… and there’s a feature film on the way in 2014, set to feature my old pal Star-Lord.
You are forgiven for wondering how the heck this is happening. DC Comics still can’t get a Justice League movie on track and Marvel is bringing a B-team to the big screen? Actually, calling them a B-team is giving them all the best of it. The Guardians of the Galaxy are a tertiary property (on their best day), and I really can’t explain how they’ve been fast-tracked for stardom. I’ve enjoyed their recent comics series but this seems a gigantic risk.
But while I can’t explain the inner workings of Hollywood, I can write about something close to home — namely the Guardians of the Galaxy themselves!
No, I don’t mean these guys …
I mean these guys!
These are the original Guardians, circa 1969, as imagined by writer Arnold Drake and artist Gene Colan for the cover of Marvel Super-Heroes #18. From left-to-right we have Major Vance Astro (cryogenically-preserved spaceman of the 1980s), Charlie-27 (Jovian militiaman), Martinex (genetically-engineered inhabitant of Pluto), and the weapons-master Yondu, last survivor of Alpha Centauri IV!
Yes, the Guardians had been kicking around the Marvel Universe for decades before the Guardians of the Galaxy trademark was resurrected for the post-Annihilation series of the same name in 2008. The original Guardians were nomads of the spaceways, perpetual guest-stars and try-out book headliners that took decades to (sort of) break through and earn a book of their own.
They’re just the kind of obscure and loveable losers that I can’t resist here at Longbox Graveyard!
The team’s fast-paced origin story in Marvel Super-Heroes #18 doesn’t afford a chance to do much more than put names to faces. Earth and her colonies have come beneath the heel of the baleful Badoon, a race of remorseless, reptillian interstellar conquerers, and our four heroes are the last of their kind — genetically-engineered human colonists of the outer planets, indigenous aliens, or star-lost men from the past. When the story is complete, our heroes have come together and pledged to liberate a captive earth …
… and that might have been the end for this one-and-done science fiction superhero team, had not Tony Isabella and Steve Gerber conspired to resurrect them. A full five years passed before the Guardians next appeared, in Marvel Two-In-One #4 and #5. Written by Steve Gerber, these issues saw Captain America and the Thing transported into the future, where they met the Guardians and helped continue the fight to free the earth from the Badoon.
It was an action-packed and frankly bizarre tale (though not bizarre in the usual Steve Gerber way — that would come later). What was most strange was that these Guardians were given a second chance at all. This kind of intellectual property dumpster-diving was more Roy Thomas’ line of work, who delighted in unearthing Golden Age treasures for Silver Age audiences. Interested as he was in socially-relevant superhero stories, it’s hard to understand what Steve Gerber saw in these intergalactic freedom fighters — yet there they were, in all their generic Sal Buscema glory, clobbering bad guys along with Ben Grimm in the pages of his team-up book.
I bought that issue of Marvel Two-In-One off the rack in 1974 — I liked it at the time, and it even fared well in my recent re-read of the full run of Two-In-One. I think I responded to “Superheroes In Spaaaaaace!” and there was something cool about discovering these obscure characters. As a tender youth of twelve this was a mind-expanding moment for me, first-hand proof that the “Marvel Universe” consisted not just of Spider-Man swinging around Manhattan, but also a cosmos full of aliens and forgotten freedom fighters, with a future history our heroes may or may not be doomed to live out. I was also taken with the story of Major Vance Astro, who sacrificed his humanity to explore the stars, only to find out he’d been made obsolete before his voyage had scarcely begun.
Gerber so liked the team that he used them again in Defenders #26-29, more firmly cementing them into the Marvel Universe, and doing a bit of clean-up work on the Guardians’ origin and backstory. After crashing the Guardians’ time-lost ship on Earth in Giant-Size Defenders #5, Gerber teamed the Guardians with Doctor Strange, Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and the Hulk to mostly put paid to the Badoon occupation of Earth. Along the way, he indulged in some characteristic Steve Gerber weirdness (casting the Hulk in a kill-crazy reality television show!), but he also fleshed out the Guardians mythos by showing us peculiar details of Badoon culture, and constructing an elaborate future history for the series, which included ozone depletion, bionics, world war, and even a Martian invasion (resisted by a guy named Killraven).
