Thursday, December 4, 2008

Superhero Teams That Need a Comeback

While there are a lot of hero team books out there, there are just as many that are gone forever. Still, not every one of them that was canceled deserves to be forgotten. Here's a list of some great superhero teams that should get another chance.

The Champions
Growing up as a small boy in the late 70's, this was my favorite team book of all time. I can't really say why other than the fact that I kept hearing that song in my head "We Are the Champions" by Queen every time I read an issue. It was a really odd grouping of heroes, but seeing the Angel and Iceman on a team were great (I hadn't heard of the X-Men yet), and they had some nice adventures and interesting guest stars (Black Goliath, etc).

The Champions only lasted a little over a dozen issues before finally disbanding. The actual end of the team occurred in a later issue of Spider-Man, with Angel and Iceman facing off against the mastermind of the team's destruction, their only real archvillain, Rampage. Rampage was recently seen as the Punisher's technical wizard and partner in the latest run of Punisher War Journal.

I know there's supposed to be another group of Champions as part of The Initiative for California, and Hulk and Angel formed a sort of secondary version of this team during World War Hulk called The Renegades, but this was a group that deserved a little more love. None of their stories could be called "Top 10 Classics" of comic history, but they were fun. They were a sort of non-team like The Defenders. Marvel gave this book the "Classic" treatment with a two-volume, full-color reproduction of the series' entire run, including the two Spider-Man issues that close everything out. Well worth the money.

Alpha Flight
When John Byrne introduced Vindicator during his now-classic run on Uncanny X-Men, we thought he was just bringing us a cool hero to fight Wolverine. It wasn't until a few issues later that we found out Vindicator had friends.

The original Alpha Flight was a creation of John Byrne because he felt there wasn't enough Canadian representation in comics during that time. During their first battle with the X-Men, they managed to almost defeat them, which wasn't a bad debut.

Eventually, Byrne was able to get the team their own book and continued drawing them for many of their initial adventures. The addition of members like Puck, Marina, and Box to the original group gave the team enough diversity to keep things interesting for a while. When Vindicator died (for the first time) in issue 12, it was a shock to comic fans who were just starting to warm to the fledgling title. Hudson's wife Heather stepped in later in the suit and continued to lead the team for the rest of the title's run.

Unfortunately, after Byrne left the series took some convoluted turns (Vindicator came back, died again in issue 100, came back again) and the title was canceled. A couple of miniseries attempts were made to bring the team back to the forefront, but the stories were poorly written and didn't sell well. Still, the biggest cheap shot ever came during the "Collective" storyline in New Avengers. The entire team was killed (with the strange exception of Sasquach) off-panel! A team with decades of history in the Marvel universe was uncerimoniously wiped out by a new super-villain and we never got to see any of it!

Marvel tried to bring the title back as Omega Flight in the aftermath of the Civil War, and the new Guardian has had an ongoing storyline in the first dozen issues of Marvel Comics Presents, but it's just not the same as the glory days. This book also received a "Classic" series treatment from Marvel, though only in two volumes that reprint the first 12 issues. Still, that manages to cover the time up until Vindicator dies, so it's a good run to read.

The Secret Defenders (sort of)
Now before you start moaning and saying, "You've got to be kidding me!", hear me out. The Secret Defenders was a title that ran after Defenders was canceled and carried an interesting premise: there was no team! Every issue or so, Doctor Strange would decide on who he wanted for each particular mission, and he would recruit them for that adventure. Secondary heroes like Nomad, Deadpool, and Nova would team with stars like Punisher, Wolverine, Spider-Man, and Captain America. It wasn't something you saw on a regular basis, and it lent itself to some great possibilities.

Granted, there were those groan-worthy heroes like Darkhawk who managed to sneak along for the ride, but for the most part there was promise. Unfortunately, the lack of any ongoing team dynamic may have contributed to the title's demise after 25 issues, but imagine what this could be like today.

Take out the countless issues of drama, angst, self-searching, and love triangles that you find in every team book today Marvel puts out, and imagine a title with nothing but cool heroes in action. After the mission is over, they go their separate ways. There's no time for you to get bored with endless pages of dialogue, countless shots of heroes in coffee shops, and boring love triangles that aren't going to last. Just good clean fun!

I don't think Doctor Strange is a good hero to keep the title interesting, but imagine if Nick Fury was to be the one to put this team together every month, and lead them if need be!

