Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
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,
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
(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.
Why Gil Kane’s Team-Up is the pick of the Litter:
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.
(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.
(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.)
(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:
(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.
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 –
(From Marvel Two-In-One # 3. Sal Buscema artist. Joe Sinnott inker.)
2) And panels like this. From the Christmas issue:
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.
4) AND, WOOO-HOOO! These here comic have WUNDARR, the mentally deficient Superman in them!
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.
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.
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