That Defenders run is also notable for introducing Starhawk, a character I’m still trying to wrap my head around going on four decades later. Starhawk is an enigma, popping up unbidden, referring to himself as “The One Who Knows,” and winging off to his weirdly prosaic little house on the galactic prairie between adventures …
… which was all well and good, but the Guardians themselves were still a reasonably unknown quantity at this point, and there seemed plenty of stories to tell about the original cast without introducing a mysterious new character. Starhawk would be even more front-and-center (literally!) in the Guardians solo series that kicked off in Marvel Premiere #3.
It took seven years, but thanks to Steve Gerber’s efforts, the Guardians of the Galaxy had finally earned a series of their own! But now that the Guardians had the stage to themselves, this pack of perpetual second bananas seemed a little lost. First, there was the distracting presence of the enigmatic Starhawk, who seemed to suck the air out of every scene, gazing into the distance and promising that in time all will be revealed while the rest of the Guardians (and at least one reader) wished he’d just get to the point. Second, Gerber decided that the Guardians’ war against the Badoon had run its course, and wrapped up our heroes’ raison d’etre the the final defeat of the Badoon in the first issue of their solo run. Once again, Starhawk was on hand with moralistic advice about how the defeated Badoon should be treated, courtesy of one of Gerber’s signature typed-text pages.
Gerber’s vision was for the Guardians of the Galaxy to start living up to their name, and to guard not just Earth, but the Galaxy, and so our heroes were packed aboard a starship and sent off to confront a mysterious being at the center of space. All well and good, but it wouldn’t be long before the series took a turn for the silly, first when that mysterious being turned out to be a giant space frog …
… and then when — with all the universe to choose from — Steve Gerber had the Guardians land on an alien asylum planet that just happened to be a weird replica of New York’s Times Square.
In this run of Guardians of the Galaxy we found out the hard way that the cosmic wonder of the Marvel Universe matters only so much as it is connected to our mundane lives here on Earth. Galactus can eat all the planets he likes — but it’s just backstory until he confronts the Fantastic Four over the fate our our planet. Thanos can destroy half the universe with a snap of his fingers, but what we really care about is what happened to Mary Jane Watson. In a fictional construct as interconnected as the Marvel Universe, you strike out on your own at your peril, and by putting our men of action on the bridge of a starship and having them fly off on an abstract adventure with one-off characters in places we’d never seen before, Gerber unfortunately delivered stories that provided the worst of all worlds.
If the plotting was a drag, Gerber did wring some personality from our heroes. Yondu got to be a noble savage, and he did tricks with his bow (always the same damn trick, but it was better than nothing). Martinex became more brainy and alien. All of our characters came to feel like outcasts and freaks as the last of their kind. Vance started to behave erratically, living in a shipboard room reconstructed from his memories as a twelve-year-old …
Gerber added a female Guardian, too, but the team just never seemed to jell in their own series — absent outsized personalities like Ben Grimm or the Hulk or Doctor Strange to play off of, the Guardians were revealed as a B-team of generic comic heroes without a cause.
The series went into rapid decline as the big energy frog storyline wrapped up. A Silver Surfer reprint was awkwardly shoe-horned into issue #8, and then Steve Gerber would transition off the book in favor of Roger Stern, who finally revealed Starhawk’s origin — a messy mash-up of alien prophecies and a vaguely incestuous body-sharing relationship between step-siblings that somehow involved a giant Hawkman robot.
It was a mess, and so was the book by this point, so it was a bit of a relief when the series met its inevitable demise after issue #12.
I will admit to being a bit disappointed revisiting the Guardians after all these years. But the improbable tale of the Guardians of the Galaxy was far from over. They would next appear in Thor Annual #6 to kick off of one of the biggest Avengers events of the decade … but that is a tale for another time!