Strikeforce: Morituri
Another obscure team you've probably never heard of. The premise of the title was that Earth was being invaded in the future by a race called "The Horde". There were no superheroes to save the day, so a scientist invented the "Morituri Process", which would give a normal person superpowers. The only downside was that it would kill them within a year.

This was a title that ran in the mid-80's for a little over 30 issues, and it was the first to really kill off their heroes on a regular basis. At any given time you might be watching some character you'd grown to like fighting the bad guys, only to suddenly explode and be forever gone in a flash on the next page. The idea had massive possibilities!

The writing started strong, but eventually the title collapsed under its own weight. Maybe it was the fact that people knew there was no reason to get attached to any character since they were all going to die eventually (which to me kept the stories interesting), but the momentum just never picked up to what it could have been.

With the recent gamut of hero deaths Marvel has given us with Civil War and Secret Invasion, I think a title like this could do well today. Sort of The Initiative with a deadline. Imagine normal people given powers to help fight Skrull destruction, knowing they were giving their very lives for the could lead to some powerful storytelling. And if a hero got to be too sappy or useless, just let them blow up!

Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew
During the 80's, both publishers had funny animal books going (Marvel had Spider-Ham), but DC won the battle with this one. This ongoing series was funny and had some great characterizations of other DC superstars (including the artists themselves in one issue).

This was a team book that never really took itself seriously (it's not hard to see why) but still managed to tell some great stories and have some genuinely funny moments on a consistent basis. Even their version of the Justice League--called Justa Lotta Animals--showed up from time to time.

DC recently revived this title for a miniseries that effectively killed off this universe of animal characters completely. Transformed into normal animals through a freak accident during a trip to the regular DC world, Zatanna now carries Captain Carrot as a regular rabbit in part of her magic act. It was a horrible way to send off this otherwise great team book. I for one wish they'd just left the guys alone until they figured out a better way to bring them back.

This series was supposed to get a "Showcase Presents" treatment and even had it on pre-order at for a while, but apparently that was canceled. So until they come to their senses and decide to put the series out in glorious black-and-white again (I mean, come on, you give Challengers of the Unknown two volumes and you won't give Captain Carrot one?) you'll have to scrounge the dollar bins to find back issues.

And finally....

The Ultimates
When Marvel relaunched their major titles in an "Ultimate" format, the new version of the Avengers brought all the hype they could have hoped for. And true to form, the series lived up to the hype.

Unfortunately, the first two volumes (or 25 issues) of the series had a publishing schedule that made Kevin Smith seem punctual. Some issues had 4 and 5 month gaps between publishing and that made it chaotic to keep up with. Taken as a whole, the first two volumes of the series were incredible stories, and it blew every other "Ultimate" title out of the water.

When Volume 3 began, we had a new artist, new members of the team, and a new direction. Honestly, the series was really taking off for me again. Thor was really the god of thunder. Scarlet Witch dies in the first issue! And to top it all off, the new "Ultimate" version of Hawkeye was the best character they'd come along with in years. The idea of giving him guns and letting him be a marksman/killer with a death wish was a genius stroke, and they gave him some of the best lines in the series (fighting Ultimate Madrox, he kept killing them and screamed, "Come on! Two more and I get a teddy bear!").

Sadly, Marvel decided to kill one Ultimate title and chose this one as the casualty. Ignoring the incredibly stupid Black Panther identity reveal in Issue 5, the series never faltered. I can only hope we see them again in the future.

I know I gave DC a poor showing in this roundup, so I'll try to keep them in mind if I do a follow-up to this post in the future. How about you? Is there a super-team you loved and miss today?


Rick said...

OF the books you mentioned I only was a fan of Captain Carrot and The Champions. Both deserve a comeback. I heard the Champions were to come back but another comic book company copyrighted the name and that held it up.

Cullen Bunn said...

The Byrne run of Alpha Flight was among my favorite comics in the 80s. I liked most of the other books you mentioned quite a bit, too. Secret Defenders, which wasn't a favorite of mine when it came out, has the most potential (in my mind) for a comeback. I dig the revolving roster idea.

Anonymous said...

I've got to partially disagree with you on the Ultimates. I loved the first two series - probably the best comics I've read in years - and I was super excited for the third series to start. Except when it did, it seemed like it wasn't at all related to the first two series, like maybe the writer and editor hadn't even read the first two series. It was crap and I was glad when it ended. I'm sorry the title is cancelled, because I enjoyed the first two series so much, but if they were going to continue in the vein of the third series then it's for the best.

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