Monday, November 24, 2014

10 Thoughts about Team Up Comics

Talking with MattComix recently, I realized that somehow, in the countless articles I've written for this blog, I've never written anything on one of my favorite types of Bronze Age comics: The Team Up Comic! Specifically: Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, Brave and the Bold and DC Comics Presents.


Here are 10 Thoughts about such comics:

1. They were a good tool for exposing readers to new or lesser known characters. As such, my first exposure to such characters as Deathlok, The Demon, Guardians of the Galaxy and Wildcat all came from Team Up comics.



 2. The stories were typically one and done, but some writers were able to use the format to tell some really nice multi-issue stories. One of my favorites was Jim Starlin's Warworld arc in DC Comics Presents.



In this storyline, we get the introduction to Mongul and a great story where the Spectre tries to get Superman to understand he can't just punch every opponent into submission. Jim Starlin does his usual fantastic job on story and art.

3. We saw more crossovers with licensed characters in team up comics. (Doc Savage, He-Man and Saturday Night Live appeared in stories that probably never would have made it into the regular solo titles.)



4. Attempts to revive team up titles have not worked in recent years. There have been a few attempts to relaunch the Team Up title (Marvel Team Up and Brave of the Bold coming to mind) bue even when written by such well respected writers as Mark Waid, JMS Straczynki, Robert Kirkman or Brian Bendis, the titles don't seem to gain traction with today's readers.





As I've postulated on the reason why such titles fail before, but a quick recap is because any story line or comic not tied to an event or A list character is seen as unimportant by today's modern comic readers.  They aren't outside of continuity. They just don't matter.

With that said, you might find it surprising to hear that Marvel is going to take another shot at the idea comic with a new team up comic centered around the Guardians of the Galaxy.

 5. Bronze Age Brave and the Bold existed in a different continuity.  It was a world where Batman might team up with Sgt Rock during WW II..
 

...and then team up with him again 30 years after the war. (To fight the devil no less.)



Check out this excellent review on the genius of Bob Haney from the Bronze Age of Blogs.and this one from friend of the FBU Chris Sims on Comics Alliance on the 7 Craziest Bob Haney stories.

6. Green Arrow holds the record for appearing as a guest star. Between Silver Age and Bronze Age appearance, Green Arrow showed up 11 times in the Brave and the Bold.


I think the reason for so many appearance by the emerald archer was three fold: One, his street level skills worked well with Batman's style. (IE his powers complimented Batman's, not overshadowed them.) Two, during the Bronze Age, Green Arrow was going through a sort of social awareness personality revamping that allowed Bob Haney to tell stories with more of a political or foreign intrigue slant to them. Three, Bob Haney preferred to tell more down to earth stories (sci-fi was a rare element in his B&B run) and Green Arrow is one of the more down to earth super-heroes.


7. Did Spider-man almost lose Marvel Team Up to the Human Torch? The first 3 issues of Marvel Team Up guest starred Spider-man and the Human Torch. After issue 3 though, Spider-man would become the lead with rotating guest stars. However, starting with issue 18, the Human Torch would alternate as the lead character with other heroes assisting him.
 

Was Marvel playing with the idea of letting the Human Torch be the lead character? Or were these backlog stories that helped artists meet deadlines? Also, imagine pulling a bait and switch like this on today's comic shop owners.

 8. While most characters who headlined a Marvel comics during the Bronze Age eventually appeared in Marvel Team Up, the one lone exception to this rule is Conan. What makes his non-appearance most puzzling is that both Red Sonja AND King Kull did appear in the title.


 If I had to hazard a guess, I would say it was a combination of some sort of Marvel editorial view that Conan stories were grounded outside of the world of superheroes and some sort of mandate from the REH Estate concerning usage of the character in other titles. Still, he did appear in a couple of What-If titles, so it's hard to say exactly what the deal was with Conan.

9. Female characters were mostly equally represented across companies.
Marvel Team Up  - 26 out of 149 guest stars were female (17%)
Brave and the Bold -15 appearances from issues 100 - 200 (15%)
DC Comics Presents - 14 out 97 appearances  (15%)
Marvel Two In One - 11 out of 100 appearances (11%)



The number of female guest stars in Marvel Two in One is a bit lower than the others. Not sure why that might be. Perhaps the two fisted approach to the The Thing's adventures didn't suggest situations that inspired writers to use female characters. IE: A Spider-man/Black Widow seems to lend itself more readily to story ideas than say a Thing/Black Widow story.

