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Comic Book Legends Revealed #368

Welcome to the three hundredth and sixty-eighth in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. This week, an unexpected theme developed. Comics that are so bad that they’re good! This week, learn of how Evel Knievel inadvertently led to one of the oddest (yet awesomest) Marvel Comics of the late 1970s/early 1980s. Also, an amazing tale of how the first issue of that title was made! Plus, did the Thing show up before Fantastic Four #1?!?!

Click here for an archive of the previous three hundred and sixty-seven.

Let’s begin!

COMIC LEGEND: A 1977 arrest of Evel Knievel led to the creation of Team America.

STATUS: True

Evel Knievel was the most famous stunt motorcyclist in the world during the 1970s. He was riding high with plenty of big ticket endorsements.

His career took a major hit in 1977 when he served a six month jail sentence for assaulting one of his former promoters, Shelly Saltman, for writing an unflattering book about him.

At the time, one of his endorsement deals was for a line of toys by Ideal Toys, most famously the Stunt Cycle.

Well, after his conviction, Ideal Toys canceled the contract and re-released the toys as Team America…

In 1974, Marvel had produced a promotional Evel Knievel comic book for Ideal promoting the various Evel Knievel toys Ideal was making at the time (thanks to Brent Frankenhoff for letting me know about this comic).

So a couple of years after Ideal launched the “Team America” replacement line of toys, that connection (also likely inspired by the success that Hasbro had with having Marvel craft a back story for the G.I. Joe action figures) led to Ideal hiring Marvel Comics to make a comic book based on the Team America toy line. Team America first showed up in the pages of Captain America #269…

You don’t get much more awesome than Captain America doing motorcycle tricks with a bunch of dudes in polyester! Look how happy Cap seems!!

However, when it came time to write an ongoing series starring the characters, Marvel really did not yet have an idea of exactly WHAT to do with the characters, which leads us to our second legend of the day (Thanks to the King of the Stuntmen for the images of the Stunt Cycles)…

COMIC LEGEND: The first issue of Team America was re-written and re-drawn over one night.

STATUS: True

Awhile back, commenter Ike Iszany wrote in to tell a story:

Tom DeFalco told a story that he took a group of pencilers, inkers, letters and colorists back to his house and re-did a book in one night once. He said he was scripting pages out of order so the letters would have something to work on. In the end he scrapped on sub par book with another sub par book which must have puzzled the guy who did the first version to no end.

I asked Tom DeFalco about it, and it turns out that it was Team America that was being discussed! Tom was kind enough to tell me the whole story…

The comic book was Team America #1 and Jim Shooter was the one who decided the comic book had to be redone at the last minute. I don’t know why we ended up in my apartment, but we did. Jim sort of re-plotted the book–page by page, figuring out if we needed new artwork or could live with the pre-existing art and I re-wrote the script. Jim gave me the first few pages in order so it was easy to re-write them. As the night wore on, Jim would give me pages out of order with notes on how to re-script them.

Eventually, he started cutting up pages and giving me panels–sometimes in groups and sometimes individually. Talk about a man with vision! I still don’t know how he managed to keep the story straight, but he did. Me, I was just struggling as I scripted individual panels and fed them to the letterer.

I do remember that my wife woke up around 6:00 am to get ready for work. She discovered Bob Layton asleep on our kitchen floor with his head inside our refrigerator. I later learned that Bob wanted a soda or beer and the last can was on the bottom shelve in the back. He was so tired he sat on the floor to get it, but fell asleep. Yeah, we freelancers live glamorous lives! Jim led another of these re-do parties over the years.

Since I always felt we were replacing a sub-par book with a different type of sub-par, I stopped the practice when I became editor-in-chief.

Here are two pages from the issue…

The second issue of Team America (with Denny O’Neil and Bill Mantlo now involved as the co-writers of the book) goes a WHOLE other direction, including new members and the beginning of a mystery that would eventually reveal that the members of the group were all mutants!

You see, the mysterious Marauder was actually a being that the group created with their mutant power and imprinted on to a friend of the group…

Talk about making it up as you go!

What’s fascinating is that it appears pretty clear that it is intended as a riff on the Forever People (who ride a super cycle and combine to form Infinity Man)

since the project they all came from was called “Project: New Genesis”).

Amusingly, once they were revealed to be mutants, Chris Claremont had them show up in New Mutants, where they…learned they were mutants…again?!?

