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CSBG Archive

The Top 16 Best Team-Up Book Runs: # 2-3

And back!  All Spider-man all the time this time ’round.  Click the “Best Team-Up Books” tag at the bottom for previous installments.

3)  Brian Michael Bendis (writer) on Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (2001-2002)

Issues:  1-16 and a special (17 issues) Matt “Grendel” Wagner, Phil “the Coffin/Green Arrow” Hester, Mike “Madman/X-Statix” Allred, Bill “New Mutants/Voodoo Child” SIN-KEV-VITCH, Jim (Grrl Schouts) Mahfood, John “Swamp Thing” Totleben, Chynna “Blue Monday” Clugston-Major/Florez, Ted “Metropol” McKeever, Terry “Strangers in Paradise/Runaways” Moore, Rick and David “Kabuki” Mays and Mackartists.

With short pieces from Alex “Daredevil” Maleev, Dan “Nocturnals” Brereton , John “Spider-man!” Romita.  Senior (!), Frank “Avengers/Liberty Meadows” Cho, Scott “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” Morse, Craig “Blankets and the much better Goodbye Chunky Rice” Thompson, Michael Avon “Powers” Oeming, Jason “aBody Bags” Pearson, Sean “Sleeper/Criminal” Phillips, Mark “Spider-man/Trinity” Bagely, P. Craig “Sandman/Ring of the Nibelung” Russel, Jason “Scars/Crossed” Burrows, Leonard “Agents of Atlas” Kirk, Dave “Wonder Woman Annual” Gibbons, Michael “Alias” Gaydos, James “Sketchbook Diaries” Kolchaka, David “Kabuki” Mack, Bret “Shot Callerz (Which MarkAndrew liked a lot)” Weldele, Ashley “Spawn/Automatic Kafka” Wood.


Team-Ups: Spider-man with:  Wolverine, the Hulk, Iron Man, Punisher, Daredevil, Punisher & Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Man-Thing, X-men, Doctor Strange, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and cameos by Blade, Mary Jane Watson, Elektra, Captain America, the Human Torch, the Ultimates and Iceman.

Y’know, it took 200-some-odd words but I think my point is proven.  How can you argue with talent like that?

<b>Why This Run Rocks</b>

1) This series is basically my platonic ideal of how a team-up run should work.  One writer lends a basic consistency to the scripts, but each individual issue looks different as the types of stories change.  The earliest Brave and the Bold team-ups used the same sort of method, but the results were wildly uneven.  (Although Brave and the Bold # 52 is one of the very best issues of the entire run.)




Lord, lord, lord.  Beauty.


(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up # 8.  Bill Sienkiewicz artist.)

2)  There are some really interesting, mixed-media, Watchmen-ish storytelling tricks in some of these stories.    The John Totelben Man-Thing is intercut with a love letter between a guy and his wife, and it’s still kind of sweet even though he turned himself into an evil lizard.    The last super-size “Special” issue is essentially “Peter Parker does his homework and runs into superheroes along the way.”  The Punisher/Daredevil story itself is only, like, five scenes,  a couple days, three issues, but it’s interspersed with flashbacks that deal with YEARS worth of back-story.  The Fantastic Four story… Well, it is an issue of Ambush Bug, basically, complete with porous fourth wall.  And here’s a nice dual-narrative story from the Allred Iron Man issue.


(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up # 4.  Mike Allred artist.  Man, scans from squarebound comics always come out gooshy.  I wish I had the floppies.)

3)  Back to the art:  It’s fairly clear that Bendis has tailored the story to his specific artist –

Hey, there’s no Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, or Nick Fury team-ups.  So all us New Avengers readers KNOW he’s not just picking his favorite characters.  (And I believe that Matt Wagner said he chose Wolverine with no input, ‘though I can’t find the quote.)  And, yeah, it’s possible to TRY to tailor a story to an artists strengths and fail, but Bendis does a commendable job responding to the skillsets of over a dozen wildly different artists.


(From UMTU # 1.  Matt Wagner artist.)

4)  “Wildly different” is something of an understatement.  To give some quick examples:   Scott Morse does weirldy lumpy magical realism.  Chynna Clugston-whatever’s best known for foul-mouthed teenage soap-opera.  Frank Cho was, at the time, best known for drawing a funny animal comic strip. The number of different styles on display is what really seals this run in the “GREAT” category.


(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up Special.  Jim Mahfood Artist.)