10. Was DC Comics Presents a copyright trademark renewal clearing house? If you look at the guest stars in DC Comics Presents, you see that around issue 50, there was a shift away from the traditional guest stars (Green Lantern, Flash, Atom, ect...) to C and D-List characters (Air Wave, Vixen, Amethyst, Madame Xanadu, Freedom Fighters, ect...) who did not have their own titles at the time.



I don't know where I read it, but someplace I saw it suggested that at one point the Superman team up comic was used to renew trademark of long unpublished characters. That's not an entirely unheard of practice in the industry and judging by some of the guest stars in the comic, it seems like a possibility. I guess it's also very possible that this was simply a case of a writer creating stories with characters they enjoyed. Still, one has to question why DC thought a team up story with The Atomic Knights might have been a better seller than another one with Green Lantern.

And with that, I'll leave you with this question: What was your favorite Team Up story of all time?

- Jim


Monday, November 17, 2014

Spider-Verse - Cheap Heat

Editor's Note: Today, I'm happy to present a new post from MattComix! For long time readers, you may remember when Matt used to write columns on a regular basis here. Newcomers will recognize his name from the comments sections as he is regular commenter. Today he presents his thoughts on the Spider-Verse event:

In professional wrestling there is a term known as "cheap heat". Basically when a wrestler does or says something just to get a cheer, a boo, a chant, or other "pop" from the crowd that has nothing to do with their skills as wrestler or an entertainer, but they know the crowd will react regardless. Probably the most prime example of this is saying the name of the town they're in during an interview. It's a very easy way to make a crowd of wrestling fans pop.

There is an annoying fanfic writing impulse, one which seem to dominate modern superhero comics which is to take something from the readers have familiarized with some degree of positivity or innocence and doing something horrible with it that would never be done in that property's canon due to standards and practices, target audience, or common sense.


Cheap heat.
The latest in a never ending number of convoluted and of course blood-soaked events coming out of the big two, the current Spider-Verse arc involves a vampire-esque family that crosses dimensional barriers to feed off and kill in horrible and usually on-camera ways various versions of Spider-Man and other "Spider Totems". 

These dimensions include everything from comics, cartoons, live-action, to even Spider-Ham and the Spidey from the old Hostess ads. I figure Japanese Spider-Man is safe as long as he can get to his big robot in time but Nicolas Hammond Spidey is probably doomed. Maybe Electric Company Spidey can prevent Morlun's son from having access to vowel sounds and contractions. That would at least trip up his usual threats.

The latest victim in all of this is Mayday Parker aka Spider-Girl. While Spider-Girl and the whole MC2 experiment was by no means perfect, Spider-Girl really feels like where much of everything I ever liked about Spider-Man apparently went to after being fired by Marvel.

For myself, I didn't really get on board when it was first coming out but after finally reading the book I decided that Peter Parker's future in Spider-Girl felt far, far more genuine and enjoyable as any kind of actual extension of what Lee, Ditko, Romita started. Much moreso than any version of his present being shown in the mainline  titles. This is even before One More Day and the so-called "Superior" Spider-Man.

Yeah, it kinda sucks that Peter had to lose a leg and that the Clone Saga basically counts as irremovable backstory (also have mixed feelings about that goatee) but he was happy with his family and helping his daughter who was doing his old mantle very proud standing out as an a great character and hero in her own right.


I felt that just the existence of this continuity at least gave me some sense of closure for the whole Spider-Man thing. Such that if an enjoyable Spider-Man series in any media never actually happened again before I leave this mortal coil I could at least be reasonably satisfied with the idea that Spider-Girl is how the story one of my favorite heroes ended while also leaving another hero I'd enjoyed open for more adventures. I could be content with this being the image I left both Peter and Mayday Parker behind on:


Ron Frenz commented on the story in a recent interview with Swerve magazine:

“Pete learned through the death of Uncle Ben that if he doesn't act, people die; Mayday learned in her first couple of issues that when she does act, people live. That subtle, but significant difference put her in a much more positive and proactive headspace, which was pretty much the whole vibe of the MC2 Universe. MC2 was unabashedly a universe wherein heroes existed and helped make the world a better place, so that a second generation of people who get powers are inspired to do the same thing."

But of course I should have known that the relentless event cycles and the anti-joy stance of modern comicbook writing would not let such a thing pass in to history with its dignity intact. So of course in Spider-Verse no. 8 Peter Parker and Mary Jane are killed and Mayday not only swears vengeance but is also sure to emphasize that she will do so at the total expense of her fathers ideals. Because there is such a huge gaping void of superheroes with dead parents and revenge driven berserkers in comics that Mayday Parker just had to be the one to fill it.


