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CSBG Archive

Lorendiac’s Lists: 9 Recruiting Strategies for Super-Teams

Let’s say that you are part of an established team of superheroes, and you feel the team needs some new blood. How do you find it? For that matter, how do you narrow the field if there are more candidates than you really want at this moment?

Today I’m not much interested in how the “founding members” first came together to create a team from scrach, although inevitably I’ll find myself referring to such things occasionally. My focus is elsewhere: “Given that a super-team already exists, how does it acquire the occasional new recruit?”

Answers to that question have varied enormously over the years. All the way from Very Formalized Procedures in the best (or worst) bureaucratic tradition, to Very Loose and Improvised methods at the other end of the spectrum.

As an example of the latter: In the early issues of the “Young Justice” title, veteran hero The Red Tornado was allegedly serving as a mentor-figure to the teenage members . . . in a vague sort of way. (Heavy emphasis on “vague” rather than “mentor,” the way I remember it.) By the end of the fourth issue, the membership included three boys and three girls: Robin (Tim Drake), Impulse (Bart Allen), Superboy (Kon-El), Wonder Girl (Cassandra Sandsmark), Arrowette (Cissie King-Jones), and Secret (real name unknown at the time, even to her, but it was eventually revealed as Greta Hayes).

Later on, Reddy was separated from the group for quite awhile. During his absence, Arrowette left the group, and Anita Fite, aka “Empress,” became the newest member. Here’s some dialogue from one panel of “Young Justice #35,” in which Reddy is finally touching base with the team again.

RED TORNADO: And I see we have an addition to the team. Was she subjected to a rigorous background check, an exacting series of standardized tests designed to measure her powers, and a sequence of personality interviews to determine her mental fitness?

IMPULSE: Nah. We just let her in.

RED TORNADO: Oh, good. I was worried things had changed.

Young Justice did a lot of good things for the world while it lasted, although whether that was “because of” or “in spite of” its informal recruiting methods is debatable. But as we shall see, other super-teams have experimented with a wide range of strategies for finding and recruiting the people they need!

9 Recruiting Strategies for Super-Teams

1. Discriminatory
2. Elective
3. Open Admission
4. My Sandbox, My Rules
5. Drafted
6. Keep It in the Family
7. General Auditions
8. Secret Testing
9. Chaotic

1. Discriminatory

“We only accept a certain type of person. Anyone from outside that narrowly defined group need not apply. Doesn’t matter how powerful and experienced and ethical he is — if he can’t pass the Sacred Litmus Test, he has no business bothering us!”

Some superhero teams have been known to accept members with a wide range of origins and capabilities. For instance, the starting line-up of the Golden Age JSA ran all the way from the personified wrath of God (The Spectre) down to a short athlete with no powers or gadgets (The Atom). Now that’s what you call eclectic!

But other teams have been known to set the bar high enough that young Al Pratt never would have had a prayer of taking a seat at their table.

Early in the Legion of Super-Heroes’ Silver Age continuity, it became clear that any new applicant must have at least one superpower which existing members would then evaluate. Any “normal” person in a fancy costume was likely to get rejected in ten seconds flat (one rich kid literally tried to buy his way in). Some of the rejected applicants had used hidden technology to fake inherent powers, and there were several wannabes whose powers were rated inferior. On the other hand, some were turned away because they insufficient control of powers which might otherwise have been rated “very useful!”

As two examples of those who had genuine powers, but nonetheless got rejected:

One applicant had the exciting ability to temporarily turn things green! For some reason, the Legionnaires felt they could struggle along without him.

On the other hand, Lydda Jath (Night Girl) had incredible super-strength . . . whenever she was not exposed to sunlight. The Legionnaires felt this weakness would make her too unreliable for field work. (Night Girl went on to become a founding member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, however.)

On the brighter side: If you possessed an adequate power, the Legionnaires didn’t nitpick over how you’d obtained it. A radioactive accident, or a genetic quirk which was shared by virtually every native of your homeworld, or something else entirely? Didn’t matter a bit, as long as your power would be useful! This tolerance of diversity put the Legion way ahead of some of the more exclusive outfits in the superhero business.

Speaking of which . . .
Debuting later in the Silver Age, the X-Men may have been the first published superhero team to cheerfully admit that they drew the line on a strict genetic basis, and they — along with various spinoff teams which have come and gone over the years — have generally adhered to that policy ever since. Either you were a mutant . . . or you weren’t. If you weren’t, then Professor X had no interest in finding room for you in his private school, no matter how angst-ridden you might be about your scary new superpowers.

In fact, after M-Day it became clear that the Professor himself was no longer a telepathic mutant, and in “Deadly Genesis #6” one of his former students (Cyclops, now running the Institute)) told him to hit the road, because, as a mere non-mutant, Charles Xavier now had no business hanging around the Institute of which he just happened to be the founder! Which at least shows that over the previous umpteen years the Prof had done a darn good job of indoctrinating Scott Summers to always remember the vitally important discriminatory policy of “We are a mutant organization, first and foremost!” Xavier had simply never expected to be hoist with his own petard!

2. Elective

“If a majority of our members vote you in . . . you’re in!”

I believe both the Avengers and the Justice League have been known to do it this way. A member in good standing nominates a candidate who seems worthy, and then all the active members — or at least those who are readily available — cast their votes, Yea or Nay.

For that matter, Peter David’s Young Justice seems to have worked that
way too — in practice, whether or not they had ever written down any formal rules for the process. As I mentioned earlier, Impulse said casually, “We just let her in” (regarding Empress), which suggested that a majority (if not all) of the active-duty members at the time had embraced the idea.

This approach has the virtue of being simple and straightforward and responsive to what the existing membership actually thinks it needs. If most of the veterans on the team feel it would be good to have a certain guy lending a hand in emergencies, then why not let him join, regardless of whether or not he is loaded to the brim with fancy powers which no other member can duplicate?

Contrariwise, if most of the current members find themselves unwilling to trust a certain person to have their backs whenever it’s time to save the world again, then it is not likely to help morale and team spirit if some authority figure arbitrarily orders them to accept that particular guy as a “teammate” regardless of their doubts! (Granted, that exact scenario has happened to superhero teams before, and I am sure it will happen again, but it usually strikes me as a terrible idea. I will talk about this more under #4, below.)

By the way, earlier I mentioned the way the Silver Age Legion of Super-Heroes did it. Their approach was actually a mix of “Discriminatory” and “Elective” — at least some of the time. (In researching this piece, I’ve been rereading Showcase reprints of some of their Silver Age stories, and the details of Legion Recruiting Strategy seem to have fluctuated a bit during those early years, partially because the ground rules were being invented from scratch in that era, and partially because different writers working on the Legion back around the 1960s were bound to have different ideas for certain stories about new members joining.)

First you had to show up at their doorstep and demonstrate some sort of superpower with a practical application for crimefighting purposes — and sometimes pass tests specially designed to test your superpower (and cunning) to the limits to see if you really had what it took. But even if that part went well, sometimes you still had to overcome a second hurdle: Being voted in by a majority of the available members.

For instance, when Nura Nal (Dream Girl) made her first bid for Legion membership in “Adventure Comics #317,” she demonstrated her ability to have prescient dreams which provided useful intel about scary events scheduled to occur in the near future. Yet after she proved the power was real, there was still some serious dissent among the Legionnaires regarding whether or not a power that only worked when its user was sleeping really measured up to their usual standards. (A problem they had never faced before, so they had no rule to cover it.)

The voting membership at that time was comprised of 11 teenage boys . . . and 4 teenage girls. Not coincidentally, the vote on whether Dream Girl was proper Legion material went 11 to 4 in her favor.

