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Superteams

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When the din of the competition threatens to drown companies out of the marketplace, they have to make more noise. That's what DC Comics did in the winter of 1940 when, to give itself a viable edge on the mounting number of new superhero comic books appearing, it made the unprecedented move of combining many of its superstars into one package, introducing comics' first superteam: the Justice Society of America (JSA).


In the ensuing decades, superhero teams have come and gone, some more respected and enduring than others, most with membership rosters too long to cite. Individual heroes, too, have flitted about, joining various teams throughout their careers. Since the JSA splashed onto the pages of All Star Comics #3, superteams have evolved into a variety of archetypes.


DC's primary intention with the JSA was to spotlight characters—the Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, the Sandman, the Spectre, Hourman, Dr. Fate, even the lighthearted Johnny Thunder—who were featured in only one other title (which explains why Superman and Batman, who starred in two series each, appeared only as honorary members). This showcase concept created a revolving door for superheroes, with Dr. Mid-Nite, Wonder Woman, Starman, Black Canary, Wildcat, and Mr. Terrific stepping in and out of the group.


Before long, however, the Justice Society received a loftier calling than circulation boosting. Once the United States entered World War II, the JSA became a symbol of teamwork, encouraging readers to unify to support the war effort. They were the first patriotic superteam, poster children for American propaganda. Others followed: Marvel Comics' Young Allies (featuring sidekicks Bucky and Toro, who stormed into action with their boisterous battle cry of Yahoo!) and All Winners Squad (Captain America, Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the Whizzer, and Miss America, with Bucky and Toro thrown in for good measure), and DC's second-string JSA, the Seven Soldiers of Victory (also known as the Law's Legionnaires). Many comics covers starring these characters featured the heroes attacking Axis soldiers, or fighting Adolf Hitler himself.


The Justice Society, like most superheroes, faded into oblivion in the early 1950s, but was resurrected in the 1960s in annual team-ups with their contemporary counterparts in the pages of DC's Justice League of America. Subsequent resurrections in ongoing titles and miniseries, beginning with a short-lived 1970s revival of All Star Comics, have kept the JSA in print every few years.


Patriotic superteams resurfaced in the 1970s when Marvel published The Invaders, a retro series starring Captain America and company, who boldly fought the Axis powers during World War II, sometimes alongside counterparts the Liberty Legion (on America's home front) and the Crusaders (in Britain). In the 1980s DC published All-Star Squadron, a conglomeration of champions summoned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to assist the overtaxed Justice Society of America after the Pearl Harbor bombing. Both The Invaders and All-Star Squadron (and a variety of spinoffs) were masterminded by writer Roy Thomas. When DC acquired the rights to Quality Comics' classic superheroes like Uncle Sam, the Phantom Lady, the Ray, and Doll Man, the publisher combined them in a 1970s series called The Freedom Fighters. Then there's Femforce, the most widely known superheroine team, featuring Ms. Victory, Blue Bulleteer (later Nightveil), She Cat, and Rio Rita.


Patriotism isn't confined to American soil: Marvel's Alpha Flight (Northstar, Puck, Snowbird, and others) are Canadian superheroes, and for a while England was protected by Excalibur, consisting of Captain Britain, transplanted X-Men Nightcrawler and Shadowcat, and other mutants. DC's Global Guardians is an international team with diverse heroes like Ireland's Jack O'Lantern, Australia's Tasmanian Devil, and Denmark's Little Mermaid.


Many superteams are more than allies: They share a close bond, which in some cases is blood. Fawcett's legendary Marvel Family featured brother and sister Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel, plus extended family Captain Marvel Jr., Uncle Marvel, and even the three lieutenant Marvels. They fought the Monster Society of Evil and other troublemakers for nearly a decade in eighty-nine issues of Marvel Family (December 1945–January 1954).


A snooty scientist, his reserved fiancée, her hot-headed brother, and their irascible friend gained superpowers in November 1961 and became Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl (later Woman), the Human Torch, and the Thing—the Fantastic Four. The FF bickers constantly, and has had its share of divisive spats, but their love for each other always reunites them. They consider themselves family first, superheroes second. The Baxter Building, a gleaming skyscraper in the heart of Manhattan, serves as the Fantastic Four's home and base of operations. It houses a vast laboratory where Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) conducts bizarre experiments, and, as the HQ of the FF, has attracted numerous attacks from supervillains, much to the chagrin of the building's other tenants.


