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


Trey said...

You forgot the unique threeway team up title: Marvel Triple Action

Britt Reid said...

"Was DC Comics Presents a copyright renewal clearing house?"

Not copyright, but trademark.
If a trademark isn't used in commerce (on a product such as a comic book) for a year if it's a "TM" and three years if it's an ®, it's considered "abandoned" and anyone can grab it and use it (in comics, on a different character).
Just ask DC about Captain Marvel and why, since 1967, there's always someone named "Captain Marvel" whether human or Kree, male or female, active in the Marvel Universe...
All the Marvel and DC "team-up" books were used to maintain little-used trademarks during periods when characters weren't appearing regularly elsewhere.
It wasn't their sole reason for existence, but they were convenient catch-all books when characters weren't appearing elsewhere.

Unknown said...

Britt beat me to the copyright vs. trademark comment.

You left out the wonderful Project Pegasus/Serpent Crown arcs of Two-in-One.

The team-up between the Thing and Doc Savage is one of my top ten single issue comics.

I think the reason the team-up books don't get traction nowadays is multi-fold.

1. While they existed mostly in-continuity, they didn't reflect what was going on outside of their own titles that much. They weren't continuity intense or continuity driven. The readership is older now, the style of the comics has shifted to telling large ongoing stories instead of done-in-ones, and books are continuity heavy and feel very continuity driven even when the companies shuck themselves of the continuity every 5 years. A family book must have a cross-over team-up with its other members a couple issues a year now. (Imagine DC Comics Presents having to cross over with Superman, Adventure, Action and possibly Superboy and the Legion while B& B crosses over with Batman, Detective, Batman and the Outsiders with comments about what Dick is up to in Titans). Poor World's Finest and Justice League alternate which families they are part of.). I think it's a law or something. But, it's why I tend to avoid titles that are part of "families" these days.

MattComix said...

I think the reason why the revivals don't work is maybe because team-up books are just more ideal for newsstand (or even digital?) distribution than they are for the LCS where everybody already knows all the players and keep with the crossovers as newspapers from another dimension.

For a kid or a first time reader you get a familiar marquee character and then maybe a not so familiar character in one nice package that gives you a bead on who they are and what their basic deal is. Even if their appearance in the book doesn't make you run out and buy their title you've still been given one more piece of the tapestry of that superhero universe.

As for picking a favorite that's hard. These titles kind of defined the lions share of my reading as a little kid just because they seemed to be the ones on the spinner rack when my Grandpa would pick one for me at random and bring it home.

Superman's team-up with the Metal Men against Chemo stands out to me. As does Spideys team-up with Red Sonja (who was brought into the story in a way that kind of blew my mind as kid.)

I think DCP informs more of what the Bronze Age Superman was for me than even Action or the main title. Kind of the same with Batman in B&B and Spider-Man in MTU.

Like I was telling Jim I might not have ever really known who the heck Sgt. Rock and Easy Company were if not for the story in DCP where Superman gets knocked back in time and loses his memory.

Jamdin said...

Hard to say which is my favorite team-up story for there are so many that I still enjoy. I really liked the Brave and the Bold stories especially the ones with Green Arrow and Wildcat.

I also like some of the World's Finest issues that had Superman teaming up with different super heroes instead of Batman. That was years before DC Comics Presents... was published.

Jim Shelley said...

@Britt - durn it, I know better than that, but I totally put the wrong one anyway. Thank you for the catch!

@Trey - was Marvel Triple Action actually a team up comic? I thought it was just a Avengers reprint book?

@Edward Love - Oh, don't think I've forgotten about Project Pegasus! That's one of my all time favorite Bronze Age comic arcs. I've talked about it several times here. I'm less enamored with the Serpent Crown arc. It just feels a little weaker of the two. --- I agree with your thoughts about the current family titles.

@MattComix - this article prompted me to rediscover a lot of the old DCP stories. I'm surprised how well some of them hold up. The one about the Atomic Knights was a bit of downer for me though.

@Jamdin - I almost included those World's Finest issues you are talking about - the only problem is I've only read a half dozen or so of them, so I didn't feel like I could offer any worthwhile commentary on them.

Fred W. Hill said...

Aside from those first 3 issues, the Human Torch's lead role in later Marvel Team-Ups (without Spider-Man, that is) ran the same months as the Giant-Size Spider-Man issues, all of which featured a guest star, thus making it in essense another team-up mag. Once the Giant-Size mags were cancelled, Spider-Man took to appearing in every issue of Team-Up, with only a couple of rare exceptions IIRC, for the remainder of the title's run.


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