Saturn Girl, Lightning Lass, Shrinking Violet, and Triplicate Girl accepted the will of the majority for the time being. However, it was made clear to us that they all suspected the 11 boys had been unduly swayed by the superficial fact that Dream Girl was undeniably gorgeous — as opposed to the boys having objectively considered the serious drawbacks of a power that would be useless whenever an unexpected emergency arose while Dream Girl was wide awake and participating in a field mission. (And let’s face it, the life of a superhero is full of unexpected emergencies! Even when the hero has some degree of precognitive ability! Otherwise, where would the suspense be in their stories?)

3. Open Admission

“Heck, we’ll take practically anybody who’s dumb enough — I mean ‘brave enough’ — to walk in off the street.”

This could overlap with “Elective” — existing members might be offered the chance to register objections to someone who was otherwise about to be welcomed with open arms. It’s just that this rarely happens in practice; teams practicing “Open Admission” seem to share a general attitude of “we need all the help we can get, as long as he isn’t actually foaming at the mouth!”

This seems to be the high standard which was applied to the abrupt entries of the previously unknown teenage characters Vibe (Paco Ramone), Steel (Hank Heywood III), and Gypsy (Cindy Reynolds) into a reorganized Justice League of America right after it moved into a new headquarters in Detroit in the mid-1980s. I’ve just recently reread the last few years of the original “Justice League of America” title, and I’ve been reminded of various things. (Including why it had been about ten years since the only previous time I had bothered reading all of those issues straight through!)

Consider Gypsy’s qualifications, for instance. Here’s what the veteran heroes of the mid-1980s JLA knew about her, learning some of it on the day they first met her (“Justice League of America Annual #2″), and the rest shortly thereafter.

A) She could turn invisible at will. Or at least that’s what she seemed to be doing when she debuted. As we and they learned a bit later, Gypsy actually had a psychic power which allowed her to project a “chameleon” effect which amounted to much the same thing in practice, but also allowed her to occasionally implant much more elaborate (and usually terrifying) illusions into a particular target’s mind without anyone else in the area being able to see what all the fuss was about. (She was still learning to use that latter trick as she went along, though.)

B) She seemed to be a runaway; no one knew who and where her parents or legal guardians were.

C) She refused to talk honestly about her own background (including her real name), although she could spin some fanciful lies when she was in the right mood.

D) She already had a substantial police record, since she had spent the last year or more living on her own, routinely using her psychic power to let her “turn invisible” while stealing food and anything else she thought she needed.

E) There was no sign that she had ever before tried to subdue a dangerous criminal in her life; much less that she had any sort of systematic training in how to cope with violent troublemakers. (Prior to meeting the JLA, her usual reaction to a threat was to go “invisible” and run away from it.)

F) She was about fourteen years old.

Naturally such experienced and conscientious heroes as Zatanna, Aquaman, The Elongated Man, and J’onn J’onnz knew there was only one thing to do with that girl after she sneaked into their HQ one night to look around. Their answer was: Make her a member of the Justice League of America, drag her along with them into a series of perilous situations, adamantly ignore any legal and/or moral obligation to hand her over to the regular authorities, and hope it would all work out for the best!

Now there’s a brilliant piece of recruiting strategy for you!
(Some of you think I’m making this up, don’t you? Or at least heavily exaggerating in an effort to be funny? I only wish I were.)

A little over a decade later, the Justice League went through a similar stage of “Open Admission,” but that time around the writer at least let some of the other superheroes on the scene express pointed objections instead of pretending it made perfect sense to everybody!

Yes, back around the mid-90s, there was a time when Wonder Woman (Diana of Themyscira) was at the helm of JLA. Even after she lost the right to be “Wonder Woman” for awhile, she kept right on leading the League. She had some unusual ideas about how to do so. Diana favored a real open-door policy . . . just about any “superhero” could join up. Other veteran heroes, with varying amounts of tact, warned her this could lead to all sorts of trouble. Aquaman (who happened to have been the leader of the JLA when they were based in Detroit, over a decade earlier) phrased his doubts politely. On the other hand, Captain Atom, a former field leader of the (already-defunct) Justice League Europe branch, took a different tack.

“Justice League America #100″ had a two-page splash, set in the commissary of the JLA’s satellite HQ, with several superheroes filling the area. As we peek in, Captain Atom is yelling at Diana: “Are you out of your minds? Don’t you know what could happen if you give communicators to every would-be, wanna-be, and never-can-be hero in the world?

Blue Devil mutters: “Lemme take one guess. Obnoxious jerks’ll come barging into our commissary?”

Actually, the real future of the group was much scarier than Blue Devil’s first guess — a little over a year later, the title got cancelled! Although on the bright side, it was replaced by the new “JLA” title which was mainly written by Grant Morrison for the first few years — but the whole idea of “let’s give League communicators to every hero we can think of” seems to have fallen by the wayside. Even Diana never mentioned it again after the relaunch!

Incidentally: The last few years of Gerry Conway’s run, with the Detroit JLA inviting in such painfully unqualified people as Gypsy, had led to that title getting cancelled. Is there some sort of natural law here? Any time the League starts recruiting anybody who walks in off the street — it means the current series is doomed?

04. My Sandbox, My Rules

“I’m footing the bill for this operation, so I figure I have the final say on who else gets to play with us.”

The entity footing the bill may be a well-heeled individual or a larger organization (such as a corporation or government agency), but for our purposes it amounts to much the same thing. An authority figure has the final say over who joins — and if you don’t like his decisions, you can walk out or you can learn to live with it, but you can’t overrule him.

Two examples of the “well-heeled individual” approach would be when Batman put together his first Outsiders team in the early 80s, and when Marvel’s Night Thrasher selected the people he wanted for the original New Warriors lineup, several years later.

The Avengers and the Justice League have both been in the “government-funded” category at various times. How much influence government bureaucrats actually exercise over team rosters, however, can vary enormously. In practice, they have often allowed the existing membership to pretty much do its own recruiting as it sees fit. But that can change without warning!

Consider, for instance, what happened in “Avengers #181.” Henry Peter Gyrich, a federal official assigned to deal with the Avengers, has called a general meeting at Avengers Mansion to announce some policy changes. He lays down the law: If the Avengers are to keep their special “priority” in the eyes of the federal government, they will need to toe the line. The National Security Council has decided the team needs to be trimmed down to a core membership of seven full-time members, and they’ve already picked the seven. (Any opinions the current Avengers have about this are, of course, irrelevant!)

The first six names he lists are people who are present in the room since they have all been accepted as true-blue Avengers at one time or another. Iron Man, Vision, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Beast, Wasp.

Reasonable choices, by and large — but then comes the kicker as Gyrich names someone who’s not present. “Falcon!”

Hawkeye (who’d obviously expected to remain as one of the core seven) is furious.

HAWKEYE: B-But why him — and not me? That bozo’s only powers are flying and rapping with birds! He’s not even an Avenger!

IRON MAN: Hawkeye’s right, Gyrich! We can’t risk the whole team on an untried member who might not be able to handle it!

GYRICH: I’m afraid you’ll have to, Iron Man — since The Black Panther isn’t available. If the Avengers are to be sanctioned by the government, they’ll have to adhere to government policies — and that includes equal opportunities for minorities!

It’s worth mentioning that, as we finally learned two issues later, Sam Wilson (The Falcon) didn’t know a thing about this at the time Gyrich announced the decision! Members of the National Security Council, when pencilling in his name as that of the only New York City-based black superhero they could think of, hadn’t even cared to inquire first as to whether The Falcon felt any interest in joining the Avengers. They were bound and determined to give an African-American that “equal opportunity” whether he liked it or not! “Big Brother Knows Best,” as George Orwell would have put it . . .

In “Avengers #183,” Steve Rogers explained the awkward situation to his buddy Sam. (Remember that they knew each other very well — the covers of Cap’s monthly title had consistently said “Captain America and The Falcon” all the way from February 1971 to June 1978.)

We missed the original sales pitch. As we came in on their conversation, Sam was already reacting with: “Look, did anyone ever stop to think maybe I don’t want to be an Avenger?” A few panels later, he made it clear that he didn’t like the idea of being “the token” just to fill somebody’s quota!

