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The 16 Best Team-Up Book Runs: # 6-4

Fine, fine, fine. Y’all like the White Rabbit? I’ll give you the White Rabbit! (And if the response in fandom in GENERAL is as strong as it was in the comments to this last post, Marvel’s sitting on a potential gold-mine here.)

Anyway, here are the first few parts of the list.

15-14
13-11
10-9
8-7

Aaaaand Onward!

6) J. M. DeMatteis (writer) and Kerry Gammill (artist) on Marvel Team-Up (1982-1983)

Issues: 119-125, 127-129, 131 (11 issues)

Team-Ups: The Gargoyle, Dominic Fortune, Human Torch, Daredevil, the Man-Thing, the Beast, Tigra, Watcher, Captain America, the Vision and Frog-Man.  Yes, Frog Man.  I’ll prove it.

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Why This Run Rocks: ‘Cause the first months of the J. M. DeMatteis written Marvel Team-Up were (let’s be extremely charitable here) somewhat uneven…

1) Yeah, OK. Charitable ain’t my bag. Some of those JMD/Trimpe issues were down-right-the-hell Godawful. I have Vietnam style fetal-position screaming flashbacks to the that Devil Slayer/Defenders mess in # 111 and 112.

But then Kerry Gammill

(most often paired with “finisher” Mike Esposito) kick-started the book to life. Gammill was packin’ a speedy, kinetic style that was particularly effective at defining the relationship between the characters and they’re environment. Check out (A) how well the character’s moods and personalities come through in the panels below…

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(From Marvel Team-Up # 124.  Mike Esposito inker.)

And (B) the way Gammill manages to show three different figures in motion… What they’re trying to accomplish, what they’re moving towards, and how they’re interacting.

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(From Marvel Team-Up # 121.  Esposito again.)

2) J.M.’s thoughtful, literary approach to writing. These here comics serve as much as a philosophical treatise on the idea of “family” as they do a superhero punch-em-up. Frog-Man wants to redeem his father’s old super-villain identity. The Gargoyle teaches the necessity of letting go of loved ones. The Beast reconnects with his estranged parents while the evil villain Anthony Power tries to completely sublimate his kid. And a few issues after Gammill’s departure, the evil Doctor Faustus is laid low by the IDEA of his critical, domineering mother. Traditional superheroics this ain’t.

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(From MTU # 127.  Guess who inker.)

3) On a similar note: Many of the villains aren’t overcome through violence, but through leading the baddies to self-realization.  After a hunret an’ twenty odd issues of Stegron and the City Stealers getting kicked in the face, this is…

Well, pretty damned impressive writing, is what it is.

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(Team-Up # 125 again.)

4) The supporting cast! Not only DOES JMD give the Marvel-Team-Up version of Spider-man his own supporting cast, they’re (as far as I can tell) completely unique in the history of comics. They’re an entertaining bunch, presented in broad strokes (a poet, a “Lockhorns” style married couple, a couple ‘o cougar types who are WAY into Peter Parker) but you get the sense that JMD was ready to flesh ‘em out at a moment’s notice. Let’s meet them.
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(And # 127 once more.  Esposito.)

Wow. Actual old people in comics.  It’s a Christman Miracle!

On the Other Hand: Folks, I’ve read a lot of superhero comics.  I’ve built up a toleranece for melodrama like you wouldn’t believe.  But these…. these got a bit much.  It’s SMART melodrama, and it’s melodrama punctuated with humor, but the plot of EVERY ISSUE feels like a Russian-novel, and the plot of EVERY ISSUE is full of Surprising and Life-Changing Character Revlations and…

It all starts to run together after a while.  A little bit of a lighter touch on some of these stories woulda done wonders for the run as a whole, and would’ve made the Russian novel issues stand out.  And while Gammill’s a fine, criminally underrated artist, the folks further up the list are all absolutely world class, like….

5)  Keith Giffen (artist) on DC Comics Presents (1982-1985)

Issues:  52, 59. 81, 87 and my notes say he’s SOMEHOW involved with the Amethyst team-up in # 63 – which I own, but left at my friend’s house up North before I got a chance to read it.  So 5-ish issues. (Paul Kupperberg, Paul Levitz, Robert Loren Fleming and Steve Engelhart writers.  And maybe Mishkin and Cohn.)