Cheap heat. 
Apparently killing off the Parkers in Spider-Girl is something Marvel editorial has been salivating to do for a long while and something the creators fought against during their run. Again from the Frenz interview at Swerve:

“There was more than one editor in our run of 'Spider-Girl' who thought it would be great to kill Pete because then it gives her the whole tragic origin just like his. The very first annual, Tom DeFalco and Pat Olliffe did that cover with Mary Jane and Pete laying dead, and Spider-Girl's kneeling there mourning them, and they did it deliberately to 1) give the editor's what they wanted in the shocking cover, and 2) stick it to them because it didn't happen in the story. It was a story with Misery and she's showing May her worst fears."

“Our problem with it is, if you take away the family, then you have taken away the core of what Spider-Girl stories are about. The same way Spider-Man stories are about 'With great power, there must also come great responsibility,' Spider-Girl stories are about family and the positive aspects of being a superhero."


Now it's possible all this is will be retconned before the Spider-Verse event is even finished. I'm willing to acknowledge that Spider-Verse is a story that is still in progress even as predictably grimdark and eyerolling as this whole thing is. But I think there's a difference between building drama and having to wade through relentless misery for the big payoff.

A payoff that will likely just lead into yet another event anyway given the track record of these things. A lot of these stunts seem to be made under the pretense that there's nothing that can be done to these characters that can break or ruin them and so often it feels like Marvel is constantly playing chicken with Spider-Man to test that theory.

With few exceptions, character death is cheap heat and like in professional wrestling it will always give you that initial pop to fire up the crowd but it's not sustainable as the entirety of the show. What isn't cheap are monthly comics and I've now been given just one more reason not to go back to buying them on a regular basis.

- MattComix

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Family Comics: Captain Marvel to Spider-Verse

Marvel's big Spider-man event for this season is the Spider-Verse storyline, which involves a multi-dimensional threat to every incarnation of Spider-man ever presented.



Normally, I shy away from events, but the prelude to this event was assigned reading for a podcast I'm involved in, so tried it out. (You'll get to see what I thought when the podcast is posted.) Reading the prelude caused me to reflect on what I think is a growing trend in modern comics to create Families for super-heroes.

First, where did this start?

While I'm not certain, I believe the first instance of a family of superheroes was Fawcett's Marvel Family (which was very popular).



However, in the 50's, with the pressure to change the types of stories in comics, DC's Superman comics developed into a family of titles (Jimmy Olsen, Lois Lane, eventually Supergirl) which led to an actual Superman Family comic in the 70's...


...and a similar title for Batman.


However, that sort of storytelling fell out of favor in the grim and gritty 80's. It wasn't until Mark Waid resurrected the concept in Flash that we would see an actual new family of superheroes.


The next modern instance I think was in the Hulk titles

I could also see an argument being made that the the multi-colored lanterns of Geoff John's Green Lantern run were based on the family motif. (Though it's hard to say whether they are more toyetic or family based.)


Possibly you could make the same argument for Grant Morrison's Batman Inc. run. (Though that's more of an homage to earlier family-like stories)


I think the family concept has generally worked better for DC heroes than Marvel heroes, as the angst driven storylines of Marvel comics tend to work against having any sort of family-like support network. IE: If Spider-man has a group of friends he can hangout with, it sort of undercuts his hardluck hero appeal. I think the family feel of the Clone Saga and an attempt to capitalize on some of its success (and it was successful early on) that led to this most recent Spider-verse event.

Now, with the success of the Spider-verse event (and mark my words, it will be a success.) I have to wonder will we see more comics like this down the pike?

- Jim




Tuesday, November 4, 2014

How would you revamp The Inhumans?

So it seems that Marvel has plans to try and turn The Inhumans into an A-List property.



I've written about The Inhumans, stating (half tongue in cheek) 5 Reasons The Inhumans are Boring, and while part of that article was tongue in cheek, the group has never succeeded in carrying their own title for longer than a year. On the sales meter, they seem to fall  somewhere in between Agents of Atlas and The Runaways.  So, with that in mind, here is what I think Marvel will do to make the team more appealing to modern readers:

Disclaimer: Many of the suggestions I'm going to put forth are not the sort of thing I would like myself, but my sensibilities are out of touch with current trends, so that's your fair warning.

One: Kill off some of the old crew and introduce some new blood.


There are just some members of the old guard that are a bit quaint by todays standards. Ditch Gorgon, Triton and Karnak in favor of the new Ms. Marvel and a few other younger characters. Killing them off is a much better solution than just putting them in the background and focusing on the newer characters. Nothing says This story is important! than a few deaths here and there.

