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Comics 411: Essential Marvel Superhero Teams

July 13, 2022 | Posted by Steve Gustafson
House of X Marvel Image Credit: Marvel Comics

Welcome back! I’m Steve Gustafson and if you enjoy discussing anything comic book related, you’ve come to the right place. Each week we cover something in the industry and I always enjoy your input in the comment section below.

Previously on…

Last time we discussed Essential DC Superhero Teams. Here’s what some of you had to say:

Benjamin Kellog: “The All-Star Squadron might not matter as much to today’s continuity, but the team and its Roy and Dann Thomas-penned ’80s run at least kept the JSA and DC’s Golden Age relevant for a readership that may not have lived through the events of WWII. The team’s one “Showcase Presents” volume was, for me, a fascinating window into a somewhat more fantastical side of DC’s universe, one with characters just as fascinating as the familiar Justice Leaguers, maybe even more so because they had dynamic backstories (Dr. Mid-Nite), ingenious power sets (Jay Garrick Flash, Mid-Nite again, Liberty Belle), and top-notch villains. (Per Degaton might be my favorite DC villain ever, being self-aware of his own convoluted backstory, forever trying to go back in time and stop the All-Stars, but failing each time, losing his memory, going back to his future and trying to game the system somehow. The “Brave and the Bold” cartoon did him a bit of justice, but there’s nothing like going through his original comic appearances and seeing just how desperate the dude got!) Also cool, it’s not the main JSA team, but “lesser” members and plenty of perennial second-stringers, who get considerably more personality here than they ever did in the ’40s. “A-SS” got me interested in Golden Age DC so much that I quickly moved on to the annual JLA-JSA “Crisis” crossovers, the Seven Soldiers of Victory, “Stars and STRIPE” when the Stargirl show premiered recently, “The Last Days of the Justice Society” (whose volume also contained the “Secret Origins” of all the JSA members, incredibly helpful and interesting in their own right), and I want to go on, if I can afford it. I still want to check out “America vs. the Justice Society,” Geoff Johns’ “JSA” run, the ’70s version of “All-Star Comics,” “Young All-Stars,” “Infinity Inc.” (those last two are technically “Squadron” spin-offs, after all)… Come to think of it, Julie Schwartz wanting to bring the JSA back in the pages of “Justice League of America” might be my absolute favorite moment in comics history, right behind the publication of “Fantastic Four” #1. Otherwise, how could I have ever appreciated so many cool stories, and such a rich sector of DC’s history?”

Whocares: “The Secret Six for sure. They took a bunch of mostly unknown or forgotten villains and made them into a, if not noble at least morally conflicted and cohesive unit. King Shark would not be where he is today in terms of the cultural zeitgeist without it.

What’s more the personal connections between the characters were lovely. Bane offering to be Scandal Savage’s father figure not only was heartbreakingly kind but also the exact sort of thing the character would do for a brave, talented ally.”

prowriter: “Of all the teams, its Doom Patrol that is really unique, especially among DC titles. Most DC characters are iconic, or were meant to be. For kids, mostly. But Doom Patrol is a brooding, near-inversion of that conceptualization, a license to investigate the human, flawed potential of what it means to be a hero. Marvel gets a lot of credit for making its characters more grounded, but Doom Patrol front loads that by making the bizarre the most relatable, exploring an existential understanding of what it truly means to be heroic when no one else can be in ways that might never be acknowledged, unlike the X-Men who were always scorned, but at least noticed. DP also was organically inclusive way before that was a thing, queer in the academic sense, but never derogatorily or stereotypically.”

Prez Gar: “Justice Legue. Ive got full runs of all the post-Crisis series. Especially the first Post-Crisis, less serious JL books. (The Bwa-Ha-Ha era.) A full run of pre-Crisis in unlikely, considering the scope and prices for Silver Age books.

I also have full runs for everything Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew. Their original series, The Oz-Wonderland War (featuring another comedic DC team, The Inferior 5) and The Final Arc.

Omega Men, I have a full run of the original series, including the first appearance of Lobo, which I built rather affordably. But I wouldnt call it an essential tea,,”

Great stuff and thank you to everyone who commented last week! Too many great comments to list so go and check it out!