(And for those of you who soldiered to the end of this article looking for relevant information about the new Guardians of the Galaxy, check out this excellent scorecard at Comic Book Resources).
- Title: Guardians of the Galaxy
- Published By: Marvel Comics, 1969-1977
- Issues Reviewed By The Longbox Graveyard: Marvel Super-Heroes #18, Marvel Two-In-One #4-5, Defenders #26-29, Marvel Presents #3-12
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C-minus
- Own The Reprints: Earth Shall Overcome and The Power of Starhawk
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #94 Flame On!
- #86 Star Lord! (longboxgraveyard.com)
- Jason Momoa as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy? (comicbooked.com)
- Marvel First Look: Guardians Of The Galaxy Trading Cards (mytakeradio.com)
- Guardians Of The Galaxy Has A Guardian: Chris Pratt (contactmusic.com)
- See STAR-LORD’s Origin in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY #0.1 (newsarama.com)
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY: A Beginner’s Guide to Marvel’s Strangest Comic Book Adaptation (collider.com)
- Behind the Scenes: The Screen-Test and Dealmaking Process at Marvel Studios (slashfilm.com)
- Chris Pratt Will Lead Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (screenrant.com)
- Jason Momoa Offered Lead Role in Marvel’s ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (slashfilm.com)
- Marvel Reportedly Courting Adam Sandler And Jim Carrey For ‘Guardians of The Galaxy’ (slashfilm.com)
Obscure heroes have been my stock-in-trade here at Longbox Graveyard, and I’ve enthused about quite a few of them, whether it was pleading for respect for Captain Marvel, remembering the still-unrealized potential of Deathlok, or lamenting the unfinished saga of Killraven and his War of the Worlds.
But among my favorite heroes, more obscure by far would be Star Lord. At least, he was obscure until this guy came along.
That is Chris Pratt, and until yesterday, I didn’t know who he was. Maybe you didn’t, either.
But now he’s fast-tracked to join a holy trinity of Marvel leading men named Chris (along with Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth) because Mr. Pratt will shortly share center stage with this motley crew:
That is concept art for Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel’s superhero/science fiction movie coming in 2014, and that guy in the center with the two guns and the funky face mask is Star Lord (sort of … as we shall see). It is shocking enough that we live in a world where there is a Guardians of the Galaxy movie in the first place, but we are really through the geek looking glass when Star Lord is a part of it (though I suppose with Rocket Raccoon also coming to the screen that anything is possible). Still, even with Marvel’s developing reputation for using every part of the buffalo, it has to rate among the least likely of unlikely twists and turns that they’ve opened up their intellectual property vault and dusted off Star Lord for the big screen.
Who is Star Lord? (Besides Chris Pratt).
He’s was one of my favorite characters, and one lost to the ages — or he was until plucked from the purgatory of Marvel’s dead file to begin his transition into the Marvel Universe in the pages of Timothy Zahn’s quasi-canonical Star-Lord #2 in 1997, followed by his eventual integration with the Guardians of the Galaxy (and even the Guardians aren’t my Guardians, but that is another column!)
Of course, this is Longbox Graveyard, the comics blog where it is always 1978, so that 1997 comic story isn’t of real interest to me. I have read a bit of the rebooted Guardians of the Galaxy, and enjoyed both that team and the new Star Lord who leads it, but he isn’t really the Star Lord (or Star-Lord!) that I remember.
This is my guy:
My Star Lord debuted in the black-and-white magazine pages of Marvel Preview #4 in 1976, and he is a distant echo — or maybe the distant progenitor — of the Star Lord now fast-tracked for cinematic stardom. My Star-Lord practiced astrology (for an issue, at least), was loved by his sentient ship, had a pistol that fired blasts of the four elements, and he had a hyphen! A hyphen, do you hear? He was Star-Lord back in the day, none of this Star Lord business!
