Celebrating the Unpopular Arts
 
There is no I in team. Wait, that’s not my point.

There is no I in team. Wait, that’s not my point.

In one of the recent Greg Hatcher reprint columns, Greg pondered how much you can rework a character before they’re someone else. That got me thinking about how that applies to super-teams.

Teams, after all, are different from individual heroes. Someone new takes up the role of Superman/Flash/Batman/Captain America, it’s a big deal. Most teams change their makeup all the time; even the Fantastic Four have had Luke Cage and others step in as temporary members. Even so, I think there’s a point at which a team stops being the team I care about, though membership isn’t usually the deal-breaker. What the deal-breaker is varies from team to team.

Teams With a Mission Statement. For most teams “beat up bad people, save innocent people” is enough of a raison d’etre but a few comics teams are defined by a more distinctive core concept. The Invaders, for example, are a World War II team that fights the Axis. Creating a present day Invaders? No, sorry, not even if they’re fighting neo-Nazis.

Alpha Flight are Canada’s super-team. While Tom Brevoort may be right that this isn’t enough of a hook for most readers (I don’t have the link to the statement), putting them on a satellite to defend the Earth disqualifies them as Alpha Flight for me (and, I know, Le Messor).

The Defenders are the non-team, sticking together purely by choice. I’ve seen a couple of efforts to formalize the membership β€” Nighthawk tried hiring a new roster, for instance β€” and again, no. If it’s formal organization you want, open an Avengers branch or join the Rotarians.

Membership

Like I said, membership isn’t usually the straw that breaks the camel’s back. However I had no interest in Luthor’s Infininty Inc. from about 15 years ago. Infinity Inc. is the JSA’s kids and a few extras like Sylvester Pemberton. End of story. The Fantastic Four needs to be the classic four, though I can live with occasional, temporary replacements. Those are mostly of interest, though, because they contrast with what the team is supposed to be.

While the Defenders membership has varied wildly over the years, I do think the core, as someone once quipped, is “Bird Nose, Sword Girl, Dumb Magician, Fish Man and Hulk.” If we can’t get all of them, at least some of them.

Specific Incarnations.

I loved Mike Barr’s Outsiders but I don’t like the concept of the Outsiders enough to want to see what someone else can do with them. Nothing I saw of Judd Winick’s take changed my mind. Even with Batrman in charge, it’s not the team I care about.Continuity

With the Justice League and the Justice Society, I’m much more open to change. As long as the book establishes some sort of continuity with what’s gone before, I’m good with it. Different lineup? Fine. Headquarters in a satellite instead of inside a mountain? Cool.

That doesn’t mean I’ll like a given era, just that I’ll accept it: the Detroit League and the Giffen/DeMatteis Wacky League didn’t work for me at all but I don’t question their right to the name. Splinter teams such as West Coast Avengers are okay too, but I can’t take the prequel Avengers (1950s Avengers! Stone-Age Avengers!) as anything to do with the “real” team.

With the Legion of Superheroes it’s the opposite. The reboot after Zero Hour erased their previous history, giving us a team that had no connection with what went before. When i glanced at an issue it was mostly well done but I never felt my long run of Legion books needed to include it. Every subsequent reboot has made me less and less interested.

I don’t give a crap

I like the Silver Age Teen Titans and I love the Wolfman/Perez version. By the time the original run wrapped up, Wolfman had made such a dark, grim-mess of the book (he’s admitted in interviews he should have quit sooner) I didn’t care it was gone. The revivals can do whatever they like with the name; I don’t care (from what I’ve seen, most of what they’ve done is not good).

Of course, someone could come along, defy the rules I’ve spelled out here and do it so brilliantly I’ll love it. But until then, that’s my assessment. If you disagree, or would like to discuss the many teams I didn’t cover, comments are open.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema, Jim Aparo and George Perez

26 Comments

  1. Le Messor

    I’ve actually read most of the titles you bring up, and kind of agree with most of your points.

    Thanks for bringing up Alpha Flight so I don’t have to. πŸ™‚

    Sylvester Pemberton was still very much tied to the JSA – he was a member! (Wasn’t he?) Which is a big part of the point of Infinity, Inc.

    The Fantastic Four are one of the only long-lived teams (the only team?) who’ve kept their original membership throughout – with, as you say, temporary replacements like She-Hulk. They’re also literal family. It’s one thing that sets them apart.

    Despite all of that, though, the ultimate question for me is:
    “Am I enjoying this comic I’m reading right now?”
    So, you can have a Teen Titans v2 title with a bunch of the original characters – Beast Boy / Nightwing / Donna Troy… even the original writer (Wolfman) – but if it’s a bunch of 90s dark, I don’t care. It’s not fun anymore, and I don’t feel like they’re the characters I know.

