Every weekend this summer, we’ll be bringing you a new installment of a 12-part series of reviews of meaningful comics found in the collections of our writers. “Long Box” refers to the lengthy, white cardboard boxes most comics find themselves stored within – bagged, alphabetized and numerically ordered.
These reviews, then, are the tales of those collections: illuminating characters, artists, writers – even eras – in addition to the personalities of the very owners of those fine collections.
Team America # 12
Writer: Jim Shooter
Artists: D. Perlin and V. Colletta
Comic books and toys have always had a close relationship. Often, one has spawned the genesis of the other. This cross-pollination of character, landscape and the all-important vehicle (specifically for toy lines) helped induce sales for both genres. If kids were busy playing with toys, maybe now they’d be interested in reading the comic of their favourite plaything. If the kids were busy reading comics, maybe now — well you get the idea.
In both cases, it was parents who were out of pocket.
If you were to carefully look through any serious comic book collectors’ long box compilation, you’d undoubtedly find a number of titles based on various toy lines. Sometimes, finding these works can be downright embarrassing. Lately, perhaps as we grow older and time distances us even further from our childhood, finding them can be a cause for excitement as we share these “treasures” with our friends who undoubtedly played with the same toys and read the same comics when they were kids. Growing up in the nineteen seventies and eighties, there are, of course, titles like Transformers, Mask and Atari Force in my long box collection, but it was toys like G.I. Joe that really captured my imagination and the imagination of young boys everywhere.
While Hasbro, the toy company, was busy releasing an updated toy line of G.I. Joe figures with various names, code names, ranks, histories, back packs, battle-action grips, battle-action vehicles and modular play sets, other companies, like Mattel and Ideal, were busy trying to get a piece of that hot toy action. Mattel had Hot Wheels, a collection of cool “dinky” cars that were as popular as anything else at the time. Like the G.I. Joe phenomenon, Hot Wheels spun off its own comic book and cartoon series.
Ideal, on the other hand, had Evel Knievel, the motorbike-riding daredevil that had all kids in awe. Knievel, a real stunt man, was so popular at the time that he had, among other forms of marketing, his own cartoon series, movies and, of course, comic books. In 1977, however, business took a turn for the worse. Knievel pleaded guilty to assault charges and reports began to surface that showcased the performer in an untoward light. Ideal dropped the star from their line of toys, looking to distance themselves from the man. There was only one problem: money had been spent on a whole new line of toys based on Knievel.
Instead of scrapping the idea entirely, Ideal changed the name of the line, created a few new characters and secured a deal with Marvel Comics to publish the exploits of this new “team”. In the deterioration of Evel Knievel’s career, the world-record breaking starlet that captured the imagination of children everywhere, Team America was born.
Team America, the comic book, first appeared in the pages of Captain America #269 in 1982. Marvel tried to position them as another patriotic group of crime fighters – putting their own “mutant” spin on the characters. They went on to star in their own monthly series shortly thereafter, detailing the exploits of the motorcycle group as they fought the forces of the terrorist organization named HYDRA, who were bent on creating mutant children whom they could train as operatives.
Although Ideal owned the name Team America, licensing it to Marvel Comics; they also created and owned the mysterious character called “The Marauder” – a silent, black-clad but good-natured masked biker, whose identity baffled Team America throughout the series. The Marauder, in many ways, was the focal point of the title. Never speaking, he (or she) would help the members of the motorcycle team whenever they were in trouble. On the other side of the business venture, Marvel created the five characters that made up the Team America: Honcho, the defacto leader of the team, Wolf, the Mexican-tinged, black moustache-wearing brute, Cowboy, the southern-speaking wrangler, R.U. Reddy, the wayward son of a millionaire and Wrench, the engineer of the team. Yes, the names were cheesy and yes, the characters were silly archetypes but remember: they were created in order to sell toys to kids.
Issue 12 of the series, written by Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, reveals, at last, the secret identity of The Marauder. In true Marvel Comics fashion, Shooter explains that all five members of Team America are, in fact, mutants. Unbeknownst to anyone, they are psychically linked to one another and can project, in times of need, the physical aspect of The Marauder onto a host body. Of course, the host never remembers what has happened to them – which leads to the unraveling mystery throughout the length of the series.
It must be said that HYDRA, the incumbent evil organization in the Marvel Universe that sees itself in confrontation with Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. with some regularity, is a mockery within the pages of Team America. Shooter goes at length to explain that Elsie Carson, a family woman, who also happens to be the “Regional Director” of the terrorist organization, is no different than any other white collar executive. She fails to “slay” Team America and, of course, scours through hours of videotape to prove that it wasn’t her fault. She hopes that her “good record” with HYDRA will be taken into account since dismissal with this “company” is an action that is slightly more severe than with other companies.
It’s a ludicrous statement but since Shooter is the Editor-in-Chief at Marvel, you can’t help but wonder if it’s also a message to his staff. And, given the economic times we currently find ourselves within, the plot thread has an eerie similarity to back door shenanigans at various financial institutions throughout the world.
Kids are an astute demographic. They can spot a fake a mile away.
Evel Knievel was the real deal. He was a man who defied odds (and often physics) while entertaining a generation of fans. For kids, Team America was a watered-down, fictional rip-off that lacked the quality of the daredevil they had so admired. It was no wonder that the toy line was short lived. The comic book series didn’t fare much longer, ending after only twelve issues.
Because Marvel owned the rights to many of the characters, Team America would return as the Thunderiders, trained by Professor X, with enhanced psychic abilities. They would wind up in the pages of the New Mutants, fighting alongside other mutants, rooted, albeit loosely, in the Marvel Universe proper. Like the host bodies of their “Maurauder” incarnations, no one really remember that fact, let alone the team or the toy line.
Evel Knievel, who died in 2007, is still a household name and a legend to thirty and forty-something year olds everywhere.
Real is always better than fake. Just ask a kid.