Even MORE amusingly, a few years later when Marvel no longer had the Ideal license, they kept the characters that they had introduced (which was pretty much all of them, as Ideal’s only “character” was “Evel Knievel rip-off”) and re-named them the Thunderiders (in later issues of the Thing’s ongoing series). Possibly the only thing that could challenge the Captain America story for awesomeness is a Thuderider human pyramid on top of the Thing on a motorcycle!

Thanks to Ike Iszany for the question and thanks to Tom for the information! Thanks to the Marvel Appendix for the Thunderiders picture. I see they also made the Forever People connection. That connection occurred to me before reading them, promise!

COMIC LEGEND: Jack Kirby based the Thing on a character from an issue of Strange Tales.

STATUS: False

The very notion of “prototypes” when it comes to the pre-”Marvel Age” of Marvel Comics is a problematic one. During the 1950s and early 1960s, Marvel had a very small staff devoted to basically churning out one new short story after another. When you are coming up with that many new ideas, some are bound to stick with you and show up in your later work.

However, fans sometimes seem to want to draw TOO much of a connection between early stories and later ones.

To wit, in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed, I discussed a “prototype” for Aunt May from Strange Tales #97…

Released just two months before Amazing Fantasy #15…

But while I wrote at the time that the design was likely on Ditko’s mind when it came time to do Amazing Fantasy #15, who is to say that that was not just a typical face Ditko went to when he was drawing old ladies?

It is likely a stretch to call the May in the earlier story a prototype for May Parker (similar to the “Look, Ditko drew a ghost with a mustache! It’s a Doctor Strange prototype!”)

In any event, I bring this up because of another Strange Tales story I featured awhile back for I Love Ya But You’re Strange. A hilariously ridiculous tale by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby of a monster who can absorb the shape of other creatures. Here, he temporarily takes the form of an escaped convict…

You might notice some similarity with a certain bashful blue-eyed member of the Fantastic Four (here, from Fantastic Four #1, is Ben Grimm, the Ever-Lovin’ Thing)…

When you couple that with the cover of the issue…

reader Jax was quick to point out:

its clear where the inspiration for the FF’s Thing came from.

Except, though, that Strange Tales #95 came out six months AFTER Fantastic Four #1.

Thanks to Jax for the comment, as it gives me a chance to plug that Strange Tales #95 story again. Click here to read the I Love Ya But You’re Strange feature on it. It is one of the most absurd best/worst endings in Silver Age history. I love it.

Okay, that’s it for this week!

Thanks to the Grand Comics Database for this week’s covers! And thanks to Brandon Hanvey for the Comic Book Legends Revealed logo!

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is cronb01@aol.com. And my Twitter feed is http://twitter.com/brian_cronin, so you can ask me legends there, as well!

Here’s my new book, Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? It is due out this Tuesday! The cover is by Kevin Hopgood (the fellow who designed War Machine’s armor).

If you want to pre-order a copy, ordering it here gives me a referral fee.

Follow Comics Should Be Good on Twitter and on Facebook (also, feel free to share Comic Book Legends Revealed on our Facebook page!). If we hit 3,000 likes on Facebook you’ll get a bonus edition of Comic Book Legends the week after we hit 3,000 likes! So go like us on Facebook to get that extra Comic Book Legends Revealed! Not only will you get updates when new blog posts show up on both Twitter and Facebook, but you’ll get original content from me, as well!

Also, be sure to check out my website, Urban Legends Revealed, where I look into urban legends about the worlds of entertainment and sports, which you can find here, at urbanlegendsrevealed.com.

Here’s my book of Comic Book Legends (130 legends – half of them are re-worked classic legends I’ve featured on the blog and half of them are legends never published on the blog!).

The cover is by artist Mickey Duzyj. He did a great job on it…(click to enlarge)…

If you’d like to order it, you can use the following code if you’d like to send me a bit of a referral fee…

Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed

See you all next week!

58 Comments

Apparently, you and I have different definitions of awesome.

Somehow, this makes me love Team America all that much MORE!

Aaron Bourque

May 25, 2012 at 9:52 am

I’ve never heard of Team America before. Now I crave more!

I had to look these Team America fellows up and something jumped out at me: Knievel went to jail in 1977 and lost his endorsements around that time, but Team America first appeared in comics in 1982.

Did it take Ideal Toys five years to cook up the name change and put out the new toys, or did they decide to give the toys a backstory in 1982, I’m guessing following the success Hasbro had as a result of teaming up with Marvel?

