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  • Michael Rickard II

"'Marvel's 'Super-Villain Team-Up': A Good Concept Poorly Executed."

There’s no denying Marvel Comics produced some great comic books in the 1970’s, with books such as Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s work on The Tomb of Dracula, Jim Starlin’s work on Warlock and Captain Marvel, Steve Englehart’s runs on Captain America and The Avengers, and of course, Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum, and John Byrne’s work on the all-new X-Men. Then, there were books like Super Villain Team-Up, an idea which probably sounded great when it was pitched, but which proved to be an example of Marvel seemingly putting out books just to crowd the marketplace.

Marvel Comics has a number of great super-villains, ranging from street-level menaces such as The Kingpin, to world conquerors such as Doctor Doom and Magneto. Additionally, there are antiheroes such as the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner, characters who might be seen as heroes one issue, and villains the next (usually depending on whom they’re fighting). Even from Marvel’s earliest days, its creative teams recognized the dramatic appeal of villains teaming up to take on heroes they mutually despised. One of the earliest examples is in The Fantastic Four when Doctor Doom teamed up with Prince Namor, the Sub-Mariner, to rid the world of their mutual foes, the Fantastic Four. Not long after, Namor teamed up with the Hulk in their bid to destroy the Avengers. In both cases, neither villain trusted the other, and their alliance consequently broke down.

Dr. Doom and Namor teamed up back in one of the earliest issues of the Fantastic Four.

During the 1970’s, Marvel found success with its team-up books, Marvel Team-Up (which usually featured Spider-Man teaming up with another Marvel hero) and Marvel Two-in-One where the Thing teamed up with one of Marvel’s heroes. At some point, someone got the idea of teaming up villains, and if they were going to do so, why not start with two of the company’s biggest characters, Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner. Thus, Marvel Super-Villain Team-Up was born.

The Sub-Mariner’s comic had been cancelled before its writer could conclude its storylines. At the time, Marvel’s team-up books provided an avenue to resolve storylines and Super-Villain Team-Up (SVTU) proved no exception. The story of Namor’s kingdom being plunged into eternal sleep thanks to a nerve gas explosion ran through SVTU as Namor collaborated with Doctor Doom to find a cure.

The comic began with two Giant-Sized issues, Marvel’s oversized books. The first issue didn’t get off to a good start as it featured mostly reprint material. Rather than wait for the book to have enough artwork to launch, Marvel inserted reprints from other stories involving Doom and Namor, with the new material framing them. I always enjoyed reprints growing up, particularly since they provided a chance to read some classic tales. However, when someone bought a book expecting a new story and got ten pages of original material, they usually felt ripped off. I can only imagine how fans felt when they purchased a double-priced comic and got mostly reprints.

During the early 1970’s, DC and Marvel began publishing over-sized issues of their books, with prices jumping from twelve cents to a quarter. By most accounts, Marvel and DC were both feeling the pressure from newsstands to fill the shelves with books that could compete with their higher-priced competitors, the idea being newsstand owner might not want to use space to sell a twelve-cent comic when a magazine went for $1.00. Marvel and DC began pricing books higher, adding page count as an incentive and usually padding the cover story with reprints. By the time of Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up’s publication, the comic sold for fifty cents.

Reading the early issues, the the book’s biggest flaw was how the writers downplayed the power of Doom and Namor. Either character is a menace to teams of superheroes. Doom has been shown stealing the power of the Silver Surfer, and routinely menacing the world. In one Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up story, Doom and Namor battle an army of androids, the equivalent of Superman battling the Penguin.

As bad as that battle was, it paled to Namor and Doom’s battle against Doctor Dorcas, Tiger Shark, and Attuma. Namor could have his hands full with this group, but the idea of both he and Doom struggling to end the fight in anything more than one panel stretches credibility. Either this is the classic trope of a Doombot filling in, or Doom must have left his good suit of armor at the cleaners when he embarked on this adventure.

That’s not to say the entire run was a disaster. The book seemed to find its way when writers pitted Doom against powerful opponents, primarily the Avengers and later, the Champions. The art improved by this point too, with John Byrne, George Perez, and Keith Giffen providing some gorgeous artwork. With comics being a visual medium, good art can hide story imperfections whereas bad art can ruin all but the greatest stories.

At times, Doom and Namor battled some lackluster foes.

For me, the idea of constant Doctor Doom and Namor team-ups grew old, despite certain issues showing them as reluctant allies. Even worse was Steve Englehart’s character The Shroud, a Batman/Shadow hybrid Englehart used because he knew he couldn’t write Batman as long as he worked at Marvel (Englehart would eventually leave Marvel and write a series of highly regarded Batman stories). The Shroud just didn’t’ seem like much of a threat to Doom, despite the parallels in his origin with both men obtaining hidden knowledge from a group of mystics.

Doom vs. the Avengers and the Champions is worthy of a story.

The book ends on a low note, with the Red Skull teaming with the Hate-Monger (aka Adolph Hitler) in a quest for the Cosmic Cube. The story is different, but not in a way that appealed to me. There are no characters to get behind, and the two issues seem like a fill-in. Worse yet, it tried to depict the horrors of Nazism in a comic book world that just didn’t fit in with traditional superhero comics.

Super-Villain Team-Up was an idea that might have worked well in the 80’s when comic book mini-series provided a finite story to tell. That, or Doctor Doom and Namor could have just appeared in the regular issues of books such as The Avengers. Marvel recently presented the entire run of Super-Villain Team-Up in one of its epic collections, but the book is better borrowed than purchased. There just aren’t enough good stories to justify buying it.

Work Referenced

Englehart, Steve. “Super-Villain Team-Up.” Comics. Accessed 3 Oct. 2017.

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