He was also a bit of a jerk. And definitely NOT a part of the Marvel Universe.
The old Marvel black-and-white magazines were often a place of experimentation. Sold for a buck and not covered by the Comics Code Authority, Marvel’s mags sometimes touched on more adult content than their color comic book line. Dozens (hundreds?) of them came and went over the ages, but aside from Savage Sword of Conan, few of them got much traction in the market. Marvel Preview, in particular, was all over the place, with a rotating cast of editors that all seemed intent on taking the magazine in a different direction. It’s a new character try-out book! It’s a showcase for edgy takes on costumed heroes! It’s a standard-bearer for the legitimacy of graphic fiction! It has tits so it can compete with Heavy Metal!
In its day, Marvel Preview was all of those things, but of interest today is that Marvel Preview was the birthplace of Star-Lord.
Bernie Wrightson‘s Star-Lord frontispiece for Marvel Preview #4
Developed by Steve Englehart under the editorial direction of Marv Wolfman, Star-Lord told the tale of Peter Quill, a young man who saw his mother killed by space aliens, and made it his life’s mission to avenge her death. Star-Lord’s origin story in Marvel Preview #4 is fast-paced and action-packed, during which we learn the astrological configuration of the sky at Peter’s birth approximated that of the birth of Christ; that the young man had a psychopathic father who wanted to kill his son at birth; that Peter’s mother got whacked by space lizards; and that Peter was a brilliant astronaut but not so nice a guy.
whacked by space lizards (bummer)
In subsequent interviews, Englehart said he intended Peter Quill to be a bit of a dick — right down to giving him a prickly name — and that over a series of stories he intended to chart Peter’s gradual march toward enlightenment or at least being a mellow dude.
Englehart would leave Marvel before penning another chapter in his magnum opus, so what we have is this brisk and sometimes harsh origin story that doesn’t try to redeem our hero in any way.
The story sees Peter aboard a space station when an alien presence promises to turn someone into a superhero. Peter is instantly disqualified by his NASA bosses … then adopts a novel approach to fulfill his destiny. I believe it is singular in that Peter more-or-less steals a Star-Lord identity intended for a more worthy character. It would be like some mentally-unstable schmo laid something heavy across the back of Hal Jordan‘s head and took for his own that Green Lantern power ring proffered by Abin Sur.
Peter was so driven to get into space to avenge his mother’s death that he resorted to mass murder — I mean, how else are we to interpret this particular scene …
… and I’m not sure we can excuse his behavior just because it leads to him becoming the Star-Lord, whatever the “Master of the Sun” might suggest.
Still, it is an original superhero origin, this idea of stealing powers and identity that were supposed to go to some other character. It reminds me a bit of the story of one of my own Irish ancestors, who knocked out his brother and stole his ticket to America. Maybe that’s why this tale spoke to me, as a lad — or maybe it was because Peter and I were born in the same year of 1962, and if he was destined for some cosmic transfiguration, then maybe I was, too.
Whatever the reason, I liked Star-Lord, I liked that he was a bit of a prick, I liked his uniform and I liked that he flew around in space with a water pistol (excuse me, “element gun”). I wanted more Star-Lord, and (years) later, I got my wish, when the character received his “second launch” in Marvel Preview #11.
This was a different Star-Lord. Englehart was gone, and with him all that astrology hooey. In it’s place was a two-fisted space opera tale, by the first-time-together superstar team of Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Terry Austin, and Tom Orzechowski. While not exactly a reboot, this was a new take on the character, picking up his adventures sufficient years into the future that our hero can be expected to have evolved past his difficult origins and become a kind of seeker and protector of the galaxy.