On the Other Hand: This series messed up Ultimate Universe continuity forever.  Check the Wikipedia article –  Which is 86% continuity bitching and doesn’t even mention the Marvel Fanfare inspired concept for this series – for more information.  And as annoyingly anal as wiki is  it doesn’t even MENTION the most egrigious error –  In her cameo appearance BLUE Finnegan from BLUE Monday has RED hair.  I’ a a reasonable guy.  Idon’t often advocate the tar-and-feathering of colorists and editors, but some errors are just inexcusable.

Story continues below

Much less importantly, one of Bendis’ big strengths as a writer come from his long-term plotting – his stories usually offer pay-offs months, even years, down the road.   Unfortunately, he has no chance to show off here, and his single issue scripts are relatively weak.  There DOES seem to be a long-term meta-plot involving Doctor Doom in the making here, but the series was cancelled long before it reached fruition.  Another strike against.  Still –  It is the best conceived and team-up book over the long haul, and that’s worth a # 3.

Bonus Link! Here’s Brad Curran from a while back on the Jim Mahfood penned Fantastic Four issue.

2)  John Byrne (artist/co-plotter) and Chris Claremont (writer) on Marvel Team-Up (1976-1980)

Issues:  59-70, 75, 79 and part of 100. (14 annahaf issues.)

Team-Ups: Spider-man and:  Yellowjacket and the Wasp (the ONLY appearance for either of ‘em as featured players in a team-up book),  the Human Torch, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, the Daughters of the Dragon, Captain Britain, Tigra, the Man-Thing, Havok, Thor, Luke Cage, Red Sonja (!) and a Spider-man-less Storm and Black Panther back-up feature.


Why This Run Rocks:


Some general thoughts:

Team-up books feature a bunch of different characters.  (Fine, OBVIOUSLY.  But I’m building here.)   Since stories are based on characters, this means that the wily team-up book creators must work with a variety of story-types.  All writers and artists have their genre-based strengths and weaknesses.  Which means that the quality of team-up books tends to be a HAYULL of a lot more variable than most comics.

Which is why this run is a little miracle.  Every single darn issue is GOOD.   *Bam*  *Bam*  You hear that?  That’s rock solid baby.  And that’s not something I’d say of any of the 15 other runs mentioned.

Or, to put it another way, the Claremont/Byrne run has, by far, the best worst issue of any of the hot 16.


(From Marvel Team-Up # 70.  Tony Dezuinga inker.)

2)   Characterization.  Miraculously, the two starring characters have relationships that feel (more-or-less) like actual human relationships.  Captain Britain and Spider-man start out regarding each other with suspicion, but some intense experiences turn this into trust.  Spider-man and Thor have a professional’s regard for each other’s work.  Luke Cage and Peter Parker share an instant, and easy camraderie.  Storm and the Black Panther want to get it on till the break ‘o dawn.   You know who fails to do this?   Pretty much everyone else who’s ever written a team-up book, ever.


(From MTU # 75.  Al Gordon inker.)

3)  Friggin’ S-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r fight scenes.  Honestly, I’d never been that much of a Byrne fan before collecting these issues, but his MTU just sold me.  His fight correography is up there with anyone in the business.   The Super Skrull issue – which I left at (my scanner-less) home ’cause I’m an idiot – was especially good.  But here’s Spider-man vs. Tigra to make up for it.


(From Team-Up # 68.  Bob Wiacek inker.)

4)  Spider-man and Red Sonja.  Byrne and Austin.


On the Other Hand: The plotting is tight.  Each character is distinct.  The coloring is perfectly effective.  The sequential story-telling is well thought out.  The individual panels are nicely designed.  Geez.  I can’t t think of anything bad to say.The aren’t my favorite covers ever, I suppose.  Honestly, I got no complaints:  For my money this is as good as the duo’s X-men run.

Which means we’ve eliminated fifteen of sixteen runs…  And I’m an English major so this is hard for me, but I believe there’s only one left.

God knows how long it’ll take me to re-read all this stuff, and I think I’ll have a lot to write about.  Seeya…  I’ll try for Sunday-ish, OK?


The image isn’t coming through, but was that the issue with Havok and the Living Monolith? I liked it. What I DIDN’T like was that idiocy with Spider-Man using his Spidey Sense to … well I won’t spoil it, but that AIN’T how it works!

Thanks for highlighting that run. It was great. I spent a ton of money at COmic Con this summer buying up Marvel Team-Ups, and Two-in-Ones just because they were so damn good.

The Byrne/Claremont run on MTU was, as a whole, much more entertaining than their X-Men stuff.

Ultimate Marvel Team-Up: The exact moment that anal-retentive nerds began to ruin the Ultimate Universe.