This week we discuss…

Essential Marvel Superhero Teams

Here we go again! So last week I mentioned that I had originally planned a “DC vs Marvel: Who Has the Best Superhero Team”…but that would have been a massive column that would take you a week to read. Instead I pulled it back and we’ll do a two-parter that focuses on each publisher’s teams. Last week was DC and this week brings us to Marvel! I’ll be covering some of the bigger names out there and let you fill in the ones I missed.

Oh, and I’m putting together an ultimate 64 team list for a future column. Stay tuned.

I’ll leave it up to you if we should include Ultraverse’s Ultraforce. Or New Universe’s DP 7, Kickers, Inc., Psi-Force, or Spitfire and the Troubleshooters. Or even Epic’s Strikeforce: Morituri.

Let’s start with the Fantastic Four! This team has been around since 1961. To most of us, the Fantastic Four, who gained superpowers after exposure to cosmic rays during a scientific mission to outer space, are: Mister Fantastic (Reed Richards), a scientific genius and the leader of the group, who can stretch his body into incredible lengths and shapes; the Invisible Woman (Susan “Sue” Storm), who eventually married Reed, who can render herself invisible and later project powerful force fields; the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), Sue’s younger brother, who can generate flames, surround himself with them and fly; and the monstrous Thing (Ben Grimm), their grumpy but benevolent friend, a former college football star and Reed’s college roommate as well as a good pilot, who possesses superhuman strength and endurance due to the nature of his stone-like flesh. They’ve mainly been portrayed as a somewhat dysfunctional, yet loving, family.

Of course we have The Avengers, aka Earth’s Mightiest Heroes! The Avengers originally consisted of Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp, Thor, and the Hulk. Captain America was discovered, trapped in ice (issue #4), and joined the group after they revived him. A rotating roster became a hallmark, although one theme remained consistent: the Avengers fight “the foes no single superhero can withstand.” The team, famous for its battle cry of “Avengers Assemble!”, has featured humans, mutants, robots, aliens, supernatural beings, and even former villains. I’m pretty sure I’ve done a column looking at different team lineups but suffice to say just about anyone worth mentioning has walked the halls.

If I had to pick my favorite, I’d go with West Coast Avengers with the Ultimate Avengers coming in second.

Coming up next is the X-Men. The basic concept of the X-Men is that under a cloud of increasing anti-mutant sentiment, Professor Xavier created a haven at his Westchester mansion to train young mutants to use their powers for the benefit of humanity, and to prove mutants can be heroes. Xavier recruited Cyclops, Iceman,Angel, Beast, and Marvel Girl, calling them “X-Men” because they possess special powers due to their possession of the “X-gene,” a gene which normal humans lack and which gives mutants their abilities. To go through this teams history would take a whole other column but ask Jeremy Thomas any X-related question and 99% of the time he’ll have the answer.

For my money, the Exiles was a damn great book. As was X-Factor. And the early Excalibur. And…sheesh. I could have a Top 10 X-team books column easily. Make a note.

Another team that has garnered question over the years is Guardians of the Galaxy. This one is tough with the new fans who just know of the movie and the old school comic fans. The short story: The Guardians of the Galaxy is a group of heroes who opposed the Phalanx conquest of the Kree system (and many who had opposed Annihilus’ incursion into their universe), and banded together in an attempt to prevent any further catastrophes from ever occurring. While they’ve achieved success on the big screen, the comic side of things has been a little uneven.

One of my personal favorites is The Defenders. I’m not talking about the Netflix team though. This “non-team” of individualistic “outsiders,” followed their own agendas. The team usually battled mystic and supernatural threats and its original incarnation was led by Doctor Strange and included the Hulk, Namor, and, eventually, the Silver Surfer.

Speaking of favorites, I have to put New Warriors into consideration. These young adults made a big splash in 1989! Consisting of the young superheroes Firestar, Marvel Boy, Namorita, Nova and Speedball, all of whom were once featured in solo series or were supporting characters, they added Night Thrasher, an original character to serve as the team’s founder and leader, to the mix. Something about the early stories just worked and I still read my collected editions pretty regularly.

What about the 1975 lineup of the Champions? The Invaders? Nick Fury’s Howling Commandos?

Oh. Can’t forget about Alpha Flight. The group from Canada.

Your turn. Go ahead and list some other teams!

That’s all the time I have. See you next week!