My 6 Favorite Teams in Comics
Any superhero will tell you: you ain’t nothing until you join a super team! The Justice League and the Avengers only take the best of the best (usually). The Fantastic Four are practically royalty. And Empowered didn’t get any respect until she joined the Super-Homies! Sort of. Super teams are the bread and butter of the comic book industry. Why just have one superhero to a comic when you can have a dozen? Why not take a couple of solo superheroes and put them into a single movie together and make a billion dollars?
Makes sense to me.
Being the fully entrenched comic book geek that I am, most of the teams on this list are going to be kind of obscure. That’s on me. But perhaps some of you readers will learn something new about comics! I can only hope my lists do some good for the world. Join me after the jump to see my favorite comic book super-teams. And please don’t hesitate to share your own favorites in the comments!
Honorable Mention: X-Factor
X-Factor is one of my all-time favorite comic books, and I bought and read every single issue of the last volume. It was one of the first comics I ever started to collect back when I was a wee lad, digging through back issue bins to try and piece the series together. Buuuut I really only like and read the comic because of one character: Multiple Man. He’s my most favorite comic book character of all time, and I will read and probably love whatever he’s in. So X-Factor as a team only gets an ‘Honorable Mention’ because I’ve never particularly cared for the team itself, but I love the comic and the characters involved!
I don’t know if it’s the metaphors or the flashy costumes, but the X-Men have always spoken to me as a superhero team and concept. Perhaps it was because I was an ostracized dork in high school, but we’ll never know, because I refuse to acknowledge that I was anything less than Prom King. Go Panthers! At any rate, I just really like the idea that the X-Men aren’t a bunch of super-powered yahoos who decided to team up for the fun of it. Instead, they’re a group of people finding strength and family with each other. I like that mutants aren’t special, in the sense that they’re all just normal folk. People like Captain America, Spider-Man or the Hulk are, to an extent, the ‘chosen one’; they are exemplars. Whereas mutants are just people, and while some of them will rise up as great heroes or villains, they all start out at the same line, facing the same challenges and drawbacks.
I also always really liked when finding a new mutant was a big deal. Not that I don’t enjoy the large canvas of mutant characters we have today. But I liked the feeling that when a new mutant came along, it could really change things up, for good or ill. And that, to an extent, the X-Men almost always had to offer them a spot on the team. The Avengers and Justice League can pick and choose which superheroes they let join, but the X-Men are all inclusive. I liked that aspect of the team. And I just always really liked the themes and metaphors at play with the X-Men and mutant rights.
More than any other superhero team, the X-Men represent regular people thrust into extraordinary circumstances, and the way each individual person deals with that makes for great comics.
Oh Slingers, you were ahead of your time. Or maybe that’s just something I tell myself to make their cancellation less painful. The Slingers was one of the first comic book series I ever collected issue-by-issue, and I was very disappointed when it got the ax only after a dozen or so issues. The series, and the team, had such heart and humanity. It was about a group of average young people thrust into a world of superheroes they weren’t ready for, and then relying on one another to try and stay alive (though they didn’t always succeed, in fascinating ways).
In the mid-90s, there was a Spider-Man storyline in which he was framed for murder, and a price was put on Spidey’s head. In order to solve the mystery without getting shot, Spider-Man created a few new superhero identities, spread across his various comic books at the time: Ricochet, Hornet, Prodigy and Dusk. When the storyline was over and he was cleared of murder, Peter Parker put the new costumes away and went back to being Spider-Man. Elsewhere, a sinister force took those costumes and gave these identities to four college students, turning them into heroes, while having his own sinister agenda that the kids had to work out if they wanted to save the day.
It was a fun, friendly, and very colorful series. The four identities looked great, and writer Joseph Harris put real personality and humanity into each of the young heroes. They obviously weren’t the best superhero team in the world, but they were doing their best, even when it wasn’t good enough. The Slingers showed that maybe not everyone is cut out to put on a costume and be a superhero, but that there’s a hero in all of us just waiting for that chance. Unfortunately, the quality of both the stories and the art went downhill, and Marvel cancelled the series after only maybe a dozen issues. That made me a very sad panda.
4. Teen Titans
I love sidekicks. So yeah, I love the idea that sometimes the sidekicks get together and hang out in their own junior version of the Justice League. Though I’ve never particularly cared for the name ‘Teen Titans’. It’s definitely a product of the 50s or 40s or whenevers. Probably definitely not something teenagers of today would call their superhero team. Though being the old fogey that I am these days, I’d probably cringe at what teenagers would call their superhero team now. Shudder.
My favorite iteration of the Teen Titans was written by Geoff Johns, and kicked off while I was at college. It featured the newest teen heroes, Robin, Superboy, Wonder Girl and Impulse, mentored by some of the older Titans, like Cyborg, Starfire and Beast Boy. It was an amazing comic, full of personality, action, wit, and the immortal line, “I lie to Batman”.
