Thursday, March 4, 2010

Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun!


I really liked team-up books when I was a youth. I still rather fancy them, though I don't follow modern comics much. But like the team books such as JLofA and Avengers, you got more heroes for your money, and it was a neat way to see some character you might not have been following before. But not all team-up books were created equal.

The "original", at least to my mind is Brave and Bold. This book after years of showcasing new series and characters stumbled across the notion of combining two heroes, perhaps heroes not so successful on their own and giving them some cover time. The started with Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter and offered up many different teams after that until finally the gave us Batman and Green Lantern. Something about that issue must've jumped out, because soon thereafter Batman became the permanent star and would spend many years after teaming up with all sorts of folks. There were oddballs, but after a while a coterie of regulars began to show up, I guess thanks to Bob Haney's peculiar tastes. The book featured spectacular artwork for a time by Neal Adams and later became Jim Aparo's regular gig. Brave and Bold was and is still my favorite Batman title. That's likely because of the great art, but also because for me a little Batman goes a long way, and in B&B that's what you got, a little Batman.


Marvel didn't wait too long to come up with their own version. Spider-Man was a successful character and they ached to exploit his success. The magazine-size spin-off had failed, but soon they gave us Marvel Team-Up. In the beginning it was just Spidey and his best pal the Fantastic Four's Human Torch. The lit up the storyline for the first three issues then Spidey began meeting up with all sorts of folks. Briefly they had Torchie show up once ever three issues or so and take the lead spot, but eventually Spidey took over the whole gig. And it was successful. The Spidey stories in Team-Up are different, more adventurous and raucous than the stuff in the main book. And I like 'em.


Marvel tried to repeat this success with The Thing. He started out in Marvel Feature for a few issues teaming up with Iron Man in some of Jim Starlin's early epics, but eventually the awkwardly titled Marvel Two-In-One debuted and the Thing proved to be a natural for the format. Unlike Spidey who had a secret identity and needed coincidence to arrange the team-ups, Ben Grimm was a public figure with an address and the whole shebang. That gave the stories in MTIO a broader scope, and Ben Grimm excelled. His humor was ideal for a team-up scenario. MTIO to my mind might just be the most successful complete narrative of the team-up books.


Finally there came the book that seemed too logical to pass up. With Marvel having success with Spidey and even the Thing, and DC having only weird old Batman in the mix, the powers knew they needed Superman to take a swing. DC Presents debuted with a bang. They'd tried it before in World's Finest, taking out Bats and giving Superman various guest-stars, but that didn't seem to have the pinache. With DC Presents they went high-profile, bringing in Superman uber-artist Jose Garcia Lopez, a talent I put on par with John Buscema in many respects. The book was successful enough, though I don't think it ever captured the team-up magic of its compatriots.

And that was that. Eventually the team-up books dwindled away, giving way to other types of series. Spidey got a third regular monthly all to his lonesome. Brave and Bold became Batman and The Outsiders. The Thing got his own title that tanked after a few years. Superman went on to other things, if not greater then certainly different. The team-up book seems a relic nowadays, a format that lacks the narrative naturalness that modern comics seem to aspire to. Also team-up books told stories heavy on plot, and they told them very efficiently for the most part. That kind of storytelling is dead as a doornail in the modern comics environment of endless event-driven soap operas.

I miss them.

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