    You can have any number of Alpha Flight revivals you want, set them in Canada, have a version of Sasquatch – it turns out, what I love about the series is not the fact you slapped those two words on the front cover.

    It’s a bunch of intangibles, mostly – tone; style; my attachment to the characters within. Even if I can’t honestly say ‘this isn’t the team I love’, if I’m not enjoying what you do with them, so be it.

    1. You’re right, Sylvester joined when the JSA got their own series in the 1970s, then jumped to Infinity Inc.
      I agree intangibles are a factor but I don’t really know what mine are until I encounter someone doing it wrong. Which is harder to express.

      1. Le Messor

        Of course! That’s what makes it so difficult – the intangibles are, by definition, difficult to pin down.
        Which leads to one of the biggest frustrations of a reader – you love a comic for all the intangibles, and the company tries to duplicate the surface stuff. (You love Pirates Of The Caribbean? Then here’s a bunch of stories about Ghost Pirates!)

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    “…putting them on a satellite to defend the Earth disqualifies them as Alpha Flight for me (and, I know, Le Messor).”

    What if the satellite is in geo-synchronous orbit over Saskatchewan?

  3. Jeff Nettleton

    Star Spangled Kid was in the JSA, where he had a Cosmic Converter Belt, which was developed for him by friend Ted Knight, aka Starman (and not the guy doing voices for Filmation and the Super Friends) He was part of the 1st Generation of JSA proteges and children, with the others joining them after the fact. That first generation also included Power Girl and Huntress (and Robin). They were the link to the past, who were joined by Silver Scarab, Fury, Nuklon, Northwind and Brainwave, who was the son of the Golden Age villain and Merry, the Girl of 1000 Gimmicks.

    For me, the JSA really needs to have a link to the originals or to other Golden Age heroes (or villains, even). The JLA can fluctuate a bit, but needs a chunk of the core originals to really work. I have no love for the Detroit Era but the BAAHAHAHAHAHA League was awesome, so Nyah!

    The Avengers can fluctuate more than most; but, I also think they need representation of either Cap or the original core team.

    The Titans, for me, needs Robin, no matter what. he is the link between the originals and the New Teen Titans and the concept doesn’t work without him. They were the sidekicks, and he was the original sidekick.

    The Defenders mostly needs either Hulk or Dr Strange; I don’t think Namor was ever that essential, nor was Valkyrie or Nighthawk, though the best era was Bird-nose, Sword Girl, Smart-friend Magician and Hulk.

    The Champions can be whatever collection of afterthoughts you want.

    1. The original Champions tried hard to have a defining concept β€” the superhero team that looks out for the common man! β€” but then went on to have adventures like every other team.
      I did like the Johns/Goyer idea of the JSA as a team mixing Golden Age mentors with legacy heroes.

  4. If the JSA doesn’t have strong links to the original team, then it’s hard to tell what the point would be (unless maybe it was set in the 1940s).

    The Legion reboots were a challenge for me just like for any long-term fan, but *most* versions had enough of what I wanted to still hook me in. The “reboot” was around long enough that if I had the choice, I’d return the title to the end of that era and carry on from there.

    As a side point, over the years I feel like I’ve fair amount of comic teams that have tried to position themselves as a “family”. Sometimes this has been in contrast to being a team as represented by the JLA (reading mostly DC here). So something like, “the JLA were the greatest team, but we’re a family”–ie the JSA, the Titans, etc. But I’m pretty sure I’ve *also* seen the JLA representing themselves as a “family”.

    Anyway, all that to say that I’m perfectly happy with the “family” idea but it seems like an easy go-to for comic creators for their team rationale. I’m wondering who (aside from the Fantastic Four, of course) have done that best.

    1. Le Messor

      ClanDestine.

      Also, I have a friend who once pointed out that the ‘we’re really a family’ puts way too much value on family, making other relationships – like friendship – unimportant.

  5. John King

    of course there was also the version of Excalibur in 2004 that was not connected to Britain

    and the Thunderbolts changed mid-series to a super-power fighting contests keeping one minor supporting character…

  6. Filrouge

    Would you think of Luke Cage’s Avengers team, during Civil War, which consisted of Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Wolverine, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Spider-Woman, Clint Barton as Ronin could be as The Avengers ?

      1. Le Messor

        Sounds more like the Defenders to me. πŸ™‚

        But they can call themselves whatever they want, and Marvel can call whatever grouping they want ‘The Avengers’.

        1. Filrouge

          That’s the way I felt. Marvel can publish whatever they want, but I just couldn’t see them as The Avengers, even if that’s what they were called.

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