I will fight people who try to denigrate Team America. FIGHT THEM.

(I’d probably lose the fight but still…)

My love for U.S. 1 is not as unconditional. Depends on how I’m feeling about “CB skull” that day.

Did it take Ideal Toys five years to cook up the name change and put out the new toys, or did they decide to give the toys a backstory in 1982,

The latter. I’ll edit the piece to make that more clear.

Ritchard -

Googling around says that the Team America line came out in 1980.
http://www.plaidstallions.com/ideal/teamamerica.html

I weirdly loved Team America and collected the series faithfully when it was out. Actually, I loved a lot of the toy tie-in comics without having any interest in the toys themselves: ROM, Micronauts, Crystar, Masters of the Universe.

But then, I never read any G.I. Joe, Shogun Warriors or Transformers (never saw the cartoons or movies either), so I guess it balances out.

I still say that Steve Rogers’ uniform when he was playing at being Nick Fury recenty looked like a leftover Team America costume.

Roquefort Raider

May 25, 2012 at 10:28 am

I had no idea Team America was a licensed property. Maybe that explains the shoddy quality of the series, if nobody really cared about it. Although that being said, it did provide a funny moment in its final issue: when Dr. Carson reveals that she joined HYDRA because of its pension plan!

Hell Yeah team America! I loved that book.

I can’t believe no one’s said Team America? FUCK YEAH yet.

That Bob Layton spleeping with his head inside the refrigerator is great.

Yet another series/concept that leaves the Marvel Essentials series incomplete when they reprint them. No ROM, no DOC SAVAGE…..no whatever….a bad, unoriginal era of Marvel Comics (DC, too, for that matter) the toy comic book. Micronauts was ok with the Golden Art..and Rom wasn’t half bad (too bad Marvel didn’t buy the rights to the character from they toy company). But US-1? Team America? Super Pro? Yuck.

LOOK OUT, GRINGO CAP! The Wolf is gonna land his bike right on your back in that last panel!

Is it just me, or does the Thing’s speech seems a wee bit stilted there?

Yeah…Thing’s speech is stilted. Yours would be TOO if you were playing second fiddle to Team America. Of course, I believe it was John Byrne doing the writing? Ben is probably still trying to figure out the “Lockjaw is an Inhuman” story thread.l

Mike Carlin was writing the book at the time.

Gavin- you beat me to/spared me from it. Love the Bob Layton story.

Not quite as good a picture as the disco dancing Thing, but still quality. Darn Vance Astrovik, always up to something.

http://dudesmacdougal.tumblr.com/post/21384494219

Matthew Johnson

May 25, 2012 at 11:40 am

“Like all Hydra operations, ‘New Genesis’ was ultimately intended to further Hydra’s quest for world domination.”

Man, that must make performance reviews tough at Hydra HQ… “Yes, the bathrooms are all very clean, Bob, but how does that further our quest for world domination?”

Even with Mike Carlin doing the writing (thanks for the correction…I had no need to relive those issues of the THING’s solo series) Ben is STILL probably trying to shake the idea that Lockjaw is an Inhuman….and he’s probably hoping his next gig will be with the other members of the FF. If he only knew…that She-Thing was just around the corner…..

Y’know, I usually don’t care for the cliche “chip-on-his-shoulder” tough guy, but there’s something about Wolf that I find compelling. Maybe the fact that he’s both the tough-guy stereotype and the Mexican stereotype rolled into one. Or the fact that, despite his super over-the-top Mexican-ness, he inexplicably goes by ‘Wolf’ instead of ‘Lobo’.

Plus, you gotta love his dedication to being a dick to literally everyone, for no reason:
“Hey Wolf, join our motorcycle team.” “No, fuck you!”
“Hey Wolf, let me tell you of your secret origins.” “No, fuck you!”
“Hey Wolf, I am the world’s foremost expert on mutants, and I will teach you to control your powers.” “No, fuck you!”

I somehow came across the first issue of Team America, I think from a $1 grab-bag or something, and opened it up to find Bob Layton had signed it! I’ve never thought much of it, but after reading this article it takes on a whole new meaning! Thanks!

I was also surprised after reading this article that the credits in Team America #1 never mentioned DeFalco or Layton, just Shooter as the scripter.