Citing Robert Heinlein’s “juveniles” as his primary inspiration, Claremont’s vision for Star-Lord was one of unapologetic space opera, and so we have an adventure centering on intrigue inside a stellar empire, with nobles wearing capes on the bridges of their starships, and a nifty bit of meta story-telling where we’re asked to reflect on the anachronism of men fighting for the destiny of stars by dueling with swords …
There is imagination to burn in this story, told at a breathless pace with exciting elements absorbed on the fly. Peter Quill is afraid of his own powers and potential! Peter has a secret heritage! Our hero helms a sentient, shape-changing starship that appears to be in love with him! There’s a sprawling interstellar empire out there brimming with intrigue and adventure!
If this tale had the good fortune to come out after Star Wars, instead of a few months before, Star-Lord might have become an instant superstar. Instead, John Byrne and Terry Austin moved over to X-Men with Chris Claremont to change the face of superhero comics, and Star-Lord’s next outings — in Marvel Preview #14 and #15 — failed to build on that dynamite tale from #11. Chris Claremont returned to script, but Carmine Infantino was at best serviceable on pencils. These issues were also smaller in scope and spirit of adventure than the previous tale, as Claremont abandoned the fast-paced space opera derring-do of his previous tale, opting for a planet-of-the-week kind of story that centered on Peter’s relationship with “Ship.” Having “Ship” take on humanoid female form was an interesting step (and it provided Infantino an opportunity to draw “Ship’s” female avatar in various states of undress, hubba-hubba), but the development of Peter and “Ship’s” relationship felt forced and rushed. Rather than teasing out details of “Ship’s” true nature on-the-fly as Claremont had done in issue #11, much of the character’s mystery is explained away by the end of issue #15, and the character was less intriguing for being better understood.
Doug Moench took the reins of Star-Lord for his final black & white adventure in Marvel Preview #18, then shepherded the character into his color era in Marvel Super-Special #10 and Marvel Spotlight #6 and #7. Moench retained Claremont’s planet-of-the-week structure but also saw Star-Lord as a vehicle for morality plays, putting the character in situations that tested his avowed and emerging pacifism. The Marvel Spotlight books were also the first Star-Lord stories published in conventional comics format, and under a Comics Code Authority stamp, which had little effect on the story, save to make Star-Lord seem that much more like any other Marvel book — indeed, looking back at it, I can see seeds being planted for Star-Lord’s eventual transition to the Marvel Universe.
The books themselves, ably illustrated by Tom Sutton, aren’t especially memorable. All of issue #6 is spent recapping and subtly cleaning up Star-Lord’s origin; issue #7 puzzlingly recaps the recap, before offering a talky and vaguely preachy parable where Peter gets involved in a karmic conflict on a planet called Heaven (which makes the preachy part inevitable, I suppose). Star-Lord seemingly becomes more homogenous by the page, but at least Moench and Sutton pull off the most convincing (and maybe the first) demonstration of the value of Star-Lord’s element gun to date.
Star-Lord continued his nomadic publication ways, next appearing in Marvel Premiere #61, a Moench tale where all the gears were on the outside. “Planet Story” was a (you guessed it) planet-of-the-week story crossed with a (ta-da!) morality play. Using a bifurcated narrative to tell the same story twice, Star-Lord first encounters what from his point of view is a sentient planet along the lines of Harry Harrison’s Deathworld, where every rock and vine is out to kill him. Then we see the same tale from the living planet’s point of view, where all it wants is … love (sniff).
This is all well and good, but Star-Lord has completely jumped the rails by this point. The promise of that warts-and-all-origin story and that spectacular, swashbuckling sophomore outing have given way to weak-sauce, second-tier Green Lantern-style stories. Marvel must have felt the character had come adrift, as well, as Star-Lord’s next appearance was in 1982′s Star-Lord Special Edition #1, which reprinted that great Star-Lord tale from Marvel Preview #11 (this time in color), and added a few pages of story wrapper that saw Peter reconciled with his actual and mysterious birth father, and rocketing off to new adventures with “Ship” and his old man.