In the end, he only agreed to give it a try because his old friend Steve literally begged him to, as a personal favor, so the Avengers could maintain their special “priority privileges” in the eyes of the federal government.

About a year later (our time), in “Avengers #194,” the political situation had changed enough that Sam Wilson knew the Avengers no longer desperately needed his help to maintain their “priority,” and he was also keenly aware that there had been some understandable resentment when he was shoehorned into the group by government edict, so he handed in his resignation and flew off.

To be fair to the other Avengers, I should mention that there was no sign that any of them had been plotting to find a way to kick The Falcon off the team in the near future if he didn’t leave gracefully. Just because his presence was no longer a vital necessity didn’t mean a majority of members would have supported the idea of arbitrarily giving him the boot when he hadn’t done anything wrong.

In contrast to Sam Wilson’s first experience as an Avenger, let’s consider another case that began in a similar fashion, with a government edict forcing another Avengers team to accept a guy who was probably a stranger to most (if not all) of them . . . although affirmative action had nothing to do with it.

About a decade after Sam Wilson had become an Avenger, the West Coast Avengers were ordered by the U.S. government to accept John Walker (recently renamed “The U.S. Agent” after a stint as “Captain America”) into their group. None of the veteran members were wildly enthusiastic about this turn of events. (If you care: He popped up at the end of “West Coast Avengers #44” and then the idea that the team was now stuck with him, like it or not, was examined in detail in the opening pages of #45.)

Like Wilson, Walker was brave, patriotic, and a very capable and experienced combatant, so it wasn’t completely ridiculous to call him Avengers material, even if he was (I believe) a stranger to most of them.

But unlike Wilson, Walker also worked hard at being arrogant and abrasive, and it is not surprising that he lost his slot during a big reorganization a couple of years later (our time) in “Avengers West Coast #69.”

The Avengers had recently switched to being sponsored by the United Nations as a whole, and the subsequent reorganization included a variation of the “Elective” approach, with each sitting member of the West Coast branch filling out a ballot to vote for five people he wanted to see stick around as part of a core membership of seven regulars. When the final tallies were announced, Walker only had one vote: Obviously his own! Which left him tied for last place, and thus removed from full-time participation in the team. Although he would be allowed to stay on the books as one of seven “alternates” who might be called in from time to time when a special need arose. (By the end of that issue, he’d even lost “alternate status,” but that’s another story.)

At any rate, it was clear that over the last two years or so (our time), the U.S. Agent had utterly failed to impress other Avengers with his ability to be a valuable team player. (I swear I won’t even make a “You are the weakest link” joke. Aren’t you proud of my self-restraint?)

(P.S. Oddly enough, months later the same team of Avengers reinstated U.S. Agent, for reasons which were poorly explained and never struck me as convincing. His being voted off the core team, on the other hand, had been perfectly plausible.)

What happened to The Falcon and The U.S. Agent serves to illustrate some potential flaws in the “My Sandbox, My Rules” approach to making unilateral recruiting decisions for an existing superhero team.

Super-groups literally have to trust one another in life-and-death situations on a regular basis. You may not love the guy on your right as if he were your favorite brother, but you do need to believe that when the chips are down and you’re a hair’s-breadth away from death, he will save your neck in a brave and professional fashion — knowing that you will return the favor someday. And in that line of work, it’s not just your own life that’s at risk. “Let’s go save the world!” is not always humorous hyperbole — threats to the entire planet can arise at the most inconvenient times. And even when the stakes aren’t that high, there’s still the chance that a rampaging supervillain will kill many civilians if he isn’t stopped quickly and efficiently.

So adding one stranger to a tight-knit superhero team has a lot more pitfalls than just adding one more wage slave to a “team” of office workers or restaurant waitstaff. The new guy who has been forced upon the rest of the team may find he encounters a great deal of resentment, if not outright hostility — some of it prompted by natural fears that betting your life (and those of countless civilians) on his abilities and attitude may turn out to be a losing proposition! Depending on such factors as his own personality, his job performance, and other variables, the attitudes of his teammates might change for the better over time . . . but if the new guy is a reasonably sensitive sort (and/or was never wildly enthusiastic about taking the job in the first place), he may end up quitting voluntarily when he decides this just isn’t working out well enough to be worth the constant aggravation.

On the other hand, if the new guy just assumes that his having been given this job by One Authority Figure’s Whim means there is no need for him to make any serious attempt to “fit in” with the local culture; no need to win their hearts and minds, etc.; then one of these days he may find himself getting booted out of the team anyway — as soon as those who intensely dislike him have found a legitimate way to arrange that!

05. Drafted

“You’re going to join this team effort — whether you like it or not!

Here there is no nonsense about waiting for people to voluntarily apply for membership. A big organization — probably a national government, but I can imagine other possibilities — has decided that certain individuals are so exceptionally dangerous that the only proper thing to do is to turn them into good little soldiers who will always obey orders from on high. If they try to wriggle out of their “civic duty,” they may face draconian penalties.

On stories published during the Cold War, the Soviet Super-Soldiers were supposed to have started out this way. Of the original membership of four, three (Darkstar, Vanguard, Ursa Major) had been identified as super-powered mutants when they were still children, and had been trained and indoctrinated in preparation for serving as a super-powered arm of the USSR’s government once they were adults. (The fourth founding member, one of several users of the name “Crimson Dynamo,” had no inherent powers. He only wore a government-issued suit of armor which was meant to imitate Iron Man’s capabilities.)

Other groups of super-powered beings (in the MU, the DCU, and probably at other companies) have been seen operating under the umbrella of such Communist regimes as the old USSR or the People’s Republic of China, and while I’m not sure of the details in every case, I consider it likely that at least some members of those other teams had also been drafted into service, being told it was their solemn duty to use their unusual abilities in the service of the state. Perhaps any disagreement with that plan would be regarded as treasonous?

More recently, Marvel’s “Civil War” event examined a similar idea of “drafting” superhero types into service on the government payroll. “It’s time to register with the government and start taking orders, or else we’d better not catch you running around wearing a mask and flaunting superpowers!”

However, I can’t discuss that in knowledgeable detail, because I only read “Civil War #1″ when it came out, and then I muttered, “Well, this looks like it’s going to be lame. Somebody wake me up when it’s over!” I’ve never bothered to catch up by reading any of the later TPB collections of Civil War story arcs published in one title or another. I have seen online complaints to the effect that different writers at Marvel seemed to have contradictory ideas regarding the nitpicking details of just what the U.S. government’s policies were supposed to be when it started “cracking down” on unregistered superpowered beings, which further confused the issue of who was “right” or “wrong” on any given point of contention.

06. Keep It in the Family

“We are a family operation. Period. Who else can we really trust?”

I’m not sure if any superhero team has ever consistently held to this approach through a long and successful run, but I do remember a few teams that started this way.

Image’s “Dynamo 5″ title springs to mind — although the characters forming a new team in the first issue had never previously met; much less thought of themselves as all bound by family ties. The non-powered human who brought the others together turned out to be the grieving widow of the recently-slain superhero Captain Dynamo, and the five young people she had gathered were, one and all, illegitimate offspring of the Captain; the results of some of his many affairs — with a different female in each case.

Most of the five had never suspected this about their own pedigrees until that first meeting. Captain Dynamo hadn’t been paying child support; nor had most of his lovers ever known who he really was or how to contact him again after he left (and flew home to his wife). If they later discovered they were pregnant, that was their problem. (Yes, the Captain’s morals were execrable.)

Marvel’s Power Pack also started as a family group — but not by design on the part of its founding members. Four siblings, two boys and two girls, just happened to be gifted with superpowers by a dying alien.

But there was no rule that said nobody else would ever be allowed to join up in the future. After the four young Powers became friendly with young Franklin Richards, he effectively became the fifth member of the team (without his parents or the Power parents initially realizing just what was going on when the kids went out to play together).