The Claremont/Byrne Team-Up issues are what really turned me on to comics. MTU #61 was my first comic I bought. Before that I had read my friend’s MTU with Warlock (#55 if memory serves – Hey! Shouldn’t that be included in this run?) and that was a heckuva lot of fun as well. If a little confusing to someone who had very little knowledge of the Marvel Universe.

Holy shit, that’s an awesome roster on UMTU!!!

For some reason I never read ultimate comics, but I need to start with this!

“This series messed up Ultimate Universe continuity forever.” –And I care not one bit.

“Craig “Blankets and the much better Goodbye Chunky Rice” Thompson” –I made this exact argument yesterday. Chunky Rice says the same thing as Blankets but in a much more subtle and satisfying way. Not that Blankets is bad, but with Goodbye Chunky Rice out there, it seems unnecessary.

MJ – You’re right about the Warlock, down to the issue number. But issue 55 was written by Bill Mantlo, so I didn’t mention it here. I REALLY STRONGLY considered calling this run “John Byrne (artist) on Marvel Team-Up” but I decided that was slighting Claremont a bit.

Dan Felty – Right, right, right. I’m always more impressed by someone who can make their point in 200 pages compared to someone who takes 700.

Chunky Rice has the better-constructed story, better characters, and tighter plotting. I would call it the better of the two. The story in Blankets, however, was one I could relate to (not all the family weirdness, just the relationship stuff). I hope Thompson comes out with a new work one of these days.

Just to complete the UMTU line-up: Rick “Kabuki Agents: Scarab, Arsenal” Mays, Jason “Bodybags” Pearson, Michael “Alias” Gaydos, Jacen “Chronicles of Wormwood, a whole bunch of Avatar Alan Moore adaptations” Burrows

And how friggin’ awesome is Bill Sienkiewicz’s “Voodoo Child?” He gets Hendrix, and is the visual artist closest in tone and boundary-pushing to Hendrix himself. The auto-bio piece was a bit lacking, but Sienkiewicz did outstanding work.

So, who worked on Marvel Team-Up with Spider-Man and the cast of SNL?

I loooove the Claremont/Byrne run!

Ethan – MTU #74 was written by Claremont, pencilled by Bob Hall and inked by Steve Severin. Mr. Hall has some behind the scenes insight on this issue at this page from Chronological Snobbery:

Sorry – I didn’t leave my name in the post directly above.

Wooo ! Byrne/Claremont ! Superb run, some great team ups. This has just been (mostly) collected in Essential Marvel Team Up v3 – Byrne’s stuff always look great in B&W .

Is there a rights issue with #79 (Red Sonja) The original listing for the EMTU3 on Amazon UK ommited it from the line up but I’ve seen it collected in a HC edition somewherem but when the volume hit the contents didn’t get as far as 79.

MTU #79 is one of my favorite team-up issues ever. A perfect, action-packed, beautifully drawn done-in-one story – I like it so much that when I got back into comics a few years ago I broke with my usual practice of only buying trades or other collections, like Essentials, to get this one (I would have even if there were no copyright issues preventing it from being reprinted). The Claremont/Byrne issues of MTU are, IMO, the absolutely best of that series, although Claremont also wrote some outstanding MTU issues without Byrne (Yes! I’m thinking of that 4-issue Black Widow arc with S. Buscema/Leialoha! Did you think I’d manage to get through a comment without mentioning it?) To be fair, you should have called it Claremont’s MTU run, the same way you did with Brennert on B&B and Gruenwald/Macchio on MTIO.

Wow. I can’t believe it was Mantlo who wrote that Warlock issue. It was Claremont all the way in my mind. The Mantlo run on MTU was entertaining as well. Far better than anything that went before on the title.

A word for Dave Hunt’s inking of Byrne. Everyone raves about Austin doing Byrne but the Hunt inking early on in the run is superb.

I’d have put the Claremont/Byrne MTU at #1, but that’s just me.

Here in the UK Ultimate Team-Up was the backup feature in the Ultimate Spider-Man book, but frustratingly the credits were never printed. I’d have to credit that with getting me interested in the Ultimate U., ’cause it took me a while to warm to Ultimate Spidey.

Mike Loughlin:

I just wanted to agree with you that Voodoo Child is firggin’ awesome. It’s beyond awesome. I think it could easily make a list of top five graphic novels for art.

I’ve never investigated the Bendis MTU run but it sounds a lot of fun, but Byrne/Claremont on MTU is only slightly behind Macchio/Gruenwald/Perez on MTIO in my mind. I’d love Byrne/Claremont forever solely for the wonderful Spidey/Yellowjacket/Wasp team-up in 59 & 60- those issues made Hank and Jan amongst my favourite characters ever.