Team-Ups:  The Doom Patrol (the Bad Version)  the Legion of Substitute Heroes, (The BEST version), Ambush Bug, the Creeper.  And MAYBE Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld.

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Reasons Why This Run Rocks:

1) AMBUSH BUG!

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(From DC Comics Presents # 59.  Kurt Schaffenberg inker.)

2)   The chance to view Giffen’s stylistic evolution as an artist over the course of a couple years.  Mr. G’s  original style was more-than-a-little Kirbyish, but by the time ’82 rolled around his work is all odd angles, strange layouts, and absurdist images,

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(From DCCP # 52.  Sal Trapini inker.)

But just nine issue later, it’s quite-a-bit different.  The line-work is a little looser and less cluttered – And his Superman is the spitting image of the ’39 original.

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(DCCP # 59 and Schaffenberg again.)

And by ’85, a scant couple years later, it’s completely pared down and abstract.

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If you wanna follow the career evolution of an important artist in four issues, it doesn’t get any better’n these.

3) MORE Ambush Bug!

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(From DC Comics Presents # 81.  Bob Oksner inker.)

4) Show of hands. Anyone ELSE ever tried to sit down and read a bunch of team-up books all in one go? Yes?  Then you’ve noticed that they all tendta follow the same structure with minimal variation.   There are nine-or-ten story “beats” that are common to almost all of them. The Action Sequence introduction. The heroes meet, but have a misunderstanding and fight or argue. The “both heroes combine their resources to beat the villain” ending. So it’s a relief, really, to find team-up comics that not only look different, but have a unique tone, and follow a story-structure that ain’t the traditional superhero narrative. Of ALL the comics in our little countdown here, I’d call DCCP 59 and 81 the most innovative and originally conceived.

5) Issue # 81.   See, due to Red Kryptonite exposure, Superman and Ambush Bug switch bodies, ala Freaky Friday….

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(Oksner inks.)

And bring a slightly different set of priorities to their jobs….

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(Ditto.)

Honestly, folks this is one of the three-or-four funniest comics I have ever, E-V-E-R read.

On the Other Hand: it IS only four-or-maybe-five issues, and the “Buggy” humor doesn’t really kick in ’till his second appearance.  This is probably my personal favorite run on the list, but as much as I dig it there just ain’t enough of it to put it higher’n # 5 against competition like….

BONUS LINK!  Here’s FoldedSoup from The Want List on DCCP # 81.

No… No wait.  I meant competition like…..

4) Neal Adams (artist) on Brave and the Bold (1968-1972)

Issues: 79-86, 93, and inker on 102 a little less than half on 102.  (I’m not sure who the inker I couldn’t recognize actually was.)

Team-Ups: Deadman (twice!), the Creeper, Flash, Aquaman, the Teen Titans, Sgt. Rock, Green Arrow, and (sweartoGod) the House of Mystery.

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Reasons Why This Run Rocks:

1) Well, I did list “historical importance” as a list-criterion a while back.  And this here run not only introduces the revamped and bearded Green Arrow, it’s the  first interior work from Neal Adams for DC Comics!  If historical impact were the SOLE criteria, this’d be an easy # 1.

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(From Brave and the Bold # 79.)

Look at that! Judged by TODAY’S cinema-drenched standards that’s a nice sequence. In 1968(!) this was a freakin’ revelation.  Huge, widescreen panels!  Eerie, noir-drenched coloring!  And completely silent!  I can just imagine the jaws hittin’ the floor when this issue dropped.   The previous issue, where Batgirl and Wonder Woman both fall in love with Batman ala Betty and Veronica did not prepare anyone for this!

2) Hyper-realism.  What Kirby did for alien landscapes and Gods, Neal Adams did for people. He made ‘em bigger, more impressive, larger than life…  And, come t’think, he wasn’t so shabby at cosmic landscapes, neither.

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(From B &B # 86.)

3) And he shifted between “quiet” and “loud” art styles better’n anyone in the business, ever.  The noir-ish sequence up-top is a good example of “quiet.”   Here’s some “loud” for ya’.

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(From Brave and the Bold # 83.)

4)  Forgive the awful scan here -  I swear I gotta color reprint of this issue SOMEWHERE, but I can’t find it.

