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The Top 15 Best Team-Up Book Runs: # 15-14

Since the team-up format is undergoing a bit of a resurgence lately with the addition of The Brave and the Bold TV show to the Cartoon Network line-up, I thought it might be fun to examine the comic book roots of the show.

Ah, the team-up book! These are a strain of comic, most popular in the ’70s and early ’80s, where a sales-grabbing “A” list character – Superman or Spider-man, say – would be paired with a succession of less-popular co-stars in hopes of expanding the audience for (and salability of) the current guest.

Sadly, this doesn’t make for an especially stable storytelling engine, and, as much as I love them – (*choke*) Many of these comics just aren’t very good. Sure, you might get Alan Moore to do one issue of DC Comics Presents, or Jack Kirby to do a few covers for Marvel Two-In-One

But these dudes aren’t gonna stick around working on Marvel Team-Up month in and month out. So a really good multi-issue RUN on one of these books is something of a rarity.

Let’s look at some.

So in the spirit of last years Top 100 Comic Runs – But without all that inconvenient “voting” – let’s take at the very BEST work done on the team-up book titles by the few, the proud, the folks who were doing great work in a

difficult to work with,

low-publicity format,

for an extended period of time (defined in this case as “five or more issues, Edit due to unfortunate error on my part: 4 or more issues)

that some fans (Well, at least ME) have great affection for.

Ready?

15) TIE: J. L. Garcia-Lopez (artist) on DC Comics Presents (1979-1982)

Issues: 1-4, 17, 20, 24, 31, 41 (9 issues) Martin Pasko, Gerry Conway, Denny O’Neil and Len Wein, writers.

Team-Ups: Superman with the Flash, Adam Strange, Metal Men, Firestorm, Green Arrow, Deadman, and Robin. Aside from the Flash, it’s a solid solid mix of second stringers who couldn’t quite hold down their own book. With, ohyeah, the Joker tossed in at the end to mess wit’ ya.
395px-DC_Comics_Presents_3

Why JLGL on DCCP Rocks:

1) Garcia Lopez is, oddly, best known as the bronze age artist who most deserves to be better known. He’s got a legion of in-the-industry fans, but that never translated into the culture at large acclaim you’d figure this gent deserves. He’s GOOD, and I’m going to try to prove that *you* should join the fan-chorus.

Notice, here, his unparalleled and somewhat frightening skill at making his character pop right off the page.

rsz_image0005

(From DC Comics Presents # 4)

Superman is doing MATH at YOU!

2) Garcia-Lopez is also a very proficient CARTOONIST. Many design-heavy illustrators aren’t particularly skilled at reflecting the emotional state of their characters but, well…

Check out Superman’s facial expressions in the panel below. Anger, denial, sadness, shock… It’s like someone killed his puppy.

rsz_image0004
(From DC Comics Presents # 17. Steve Mitchell Co-Artist)

3) Panel design and composition!!! I could talk about this next page all day, but in the interest of brevity lemme hit just three of it’s salient virtues. Notice the symmetrical balance between the left and right side of the page, the cock-eyed camera angle in the top panel, and the way that everywhere you look on this page there’s SOMETHIN’ cool happening.

Notice, and Marvel. :)

rsz_image0006
(From DC Comics Presents # 41.Frank McGlaughlin Inker)

Now imagine that damnnear every page is drawn with this kind of compositional acumen. The only question we need to ask is….

Why So Low On the List? In a word, writing. The Firestorm, Metal Men, and Joker team-ups shown above are all decently, if not spectacularly, conceived and executed. But the rest of these … hooooo boy. Especially turgid is the overly-wrought and confusing Flash team-up from the first two issues. If the writing matched the art this would easily be near the top. But it don’t. So it ain’t.

Bonus Link: Here’s an entry on our man from CSBG’s Month of Art Stars by Brian Cronin.

15) TIE: Gil Kane (artist) on Marvel Team-Up (1972-1974)

Issues: 4-6, 13, 14, 16-19, 23 (10 issues) Gerry Conway and Len Wein, writers.