In the 1960s the Teen Titans were just a bunch of sidekicks (Robin the Boy Wonder, Kid Flash, Aqualad, Wonder Girl, and later Speedy) who got together for fun, and to help teens in need. In 1980 they gained new teammates Cyborg, Raven, Changeling, and Starfire as the New Teen Titans, and their union matured: I was accused of trying to do DC's X-Men, claims New Teen Titans writer/co-creator Marv Wolfman. And that was about as far from the truth as possible. I was trying to do DC's Fantastic Four. The Titans, and its television incarnation on the Cartoon Network's Teen Titans animated program (2003–present), operate from the T-shaped Titans Tower in New York City.


Marvel's Power Pack is family in the truest sense: Siblings Alex, Julie, Jack, and Katie Power all have superpowers. Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles are genetically engineered sisters as the Cartoon Network's Powerpuff Girls. The strangest superfamily is the Metal Men—Gold, Iron, Lead, Mercury, Platinum, and Tin—a group of robots with human personalities. They are known for their arguments, but are fiercely loyal to one another.


Most superhero groups gather together for the common good. In Fawcett's Master Comics #41 (August 1943), Captain Marvel Jr., Minute-Man, Bulletman, and Bulletgirl teamed as the Crime Crusaders Club. That quartet was dwarfed in size by the team of teenage heroes from 1,000 years in the future, the Legion of Super-Heroes. First appearing in a throwaway story in DC's Adventure Comics #247 (1958), the Legion—originally Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, and Lightning Boy (later Lightning Lad)—traveled to the past to recruit Superboy into their Super Hero Club. Reader demand brought the Legion back, and over the decades the team has grown to an army (with Chameleon Boy, Ultra Boy, Phantom Girl, Shrinking Violet, and Matter-Eater Lad being just a few who have called themselves Legionnaires), with backups (the Legion of Substitute Heroes) and furry companions (the Legion of Super-Pets). The Legion's headquarters was originally their clubhouse, a yellow-and-red, upside-down rocket ship. Over time their command center expanded and reflected a more technologically realistic vision of the future. Several requirements govern Legion membership, including age (teens only) and superpower restrictions (no artificial abilities, please). The Legion operates under strict bylaws, and upon induction members are issued a flight ring. In the 1990s the Legion received an updating: outmoded names were modernized (Lightning Lad became Live Wire, Triplicate Girl became Triad) and the series' tone took a darker turn. From 1990 to 1995, Marvel published its own futuristic superteam, with a much smaller cast than Legion: Guardians of the Galaxy, featuring characters like Starhawk and Yondu.


Perhaps the best-known group of heroes is the Justice League of America (JLA), which debuted in The Brave and the Bold #28 (1960). An updating of the Justice Society, the Justice League merged DC Comics' best-known characters Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, the Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter into a superteam supreme. The roster has changed frequently over the decades: Green Arrow, the Atom, Hawkman, Zatanna, the Elongated Man, Blue Beetle, Dr. Fate, and Plastic Man are just a few of the heroes who have marched through JLA stints. The JLA headquarters is a satellite base, orbiting Earth; members must teleport in and out. JLAers rotate through monitor duty, surveying possible or credible threats and either dispatching smaller teams or uniting the group en masse. The Justice League has occasionally established outposts, like the Justice League Europe and Justice League International, but no matter where it's located, the JLA stands ready to protect not only America but the entire world.


The Avengers is Marvel Comics' counterpart to the JLA. Originally the team consisted of Thor, Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Wasp, and reluctant member the Hulk, and over the years, Captain America, Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Hawkeye, She-Hulk, and expatriate X-Man the Beast are just some of the heroes who have been called Avengers. The team operates from a New York City mansion—although a West Coast satellite branch was established for several years—with their butler Jarvis assisting when needed. Captain America has frequently served tours of duty as team leader, and has rallied his titanic troops together with the cheer, Avengers Assemble! The Avengers met DC's Justice League in a four-issue, best-selling crossover in 2003 and 2004. In the 2000s Marvel's alternate-reality Ultimates series features a decidedly different take on the Avengers. During a comics boom of the mid-1970s, Marvel also published The Champions, a hodgepodge team featuring former Avengers (Hercules, Black Widow), X-Men (Angel, Iceman), and Ghost Rider thrown in for good measure. In the late 1980s and early 1990s a role-playing game appropriated the name The Champions for a module starring a team that also appeared in several comic books—Flare, the Rose, Malice, and the Marksman were included in this group.