But I gotta point this out special:  The Batman/Deadman fight which kicks off issue # 86 contains one of THE very best fight scenes I’ve ever seen in comics.  Hopefully my crappy from-the-Showcase-volume scan of the first page can give you a LITTLE taste of what N.A. was doing.

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(From B & B # 86.)

On the Other Hand: Adams would get better.  And did, during this run.   The last two issues in this run are l’il miracles.  On the other:  The first seven have some major balance problems, as the flashy page layouts make it hard to tell what’s actually going on quite a bit of the time.  Likewise, the Neal Adams who’s so good at drawing PLACE – Picture his sweeping desert vistas in the R’as Al Ghul storylines – isn’t quite here yet.  The FIGURE drawing is superb, but there are some times when you don’t get a sense of the figures interacting with their environment.

And then there’s the writing.

When Haney and Adams are delivering straight-ahead supernatural, noir, or war stories it’s generally pretty solid.  It’s not Haney’s best work, but it’s leagues ahead of the Adam West inspired mish-mash from the last year or two of Brave and the Bold.    But when Haney and Adams try to incorporate Julie Schwartzian Science Fiction

Well, see this here  Bonus Link! to Chris Sims at the ISB.

Late Addition:  Here’s Johnny Bacardi on the Creeper Team-up in # 80.

And here’s another quite a bit more complimentary Bonus Link! from Pat at Silver Age Comics. (Who I blatantly ripped most of the color scans offa.)

Next:

One run that EVERONE wanted, one that got just a handful of mentions in the comments.  Aiming for 3-2 on Monday/Tuesday-ish.  This time I mean it.  Really.

19 Comments

Thanks for another great article. I love that DeMatteis/Gammill run.

Two notes: for number five you start off by saying “Brave and the Bold” when you mean “DC Comics Presents”. And Neal Adams had already done lots of DC Comics before B&B, including Deadman and the Spectre. I think his DC debut was on Bob Hope or Jerry Lewis or something like that. B&B was, however, his first interior Batman work.

Oh yeah. Geez. Totally wasn’t thinking there. I ever read most of his Deadman stuff when I was researching this. Thanks!

Hmmm… I dunno… Not enough White Rabbit for my tastes.

I was starting to think this article got abandonded.

As far as the Giffen issues go, I wouldn’t really count a handful of sporadic issues a run but it does sound interesting. I remember illusions to those those issues in an ambush bug issue but I always thought it was a stint on superman kieth did that I wasn’t aware of.
I always avoided the brave and the bold based on the name. When I was a kid it always reminded me of a soap opera.

Back during the JLA/JLE/JLI days whenever anybody expressed surprise or amazement that DeMatteis was scripting a very funny book, an easy answer/antidote would be to point out MTU 131–I love that issue.

I was one of the first people to mention the White Rabbit here, so I hope you’re not too upset with me for getting all that pleading started.
You’re right that DeMatteis overdid the life-changing revelations (he did that on Defenders, too), but when you read them one-at-a-time, they hold up pretty well. Mainly what I love about DeMatteis on Team-Up (and on some of his other books) was that he rarely did the same sorts of stories everyone else did. He tried to be different, and he succeeded most of the time.
(And I thought Faustus being defeated by his own Mother-obsession on DeMatties’s final story was a really cool idea, but the story itself was too gimmicky. [And if you've read the story, I don't have to explain what the gimmick was.])
The supporting cast of old people you mentioned became regular characters in the other Spidey books for the next couple of years, too. But aside from Nathan Lubensky, they didn’t get used much except as window-dressing.

This is the first time I’ve actually seen Ambush Bug. I knew he had a cult following, but other than that, I had absolutely no idea who he was. I can definitely see his appeal.
I like his confusion about Superman’s cape giving one the ability to fly. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to work?

(Whenever I hear jokes about people believing capes allow you to fly, I always think of Doctor Strange. His cape really does have that ability, but it’s the only one I know of.)

The Crazed Spruce

September 12, 2009 at 6:28 am

That Substitute Heroes teamup is one of my all-time favourite comics, hands down. I didn’t think Giffen did enough issues to count as a “run”, though. Glad to see it made the list. :)

(And 3 and 2 are Aparo’s B&B and Byrne’s Action Comics, right?)