Team-Ups: Spider-Man plus The Vision, the Thing, Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, Ka-Zar, and Captain Marvel. Also, and most notably, the X-men show up during their period of semi-cancellation. The last two issues were Human Torch stories sans Spidey, pairing him with the Hulk and Iceman.

Marvel Team-Up 19

Why Gil Kane’s Team-Up is the pick of the Litter:

1)

Gil Kane was the guy we all swiped from because he had superhero anatomy all figured out. If you were trying to compose a page with two guys punching each other and one of them flying towards the camera, you’d dig out your Gil Kane comics to see how he did that, to see how he constructed the figures.

Kevin Nowlan, artist: Jack B. Quick and Superman vs. Aliens.

rsz_image0009
(From Marvel Team-Up # 14. Wayne Howard Inker)

2) There’s fewer’n a babies hand-ful of artists as adept at depicting the delicate, breathtaking ballet of superhero foot meeting bad-guy face than Gil Kane. Let’s see the maestro at work.

rsz_image0008
(From Marvel Team-Up # 23. Mike Esposito Inker.)

3) These comics are decently-well written, which is a nice change. Tighter editorial control of these books allowed for continuing stories and sub-plots, which in turn allowed greater depth of characterization. Also, Wein and Conway do a commendable job populating these comics with interesting one-shot background characters – Drunks and cabbies, holiday shoppers and Midwestern tourists – all with a specific, unique voice. (Sadly, these vivid, funny supporting players seem to have all moved out of Marvel New York in the last couple decades. They’re sorely missed.)

4) This run introduces the GREATEST MARVEL CHARACTER EVER….. (Hint: Not Spider-Man.)

stegron

(Someday I’ll get around to writing that “Stegron! The Charlie Brown of supervillains!” essay.)

5) And Kane treats us to the following panel, self-explanatory in it’s awesomeness:
IMAGE0007
(From Marvel Team-Up # 4. Steve Mitchell Inker.)

Why So Low On the List? The relatively low Marvel production values and highly inconsistent inking – SweartoGod, issue # 17 is credited to “EVERYBODY!!!” – stop this from ranking up there with Blackmark or the Atom as the best of Kane’s work. And while the writing is BETTER than the DCCP run listed above it’s still a far cry from Shakespearean.

Bonus Link: Here’s Plok on the Human Torch/Iceman issue pictured above.

14) Steve Gerber(writer) on Marvel Two-In-One (1973)

Issues: 1-8 (8 Issues) Gil Kane, Sal Buscema and George Tuska artists.

Team-Ups: Man-Thing, a couple Defenders, Daredevil, the Sub-Mariner, the Guardians of the Galaxy… All characters Gerber was writing or had written in his career. Also Captain America and Ghost Rider show up. Sadly, there’s no Howard the Duck. Waugh.

1-1
Reasons I dig these books:

1) Steve Gerber is, flat out, my single favorite scripter to work in comics… well, EVER, really. At it’s best he brings a worldview both well-thought-out and humanistic, combined with possibly THE Most. Freaking. B-I-Z-A-R-R-E visual imagination ever to work in comics. Which leads to sequences like this-

Wherein Matt “Secret Identity of Daredevil” Murdock and his current Saturday night squeeze are heading out to take in a show, when they’re confronted by -

IMAGE0001
(From Marvel Two-In-One # 3. Sal Buscema artist. Joe Sinnott inker.)

2) And panels like this. From the Christmas issue:
ChristmasMTIO-WiseMen

Which, yes, IS the Thing and Ghost Rider as 2/3rds of the three wise men.

3) And there’s some nicely refined character work, especially from the Valkyrie team-up in # 7, a heady little story about the definition and fluidity of identity that ends up being all thought-provoking and quite sad by the end. paperdolls3

4) AND, WOOO-HOOO! These here comic have WUNDARR, the mentally deficient Superman in them!

404px-Fear_Vol_1_17

He’s poignant, trapped in a world he doesn’t understand! He hangs out with the Sub-mariner’s cutie-pie cousin Narmorita! And, most importantly, he’s funny!

The final punchline on the joke: I’ve heard (although can’t find a reliable source) that the Powers That Be at DC were actually upset by lovable ol’ Wundarr!

