If you are old like me you probably remember Marvel Super Hero Contest Of Champions. It’s a series with a backstory perhaps more interesting than the series itself. It also paved the way for all those mega crossovers you love/loathe today.
Contest was Marvel’s first limited series. It was also the first time that one of the big two had all of their heroes come together to battle a single threat. And while it had no endless amount of tie-in books, it clearly set the stage for the original Secret Wars and DC’s Crisis On Infinite Earth’s, which would appear not long after.
More on Contest and what any of this has to do with our pal Spider-Man and it’s exclusion from the Spider-Man Complete Chronology after the break.
The very existence of the Contest mini-series is owed to the US boycott of the 1980 Olympics. This story really starts with a special Marvel Treasury Edition issue that featured Spider-Man versus the Hulk at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY. The issue has a very similar feel to what would eventually end up being Contest, with Spider-Man and the Hulk being forced to team up with various Olympians in competition. Of particular note, the issue ends with this full page add for an upcoming special featuring the Marvel Super Heroes at the Summer Olympics.
(Kids, this was back in the old days when the Winter and Summer Olympics would occur in the same year.)
But a funny thing happened on the way to the summer games. The United States was one of many countries to boycott the Moscow hosted games in protest of the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
Since comics aren’t made overnight, much of the work on the Marvel Summer Games special had already been completed. The plot had been flushed out and a young John Romita Jr. had 40 pages of pencils done. However, it was decided that with no participation in the summer games, a tie-in made no sense, so the project was scrapped.
Unfortunately, no one told inker Pablo Marcos, who was living in South America at the time, and who would continue to work on the 40 pages of completed pencils from JRJR that he had received. Two years later Pablo showed up at the Marvel offices with his 40 completed pages looking for the end of the story.
This began the metamorphosis of the special into Contest of Champions. Much work still remained as costumes and super team rosters had changed and new characters had been introduced in the two years since the journey began. (And if it was anything like the Winter Olympics Special, they might have needed to remove some decathaletes or pole vaulters from the art.)
Eventually the folks at Marvel produced their little three issue mini-series to much success. (There is also a whole other story about how they screwed up the ending and had to write a sequel that would appear in a pair of Avengers annuals in 1987 to try to explain everything. )
So what does all this have to do with Spider-Man? Well, surprisingly, Spidey doesn’t appear much in those three issues. When the antagonists gather all the Marvel heroes and essentially do a school yard pick for teams, this is who they ended up with:
You’ve got some powerhouses and obvious picks there, but some very questionable inclusions and exclusions. There’s even a third of the combined teams that may not even be recognizable to most readers. Suffice it to say that since Spidey was not picked, he didn’t appear in the second and third issues of this series. And his appearances in the first issue are very minor and shown below.
The legacy of Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions seems to have more significance in the real world thanks to it’s journey and what it set the stage for at both of the big comic companies going forward. In terms of the Marvel Universe itself, particularly for Spider-Man, it just appears to be a small blip on the sliding time scale that was at one time 1982.