When you think super-teams in the Marvel Comics universe, the Avengers come to mind immediately, followed quickly by the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and half a dozen others. I’m going to delve a little deeper, and take a journey into the forgotten corners of the Marvel Universe. Here’s a look at some of the forgotten teams of the Marvel Universe.
The All-Winners Squad
Folks who know their comic book history know that the Justice Society of America was the first superhero team. It was a fantastic concept of not only having all of your favorite superheroes in one comic, but also having them interact and work together. DC Comics, then called National Periodicals, had a big hot book on their hands. We also know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so Marvel Comics, then called Timely, was on the concept like white on rice.
In All Winners Comics #19, in 1946, they brought their big guns together, along with their sidekicks as the team called, you guessed it, the All-Winners Squad. Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, the Sub-Mariner, the Whizzer, and Miss America joined together for two, count ’em, two appearances in the Golden Age. There was no All Winners Comics #20 (!), so the team next showed up in issue #21, and then vanished for decades.
Reprints of the two stories spurred fan interest and eventually they were revived, by writer Roy Thomas, initially as backstory when it was suggested that the Whizzer and Miss America were actually Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch’s parents in Giant-Size Avengers #1 back in 1974. They appeared again and again, mostly in retcon as the post-World War II version of the Invaders, co-existing with the Liberty Legion, basically having many more adventures in the 1970s, 80s, 90s, and 2000s than they ever had in 1946. Oh nostalgia.
What happens in comic books when a writer wants to write a solo title about a character that can’t carry a book on their own? You create a new team. That’s just what happened. A conglomeration of several writers and several oddly chosen characters resulted in the formation of the Champions of Los Angeles, sort of a proto-West Coast Avengers. Mashed together were Hercules and Black Widow, two former Avengers, Iceman and the Angel, two former X-Men, and the odd man out, Ghost Rider, so not a team player, but then again, that’s what made him so interesting on the team.
The Champions lasted nearly twenty issues, and appeared in various other comics as well, including Godzilla and Avengers. They were later joined by Darkstar and Black Goliath, the latter of whom was supposed to be an original member of the team. Notably later issues of the series featured some phenomenal art by a young talent named John Byrne. After a while they vanished from the scene and became more or less a footnote in keeping trademarks alive when a role-playing game company swiped the name Champions for their own Champions comics.
This one is a fairly recent entry in the gone but not forgotten category as it’s from 2006. Nextwave was a fairly innovative, very twisted, and also pretty humorous take on mainstream (or not so mainstream) superheroics in the Marvel Universe written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Stuart Immonen. It featured Monica Rambeau, the former Captain Marvel, Machine Man, Elsa Bloodstone, Boom-Boom from the X-Men family of titles, and a new character The Captain. These heroes were assembled to fight the forces of the Beyond Corporation, and a variety of acronymic terrorist organizations like H.A.T.E. and S.I.L.E.N.T., the head of those led by Nextwave archenemy Dirk Anger, a really messed up parody of Nick Fury.
And parody was what it was all about. If you didn’t get the joke, you probably didn’t like Nextwave at all. Filled with hyper-violence, off the charts mischaracterizations of regular Marvel characters, and out and out ridiculousness, one might be hard pressed to not get the joke, yet many tried to shoehorn the title into continuity, despite then Editor-In-Chief Joe Quesada noting the book happened in a different reality. I suppose Ellis and Immonen mocking current events like Civil War on covers didn’t help. If you like Warren Ellis, love comics, and have a sense of humor, I fully recommend hunting this series down. It’s well worth it.
The Squadron Supreme
This team began as an in-joke, a Marvel-ized version of DC Comics’ Justice League of America scheduled to appear in an unofficial crossover between the two comics companies. Initially showing up first as the Squadron Sinister, the Squadron Supreme was established a superhero (rather than the previous villain group) team from another universe, the multiverse being another nod to the concepts of DC Comics.
The team had obvious parallels to the League: Hyperion = Superman, Nighthawk = Batman, Doc Spectrum = Green Lantern, the Whizzer = the Flash, Power Princess = Wonder Woman, and so on, as you might imagine. Other members included the Golden Archer, Lady Lark, Tom Thumb, the Amphibian, and the Skrullian Skymaster. They clashed with the similarly aligned Avengers on a few occasions before being granted their own maxi-series in the 1980s. This storyline had the heroes solving mankind’s ills in methods the JLA might have should they have been inclined. Scarily, the behavior-modification machine depicted in those stories is eerily close to what Zatanna and the League did to villains in Brad Meltzer’s Identity Crisis decades later.
In this century, Marvel Comics revisited the Squadron Supreme in a series of titles for their MAX mature imprint by writer J. Michael Straczynski. It re-envisioned the characters of the team in a more realistic contemporary setting. These are decidedly different characters, and the story was interesting for a while, but then got convoluted as the powers that be involved the Squadron in a crossover with Marvel’s Ultimate Comics universe, as well as other versions of the team, including the original. It would seem to me the concept was killed by the same type of confusion DC feared before they did Crisis on Infinite Earths.
And there you go, some examples of superhero teams gone but not forgotten. Maybe some talented creators will come along and breathe new life into these concepts someday, perhaps not. Either way, I still remember them fondly.