In the early 1980’s, Marvel’s Contest of Champions served as the prototype for many of the major Marvel crossovers to follow, bringing together heroes from all corners of the Marvel Universe, and introducing new heroes. Now, in the "All-New, All-Different Marvel" Universe, writer Al Ewing is revisiting Contest of Champions, once again pitting different versions of Marvel characters against each other.
When Contest of Champions #1 drops on October 7, it will see the Hulk’s villainous future self, the Maestro, transported out of Secret Wars’s Battleworld, and into Battlerealm, where he serves as the “summoner” for the Collector, gathering a team of anti-heroes to take on other squads assembled from across the multiverse.
Newsarama spoke to Ewing about his new take on Contest of Champions, how he plans to honor the legacy of international heroes from the original, and the book’s origins as a mobile game tie-in.
Newsarama: Al, Contest of Champions revives what most consider the very first Marvel event. How does your book bring that legacy to the modern day?
Al Ewing: It's an event of a different kind - it's a videogame tie-in, but not as we've previously known them. This one crosses over into the main Marvel Universe and should, if all goes to plan, end up directly affecting it. So it's kind of the first crossover between the world of Marvel videogames and the world of Marvel comics - or at the least, the first with serious, lasting effects. Even if I get run down by a brewer's dray tomorrow and the series is cancelled out of respect with issue #2, we'll have already altered the Marvel Universe in a significant way, by adding a literal new element to it - the new super-substance Iso-8, a "magic matter" which I've tied back so some of my previous work in a way readers will hopefully find fun.
Nrama: Contest of Champions take place in “Battlerealm.” Is there a connection between Battlerealm and Secret Wars’s Battleworld?
Ewing: It definitely sounds like there could be. I'm aiming not to spoil anything, especially anything about Secret Wars, until the last possible moment I have to, but a connection does seem very likely - especially as the Maestro in this book is the same Maestro we last saw on Battleworld.
Nrama: How does he find himself orchestrating this interdimensional battle royale?
Ewing: There's a whole story there! Which we'll get to. It happened during the eight month gap - somehow, in that time, the Maestro has gone from his Battleworld situation to serving as the right hand man of the Collector - his "Summoner,” responsible for picking and choosing the teams to fight for him in the Contest. How did he get there? Why does the Collector need him - and why is the Maestro going along? And hold on - if they're the 'owner' and 'coach' of one team, that suggests there must be others...
Players of the mobile game will notice that this is a bit of a reversal of the situation there - it's one of the ways the comic differs from the game. For now, at least - the Maestro isn't the type to be happy playing second fiddle.
Nrama: Does your Contest of Champions follow the same “hero vs. hero” format of the original event?
Ewing: Not really. Everyone in Maestro's team is at least an anti-hero. Everyone on the opposing team, meanwhile, is a baddie from an alternate universe - even the Sentry (from Age Of The Sentry) is, as we saw in that mini, a Void who absorbed the Sentry's powers, looks and identity and switched to the side of good (But, as is ever the case with the Sentry, the Void is still lurking deep inside). So we won't see any hero versus hero fights in the book, for those who are worried. Mind you, that doesn't mean the heroes are always going to win, either, or that the villains can't be sympathetic. Everyone just wants to get home, after all.
Nrama: The original Contest of Champions introduced a whole slew of new international superheroes. We’ve seen from the covers already released that Korean superhero White Fox is joining the Marvel Universe proper in the new Contest of Champions. Will we see any other heroes that carry on that tradition?
Ewing: Yes! We have a whole bunch of old and new international heroes. In terms of the new, there's Guillotine, a heroine from France with a name, a legacy and a demonic, bloodthirsty sword she's been cursed by her ancestor to carry. We'll be seeing more of her in a backup story in issue #1, beautifully illustrated by French artist Thomas Labourot. We'll see how the first Guillotine got the sword, and a little of the history of the name and the sword since then, and how the modern-day Guillotine, Jeannine Sauvage, ended up in the Contest.
Then, from Britain, we've got the return of Nigel Higgins, a.k.a. Outlaw, the British Punisher, who's now living in North Yorkshire, just a mile or so from where I live. Fans of Frank Castle may find themselves baffled by Nigel's life choices - he's long since quit being Outlaw, for reasons we'll get into. He's now older, wiser, and enjoying a quiet, fairly reclusive life with a cat. Which makes him the perfect point-of-view character to get sucked into the Contest's cosmic craziness and spirited far away from home to fight for his life!
And then, from Greece - the long awaited-return of Ares!
Nrama: In the solicitation for Contest of Champions #2, we’ve seen the return of Ares, who has been dead since Siege. Is this a resurrection for Ares, or a temporary glimpse, such as when he appeared in Chaos War?
Ewing: It's a proper resurrection, or as proper as gods get - he's back from the grave, and he's not happy about it at all. He wants revenge for his peace being disturbed, and, dead or alive, he's not going to rest until he's got it. You don't make an enemy of the God of War without some serious repercussions.
Nrama: The solicitation for #2 also teases the return of the Grandmaster, who was one of the people behind the original Contest of Champions. What’s his relationship to this new contest, and to the Maestro?
Ewing: As readers will have guessed from the previous answers, he's in charge of the opposing team. As the Collector is to Outlaw, Guillotine, Ares and the rest, Grandmaster is to our band of alternate-world baddies. Which raises the question - who's his Summoner? It's a character some Marvelites will remember with extreme fondness, but you might have to wait to issue #2 to find out the secret.
The Contest is, needless to say, right in Grandmaster's wheelhouse - like the Collector, and all the Elders Of The Universe, he's an immortal monomaniac, obsessed with his function. He loves gaming the way the Collector loves collecting, and those obsessions are on full display here.
Nrama: Paco Medina is illustrating Contest of Champions. How does he handle capturing the high intensity action, and such a wide roster of characters?
Ewing: Paco's terrific. I love his storytelling, everything from the way he composes pages to how he sells the emotions - not to mention the explosive action beats that are a major part of a book like this. Meanwhile, every character he's had to draw has come out just about perfect. Now that I've seen his work, I can't imagine anyone I'd want on the book more.
Nrama: Besides the Maestro, who are the main characters of Contest of Champions?
Ewing: We have a floating POV, so everyone gets to be the main character for at least an issue. That said, there are people we'll come back to, just because they're interesting. If it was only a story about a cosmic battle for the ultimate prize in the universe, Maestro, Collector and Grandmaster would get all the airtime - but it's also a story of relatively normal people trapped far from home, and their stories are important too. Maybe moreso. So expect to hear a lot from Outlaw and Guillotine.
Nrama: Is there anyone you wanted to use for Contest of Champions that you haven’t been able to plan for yet?
Ewing: When I find time to play the game, Black Panther is my best character, so I know how fun he can be in the context of the Contest - and anyone I can write a "being summoned" scene for in a different book is high on my list (Which makes Captain Marvel another distinct possibility). It's a question of finding room in an already-packed cast, though - I have most of the "guest stars" plotted out for the first eight months or so, but after that I'd start looking for at least one of those two to make an appearance.
Nrama: Bottom line, what can fans expect when Contest of Champions hits shelves?
Ewing: An action-packed, big-fun comic about heroes fighting villains in a cosmic arena while immortal beings gamble for the stuff of godhood... all with added Maestro, alternating between pursuing his schemes for power and hitting people really hard in the face. Are you not entertained?!?