Star-Lord seemed to know who he was, even if his creators didn’t
And that was the end of Star-Lord. The name would next be used for a successor character, in Timothy Zahn’s 1990s-era series, before the character formally entered the Marvel Universe in 2004′s Thanos #8-12. By this point, the character was practically unrecognizable from his origins, with Peter blinged out with cybernetic inputs, “Ship” long gone, and a new uniform replacing those elegant 1970s threads of yore.
As an original vintage loyalist and curmudgeon of the first order, I came into this blog locked and loaded to blast this new character as not really being “my” Star-Lord (or Star Lord, as he is known in this brave, new, hyphen-less future) … but you know what? I can’t do it.
I can’t do it for two reasons.
First, the new Star Lord is an entertaining character. I hate the costume — he looks like a bellhop — but as Han Solo writ small and tasked with holding together the quarrelsome and bizarre new Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Lord is more readable than at any time since his inaugural appearances. His connection to that original character is one of name only but Star Lord works well in an ensemble format (who knew?).
Second, re-reading these Star-Lord books after so many years, I see there was no “there” there with the Star-Lord of my acquaintance. I thought I was a Star-Lord fan, but I see now that all I really had were memories of a promising origin story and a dynamite Claremont/Byrne/Austin space opera. Everything else published under the Star-Lord name was pretty dire — a rattling box of disparate concepts that didn’t fit together at all.
And so I consign Star-Lord back to the airless tomb of the Longbox Graveyard with a poor overall letter grade and the recommendation that you read my in-depth review of Marvel Preview #11 over at StashMyComics.com, and then drop the best two bucks you will ever spend on a color copy of that story’s reprint in Star-Lord Special Edition #1. My own issues likely won’t see the light of day again unless they improbably skyrocket in value when Star Lord leads his Guardians of the Galaxy into cinematic battle in 2014 … but maybe I shouldn’t bet against it, given the odds this peculiar character has overcome to make it this far. I suspect the best part of Star-Lord’s story is still to come.
- Title: Star-Lord
- Published By: Marvel Comics, 1976-1982
- Issues Rescued From The Longbox Graveyard: Marvel Preview #4, 14, 15, 18; Marvel Super-Special #10; Marvel Spotlight #6-7, Marvel Premiere #61, Star-Lord Special Edition #1
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C-minus
- Read The Reprint: MyComicShop.com
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #87 By Any Other Name: Darkseid
- Marvel Starts Casting Search For “Guardians of the Galaxy’s” Star-Lord (comicbookresources.com)
- ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ Eyes Joel Edgerton, Lee Pace And More For Star-Lord (splashpage.mtv.com)
- Marvel Begins Looking at Actors for ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ (comicvine.com)
- Lee Pace Prepares Himself For ‘Guardians’ Audition (splashpage.mtv.com)
- GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY – List of Actors Up for Star-Lord (geektyrant.com)
- Marvel Tests for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Lead in Shortlist of Actors, Including Joel Edgerton, Jack Huston, Lee Pace, Jim Sturgess and Eddie Redmayne (collider.com)
- Marvel Reintroduces Guardians of the Galaxy Ahead of 2014 Movie (titancasino.com)
- Marvel Considering Jim Carrey and Adam Sandler for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY? Wes Bentley and More Reportedly Added to Star-Lord Shortlist (collider.com)
- Lee Pace Confirms His GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Audition for Star-Lord (collider.com)
- #82 Reader Appreciation Award! (longboxgraveyard.com)
Super-villains should rule the world.
It’s simple math. There are more super-villains than there are superheroes. A lot more.
Every superhero has an arch-nemesis. Some — like Spider-Man and Batman — have dozens of them. And every hero has a host of lesser villains that pop up, time and again, to give them grief. Even when heroes band together, all they get are more villains! When the they don’t catch a break — they have to contend with the likes of Count Nefaria, Ultron, Kang the Conquerer, and Korvac in addition to the villain-of-the-week in their normal books!
The bad guys must outnumber the good by 25:1 — maybe more! If the villains ever get on the same page, the world is doomed. So why hasn’t it ever happened?
Super-Villain Team-Up tells us why: super-villains are divas.