7. General Auditions

“Our recruiting methods are a matter of public record. When we’re in the mood to add members, we allow lots of people to try out at preannounced times and places!”

As I mentioned earlier, this became a standard feature of Legion of Super-Heroes stories in the Silver and Bronze Ages. The location of their HQ was no secret, so at regular intervals they would announce the schedule for the next round of tryouts. Eager young people would show up to show their stuff, and some of them made it in. The implication was that most members of the Legion had joined this way (although in the early days we’d sometimes see that new members such as Chameleon Boy had popped up “between stories” without our receiving any immediate info on just how that hero had gained a seat at the table).

I remember seeing a group in the world of “Invincible” hold massive Open Auditions when they were trying to rebuild a team called “The Guardians of the Globe” after the old core membership had been slaughtered all at once. Dozens and dozens of hopeful heroes turned out for this well-publicized event.

A character called Robot, who had been selected to lead the group after enough other members were selected, made a little speech at the end in which he said that in several cases the people making these choices had to choose between multiple candidates with very similar powers and/or skills, and usually ended up going for greater experience. He also said something to the effect of “So some of you easily could have made it if things had gone just a little differently. Others shouldn’t have bothered trying – I won’t belabor the point; you know who you are.” (I’m just paraphrasing that from memory because I’m not sure where my copy of that particular “Invincible” TPB is at the moment.)

Offhand, I only recall the JLA trying a variation of this approach once. “JLA #5,” early in Grant Morrison’s run — although I think they made some attempt to do pre-screening. They were doing it all in their HQ on the moon, which meant most candidates would need assistance from a member to let them get up there in the first place — presumably by using the League’s own teleportation equipment with electronic encryption protocols to keep out the riffraff.

On the other hand, I never understood how Hitman (Tommy Monaghan) got onto the guest list in the first place — but I was not terribly surprised by his claim that the main reason he had showed up was so he could use his X-Ray vision on Wonder Woman’s costume for a minute.

Incidentally, the big winner of that day’s Auditions was Tomorrow Woman, who turned out to be an android created by a temporary team-up of T.O. Morrow and Professor Ivo. She had been carefully programmed to betray the JLA later on (although it didn’t work out that way). This shows some of the possible pitfalls in allowing strangers of unknown antecedents to walk in on off the street and try to wow you!

8. Secret Testing

“We screen possible recruits by submitting them to field tests which they don’t realize are part of a testing process for joining our special club!”

This can easily overlap with other possibilities, such as #2 (Elective) where the membership votes on the merits of the candidate, either before or after the Secret Testing occurs.

Consider “Justice League of America #173.” It starts out with several JLAers up on a roof in Metropolis, watching a fairly new superhero, Black Lightning, handle some ordinary armed robbers. He does it well. Green Arrow has worked with Black Lightning before, and assures the others that the guy would be a great addition to the League. Some of the JLAers are skeptical. (Please note that Black Lightning has no idea that they are observing him.)

Most of the remainder of this issue concentrates on showing us how Black Lightning is attacked by a series of weirdoes whom neither he nor the readers have ever heard of before. The mysterious attackers include an armored female gorilla called “Primak” working alongside a guy surrounded by pale green energy whom Black Lightning thinks of as “some kind of Human Starburst” (the guy offers no name for himself at the time); then another guy who appears and disappears without warning and calls himself “The Trans-Visible Man”); and finally a guy dressed like one of the Three Musketeers, complete with sword and old-fashioned pistol, who calls himself “Swashbuckler.”

Black Lightning handily defeats Primak and The Human Starburst, but fares badly against the next guy in line. The Trans-Visible Man keeps disappearing into thin air, blindsiding Lightning with punches from unexpected angles, talking trash, and generally humiliating and enraging him, before finally vanishing from the scene . . . to let Swashbuckler take over a few seconds later.

After Black Lightning knocks Swashbuckler flat, disarms him, gets both hands on the guy’s throat, and then manages to rein in his own temper just in time to avoid killing this sneering villain who claimed to be Trans-Visible’s good buddy, the truth is revealed. All of Black Lightning’s recent foes were disguised JLAers — Zatanna as Primak, Green Lantern (Hal) as The Human Starburst, Flash (Barry) as The Trans-Visible Man, and Green Arrow (Ollie) as Swashbuckler. All this was a testing sequence to see if Black Lightning really had the right stuff to handle a series of unfamiliar challenges.

He has passed with flying colors! He doesn’t get graded down for “failing” against The Trans-Visible Man (Flash had used sheer speed to make it seem that he was turning invisible) — because Black Lightning was never expected to beat The Fastest Man Alive in hand-to-hand combat. The main point of that stage was psychological — get Black Lightning feeling bruised and helpless, and seeing red, and then find out if he’d still have enough scruples and willpower to resist the temptation to slaughter the next mysterious enemy to pop out of the shadows and talk tough.

All of the JLAers on the scene (including Superman, who’d been the unseen judge of these tests) seem to take it for granted that Black Lightning will now be delighted by the invitation to join their ranks.

It doesn’t work out that way.

Black Lightning is not visibly amused by the revelation of what’s really been happening — and more to the point, he sure doesn’t remember wanting to be considered for membership in their high-faluting club in the first place! He figures he’s already got his hands full just worrying about his home neighborhood — Suicide Slum, here in Metropolis. (Where he also has a day job as a schoolteacher, but he doesn’t mention that part; it’s none of their business.)

Note: Being absolute gluttons for punishment, members of the JLA tried to recruit Black Lightning all over again just a few hours later, in a conversation at the end of the next issue, after they had all fought a real supervillain together. (Guess what? His answer hadn’t changed!)

This illustrates a huge potential flaw in pursuing an elaborate “Secret Testing” approach to recruiting: What if you end up frequently staging such tests for people who seem like worthy prospects — but they simply don’t want to join your special club? Something you didn’t bother to learn before you had squandered a lot of time and energy and utterly failed to get any return on your investment?

On the other hand: If you only tried “Secret Testing” on people who had filed their applications with your recruiting office, and thus were likely to accept an offer when it was finally made, then you might be shooting yourself in the foot where “secrecy” was concerned, because the smarter ones would get suspicious about the timing when bizarre things started happening to them a few days or a few weeks later. And do you really want to recruit the ones who are too dumb to put two and two together?

The line of reasoning I just offered is entirely my own — but even as I type this, it occurs to me that similar thoughts may have later crossed the minds of the Justice Leaguers who were involved in the events I summarized. I say that because I can’t immediately recall any later instance of any incarnation of the Justice League pulling a similar “Secret Testing” routine on some other prospective recruit. Perhaps they actually learned something from the fiasco with Black Lightning?

9. Chaotic

“We’re so disorganized we don’t even know who our own members are!”
The Defenders, as they existed back around the 1970s and into the 80s, were frequently stated to not be so much a “group” as they were a “non-group!”

A three-part story arc highlighting some of the problems in their unstructured approach began in “Defenders #62.” A young filmmaker called Dollar Bill, who’d been friendly with the Avengers for quite some time, proudly told them that his documentary (about them yes!) was being aired on television that day. So they all sat down and watched it.

I’ll just quote one quick passage from Dollar Bill’s filmed narration:

“Remember, folks, the Defenders as a super-group is not like the Avengers at all! The Defenders is a non-team! That means there’s no charter, no rules, no nothing! Anyone with superpowers who wants to declare himself a Defender is automatically a member! It’s a snap! So if any of you super sorts are out there, just zip to this address and — zowie — you’re in like Flint!”

(As he said that last part, the address of the current secret headquarters of the Defenders was displayed on the screen.)

Nighthawk, the team leader at the time, was ready to throw a fit. For one thing, the very existence of their team was supposed to be a secret! (Yes, I know this was the sixty-second issue of the team’s own title, but apparently they’d done a darn good job of staying under the public radar until that moment.) On a related note, Nighthawk didn’t exactly appreciate having their current home address (a riding academy on Long Island, as it happened) broadcast to millions of people! Who knows what this could lead to? He also didn’t remember anybody authorizing Dollar Bill to set himself up as the team’s spokesman.