Almost every comics company has combined its heroes into teams. Archie Comics' Fly Man, the Shield, the Black Hood, and other superheroes became the Mighty Crusaders; Malibu's Ultraforce counted Prime, Prototype, and Hardcase among its roster; and even King Features' Flash Gordon, the Phantom, and Mandrake the Magician joined forces as the Defenders of the Earth. A more provocative examination of the superhero group concept began in 1999 with WildStorm's The Authority, featuring a team taking on repressive regimes and a corporate power base. Among the Authority's lineup are Apollo and Midnighter, gay versions of Superman and Batman.


There are groups of superheroes that are unwelcome in society, usually due to humankind's fear of their differences. No team better embodies this than the X-Men, Marvel's mutant heroes. In The X-Men #1 (September 1963) Professor Charles Xavier, a wheelchair-bound telepath also known as Professor X, located five troubled but unique young people with remarkable superpowers and assured them that they were not alone. They were mutants: The next step in human evolution. From Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, Professor X trained them as the X-Men, and this original group of five—Cyclops, Marvel Girl, the Beast, Iceman, and the Angel—epitomized the hope for harmony between humans and mutants. Xavier's rival, Magneto, recruited his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants to ascend to societal dominance.


The X-Men's struggles against Magneto, and against racial intolerance, were a modest success in the 1960s comics. X-Men was canceled in 1970, but revived shortly thereafter as a reprint book. Giant-Size X-Men #1 (1975) debuted a new version of the team, with an ethnically diverse, harder-edged roster including Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Storm, and others joining Cyclops and Professor X. From that point countless mutants have been introduced, and the concept has mushroomed into a franchise of comics (including, over the years, X-Factor, X-Force, Wolverine, and X-Statix, among others), several animated TV series, dozens of action figures, and two successful live-action movies (with the promise of more to follow).


Three months before the premiere of the X-Men, DC's Doom Patrol debuted in My Greatest Adventure #80 (June 1963). The similarities between Marvel's mutants and DC's world's strangest heroes are undeniable: Paraplegic mastermind Niles Caulder (the Chief) assembled a trio of powerful outcasts (Robotman, Elasti-Girl, and Negative Man) to work together as a team. The Doom Patrol never fared quite as well as the X-Men eventually did, although the DP has been revived on several occasions, the most recent being a new Doom Patrol series that began in 2001.


The Inhumans are an artificially constructed race of superpeople (Black Bolt, Medusa, and many others) who, like the X-Men, are often shunned by the real populace within Marvel's comics and live away from humans in the extraordinary lunar city of Attilan. The Defenders were originally called Marvel's non-team: The anti-heroic Incredible Hulk and Sub-Mariner, and the Master of the Mystic Arts Doctor Strange, found themselves united by common goals, but divided by motivational differences. The Defenders added numerous non-teammates to its non-roster over the years, from the Silver Surfer to the Valkyrie to former X-Men and Avenger member the Beast. The Next Men, creator John Byrne's homage to Marvel's X-Men, featured a quintet of mutates who flee from the top-secret Project Next Men and struggle to adjust to the real world while avoiding their pursuers.


Some superteams are well-trained combatants, the best at what they do. Marvel's super-spy organization S.H.I.E.L.D. features a host of agents working under the orchestration of former soldier Nick Fury. In 1982 Batman had a falling out with the Justice League and assembled his own task force: the Outsiders (Geo-Force, Metamorpho, Black Lightning, Katana, and Halo), a team that has morphed into various incarnations over the years. In 2003 Batman's protégé Nightwing (the original Robin the Boy Wonder) began fronting an all-new Outsiders featuring Arsenal, Thunder, returnee Metamorpho, and other heroes. Nightwing's friend Oracle (the former Batgirl) sends her operatives Black Canary and Huntress into urban action as the Birds of Prey. DC Comics has also published several versions of the Suicide Squad, the most popular being the 1987–1992 incarnation, an expendable collection of heroes and villains (Bronze Tiger, Enchantress, Captain Boomerang, the Vixen, and even Oracle) who were sent on missions by their tough-as-nails boss Amanda Waller.


In the 1960s Tower Comics introduced its T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents (Dynamo, No-Man, Menthor, and others) as a disparate group of superpowered figures gathered to serve as The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves. Beautifully illustrated by superstar artist Wally Wood, the original T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents comics were reprinted in the 2000s by DC Comics. The Green Lantern Corps is another group of super-specialists: They are intergalactic police, representing every sector of space and protecting the universe with their power rings, the infinitely mighty weapons with one weakness: Ineffectiveness against anything yellow. One more group of super-professionals is Top Ten, the name of a precinct of cops in a city populated solely by superheroes.