On the Other-Hand: Like Gil Kane above, nobody’s gonna argue that this is Gerber’s best work. The final three solo-penned issues are great, but the first five are downright… dare I say it? Traditional?!!!! And sometimes kind of boring. Only 3/8ths of ‘em rank as “great” in my estimation. Good for 14th.

Bonus Links:
Here’s Chris Sims on that Thing and Ghost Rider team-up.

And a two-fer here’s a long and thougtful essay on existentialism (really!) and the Thing/Valkyrie team-up.
And one on WUNDARR! hizzown bad self.

Tomorrow:

13-11!

30 Comments

I have some issues from each above.

Some issues of team up books were so bad, they were good–but not how they were intended.
But issues 1&2 of DCCP (wouldn’t that be Detective Comics Comics presents?) are very bad–and not so good at all. I had them once upon a time, but sold them long ago. Awful stuff.

And when they were good–they were lots of fun.

I’m thinking some B&B does comes in soon.

“Get hip, schweinhunds!” Great to see you getting some posts up, Mark.

I’m confused. We’re you talking about Marvel Two-In-One or Man-Thing? Or was that Man-Thing cover the only picture you had of Wundarr, but that he Was in Two-In-One at some point?

Wow. I’d almost forgotten the Torch had a red suit for awhile.

Will DeMatteis on Marvel Team-Up be number one?

If those early Marvel Team-Ups are *better* than those early DCPs, then I don’t ever want to read the latter.

And I have to know: Who’s the 3rd Wise Man?

I usually go for writers these days. But every time someone posts a page by Garcia-Lopez on this blog, I drool. I think I’d be happy just looking at the art in those DCCPs (I might even have that Joker one buried in a box somewhere). And my library has nothing, NOTHING by Lopez! BOOOOOOO!

That particular run of DC Comics Presents is what got me hooked on comics as a kid. No joke.

I remember enjoying the Project Pegasus and Serpent Crown issues from MTIO.
I should dig them out sometime.

At the top I’m going to go with Claremont/Bryne on Team-Up. Would issue 100 be included in that run? That was an awesome story. My personnal favorite was Mark Gruenwald (sp?) on Two-In-One. Aparo on Brave and Bold also has to be up there.

When I was a kid these comics were my staples. The only two comics I had a subcription to were MTIO and B&B. These series were great in that they introduced us to lesser know characters. I don’t think DCCP really matched the quality of the other three, although the series did introduce He-Man and Ambush Bug.

I always loved the team-up titles put out by the big two in the ’70s and early ’80s – these were the most likely to have “done-in-one” stories which were so important to the young fan buying most of his comics from the grocery-store spinner rack, which all too often meant a missing issue in the middle of a story arc due to spotty distribution.
Anyway, I agree that DCP was the weakest of the four major team-up comics of the time – although I absolutely agree with the sheer beauty of those issues drawn by Garcia Lopez, esp. the first four; I also really, really liked those few ‘cosmic’ issues done by Jim Starlin (what was it? 25-29, plus 36-37?). There’s also that cool Omac issue drawn by Perez, but that really doesn’t count as a run, does it?
I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of your choices, to see how they jibe with mine – although I’m pretty sure number 1 will be, probably rightfully, be Aparo’s B&B.

The Crazed Spruce

August 25, 2009 at 3:15 am

As good as Clairemont & Byrne’s run on MTU was, I’d be amazed if it pushed Aparo’s B&B out of the top spot.

Frankly, I’m just hoping that Greg Larocque’s MTU issues make the cut.

So, anyone taking bets to see how high Byrne’s Action Comics rank? (I’m guessing around 8.)

Bernard the Poet

August 25, 2009 at 3:55 am

Haney & Adams at no.1. Haney & Aparo at no.2. Any other result would be insanity.

I remember reading my brother’s collection of Supervillain Team Up when I was a kid. Doom and Namor! I really don’t remember much more about them, though….

Matthew Johnson

August 25, 2009 at 6:19 am

Why doesn’t Ghost Rider’s headdress catch fire?

I wonder if The Thing, who is Jewish, is confronted at the religious dilemma of being one of the three wise men at Jesus’ birth.

I’d say that would leave me a bit torn.