Super-villains argue over everything! Whether they should team-up in the first place, what their goals should be, who should be the boss.
They’re touchy, too. Very prideful, these super-villains. The headlining alliance of Super-Villain Team-Up between Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner falls apart on every other page in this book, largely because neither man can accept that they need the other.
And they’re mistrustful. It’s a staple of the Marvel Universe that heroes go brain dead when they run into each other, and slug it out for a few pages before they remember they’re on the same side. The bad guys have that same dynamic in spades.
Add to this their poor PR instincts — self-identifying in groups like The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and The Masters of Evil — and I guess we can conclude that super-villains are their own worst enemies.
So, too, was Super-Villain Team-Up its own worst enemy.
There’s a kernel of a cool concept in this book — late 1970s Marvel super-villains chewing the scenery and battling the world (and each other) for global domination. At it’s best, Super-Villain Team-Up is full of Grand Guignol and low-stakes action, like an all-villain WWE wrestling match where you can’t predict the outcome. For the most part, though, Super-Villain Team-Up is an incoherent mess.
Many of Marvel’s books had rotating creators through the seventies but Super-Villain Team-Up must set some kind of record. In seventeen regular issues — and two Giant Size editions — this book had an astonishing sixteen different creative teams! That’s right, almost more creative teams than there were issues published! That’s quite a trick. Take a deep breath and try to read them out all at once …
Roy Thomas/John Buscema, Thomas/Larry Lieber, Thomas/Mike Sekowsky, Tony Isabella/George Tuska, Isabella/George Evans, Isabella/Sal Buscema, Jim Shooter/Evans, Bill Mantlo/Herb Trimpe, Steve Englehart/Trimpe (for three whole issues — stability!), Englehart/Keith Giffen (so much for stability), Mantlo/Shooter (now on pencils!), Mantlo/Bob Hall (another streak of three!), Mantlo/Giffin, Mantlo/Hall (they’re back … But now the book is cancelled!), then Mantlo/Hall again as they finish off the series in Champions #16, but wait the book is back from the dead a full year later with a reprint of Astonishing Tales #4-5 by Lieber/Wally Wood, then finished out with a two-part Red Skull story by Peter Gillis/Carmine Infantino and Gillis/Arvell Jones!
Phew! They should have called this book Super-Bullpen Team-Up for all the guys that pitched in on the series. And don’t even ask about the inkers on this book!
With the revolving door of creators spinning off its hinges it’s no wonder the book jumps the rails almost from the outset.
In a confusing start to what would always be a confusing series, Super-Villain Team-Up launched with a pair of Giant Size issues that stitched together new material and reprints to explain how Doctor Doom survived some death trap in the pages of Fantastic Four, then was rescued by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who was bitter over cancellation of his own book and the nerve gas that has rendered his dull, fishy Atlantean subjects unconscious.
After arguing for a couple books about who should be the boss and if they even need to be a team (pausing for multiple flashbacks and a revolt of Doom’s androids), the two kinda-sorta agree that it might be cool to conquer the world together.
But first, the most villainous menace of them all — backstory!
Marvel was pretty good about finishing out stories from cancelled books, but Super-Villain Team-Up went overboard trying to wrap up the loose ends from Sub-Mariner’s book, which bit the dust after issue #72. Were you clamoring for more Hydrobase Amphibians, Octo-Meks, Attuma, Dr. Dorcas, Men-Fish, and Ikthon? Neither was anyone else — but that’s what we get, as Namor is fish-slapped around by his C-level rogue’s gallery for most of the (non-Giant Sized) first issue of the run, giving Dr. Doom the opportunity to intervene and seal his alliance with Sub-Mariner. But nothing lasts forever — or even for an issue or two in this book — and no sooner have Doom and Subby put paid to Namor’s dull opponents than Doom and Namor are at each others throats again. Doom disables Namor’s pimp suit and robs him of his ability to live outside of water, then bombards Atlantis for good measure, winning a vow from Namor to serve him.