The extreme superteam Youngblood was one of the first of a new wave of hero groups that premiered starting in 1992 when a cabal of popular artists/writers defected from Marvel to form their own company, Image Comics. Boasting heavily armored anti-heroes with take-no-prisoners attitudes and a bottomless munitions cache, Youngblood spawned similar series, from Image and other publishers, with impulsive, heavily weaponed characters: Cyberforce, Brigade, Tribe, and Wetworks, to name a few, most of which have fallen by the wayside. The most enduring superteam to emerge from this trend was WildC.A.T.S: Covert Action Teams, counting hotshots like Grifter and Spartan among its number. WildC.A.T.S continues in print into the 2000s, and was an animated TV series in the mid-1990s.


There are superteams consisting of younger heroes who will one day replace their adult mentors (and in some cases, super-parents), or simply become the next heroic wave. The super family of Teen Titans was originally considered the junior Justice League before maturing out of their guides' shadows. Infinity, Inc. (published by DC Comics from 1984 to 1988) was a second-generation Justice Society (with Jade, daughter of the original Green Lantern, plus Fury, the Huntress, Northwind, and others, all JSA descendants), and in the 2000s the Justice Society tradition continues in the pages of JSA, featuring a hybrid team of classic and new superheroes. DC's superteam parody The Inferior Five (Merryman, Awkwardman, Dumb Bunny, White Feather, and the Blimp) were the hapless offspring of superheroes who couldn't quite fill their parents' shoes (or boots). A latter-day Avengers, A-Next, followed in its predecessors' flight-paths for one memorable year (1998–1999), and still occasionally appears in the similarly themed Spider-Girl.


Marvel has introduced teams of young characters, with X-Men spinoffs The New Mutants (including Cannonball, Warlock, Wolfsbane, and Sunspot), Generation X (with Husk, Jublilee, Mondo, and others), and X-Statix (featuring the Anarchist, Phat, U-Go Girl, and Dead Girl), as well as its 1990s version of the Teen Titans, The New Warriors (Speedball, Night Thrasher, Namorita, Firestar, Marvel Boy, and Nova). In WildStorm Productions' Gen 13, the U.S. government planned to create its own S.P.B.s (superpowered beings) through DNA manipulation, the result being a group of superkids including Fairchild, Burnout, Rainmaker, and Grunge. A similar theme was explored in the mid-1980s series DNAgents: Science made them but no man owns them read a tag line for this comic starring Tank, Surge, Rainbow, Sham, Amber, and Snafu.




Finally, there are superteams that exhibit godlike traits, no better example being the New Gods, created for DC Comics by the celebrated King of comics, artist/writer Jack Kirby. Orion, Lightray, Metron, the Black Racer, and other superpowered beings answer to the all-knowing Highfather on the peaceful planet New Genesis. The New Gods' paradise is constantly disturbed by New Genesis' dark doppelgänger world, Apokolips, ruled by the tyrannical Darkseid and his evil minions. For DC Kirby also produced the Forever People (Mark Moonrider, Beautiful Dreamer, Big Bear, Serifan, and Vykin the Black), hippie-ish young superbeings who reside in the amazing city called Supertown; while for competitor Marvel he created the New Gods–like Eternals (Makkari, Thena, Sersi, and Ikaris).


Some superteams consider themselves gods. Marvel's Squadron Supreme, at face value a Justice League riff—Hyperion was its Superman, Nighthawk, its Batman, Power Princess, its Wonder Woman, Golden Archer, its Green Arrow, etc.—was a mid-1980s limited series that explored a superteam's benevolent rule of its society, and a resistance group that plotted to overthrow the Squadron's quiet tyranny. DC's groundbreaking twelve-issue Watchmen (1986–1987) covered similar territory via its society of dysfunctional superheroes (Dr. Manhattan, Rorschach, Nite Owl, and others). Dark Horse's mid-1990s series Catalyst: Agents of Change chronicled the demands placed upon a superteam (Grace, Titan, Rebel, Mecha, and others) who took it upon themselves to manage the utopian Golden City.


Then there was the New Guardians, a group of dissimilar characters who arrived in the DC universe after Millennium, a 1988 crossover threaded throughout most of DC's superhero titles. Their agenda was to propagate their unique genetic strains, but with an odd cast containing Harbinger, Ram, Floro, and the flamboyantly gay stereotype Extra?o, readers rejected the series and it died after twelve issues.


Other superteams have come and gone, and some that have gone will surely be back. From the original concept of an assemblage of costumed favorites to the more contemporary interpretation of argumentative rebels, the superteam will continue to exist as long as superheroes do. —ME



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