Some of Nighthawk’s fellow Defenders thought he was overreacting.

Time would tell . . .

A few pages later: It’s the following morning, and Nighthawk answers a knock on the door, grimly suspecting some pushy “neo-superhero” is here to pester him about joining their informal group (or non-group, or whatever). The truth is even worse than he feared: Waiting outside are a horde of costumed characters. We don’t see all of them at once in the first wide panel after Nighthawk opens the door, but the list turns out to include: Ms. Marvel, Jack-of-Hearts, Son of Satan, Polaris, Stingray, Black Goliath, Iron Fist, Captain Marvel (Mar-Vell of the Kree), Hercules, The Falcon, Nova (Richard Ryder), Marvel Man (Wendell Vaughn, later known as Quasar), The Prowler, The Torpedo, Paladin, Captain Ultra, The White Tiger, Tagak, and Havok.

By the end of this issue, a bunch of these guys, roaming the grounds of the riding academy, have decided it would be a great heroic deed to attack and capture The Incredible Hulk, him being a wanted man and all. They either don’t realize or don’t care that the other veteran Defenders regard Hulk as one of their own and will vigorously object to these bozoes picking on him. They also appear to have no conception of just how hard it is to overpower and capture Hulk in the first place — I never thought they had a prayer of succeeding!

Anyway, things are rapidly going downhill in the opening pages of the next issue — then Iron Man of the Avengers flies over to this riding academy to explain that a whole bunch of villains also saw the documentary yesterday, and are now running wild in Manhattan while claiming to be self-appointed Defenders! Most of the “old Defenders” and “wannabe Defenders” (as I call them) now agree to set aside their differences long enough to form small squads to track down and defeat those rampaging villains. (A few of the “wannabes” are already losing interest and drifting away, though.)
The list of Evil So-Called Defenders for the day includes Sagittarius (of Zodiac), The Porcupine, The Blob, Whirlwind, Batroc the Leaper, Electro, The Looter, Plant-Man, The Shocker, Boomerang, Libra (also of Zodiac), The Melter, Toad, The Leap Frog, Joe the Gorilla, and a guy in cowboy regalia called Pecos! (Don’t feel bad if you drew a blank on those last two — when I first read this story, I didn’t recall ever before hearing of Joe the Gorilla and Pecos, either! Near as I can tell from online research, they had only previously appeared as part of a villainous team in “Avengers #77″ — and after making a brief comeback in this Defenders arc, they have never been heard from again!)

By the end of that same day, most of the bad guys have been thoroughly chastised, and all of the good “wannabes” have lost interest in any idea of trying to join the temperamental weirdoes who currently comprise the Defenders. (At least for the time being. Much later on, Daimon Hellstrom (Son of Satan) would end up working with the Defenders regularly, even courting and marrying veteran member Hellcat, whom I believe he first met on this occasion.)

(By the way! I didn’t mention it before, but a few years later when Steve Rogers was asking Sam Wilson (The Falcon) to join the Avengers to make the U.S. government happy, Sam specifically mentioned his own short-lived attempt to join the Defenders that day as one reason he didn’t feel he was cut out for a big team effort in his superhero activities.)

And to add one other example where “who became a member, and when?” can be very hard to determine:

Several years ago I bought a copy of “Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: X-Men 2005.” Toward the back, it lists seven different groupings described as “Ad Hoc X-Men Rosters.” I could agree with most of them, but I was honor-bound to disagree with the validity of what it calls “The Muir Isle X-Men.”

I looked through the relevant issues (“Uncanny X-Men #254-255”) to double-check my memory. And it still seems to me that when Amanda Sefton, Alysande Stuart, and various other characters on Muir Isle were hastily putting on gold-and-black X-Men suits to wear while fighting Donald Pierce and his Reavers, they never expressed any belief that they were thereby becoming any sort of “X-Men” themselves; not even on a “temporary” or “honorary” basis.

The principal reason for dressing up that way appeared to be that several copies of the newest version of the suits were already right there on the island, and were conveniently bulletproof. If I were about to face an invasion of killer cyborgs, I’d hastily don any bulletproof body armor that happened to be readily available, too! I wouldn’t care if it looked like an X-Men “uniform” or not; I’d only care about my chances of personal survival!

So the characters didn’t think they were becoming any sort of “X-Men team” at the time, and to the best of my knowledge, none of the participants ever claimed afterwards that those events marked the time they first became X-Men . . . but a few editors at Marvel disagreed with them and solemnly assured us that those characters did briefly serve as X-Men – even if the characters on the scene never realized that fact, and nobody else in the MU ever saw it that way either! Now that’s about as chaotic as a membership situation can get!

Those were all the Strategies I came up with on my own. If you think I completely overlooked another approach to the problem of finding worthy recruits to keep a super-team going strong, please speak up! Of course it always helps if you can provide specific examples for me to study.

And if I haven’t put you to sleep yet, here are some links to many previous pieces I’ve perpetrated over the last few years, comprising what I have come to think of as my Numbered List series. Every once in a while it amuses me to think about some odd aspect of the superhero genre, and to try to list and explain all the different approaches I can remember for that sort of thing, or all the different reasons that ridiculous things keep happening.

12 Motives for Killing a Comic Book Character
17 Excuses for Bringing Back a Dead Character
16 Types of Retcons
19 Ways to End a Superhero’s Romance
22 Ways to Show a Superhero Killing Someone
9 Categories of Continuity
5 Types of Superhero Team Members
Secret Identities: 10 Ways to Unspill the Beans
Superhero Finances: 10 Situations
13 Reasons to Use a Deathtrap
14 Functions for a Superhero Costume
10 Types of Superhero Successors
14 Ways to Rehabilitate a Disgraced Hero
14 Motives for Becoming a Superhero
12 Tricks for Keeping Superheroes Young
13 Reasons to Quit the Superhero Racket
12 Rationales for a Hero-Versus-Hero Slugfest on the Cover
What To Do With a Supervillain After You Catch Him: 12 Options
14 Motives for Becoming a Supervillain

14 Answers to “Why So Many Retcons?”

10 Types of Comic Book Forum Weirdos

11 Methods of Target Acquisition

38 Comments

The Suicide Squad might make an even better example for ‘drafted’.

I’m wondering where to put the Green Lantern Corps. (There’s a fair amount of discrimination going on, with ‘no fear’, ‘strong will’, and ‘one to a space sector unless it has Earth in it’ rules, but there’s also things going on that don’t really fit any of the categories.)

Interesting question about the Corps. I don’t remember even seriously considering them when I was trying to come up with examples of one Recruiting Strategy or another.

Upon reflection: That’s probably because most of the “Green Lantern” material in my collection is from the 1990s or earlier, and in most of those issues, you had [i]one[/i] Green Lantern at the center of attention, trying to deal with problems on his own. It might be Hal, it might be John, it might be Kyle, it might even be Guy — but whoever it was, he didn’t have the [i]daily habit[/i] of screaming for other GLs to come running to help him deal with every villain he bumped into.

Only occasionally would you see several GLs all converging to fight one overwhelming problem — so I guess I never saw them as a “regular team” in the same sense that the Avengers and the Justice League are. More of “a bunch of interstellar cops, all recruited by the same bunch of little blue administrators, but each of whom normally ‘walks a beat’ all by himself as a lone wolf.”

On the other hand, in the original Ostrander Suicide Squad (I haven’t kept up with later versions), the convicts serving in its ranks at least had the option of simply staying put in their nice cozy cells as ordinary federal inmates, didn’t they? It’s not much of an option, but I don’t think they were going to get punished extra-hard for refusing to join the Squad. They just wouldn’t get off the hook for all the other crimes for which they’d been convicted and sentenced.