Marvel produced a tie-in promotional comic book for Ideal for its Evel Knievel toys before the whole Team America thing. In it, IIRC, Knievel introduced a bunch of new vehicles for his stunt show, which, coincidentally mirrored those that had just been released for the Ideal line: the breakaway car, the rocket bike, etc.

Thanks for the info, Brent! Very cool.

Chuck Melville

May 25, 2012 at 12:18 pm

The story about Bob Layton falling asleep in the refrigerator is wild — but I’ve actually heard it before, from the horse’s mouth at a convention. A friend and I had cornered Layton at a bar one night after con hours, found him friendly and affable enough, and he regaled us with a few stories about his career, including the one about helping to redo a comic over a single weekend, wherein he fell asleep while reaching for a coke in the fridge. (Apparently this took place in the heart of a heat wave and the apartment was stifling and the fridge was so cool…)

The thing is, Layton had told us that the book they were working on was the fourth issue of SECRET WARS, one of the two fill-in issues he’d done for that series. (At least, I -think- that was #4…) There’d been no mention of DeFalco either, from what I can recall — it was just him and Shooter.

Since then, I’d heard other stories about the making of SECRET WARS that didn’t quite jibe with Layton’s tale, so I’d written it off as a tall tale. Now, after hearing the tale about TEAM AMERICA, which jibes with Layton’s version in most aspects, I think now he had most likely confused the books when telling us his story. I guess that happens when you tell tales in a bar.

As noted before, the Thing actually met and clashed with the Two-Headed Thing in an issue of Fantastic Four Unlimited that Roy Thomas wrote as an homage to the classic monster books.

Said: Roquefort Raider – “Although that being said, it did provide a funny moment in its final issue: when Dr. Carson reveals that she joined HYDRA because of its pension plan!”

Oh, sure. It’s easy to provide a pension plan when your workers are likely to be killed by SHIELD agents or imprisoned by super heroes before they hit retirement age.

Awesome as usual. Now when do we get a Comic Book Legend about the Human Fly?

I had that Evel Knievel comic when I was a kid.

Weird how Ben is worried about getting shot. I guess Kirby hadn’t decided that he was bulletproof yet.

I recently found all 12 issues of Team America in a bargain bin. Got the whole series for a couple of bucks. It’s ok, at best. But still kind of enjoyable, in a cheesy way.

“Except, though, that Strange Tales #95 came out six months AFTER Fantastic Four #1.”

But which issue was drawn first? Sometimes jobs would be drawn months before and then published later. Does any Kirby-ophile know which was drawn first?

I gotta namecheck! That will do me! Eventhough it was clear that I wrongly assumed something!

John Baker- or gutted by Wolverine. Don’t forget being gutted by Wolverine.

I’m fairly sure I had that Evil Knievel toy as a kid. thanks for the memory. Aside from G.I Joe & Transformers, Sec-torus was the only other licensed book I enjoyed. Is there any legend behind them? I think I liked it most for being one of those first comics with the Super Bright experimental ‘new paper/coloring’ thing they were doing in the 80′s. Plus the toys were damn cool,

Travis Pelkie

May 25, 2012 at 4:58 pm

Just wondering (I only skimmed the piece, so forgive me if it was addressed), but was Team America 1 credited to M. Hands, Crusty Bunkers, or something else entirely?

Todd Spangrud

May 25, 2012 at 6:49 pm

I sensed the deft hand of Vinny Coletta on one of those TA pages.Ever associated with the hot book.

But which issue was drawn first? Sometimes jobs would be drawn months before and then published later. Does any Kirby-ophile know which was drawn first?

Oh, sorry, Ray, you’re absolutely correct. I forgot to mention that I checked the production numbers and FF #1 pre-dated the Two-Headed Thing by a goodly amount.

Just hit me; merchandized toys in the 70s sucked, huh?

Kids today get to choose between Star Wars, Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter Legos. I’m here talking to people who had to play with ROM-Space Toaster and ghetto Evil Knievel.

Those bastards are lucky they get to pay our Social Security.

Mike Zeck’s run on Captain America was great.

The difference between kids now and “back in the day,” though, is the toys now have built-in stories.

Our toys didn’t, so we got awesome comic books based off stuff like ROM and G.I. Joe.

Ritchard- good point well made. But dang, the accessories! They have a LEGO Hulk now!

Minor trivia point: An early seventies Batman has him tangle with “Devil” Dayre, an obvious Knievel knockoff.
As noted, Knievel was huge back in the day.

That is some gorgeous artwork from Bob Layton. I miss that era. Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Frank Brunner, early John Byrne… all great stuff.