“Ultimate Marvel Team-Up: The exact moment that anal-retentive nerds began to ruin the Ultimate Universe.”

I could argue that Ultimate Marvel was ruined FROM THE START… but I won’t. ;)

Oh man, I had forgotten about the Claremont/Byrne run… mainly because, uh, I had no idea who did it. :P You see, those came out around the time I discovered American comics, and since the Latin ones I read previously had NO credits (not even the ones who were translations of American comics) I paid NO attention to who wrote or drew them… took me a while to notice it was supposed to matter! But yeah, those were some great stories, and great looking too. The Red Sonja one was particularly clever (MJ as a reincarnation of Sonja? OH YEAH!) :D

In fact, I expected this to be #1. Who can top it?

Very cool stuff… Thank you so much for this post, I really enjoyed it!

Glad to see so much love those great MTU issues – that Yellowjacket?wasp story was one of my favorites as a kid.

Only quibble? “His fight correography is up there with anyone in the business.”

It’s choreography.

Mike Loughlin – Thanks! I’ll edit those in. (I thought it would be funnier if I didn’t use google, although I cheated on the names of a couple series where I could picture the front cover in my head.)

I shoud have remembered Gaydos and Jason Burrows. I own a couple of the avatar one-shots, and the ALIAS omnibus has been on my futon for the better part of a year.

Edo Bosnar
To be fair, you should have called it Claremont’s MTU run, the same way you did with Brennert on B&B and Gruenwald/Macchio on MTIO.

I considered it.

Honestly, if you (and others) weren’t pushing the other Claremont stuff, I would have called this John Byrne’s run on Marvel Team-Up, and included the Warlock and Hulk issues he did with Mantlo – Half because I really liked his first three issues, half because there’s an X-men cameo (Byrne’s first time drawing the team) that makes # 53 the most historically issue outta the 150.

I’m vetoing “Claremont on MTU” ’cause of the Saturday Night Live issue – Which was a brilliant idea, but completely unfunny in execution. The best part was that Gilda Radner/Rosanne Rosannadanna was featured in the letter col. after the issue hit.

Phillip Ayers – Good point. He’s probably my favorite of the MTIO inkers. (Although I didn’t think any of ‘em were less than good.)

Also Dynamite entertainment is currently publishing Red Sonja, so I assume they own the rights – And that # 79 won’t be reprinted by Marvel. Amazon says there’s a softcover of the (2008) Spider-man/Red Sonja series, which DOES reprint Marvel Team-Up # 79.

MTU 79 has a sequel of sorts in Uncanny X-Men (190-191 iirc) I’d read those issues years ago but only got the MTU issue this year.

I recently sold all my Ultimate books. No nostalgia left for them. But I saved all my UMTU issues because they are all legitimately awesome.

Do you consider Power Man and Iron Fist a team up book at all? Wait, no you don’t . Moving on.

Also, was Deadpool Functional Team Up when we were supposed to think Cable was dead any good? I sort of like Deadpool now.

There are two team-up book series (that I know of) that I haven’t read any of.

One is “Richie Rich and….” which was created in the dying days of Harvey and (I believe….) was used to dump inventory stories after they’d fired everyone.

The other is the post Cable Deadpool team-up. I really liked what I’d read of Cable and Deadpool, but back issues are, like, four bucks or something obscene at my local shop.

I will own them someday. I just don’t, yet.

Great article. It looks like Kirkman’s MTU won’t get a mention, but I’m hoping you discuss it in your promised follow-up post on runners-up. Also I don’t know if single issue team-ups count but heres another vote – the Daredevil/Deadpool Annual from the late 1990s is probably the best team-up story Ive ever read and trust me, I’ve read a bunch.

Great stuff. Was a huge fan of the Claremont / Byrne MTU!

I’ve really enjoyed the column, but have to put out my surprise at the lack of love for Bill Mantlo’s run on MTU (38-51, 53-56). I have fond recollections of Mantlo’s extended storylines which you rarely got in the team up books. Issues 41-46 was a time traveling adventure with Scarlet Witch, Vision, Dr. Doom, Moondragon, Killraven, and Deathlok; 48-51 was basically a 4-part team-up with Iron Man (Dr. Strange gets one officially). Heck Mantlo even had a cross-over with Marvel Two-in-One! Plus solid Sal Buscema art on most of the run and John Byrne on the rest. And with the love for obscure W characters like Wundarr and White Rabbit, you’d think there’d be some leftover for Woodgod!

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