They Muir Isle team are a group of people in an X-Men title who don an X-Men costume and work to further the interests of the X-Men. Since someone (the reader) can perceive them as a group of X-Men, I feel that in a manner of speaking they pass muster as such – which is debatable, obviously, but is a feature of the fictional narrative.

Nice. The only additional one I could think of, would be “unilateral declaration.” An individual shows up, declares himself a member of the team, and generally refuses to leave. (And often has enough power to keep from being thrown out. The character may have a bad attitude, or be a good team player, but for whatever reason they made the decision to join themselves and won’t take no for an answer. Moondragon from the Avengers would probably be the best example, but Guy Gardner may qualify as well. (I was thinking of Scion from Micronauts: the New Voyages, but that’s an obscure example!)

I haven’t read Green Lantern in quite some time, but the version I’m familiar with seemed to used the “Drafted” method, though not as draconian as it’s described above. One member is dying, his (or her, or its) ring seeks out the nearest entity that suits the needs of the Corps, and the ring more or less turns that entity into the new GL whether he (she, it, whatever) wants it or not. I don’t know if “Emerald Dawn” is still considered canon or not, but I seem to recall Hal having some major issues with suddenly being picked to be an interstellar cop at the expense of his life.

Xavier had simply never expected to be hoist with his own Picard!

Fixed that for you.

I think there’s a mischaracterization of the X-Men & related teams being strictly Mutants. Mimic, for example, was an altered human, not a mutant (although eventually they retconned that). Carol Danvers (another altered human) was offered membership in the team and only turned it down because of Rogue’s arrival. Longshot is another non-mutant example… his powers were genetically engineered. (Similarly Shatterstar follows the same arguement). Warlock could be argued either way. Neither Gosymyr nor Bird Brain from New Mutants were mutants (an alien and an forcefully evolved animal). Feron from Excalibur and Cerise from Excalibur were both non-mutants.

Willie Everstop

April 14, 2011 at 2:26 pm

Wouldn’t the Green Lantern Corp use the Secret Testing method? Don’t the rings secretly test everybody’s willpower and seeks out the best candidate?

Willie Everstop

April 14, 2011 at 2:32 pm

There might be another category of recruiting from people who have become wards of the team or have no place else to go. This includes banished aliens and last survivors who sort of hang out until they are asked to officially join or minors who are staying with one of the existing team members.

This covers people like Longshot, Warlock, Cerise, Lockheed and Magik from the X-Books. I think SilverClaw from the Avengers was a ward of Jarvis before she joined.

As a corollary to Mr. Everstop’s suggestion, there’s also “graduated”: junior heroes who were on a “training team” and through either merit, vacancy, or some other reason move up to the next team. Examples: Wally West moving from the Titans to the JLA, Cannonball moving from the New Mutants to the X-Men.

From this cover http://www.coverbrowser.com/image/uncanny-x-men/254-1.jpg, how can you assume that the Muir Isle players are not originally intended to be a part of Xavier’s dream and the X-men? The implication seems
pretty obvious from the get-go.

Adopted, maybe?

I say this because there are some heroes, Jubilee most notably in her original X-Men appearances, who become a team member essentially by running away, having nowhere else to go, or essentially being taken in.

Longshot would be another example. He essentially blinks into existence during a danger room session from Mojo’s world and has nowhere else to go. The whole annual (the introduction of the X-babies) essentially is about what it takes to be an X-man, and by the end of the issue, with no clue as to how his powers work, Longshot pretty much is one (odd continuity as well; Nightcrawler, Colossus, and Shadowcat are shown in the annual alongside Longshot, yet Longshot isn’t in the main comic until several months later after the Mutant Massacre).

Mimic, Cerise and others are not enough to make the X-Men non-discriminatory. For one thing, Excalibur isn’t the X-Men, despite some unfortunate marketing decisions at Marvel. For another, having a non-mutant member for each twenty or fifty mutants is hardly evidence of a non-discriminatory attitude.

Non-Mutant X-Men: Longshot, Lockheed, Mimic, Phoenix Force, Psylocke (extradimensional (Otherworld) human), Juggernaut, Omega Sentinel, Hepzibah, Danger, Ariel, Cloak and Dagger, X-23 (clone, not a mutant), Fantomex

Then there’s Lifeguard and Slipstream – half human/half Shi’ar.

Also homorary members or those who have been offered membership like Katie Power, Carol Danvers and Madelyne Pryor.

There’s at least ten cases of non-mutant characters being offered membership in the X-men or being X-men.
These are not cases of a character’s origin or identity being later retconned. Hepzibah, Danger, X-23, Carol Danvers, Lockheed, Juggernaut, Cloak and Dagger, Omega Sentinel, Mimic, Longshot – were all members of the X-men or were offered membership when their status as a non-mutant was clear either to the reader or the characters.

When Cyclops banishes Xavier from the X-men, it isn’t so much because Xavier isn’t a mutant anymore, but because of the “Deadly Genesis” betrayal.

From http://www.uncannyxmen.net/db/issues/showquestion.asp?fldAuto=3357:
“The Professor realizes that he betrayed both Scott and Alex, but wants to explain. Scott knows why the Professor did what he did, and some part of him can understand it. But it doesn’t change what happened. Nothing can. So, Scott asks the Professor to leave. He isn’t welcome at the Institute anymore. Xavier defends that this is his home, and he won’t just leave like that. Scott tells the Professor that he will. He runs the Institute now and, besides, the Professor isn’t a mutant anymore. He doesn’t belong here. The Professor is shocked to hear this.”

It’s not the main reason he gives as to why the Professor can’t stay at the Institute, it’s more a “rubbing salt in the wound” thing.

Would you not consider the Fantastic Four a Family Group, at least for the majority of it’s existense?

In the mid to late 80’s, following Crisis, the GLC functioned as a mostly typical superhero group on Earth.
Salaak, Ch’p, Killowog, John Stewart, Arisia Rrab and Katma Tui and others were assigned to safeguard the Earth.
They had their own title (GLC #201-224) and were major players in the Millenium storyline. They had aliases/secret identities, a headquarters and more personalized GLC uniforms/costumes.

Once the Guardians left the “plane of reality”, Green Lanterns could patrol in any manner they wanted. A number of Green Lanterns worked in teams or groups. So there were a few working in more traditional super heroic fashion during this period (1986-88).

@nerdygirl:

I did know there had been some exceptions to the mutant-only rule for the X-Men and various spinoff groups.

For instance, I’ve said elsewhere that Madelyne Pryor in the late 80s seemed to be functioning as part of the Australia-based X-Men for awhile, even though the others believed she [i]didn’t[/i] have any mutant superpowers at the time. (Then “Inferno” retconned her into a lunatic clone of Jean Grey, but that came as a shock to everybody. I never quite understood why we were supposed to assume that Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggert hadn’t compared her DNA to an old sample of Jean’s DNA much sooner, to put to rest any nagging suspicions that Madelyne might be an amnesiac Jean Grey, as Mastermind had labored to make them believe.)

Anyway, that sort of thing was why I carefully hedged my bets by saying the discriminatory policy was “generally adhered to” instead of “fanatically adhered to.”

But even with that in mind, I think I’ll do my best to nitpick and split hairs regarding some of your examples!

Didn’t Calvin only get into the Silver Age X-Men by using blackmail? That’s not the same thing as Xavier (or anybody else) saying, “Egad, we need to recruit that boy! Mutant or not, he’s got the right stuff!”

As for Warlock, I did seem to recall (and a quick online search confirms) having previously read statements that he had some exceptional psychological characteristics by the cold-blooded standards of the Technarchy, with the result that he’s been described as a “mutant” within his own species. I suppose that’s why you said he “could be argued either way.”

Didn’t Gosamyr, Bird-Brain, and Longshot all start hanging out with one mutant team or another during an era when Professor Xavier was light-years away from Earth, and thus in no position to remind everybody of his policies?

