Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Review of Marvel Super-Villain Team-Up

In the 1970's, Marvel Comics had some amazing titles. Others, sadly, did not live up to their potential. One book in particular, Marvel Super-Villain Team-Up did not live up to it’s potential or even its title. It did not feature many super-villains and almost no team-ups.  It had two main characters throughout most of the series, Dr. Doom and Namor, the Sub-Mariner.
In the first issue, a giant-size collection of three reprints with some original story and art, Sub-Mariner rescues Dr. Doom from an explosion in outer space due to a battle with the Fantastic Four.  After reviving Doom, Namor tries to convince Doom to join him in a partnership so that they can conquer the world.  Even at the age of 14, when I first read this comic, it didn’t make sense.  Namor, though bad-tempered and immature wasn’t evil.  In fact, he had spent much of the last four years in real time defending the world along with the Defenders.  He also fought along Spider-Man and the Thing in their team-up books and he even helped Reed and Sue Richards reconcile their marriage.  In fact, he was wearing an outfit that Reed Richards had created for him in order to save the Sub-Mariner’s life.
Perhaps Dr. Doom thought Namor’s offer made no sense either and they start fighting.  Doom escapes and the story ends with Namor vowing he will get Doom to change his mind.

In the second issue, also giant sized, Doom does change his mind, but so does the Sub-Mariner.  Now Doom wants to conquer the world, but Namor doesn’t.  They wind up teaming up anyway, against some rogue androids.   

The next issue is a regular size story and it begins with an argument.  Namor doesn’t trust Doom and winds up flying off.  He returns to Hydrobase, the camp of air-breathers who had been transformed into water breathers.  He is attacked and defeated by three of his greatest enemies, Dr. Dorcas, Tiger Shark and Attuma.  In the next issue, Doom goes to rescue Namor and Betty Dean, a friend of Namor’s is killed by Dr. Dorcas in the ensuing skirmish.  Doom and Namor defeat Namor’s enemies, but at the end of the battle, Doom kills Saru-San, Attuma’s jester, just because Doom was feeling irritable.  This enrages the Sub-Mariner and they fight again in the next issue.

They pretty much spend the next few issues fighting and during this time the Red Skull shows up, but he also fights Doom. In issue 13, Doom and Sub-Mariner finally team up to restore Atlantis and the comatose Atlanteans because Doom gave his word he would do this. After that Namor disappears from the book. 
Super-Villain Team-Up 13-A by Marvel

The next issue gets my hopes up, not only because of the beautiful John Byrne cover, but because there are actually two super-villains featured:  Dr. Doom and Magneto.  Do they team up?  No.  Instead, we find that Doom has actually achieved his goal of world domination through a mind control gas that has the entire world enslaved.   The problem is that no one knows and Doom is bored.  He challenges Magneto to win it back.  Magneto does in Champions #16, the second-to-last issue of that book.  And that’s it.  The next book in SVTU is a reprint. 
Super-Villain Team-Up (1977) - #14 : Terry Austin, John Byrne.

Then, inexplicably, the book resurfaces again two years later with an actual super-villain team-up, the Red Skull, the Hatemonger and Arnim Zola.  Then it’s gone again.
The picture in my head for this book was far different from the reality.  In my mind, Dr. Doom would team up with different villains, usually major players like Thanos or Loki in order to fight a greater evil.  Or perhaps he would team up with someone to fight the Avengers, the X-Men or the Fantastic Four.  I always thought Doom should stay in the book, much like Spider-Man was the main character of Marvel Team-Up.  It could have been a great character study of evil versus a greater evil.  It could have also made some of the bad guys less one-dimensional by exploring their motivations. This never happened.
Still, it could have worked.  In 2007, a completely different book with the same title appeared: Super-Villain Team-Up: Modok’s 11.  This limited series actually did explore the varying degrees of badness among some of its villains making some of them more sympathetic and some even more unlikable.  Identity Disc which, according to Wikipedia, is based on the movie The Usual Suspects, is another excellent study of super-villains at work.
Perhaps SVTU didn’t find its direction or its Purpose because of the uneven creative teams.  In 16 issues, it had five writers and nine artists.  I can’t imagine any comic book finding its voice with so much inconsistency.  It’s not that any of the individual issues were bad, but seen as one concept, the whole thing was a bit of a mess.  Often the best Marvel books were the ones where the creative team was consistent, such as the X-Men, Master of Kung Fu, Tomb of Dracula or the Defenders.  Books that changed constantly rarely lasted.  The lesson I take from this is consistency is important in comic books and in life. It is one of the key ingredients in one’s ability to Get Started and Keep Going…even if you’re a super-villain.