As the writers come and go, the story makes less and less sense. Doom is captured, somehow, by the Atlanteans, while Namor is smuggled out of Latveria by the Circus of Crime (!). A cross-over with the Avengers makes things even more confusing. And don’t even ask about the inexplicable guest appearance from Deathlok’s Simon Ryker in issue #4, or the most shocking guest-star of all … Henry Kissinger!
The book gets its feet back under itself around issue #10, when the Red Skull joins the cast. A sure way to make Dr. Doom seem like a swell guy is to match him against someone more evil, and there’s no one more evil than the Red Skull. The series peaks in issue #12. Forget the details and the backstory — here’s the setup. The Red Skull has taken advantage of Doctor Doom’s apparent death to fill the power vacuum in Latveria, building an orbital death ray using Doom’s technology and occupying Doom’s throne himself! After a preliminary battle, the two move to the moon … and here, we see the promise of Super-Villain Team-Up fulfilled at last, as Doctor Doom and the Red Skull engage in hand-to-hand battle on the surface of the moon!
We get this …
… and this …
… and this …
… and THIS!
After the moon story we got a pretty good wrap-up to the book’s long-running Doom/Subby story (which you can read in it’s entirety in my guest post over at Mars Will Send No More) and then a Twilight-Zone style tale where Doctor Doom had conquered the world with an invisible gas, but the victory rung hollow because no one was aware of his triumph. It was a gimmicky story, but still entertaining, and was further evidence this book had finally found its way.
But by then of course it was long past too late for this crazy concept of a book. An orphan, bi-monthly book in an era where Marvel would cancel a comic without a second thought, the odds were always against Super-Villain Team-Up, and the rotating creative teams, changing focus, and erratic publication schedule were too much for the poor book to bear. The series was cancelled, only to inexplicably reappear a year later with a Red Skull story that was frankly a bit too grim, with Herr Skull and Hate Monger (nee Hitler) lording it over their own private concentration camp.
And then the book was done for good. It’s a shame, as I still like the concept and it fit the late-1970s Marvel editorial approach well. The premise is too goofy to work under the current grim-and-gritty Marvel editorial style (and a 2007 attempt to resurrect the series under Modok was scuttled after a half-dozen issues). I suppose the miracle isn’t that the book was ever any good, but that it existed at all.
At least we got some groovy covers, like …
… and …
… and this timeless image of Doom über alles.
To generalize, and putting on my Goldilocks wig (DON’T try to imagine that!), I can say that the Giant Size books and issues #1-11 were too silly, issues #16-17 were too serious, and issues #12-14 were just right. It was with issues #12-14 (all scripted by Marvel’s jack-of-all-books, Bill Mantlo) that the series dialed it in right for me — these issues were all about melodramatic villains chewing the scenery and beating the crap out of each other. It’s a bumper crop of awesome, highlighted by Doctor Doom stomping around, talking about himself in the third person, showing off a never-ending supply of gadgets and acting all noble and Bond-villain smooth. If the earlier issues had adopted a similar tone, and treated my old favorite Namor with the same aplomb … ah, what might have been!
In a previous column I said it was rare to find a genuinely dreadful 1970s Marvel book … and Super-Villain Team-Up might be the exception that proves that rule. I love those late Mantlo issues enough that I won’t “Fail” the book like I did John Carter, or demolish it with a “D” as I did Deathlok. Super-Villain Team-Up earns a passing grade — but just barely, and only because Doom is giving me a hard stare!
(And no one wants to disappoint a super-diva!)
- Title: Super-Villain Team-Up
- Published By: Marvel Comics, 1975-1980
- Issues Reviewed By The Longbox Graveyard: Giant-Size #1-2, #1-17 March 1975-June 1980
- LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C-minus
- Read The Reprint: Essential Super-Villain Team-Up
- Read Issue #13 On-Line: Mars Will Send No More
NEXT WEDNESDAY: #49 Panel Gallery: Thanos!
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