Come to think of it . . . I’ll grant you that Gosamyr never claimed to be a mutant. On the other hand, she did have mind-control abilities (which she was sometimes using on other New Mutants), and she didn’t stick around all that long in their title, so whether or not they would have ever a) voluntarily recruited her in the first place, and then b) let her stick around on a long-term basis, is up in the air, I’d say.

Charles Xavier only met Madelyne Pryor on two occasions prior to Inferno. There wasn’t much of a chance to take a peek at her DNA. Moira MacTaggert, as far as I know, had never met Madelyne Prior before Inferno.

Gosamyr, Bird-Brain and Longshot did all start fraternizing with the X-Men after Xavier left Earth, but Lockheed, Binary, Juggernaut, X-23, Fantomex, Omega Sentinel and Danger didn’t.

@MarkBlack — for the record, I started buying “Uncanny X-Men” regularly in early 1989. So I bought the storyline of the assault on Muir Isle as it came out. And yes, now that you mention it, I do recall getting the distinct impression — at the time I grabbed “Uncanny X-Men #254″ off the rack — that an all-new, all-different X-Men team would make its debut in that issue.

(The “regular” X-Men of the Australian Outback era having recently been scattered to the four winds, with five of them having passed through the Siege Perilous and (as of that moment) not heard from since! Meanwhile, Storm had been buried, Longshot had wandered off to find himself, and Wolverine missed most of the above and “came home” to the Outback Base after some adventures in his solo series, and waltzed right into an ambush by the Reavers, then later escaped from them with some help from Jubilee.)

But “a self-declared new X-Men team that’s going to stick around for awhile” wasn’t even close to what I got when I actually read that issue, and later the next one!

Let’s face it: [i]Covers can lie to us![/i]

An editor trying to boost sales is more likely to hint that this is a “new legend” (a new X-Men team) than he is to say in big letters: “Buy this issue and the next one to watch some guys and gals putting on bulletproof X-Men outfits on a one-time basis in the name of simple self defense! They’ll never work together as a team again, but we felt like telling yo this story anyway!”

So as I suggested before: If Tom Corsi and Sharon Friedlander, for instance, never said: “Gee, now we’re X-Men because we wore those uniforms for a day or two when the Reavers attacked,” that strikes me as far more important than the fact that someone writing for OHOTMU called them part of “the Muir Isle X-Men.”

By the same token: If they and others had said anyone wearing that uniform in that two-part story was an X-Man for the time being, and if Marvel editors had later denied that this counted for anything, I would take the words of the characters for it over the words of the editors. The characters certainly ought to know whether they were functioning as part of “a temporary X-Men team” or not!

On a similar note, recently I’ve been asking for help in compiling a list of DC’s “Amazon tribes” from regular continuity (Golden Age, Silver/Bronze Age, New Earth, whatever). That list will be posted here someday.

My basic rule is: “If a group of women called themselves Amazons, I take their word for it that they qualify for my list! If they never called themselves Amazons, I take it for granted that they weren’t! Either way, they are the ones who ought to know more about their own status, Amazonian or otherwise, than anyone else does!” :)

The Beast once offered membership in the X-Men to Spider-Man, back before the All New, All Different team.

Or rather while Xavier was off Earth.

@MarkBlack — Madelyne Pryor was long dead before I bought a copy of the “From the Ashes” TPB, so I already knew what she had turned out to be “in the long run” before I sat down to read the details of her earliest appearances.

With that in mind, I found myself looking very dubiously at the Professor’s huge lack of serious effort to scientifically examine the question of whether she might actually be, or closely connected to, the late Jean Grey whom she so strongly resembled.

That TPB reprinted the arc in which she debuted, met Cyclops, got engaged to Cyclops, appeared to then reveal her true colors as Dark Phoenix making a comeback, turned out to be a pawn of Mastermind making people think they saw a fiery phoenix manifestation around Maddy, etc. After Mastermind’s role was detected and he was defeated, Cyclops and Maddy finally got married.

Professor X was right there for the whole thing. Moira MacTaggert wasn’t there when the X-Men thought they were fighting Dark Phoenix all over again, but she did turn up for the wedding at the end.

Once I read the arc, many years ago, it seemed to me that the Painfully Obvious Precaution to take after Mastermind was detected and defeated was to compare Maddie’s genetic code to Jean Grey’s, just in case. The Prof being one of the most brilliant geneticists alive, you’d think that would occur to him. If he didn’t have the time, he could have asked Maddy to give a skin scraping or something to Moira which she, in turn, could then take back to Muir Isle to compare to her file on Jean Grey.

Or to put it another way: If I’d actually been reading “Uncanny X-Men” back around 1983, I probably would have taken it for granted that after the question of Maddie as Dark Phoenix was raised, the Professor naturally would have done such a genetic test as a safety precaution. Then I would have been astounded when “Infero,” several years later, “revealed” that Maddie was indeed a clone of Jean Grey and that nobody around her had ever had a clue that such might be the case!

(By the way, why didn’t Cerebro ever detect Maddie as a super-powered mutant? Especially when she was visiting the X-Mansion? There may have been an explanation for that in Inferno, but I don’t remember one.)

@sackett — you asked: “Would you not consider the Fantastic Four a Family Group, at least for the majority of it’s existense?”

I thought about it as I was composing this piece. Reed is married to Sue, who is Johnny’s sister. That creates “family ties” for three of the four founding members, yes.

But Ben Grimm has never been bound to the others by “family ties” per se. Neither by blood, or by marriage, nor even by adoption. Reed wasn’t part of the Johnny/Sue family in his debut either, although he married Sue years later.

Franklin Richards grew up calling Ben “Unca Ben,” but that’s not quite the same thing.

So I decided that the FF didn’t count when I was racking my brains for a couple of examples of super-teams that started out as “exclusively a family operation.” And as I said at the time, I couldn’t think of any long-lasting team books that have consistently kept it all “within the family.”

@Thenodrin —

Interesting! Either I never heard Spidey had once been offered membership with the X-Men, or else I had long since forgotten any reference to it I might have seen somewhere. Do you remember any further details about when that happened (and in what title), to make it easier for me to research the point for future use?

Spider-Man has a run-in with the X-Men in X-Men #35, from way back in 1967, but it’s the usual “mistaken identity, so we fight” sort of encounter. After it’s all settled, Beast offers Spidey an apology and a handshake, but Spider-Man turns down both. There’s no mention of Spider-Man being offered membership that I can find in that issue.

Spider-Man being offered membership, at the behest of Xavier, occurred in X-Men #27 not #35.

http://www.uncannyxmen.net/db/issues/showquestion.asp?fldAuto=1050

Can anyone she light on exactly how the Mimic blackmailed his way onto the team?

@MarkBlack — Oddly enough, Mimic blackmailing his way in seems to have happened in the same issue summarized in the link you gave as evidence of Spidey being invited to sign up. (“X-Men #27.”) Calvin regained his previously-suppressed (by Prof X) memories of their identities, which he’d learned in his debut in “X-Men #19″) and demanded a slot on the team. In fact, within that issue he was appointed “deputy leader.”

Great column. One question… was the U.S. government really planning on forcing the dictator of an African nation to join an American superhero team in order to prove it wasn’t racist?

Also, for some reason, I thought Peter David’s “X-Factor” characters were basically drafted by the U.S. government, or at least heavily pressured to the point where it might deserve a mention. But maybe I’m misremembering; good excuse to pull that book out again. [If not under Peter David, at least later, people like Mystique or Sabretooth.]

Willie Everstop

April 15, 2011 at 12:01 pm

@ MarkBlack “Can anyone she light on exactly how the Mimic blackmailed his way onto the team?”

In X-men #27, “Don’t try to order me around, Iceman! Remember… one snow-slinging exhibition from the Mimic… and your precious dual identities are kaput! ”
“Then… we’ve no choice but to acquiesce!”

@Sean I remember Peter David’s X-Factor being offered a lot of money with government benefits. Xavier personally asked Havok to lead the team. Polaris and Wolfsbane followed him.

