allowed the spark of these ideas to hit the conscious or unconscious minds of their creators. So, like a bridge from past to present, The Champions endures.

Works Cited

Monty Berman The Champions https://itunes.apple.com/us/tv-season/the-champions/id275494577

“The Beginning.” The Champions. NBC. ITC. iTunes.

“The Interrogation.” The Champions. NBC. ITC. iTunes.

Rovin, Jeff. “The Champions(1) (TV).” The Enyclopedia of Superheroes. Unknown ed. 1985. Print.

Sydney Newman. The Avengers. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0054518/?ref_=nv_sr_4

[Starlin, Jim (w), Howard Chaykin (a).] “Nick Fury Assignment: The Infinity Formula!” Marvel Spotlight Vol. 1 #31 (Dec. 1976), Marvel Comic Group NY: [Marvel Comics].

[Bridwell, E. Nelson, Joe Gill (w), Jack Sparling (a)] “The Queen Without a Crown!”  Secret Six Vol. 1 #5 (Dec. 1968-Jan. 1969) National Periodical Publications, Inc. NY: [DC Comics].

Secret Six and Action Comics Weekly entries on page 856 and 384 in The Overstreet Comic Book price guide 42nd Edition

Legend of the Champions 1983 Itunes

Wood, Dave (w), Jack Kirby (a) Roz Kirby & Marvin Stein (i) Showcase # 6 “The Secrets Of The Sorcerer’s Box!” “Dragon Seed!” “The Freezing Sun!” “The Whirling Weaver!” The Challengers of the Unknown Archives, Vol. 1. Eds. Dale Crain. NY: DC Comics, 2003: 11-35.

[Steranko, Jim (w, a) & Frank Giacoia (i)] Nick Fury: Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. “Behold The Savage Sky” Strange Tales Vol. 1 #16 (Feb. 1968) Marvel Comics Group NY: [Marvel Comics].

[Pasko, Martin (w), Dan Spiegle (a)] The Secret Six: “Out of the Frying Pan… Into The Fire” Action Comics Weekly # 612 (Aug. 9, 1988) DC Comics Inc. NY: [DC Comics].

[Pasko, Martin (w), Frank Springer, Frank Mclaughlin (a)] The Secret Six: “A Bird in the Hand” Action Comics Weekly # 627 (Nov. 22, 1988) DC Comics Inc. NY: [DC Comics].

“The Vulcan Affair.” The Man from U.N.C.L.E. Turner Entertainment Inc. iTunes.

Back from Eternity. Dir. John Farrow. Perf. Robert Ryan, Anita Ekberg, Rod Steiger, Phyllis Kirk. Warner Bros., RKO Pictures Inc. 1956. iTunes.

Schooley, Bob, McCorkle, Mark “The Crush” Kim Possible. Disney. Disney.com. Web. 29 November 2013. http://video.disney.com/watch/crush-4c7c00177a1d9432e7909ea5

Schooley, Bob, McCorkle, Mark. “Exchange.” Kim Possible. Disney. iTunes.

Schooley, Bob, McCorkle, Mark. “Number One.” Kim Possible. Disney. iTunes.

Shuki Levy, Saban, Haim. “Day Of The Dumpster.” Mighty Morpin Power Rangers. SCG Power Rangers LLC. Aug. 1993. Television.

“Pilot” Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. ABC Studios Inc. Sept. 2013. Television.

Dr. No. Dir. Terence Young. Perf. Sean Connery, Joseph Wiseman, Lois Maxwell. MGM. 1963. Itunes.

Bruck, Connie. “The Influencer” Page 4 The New Yorker Conde Nast, 10 May, 2010. Web. 2 Dec. 2013 http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/05/10/100510fa_fact_bruck?currentPage=4


[1] The Champions aired in the United States of America on NBC in the year of 1968 according to The Encyclopedia of Superheroes by Jeff Rovin.

[2] iTunes listings of the show also confirmed the year of 1968, but differs on whether the show premiered in the fall or summer. Though the airdates seem out of order.

[3] The idea of hidden cities and heightened or special abilities is common in both Sci-Fi and Fantasy.

[4] The Infinity Formula is a serum that has prolonged the life of Nick Fury. Due to this prolonged life, one can say he is enhanced in a similar way as the three leads of The Champions.

[5] In short, the 1980s Secret Six had been enhanced in terms of lost abilities they regained through technology. Thus, this team was a combination of the gadget formula and The Champions formula of spies.

[6] As of this moment The Champions film seems dead in the water, due to no recent announcements.

[7] It should be noted that at the time The Champions was originally airing this was already an old theme.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ben Hall wrote his Undergraduate and Graduate thesis on Marvel Studios film releases from 1998 to 2011, focusing on how the films were translated to the screen and their financial impact. He is currently trying to finish turning his Thesis into a book. Ben is passionate about comics, because they helped him learn to read. He also feels that each comic or graphic novel can represent societal issues and culture in a way that no other media can. He also previously worked-for-hire on Salem Press’s Critical Survey of Graphic Novels: Heroes & Superheroes, specifically the Green Arrow: Year One, Wolverine: Origin, & Spawn sections. Ben is located on Twitter @Rippersspot and at Rippersspot.blogspot.com.

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