Two: Put the female characters front and center (in the way that modern comics are so good at.)


 Three: Make all the characters talk like 20-something coffee shop patrons. (A tactic that's worked so well the Avengers...)


Hahahha! It's so funny! Carol Danvers who used to be an officer and Security Chief for the United States Air Force talking like a ditzy wallflower. That's what I'm talking about!

I'm pretty sure if Marvel follows the tactics above, they will end up with a comic that is every bit as successful and enjoyable as many of their other top-selling comics.

- Jim


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Secret Origin of Secret Wars?

Bleeding Cool has a nice retrospective on Marvel's Secret Wars, which had me wondering what exactly was Jim Shooter's inspiration for that story? It's well know among comic historians that the series was written to support a Mattel toyline...


...but I don't ever recall reading where Jim Shooter came up with the idea for the series. Thinking about the series and Shooter's previous work, here are some other places where we see some of the concepts that appeared in Secret Wars.

First, The Legion of Superheroes - there are a number of stories which are similar to Secret Wars, including:

The Super-Stalag of Space

In this story, the Legionnaires find themselves trapped in an unescapable super-hero prison camp, very much like how the Marvel heroes are trapped on the Beyonder's man-made world. Also like Secret Wars, death is used to heighten the dramatic tension of the story.

The Menace of Beast Boy


Like Secret Wars, this story has the Legionnaires trapped and forced to fight one another. The interesting thing about this story, is that while in the Marvel Universe, superhero vs superhero battles were common place, they were rarely seen in the DC Universe during the Silver Age. Even during the Bronze Age, DC lagged far behind Marvel in this plot device. 

Another interesting idea from Secret Wars was how the story was introduced to readers. What Marvel did was in all of their regular monthly comics, they had a weird cosmic bubble appear in Central Park. Heroes would go into the bubble and then come out altered in some way with a reference to some mysterious adventure. For instance, the Hulk went into the cosmic bubble and then returned with a broken leg.


That sort of glimpse into an untold story was pretty novel at the time and really hooked readers on the series in advance. In many ways, it was similar to the Adult Legionnaires story from Adventure Comics which showed Superman walking through a memorial to fallen heroes.


The last story element that may have come from the LoSH was the Beyonder himself. As he was presented, he was an omnipotent being who dwarfed the powers of the assembled heroes. This could have been an extension of the Legion's most feared foe, Mordru.

Or...it may have just been a lingering idea in Shooter's mind after his Avenger's storyline where another being with such power threatened the universe: Michael (Korvac)

We may never know for certain, but knowing Jim Shooter's relationship with the Legion of Superheroes, it's hard to imagine the stories above didn't play some role in the formation of the Secret Wars saga.

- Jim

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Pat Broderick back at DC

From Bleeding Cool comes this news that warms my Bronze Age heart: Pat Broderick is returning to DC. What the project is hasn't been announced, but hopefully it will be something that suits his art. I've been a fan of his art style since I first encountered it in the pages of What-If 19.

What I liked about this comic was that at the time, in other titles, Spider-man was being drawn with a more standard superhero build, losing his original teenage lankiness, Broderick drew him with a angular, agile frame. In many ways, Broderick's style harkened back to the original feel that Steve Ditko had on the comic. Check out this fight scene between celebrity Peter Parker and his Judo instructors in What-If 19.

 While Broderick got to work on a number of Marvel titles, including one of my favorites, The Micronauts, where he really got to shine was at DC when he worked on Firestorm.


 He was also responsible for helping relaunch Captain Atom

Probably his most famous work at DC was his time on the Legion of Super-heroes where he and fellow ex-Marvel artist Keith Giffen helped usher in the Great Darkness Saga:


 One of my favorites from this time period was his work on the non-Superhero comic: The Lords of the Ultra-Realm.


 Also, while at DC he co-created the Creature Commandos...

...I've always liked the idea of this group, and you would probably have guessed that if you've seen the Flashback Universe comic: The League of Monsters  In many ways, Pierre's art often reminds me of Broderick's style. Check out the faces on the cover of our Saturn Knight comic. Amanita's face in particular has a very Broderick angularity to it.


While it's probably too much to hope for, wouldn't a Creatures Commandos movie seem like a no lose proposition in this era of super-heroic blockbusters? I wonder if Broderick is going to be working on a new Creature Commandos limited series? Whatever it is, I'm looking forward to seeing it.

- Jim

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