As I remember, Marvel editorial at the time effectively split the Spider-Man supporting cast between the three books, giving the Bugle to Amazing and ESU to Spectacular, leaving Team-Up to basically make up the concept of Aunt May’s boarders. (Peter David did a nice subplot with one of them during the Sin-Eater saga a while later.)

And I distinctly remember telling you that “criterion” is singular, while “criteria” is plural.

When I write the X-Men (still waiting for the phone call, Joey Q!), I have a nifty idea for the White Rabbit. I have read a grand total of one comic with her in it (and I can’t even remember which one it is; and I’m discounting her cameo in She-Hulk a few years ago), but I love her. That’s a great cover.

I used to love Keith Giffen’s stuff. When he was funny, he was FUN-NY! But when he was bad, O-BOY… Seriously, I’ve never seen any other comics creator see-saw that bad. He gave us Ambush Bug and The Super Buddies; but he also gave us the dark Adult Legion and the *positively criminal* reworking of Amethyst. (note: I’m not sure if he’s to blame for that last one.) I sometimes wonder if he suffers from maniac-depression. It would certainly help to explain his grumpy attitude…

But let’s focus on the positive: I really need to track down those Giffen DCCP issues, I have the one where he switches bodies with Superman but I missed the Legion of Substitutes one somehow. And I agree, the fact that they were offbeat made them all the more interesting. :D

Wow, DeMatteis pulled a lot of stuff from his MTU days into his later run on Spectacular, didn’t he? Neat.

I’ve gotta track down these Giffen DCPs. I’ve got every Ambush Bug appearance from his solo stuff onwards, but the early ones I’ve yet to track down.

That first Batman/Deadman Adams was a revelation at the time, returning Batman to being a detective and mysterious, after the TV series had nearly destroyed him for some of us. I remember feeling myself an emotion echoed in many of the responses in the follow-up letter column, a feeling that this was the way Batman was supposed to look and act – with a great deal of the credit going, surprisingly ( considering how goofy his previous writing on B&B and particularly on Teen Titans had been) to Bob Haney. I think that it was as a result of the overwhelmingly positive response to this that Adams then became a staple on Batman and Detective, with Denny O’Neil completing the process of the rejuvenation of Batman. This was the point at which reading Batman became pleasurable and exciting.

I’m pretty sure FVL just mentioned he’s bringing back White Rabbit in ASM (past her minor role in Mr. Negative) if anyone REALLY cares that much.

As for how Starlin’s DC Presents could be farther down than these, I get it.

You’re basing two of the runs on artists. My brain doesn’t work that way. Makes sense, then.

loved the ambush bug teams ups espically the one where he switched bodies with supes and supes learned how hard it is to be ambush bug. the others on the list though the writers were just phoning them in

I thought Neal Adams did more than ink B&B 102 – I was under the impression he did the majority of the pencils after Jim Aparo fell ill.

Hmmm, not that I didn’t like the Giffen issues in DCCP (they’re probably my favorites right up there with the Starlin run and that action-packed Omac team-up drawn by Perez), but if a few issues dotted throughout the series count as a “run”, then I don’t see why we can’t declare that awesome 4-issue arc in MTU (the Black Widow amnesia story) by Claremont, S. Buscema and Leialoha a run and place it somewhere in the top three.

I’m guessing that its way too late, but here’s my vote for Robert Kirkman’s Marvel Team-Up run to be included in the final four. It has a lot of the things you praise these other runs for having – good art, interesting villains and continuing stories. And, IMO, it has one element that really makes it stand out for me – tons of ambition.

Besides Waid and Perez’s B&B relaunch, it’s the most recent attempt at this sort of thing and it definitely had the most modern sensibility, which makes it ironic that it has been overlooked so far.

Damn it!

Doctor Bob’s right about B & B 102. I don’t have a copy anymore (it got stolen along with 98% of the rest of my single issue team-up books) and I was working off notes that were not particularly well organized and over a year old.

Once I’m past # 1, I’ll do at least one follow up post on the dozen-or-so runners up that I really like or have been mentioned in the comments.

Actually, I don’t think there have been any runs mentioned in the comments that I don’t really like.

And I’ll admit to the one run that could-very-well be eligible that I haven’t read any of.

I LOVE the Cerebus blloon, floating along behind the Superman one!

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