I’ll be the blasphemer here and say that I’d personally put Bendis above either Haney run.

But as long as the Wein DCCP run shows up I’ll be happy.

(I wonder: do the Power Company prequels count as a team-up book run?)

never much liked marvel two in one execpt for the thing giving Valkerie a shoulder to cry on and find superman teaming up with the joker hilerious for loved brave and the bold. nice choices

Mary Warner- I don’t have any access to any color Wundarr stories, and that was the best picture I could find on Google image search. MTIO didn’t have a good Wundarr cover, more’s the pity. And, man, those first few Dematties stories were rough-going. I dunno….

Michael P – And now the books migrated to the bottom of the pile, but I’m fairly sure there wasn’t a third wise-man. There really should have been.

Black Manta – I think my first subscription was Marvel Team-Up, but it got killed for Web of Spider-man and I was mad. Strange you mentioned He-man… Man, I’ve heard lots of hate for the two Masters of the Universe issues, and I really dig ‘em.

For every really good Garcia-Lopez issue of DCCP, there were way too many issues of not so good art, sadly mostly from Joe Staton. Now Staton is is very good at what he does, especially when he inks himself or has a good inker like Frank McLaughlin or Dick Giordano but too often his DCCP issues were obviously rushed and then sketchily inked by Frank Chiramonte which did not pair up well with Staton’s style. (And at least one issue, Staton was inked by Vinnie Colletta–ugh!). As for the stories (particularly a lot of Gerry Conway’s issues), for comic books, they were worse than bad, they were…dull. Still, some good memories re: DCCP, The Starlin issues standout. The trilogy with Len Wein scripting and cool team ups with J’onn J’onzz and Supergirl and the mind bending conclusion with the Spectre, And of course the GL team up issue scripted by Marv Wolfman which also featured the first ever Wolfman/Perez Teen Titans.

I bough the first Marvel Two-In-One trade for the Gerber stories. Really dig those, and I’m not a huge team up fan like you are. I do love some Gerber, though.

Garcia Lopez is, oddly, best known as the bronze age artist who most deserves to be better known. He’s got a legion of in-the-industry fans, but that never translated into the culture at large acclaim you’d figure this gent deserves. He’s GOOD, and I’m going to try to prove that *you* should join the fan-chorus.

I don’t know why people find it so odd that Garcia-Lopez is so little known. He did all his work at DC and as far as I know, none at Marvel. If you want to do a DC-only career, especially during the years he worked when virtually no one thought DC comics were cool, you need to do a solid notable run on Batman or Superman, or maybe even Flash or Green Lantern, which he never did. He was being primed to be the main Superman artist once Curt Swan retired, but Crisis and the recruitment of John Byrne to do Man of Steel changed that. If that happened maybe things would have turned out differently for Garcia-Lopez.

Nowadays I think an artist can do a DC-only career and still become a star. Not so much back then.

Great lists! I think Claremont and Byrne’s run on Marvel Team-Up should be pretty high.

…why is Stegron rubbing his crotch against Spidey’s bum?

[...] would by a Metal Men ongoing from this creative team? Also, this may finally get JLGL that love MarkAndrew pointed out he deserves more [...]

…why is Stegron rubbing his crotch against Spidey’s bum?

It means “I AM AWESOME!” in Stegosaurian.

My votes are the following:

1. Bob Haney and Jim Aparo’s Brave and the Bold

2. Claremont and Byrne on Marvel Team-up

3. Gruenwald, Macchio with Byrne, Perez and Wilson as artists on Marvel Two-in-one

Impressive list, but in the name of accuracy I feel compelled to point out that the panel of Stegron and Spidey from MTU isn’t Gil Kane. It’s Ross Andru.

I appear to be in the minority here, but I loved the Superman/Flash story from the first two issues of DCCP.
Martin Pasko takes the two heroes to the end of time and back, throwing in cameos from the LSH and Professor Zoom and a couple of warring alien races to boot. This is the kind of wild, everything but the kitchen sink type of story that makes superhero comics so much fun. Grant Morrison tried to pull off this kind of thing in his later issues of JLA, but those stories overwhelm with their frenetic pacing, where Pasko’s tale never does.

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