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