You missed the biggest “prototype” of them all. The story from Amazing Adult Fantasy #14 that introduced mutants! Here’s a web page about it.

http://www.supermegamonkey.net/chronocomic/entries/amazing_adult_fantasy_14.shtml

Ahhh…Team America!! Remember it well. What about US 1? For me, both were new lows for Marvel.

Travis Pelkie

May 27, 2012 at 2:20 am

Oh, man, I just read that comment from Matthew Johnson about HYDRA performance reviews. SO funny!

“So a couple of years after Ideal launched the “Team America” replacement line of toys, that connection (also likely inspired by the success that Hasbro had with having Marvel craft a back story for the G.I. Joe action figures) led to Ideal hiring Marvel Comics to make a comic book based on the Team America toy line. Team America first showed up in the pages of Captain America #269…”

Cap 269 is from May 1982. G.I. Joe #1 is cover-dated June 1982, as is Team America #1. How would Ideal be influenced by the success of a comic that hadn’t been published yet?

Matthew Johnson

May 28, 2012 at 8:08 am

@ Travis: I’m here all week! Try the fish!

I had that Evel Knievel comic and the toy as well way back when! I didn’t make the connection to Team America, though. Team America was a comic that just never made much sense. I don’t think I can even remember a single thing about it now!

So isn’t the mystery question – “Was the Two-Headed Thing based on a character created in FF #1?”

I have to dig up that FF Unlimited from my stacks….my first thought was “someone has to have these two fight.”

@salamuri- I had the same thought. I thought most of the Evel stuff predated the new GI Joe, and in any regard that the book hadn’t had time to become a “big success” yet. Your numbers seem to confirm that.

And to think that classic but short Zeck run on Cap had to have pages taken up with Team America filler…ugh.

As you commanded I followed your link and ordered a copy of your newest book ‘Why does Batman’ and it arrived today, May 31st!
Who drew the cover? I didn’t see a credit inside for that.
Looking forward to reading this!

As you commanded I followed your link and ordered a copy of your newest book ‘Why does Batman’ and it arrived today, May 31st!
Who drew the cover? I didn’t see a credit inside for that.
Looking forward to reading this!

Huh, you know, they might not actually have credited him in the book. Weird. In any event, I mentioned it in the column, right? It is Kevin Hopgood, who had a notable run on Iron Man where he created the War Machine armor.

Anthony Durrant

June 6, 2012 at 12:35 pm

Team America is listed in THE GUIDE TO THE MARVEL UNIVERSE as “The Thunder Riders.” I wonder why they chose to change their name?

As noted in the article, Marvel changed it after they lost the toy tie-in license. I don’t think they ever gave a reason within the story.

Yeah, as noted, they changed because Marvel lost the toy license. However, there actually WAS an in-story reason. I might feature it as an I Love Ya But You’re Strange this week.

bbbbbbbbbbbbbbbb

…Interesting side note about Evel’s “fall from grace”, Brian: That punch he threw at Saltman didn’t trash his career as much as you’ve indicated. That damage had already been done by the X-2′s dive into the Snake River Canyon in 1974. Much of what Saltman had written that got Evel pissed turned out to be “lies, more lies, and damned lies” after all, and what little fallout there was from the cancelling of licensing deals was pretty much confined to the Ideal toy line and future tie-ins to that toy line. What defused the downturn in public sentiment towards Evel – and I wish to frack someone had capped and posted this on YouTube – was when How-wahd Co-sell (emphasis mine) actually backed Evel’s actions up on ABC’s Wide World of Sports a couple of weeks after the punch went around the national and local sports reporting. These days, pretty much anyone who’s a fan of Evel Knievel looks at the event the same way Space Historians view Buzz Aldrin’s right cross in Moon Hoax Moron and general scum of the earth Bart Sibrel: “Way to go Buzz! The bastard finally got what was coming to him”

…In the final analysis, the only ones who got hurt in this deal besides Saltman were Ideal’s stockholders, because the reimaged “Team America” toyline didn’t sell 1/10th what the Evel line did, and that’s even after the line – no pun intended – “jumped the shark” with the introduction of “Robbie Knievel”.

Now, maybe if they’d done a Forever People line instead…but nah. None of the target demographic for such a toy would have bought a Beautiful Dreamer figure when it was more fun to raid your sister’s closet and let Desaad have his way with her Barbie doll(s)..:P

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