Every fan has his or her buttons. I’m talking about the “all the right ones” that instantly spike my fan-glee to critical levels. The original Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions hit all those buttons back in the day, and I’ve been a sucker for those kinds of stories ever since. You know the kind— having a huge cast of characters jumbled together, especially a bunch of obscure ones, and from an international scale.

While the current Contest of Champions series promises to hit some of those buttons, at least, I can’t say that was exactly what I was expecting, however. In part, that’s because it also has to hit buttons of a different kind, being a product of a marketing tie-in with a popular game app. (Here’s a frequent dilemma for living abroad— China’s app market is, well, *different.* That’s me being nice.) But hey, I don’t mind a story taking its cues from an external source. Licensed comics and tie-ins can be quite entertaining and help present fully realized stories in a new way. Remember Disney’s Gummi Bears? That was pretty awesome, after all. Something like that won’t give a story an automatic out, although I have to admit my disappointment that we weren’t given something closer to the original 1982 series and/or something that developed more organically.

Thankfully, the story doesn’t force the game concepts in an unnatural way. It’s just taking advantage of the tie-in to create a simple set-up and have various Marvel characters have some extended fight scenes. That’s really what you’re hoping for, and what’s on tap for this issue is some version of the Punisher versus a kind of Venom, with some Gamorra action, Iron Man, and Mr. Fixit/Hulk thrown in the mix. Oh yeah, and a Hydra-Nazi Devil Dinosaur and Moon Boy. That’s just the right amount of edginess and craziness to keep you surprised and satisfied with the fight scene. Otherwise, if I have to say it, the fight is a little bland with just a few exchanges of blows and a lot of judicious stabbing by Gamorra. (This kind of comic leads into the kinds of analysis that may closely resemble “fanboyishness;” to whit, could a flash-bang grenade and uni-beam *really* take down a Hulk? Scoff, scoff, scoff!)

The remainder of the comic is a bit jumbled, as the main narrative and “mystery” has to share space with some vague introduction to the hero White Fox and a rushed presentation for Strong-Female-Character(tm), er, I mean Black Knight, er, I mean Guillotine. The shift of art styles is just enough to be jarring and makes the comic feel more like an anthology than a coherent story.

Paco Medina as the lead artist shows his strengths and weaknesses, with an emphasis on blocky, static poses. With few exceptions, all the characters have a vague far-away look and a typical half-open mouth, and even more or less the same body type. Even the Hulk isn’t that as caricatured as Venom. Characters are always just shy of giving a dynamic pose, as if the art is restrained somehow, and so the expressions feel stunted. There is a nice sense of space, of course, and the fighting is blocked clearly, which is going to be a strength for a fight-scene intensive title such as this.

Grade

B

Conclusion

It almost feels like an entirely different universe to the main Marvel storylines, which might be the point, or it might be a by-product of the merchandising nature of the comicbook’s inception. So far, that remains intriguing, if by-the-numbers, and I’ll be looking for more of the edgy/comedic dynamic and for a continued balance of new, obscure, and twisted characters as the series continues. However, the reluctant point-of-view character is a bit bland, and something more substantial or out-of-the-box may be needed to really capture my attention.