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Super-Diva Team-Up

Longbox Graveyard #48

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 Avengers Assemble 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!

(And you can see a lot more of Super-Villain Team-Up #12 over at this entry from the highly-recommended Diversions of the Groovy Kind).

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!)

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on May 16, 2012, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Nice and succinct review again!

    This is a fun concept. I don’t have any of these issues, but I do have a few issues of DC’s Secret Society of Super-Villains, which I actually thought was very well done and fun.

    ” 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.” Truer words have never been typed.

    You mentioned Marvel tying up loose ends from cancelled comics, and it reminds me that they did so a few times in Marvel Two-in-One, including a Skull the Slayer story that made me glad I never bought Skull the Slayer.

    So, Doom conquered the world and found that he didn’t like it? You’d think he’d have learned his lesson, but no, he again conquered the world in the Emperor Doom graphic novel only to find it wasn’t to his liking. Interesting story, actually.

    Finally, I have to say, I like Namor’s costume in these issues. I wish he’d stuck with it instead of going with the bathing suit.

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    • Yeah, Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One often got to sweep up after canceled series. Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 was the unlikely venue for Jim Starlin’s (mind-blowing) finale for Warlock.

      Check out Super-Villain Team-Up in its entirely over at Mars Will Send No More, then if you like what you see, keep an eye on the dollar boxes for the book, particularly issues #12-14. They’re good silly fun, and reminder that comics weren’t always all grim and gritty serious when it comes to the bad guys.

      Namor’s pimp suit is PIMP but I think I prefer the classic trunks, the way Bill Everett intended. Either ensemble beats Aquaman’s orange t-shirt.

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  2. I enjoyed the heck out of Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One at the time, but Super-Villain Team-Up always felt like several steps over my brand-extension threshold. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Doom or Red Skull series told from the villain’s POV ala Sopranos, but SVTU wasn’t even close.

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    • I’ve been thinking about filling in my Marvel Two-In-One and Marvel Team-Up runs, maybe next year. Back in the day the fractured continuity of the team-up format make those books seem disposable, but now I find I prefer stand-alone stories in any case.

      Mantlo might have been able to make SVTU work if he’d come to it sooner, or been allowed to build on what he’d done. It was a far cry from Sopranos but I really enjoyed the tone of his issues — they hit a James Bond vibe (not From Russia With Love, mind you, but You Only Live Twice ain’t bad for a comic book).

      Red Skull Incarnate came out last year, and sounds more like what you describe, but seeing as it was published after my stuck-in-time year of 1978 I haven’t beat feet to buy it. Maybe I should — I like the Skull and I’m a WWII buff — but for the most part I like my comic book war like it was in the movies, and this series looks a little too real life for me. Even the latter Skull stuff in SVTU — with the Skull lording it over his mini concentration camp with the always-hilarious Hate Monger — was a bit too grim for my tastes.

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  3. Horace Austin

    Although Shooter’s pencils are pretty stiff in issue #9, that’s a book that resonates with me. Largely because it crossed over with the Hydrobase saga from Avengers #154-156. Not a classic Avengers saga, but one that I highly enjoy.

    Paul wrote: “The series was cancelled, only to inexplicably reappear a year later with a Red Skull story that was frankly a bit too grim….”

    It’s my understanding that Marvel resurrected the title so it could retain copyright on the term “Super-Villain”.

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    • It wouldn’t surprise me — half the reason Marvel and DC trot out obscure characters once a decade or so for a mini-series appearance is to help assert title to those properties. But it seems strange they’d need to re-up on Super-Villain Team-Up just a year after cancellation. Plus DC had (and still has?) their Secret Society of Super Villains book so the term can’t be all that exclusive.

      I’ll have to run down those Avengers issues you mention, Horace. Maybe that particular story will make more sense if I fill in the missing parts. SVTU certainly wasn’t done a lot of favors with all those cross-overs — maybe they boosted circulation a bit but they make an already-fractured reading experience that much more disjointed, especially when this run is read all by its lonesome.

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  4. I re-read Avengers #154-156 a couple of years ago, for the first time in decades, and enjoyed them tremendously. The first two were written by Gerry Conway, and the conclusion by Jim Shooter. Also, the first two pencilled by George Perez (not bad!!) and the last by Sal Buscema. Giant-Size Avengers #6 is also part of the story, but unfortunately I don’t have that, nor do I have SVTU #9. I still enjoyed them tremendously and would give them an A- (I’m an easy grader) for both the story and the art.

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    • My great Avengers re-read is up to the #60s — I jumped ahead to do Kree/Skrull War, but I’m otherwise deep into the Thomas/Buscema Vision/Yellowjacket run right now (which remains a favorite). I do have a George Perez fetish, though, and am looking forward to revisiting his run on the book. I pulled out #160-162 for my son, Jack, to read before we went to the movie and am proud to say he can now pick Ultron out of a lineup.

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  5. Pleasure teaming up with you again, Paul! Just like old times – when we were young super-geniuses taking over the world with death rays, invisible gases, and monumental egos.

    If you ever want to know what happens when Super Villains actually get their act together and take over the world for good, then we’re talking Old Man Logan. Red Skull, Doom, and some others split up the USA into territories and rule it maliciously. Not Bronze Age but as long as we’re wondering why villains never win…

    Since you have the awesome Marvel Digital Subscription, you can probably read it all online. The saga begins here: http://marvel.com/digital_comics/issue/11777/wolverine_2003_66

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    • Thanks for the Old Man Logan recommendation. The Ulm actually loaned me the graphic novel some time ago, and it’s been sitting here in my bookshelf awaiting my attention (he’s a Millar geek). Now that you’ve reminded me of it I will have to give it a read. I had it confused with the Wolverine run where Wolvie runs amok and trashes half the Marvel Universe (and I can’t remember the title), but I see this is a different book.

      My memory is going as fifty comes into view. Ah for those halcyon days of death rays and invisible gasses! (The ego is still going strong).

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      • Millar (with Romita Jr.) also did the Wolverine “Enemy of the State” where he kills a bazillion people. It’s an enjoyable ride but courts the ridiculous in that it’s so overblown. Old Man Logan is a far superior tale in temrs of emotional intensity. But don’t listen to us – we get way too into this stuff 🙂

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  6. I have the whole run of SVTU, and I plan to review it one day on a podcast. THis may have been a clusterf***, but what a fun clusterf*** it was!

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    • If you want a guest co-host for your podcast appreciation of Super-Villain Team-Up, you need merely ask! I rate SVTU among the best bad books of all time (and Mantlo really got it right with that Doom/Skull story near the end of the run).

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