What about:
10) Circumstances Dictate It.
We are teaming up only because only because we have to, not because we want to. You are in due to your unique situation or powers that can handle what we face.

I think this sums up the Secret 6.

Another enjoyable article by Lorendiac. Thank you, Sir. Your lists should be obligatory reading to all writers so they would know which cliches have been overused (and which haven’t.)

The Legion always annoyed me when they broke their own “every member must have a unique power!” rule to add new members. Why was Mon-El accepted? Because… he didn’t have Superboy’s weakness to kryptonite? THAT counts as a power?? Add Supergirl (who DID have the weakness) and Ultra Boy (who could only use one kryptonian-like power at a time) and… yeah.

One thing about the Justice League that never gets pointed out (despite being pretty obvious) is that, in addition to forming to protect the world, they were basically a superhero CLUB, a place they could hang out with their peers, have social activities like their annual meetings with the Justice Society, etc. Nothing wrong with that, but their method for choosing new members seemed based more on “Look, there’s a new hero, let’s invite him over!” than any thought as to whether they would be truly useful to the team. (This was compounded by the fact that nearly every one of their missions was attended by whichever Leaguers happened to be available, so if aliens invaded and Clark Kent was busy at a press conference, it would be up to the likes of Green Arrow or The Atom to deal with them. Never made much sense to me.

As for Warlock, the fact he was ‘a mutant member of his species’ always felt to me like it was introduced just to justify his membership in the New Mutants (after the fact). Even if he is a mutant, his race is not Homo Superior so he has no real function in the X-Men or related groups. (Also, this is just my opinion but I *strongly* suspect this character (and his father, The Magus) were just named that way to keep the trademark of those names -from Jim Starlin’s comics in the 70s- from running out, specially since they were techno-organic beings with NO magical powers (the Magus was more ‘cosmic’ than mystical.)

I remember the “Day of the Defenders” story- those were precisely among the first Marvel comics I ever bought, and while I knew about Marvel’s heroes (from the cartoons) seeing that array of heroes and villains, all of whom were unknown to me (except The Hulk) and who had such OUTRAGEOUS costume designs, convinced me to start buying comics in English- despite the fact I barely spoke the language at the time! Happy days. :)

Finally, while I cannot actually *recommend* that you read Civil War for the story, I’d say it’s worth a look for the use (and misuse) of several tropes that logically had to be used/were forgotten to be used given the change in the Status Quo that it brought to the Marvel Universe for years. At one point (around the killing of Giant-Man) I realized it was crap, but it was such a train wreck I had to see how it ended. There’s material there for several of your lists, I’m sure.

rio de janeiro

April 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm

There’s the non-group, as I see it.
It is the kind of group which doesn’t know it’s actually a group…

Example 1 : Morrison’s seven soldiers ( he, himself, declared that was the case)
and Example 2: Muir Island x-men (paratextually, they are a group, yet they themselves don’t see it as such).

Do you agree?

@Rob T — on the other hand, I don’t think of the Secret Six as “superheroes” in the first place. So they’re not the type of team I was really interested in when I wrote this.

Hmmm. Come to think of it, I was assuming you meant “the Gail Simone version of the Secret Six.” Aside from the serial version that ran in “Action Comics Weekly,” I’m not terribly familiar with any of the other, older incarnations of the concept. (I don’t remember thinking of the late-80s version as being “a superhero team,” though they weren’t as brutal as the Simone version can be, either.)

@MarkBlack — you quoted from http://www.uncannyxmen.net/db/issues/showquestion.asp?fldAuto=3357 — which is to say, from a summary of “Deadly Genesis #6.”

It might amuse you to know that I remember looking at that exact same summary when I was working on a rough draft of this piece. (I had to look at it; I’ve never forced myself to actually read the entire miniseries. From what I’ve heard about it, I wouldn’t feel my money had been well-spent.)

I recall debating with myself on whether or not I should mention that Cyclops had at least one other serious reason for wanting the Prof out of the way besides the whole “you are no longer one of the chosen people (mutants)” thing. I finally decided not to, but it was a close call.

My general feeling is: “A discriminatory policy which is not always enforced to the letter — instead, it varies according to the personal feelings of the authority figure doing the enforcing in a particular case — is still a discriminatory policy!”

Although this discussion with you has me wondering if someday I might want to do a lengthy post that just focused on the topic of how often Professor X and his followers have made exceptions to the “we are a mutant organization” rule, and why.

@rio de janeiro — I haven’t collected Morrison’s “Seven Soldiers,” so I can’t say much about those characters and what they thought were doing at the time. I know, vaguely, that it was several miniseries running simultaneously; I don’t know how much time the characters spent actually working together against a common foe.

But on the Muir Isle X-Men: I believe the characters wearing those bulletproof suits (Amanda Sefton, Brigadier Alysande Stuart, former cop Tom Corsi, etc.) all cheerfully agree with the proposition that they were working together in a temporary group effort to defend the other residents of Muir Isle from the murderous cyborgs known as “the Reavers.” They were trying to make plans and deploy forces; it wasn’t just each individual running around like a loose cannon, doing entirely his own thing.

It’s just that none of the people involved ever said: “Shucks, I guess wearing these uniforms for a day or a two makes us a temporary [i]X-Men[/i] group!”

After all, if I put on some U.S. Army camouflage fatigues for a day or two, because they were the best available clothes for something I needed to do (such as hiding in a forest), I wouldn’t say that wearing the clothes made me a temporary member of the U.S. Army.

Now suppose someone took some photos of me running around in the woods in those military camouflage fatigues, and then printed them in a magazine article, claiming that “paratextually” I was coming across as part of the U.S. Army in those photos. What my reaction be? Probably to laugh my head off!

rio de janeiro

April 19, 2011 at 4:48 pm

@lorendiac (OP) —> thank you for taking the time to read and reply to my posting. I stand corrected about the Muir Island X-men after reading what you answered. Actually, I am quite happy to see that more people think of them as proper X-men, especially Amanda Sefton, as she is one of (if not THE) my favourite characters, and I can’t fathom the thought that she isn’t considered an x-man.

However, I must insist that 7 Soldiers presents a different way of “grouping”, albeit the least obvious one. They never met as fellow group members. They never knew of each other. They never worked together as such. Actually, for this group of “soldiers” to be succesful, it was muster that they be oblivious of each other. So, in a way, they are the (non-)group by default.

Thanks, and I must say that I really enjoyed reading the article. I do like these taxonomy texts.
cheers,
rio.

The most recent version of LoSH used a combination of 1, 2, and 7.

They’d advertise auditions at their headquarters. (7)

Potential applicants were only considered if they had useful innate abilities. (1) This was apparently due to the way they used tech to give themselves an edge. Legion rings and other devices were actually pretty useful tools in anyone’s hands. It’s the old “Why doesn’t Iron Man make gear for the other Avengers?” sort of thing.

Finally to actually become a member they had to audition with the (available) active members and pass a vote. (2)

The issue I read had an audition where they considered Turtle Boy, Sizzle, Night Girl, Gazelle, and Sunboy

Gazelle went first and challenged Timberwolf to prove she had what it took, but they decided that they’d seen her abilities in action enough times already and declined the demonstration.

Night Girl went next and challenged Ultra-Boy to sparring practice… which resulted in the destruction of her costume.

Sunboy, Sizzle, and Turtleboy sort of teamed to demonstrate their powers. Sunboy gave Sizzle an energy charge, then Sizzle discharged the energy at Turtleboy.

The result was Nightgirl, Sizzle and Turtleboy getting consigned to be “reserve” members to be called on if needed due to the limitations of their powers. Nightgirl still had the limitation of needing darkness, Sizzle was at or below normal human in terms of physical durability, and Turtleboy’s powers were solely useful defensively. Gazelle was made a full time member. Sunboy was told that he didn’t need to use the standard audition procedure to be REadmitted. All he needed was the vote.

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