I really like the idea that the superheroes in the DC Universe take training and teaching the next generation of heroes seriously.
On a cosmic level, the Marvel Universe, with Iron Man, Spider-Man, the X-Men and so on, is part of an infinite multiverse. This means there are an infinite number of alternate and parallel universes out there, with an infinite number of changes and alterations. For example, there’s a universe out there where all the Marvel superheroes are apes wearing costumes. There’s one where everybody has been eaten up by a zombie plague. There are probably a couple where everybody’s gender is switched. And so on and so forth. The possibilities are endless.
The Exiles are a team that travels through the multiverse fixing problems. The team is composed of a bunch of random characters plucked from random worlds. So they’re familiar characters, but altered in some fascinating, creative ways. Like a Thunderbird who became a Horseman of Apocalypse. Or a Mary Jane Watson who became Spider-Man instead of Peter Parker. Or a Mimic who, instead of being an obscure villain, instead rose to be one of the greatest, most respected heroes on his world. The possibilities are (again) endless, and the writers who wrote the bulk of that first Exiles series really knew how to tell both exciting adventures and rich, interpersonal stories between these characters.
Unfortunately, the Exiles are a perfect example of the phrase ‘there are no bad characters, only bad writers’. Exiles was an amazing comic at the turn of the century, but immediately went downhill when Marvel brought a new, worse writer on board. Marvel has tried to revive the comic several times, but for some reason, nobody can recapture the lightning in the bottle of that first run, which lasted over 100 issues! I can still remember picking up Exiles #1 on a whim and then never letting the series go (Until that bad writer came along. Ugh).
2. Secret Six
Never, in the entire history of my reading comics, have I ever felt such a strong team bond as in Secret Six, by writer Gail Simone. Created as just a simple sub-plot in a larger Big Event at DC Comics, the Secret Six was a group of C and D-list villains who teamed up to become anti-heroes. Under Simone’s pen, the Secret Six became one of the very best books DC was putting out. Never before had I read such camaraderie in a team comic. The Avengers, X-Men and even Fantastic Four never felt so bonded as the rascals and scalawags on the Secret Six. Why DC hasn’t relaunched this comic in the New 52 is beyond me.
Catman, Deadshot, Ragdoll, Scandal and the rest of the rotating cast were a bunch of nobodies, minor level characters who never mattered. But Simone reinvented them into the richest, most personable characters DC had to offer. They squabbled among themselves, cheated on each other, and often found themselves threatening one another. But their love and friendship was obvious in every encounter. These were people living on the edge who gladly clung to one another for support (though they’d rarely admit it). Secret Six was one of those rare comics that should have altered the landscape of comic book storytelling, like Hawkeye, but DC had to go and get all reboot on all of their good ideas.
1. Brotherhood of Mutants
Much like my love of the X-Men, my love of their mortal enemies, the Brotherhood of Mutants, stems from the fact that mutants are usually just folk. And it just so happens that these folk, this Brotherhood, are the bad apples of the bunch. It’s in the way the team comes together, and how it’s just so different from other villainous or heroic teams, that really appeals to me. Though now that I mention it, I only really like certain members of the Brotherhood, and certain iterations. I don’t care for any of the megalomania of Magneto or the homicidal glee of Sabretooth. I like the grunts of the Brotherhood, like Blob, Pryo, Avalanche, Toad and the rest. I like the evil mutants who aren’t so much evil, but kind of just assholes.
I like that, when it comes right down to it, the X-Men and the Brotherhood are all just mutants. And to an extent, they both want the same thing: for mutants to succeed, for their people to be well. But sometimes it’s just a fundamental difference in personality that separates them. Or it’s an ideology. The grunts of the Brotherhood aren’t committing crimes or seeking revenge against the heroes (usually), like you’d find in other super-villains. The Brotherhood are just mutants trying to do right by mutants, they just go about it differently than the X-Men.
And this appeals to me because it means most of these characters are capable of doing good. They’re not irreversibly evil, like the Joker, they’re people who can change their minds in the face of new situations, and when it comes to mutants, they always face the most interesting situations. Just look at Toad’s storyline over the past few years. When M-Day robbed most mutants of their powers, the battle between X-Men and Brotherhood didn’t really matter anymore, and Toad found himself helping other mutants in need when they got attacked by some bigoted humans. Since then, Toad has been on a slow journey to joining the X-Men, to having his mind changed.
And that’s another reason why I like the Brotherhood, especially today: because they failed.
The legendary battle between Charles Xavier and Magneto that was so prominent in the movies and in X-Men comics for decades is over. It ended years ago. Xavier won. But since then, the members of the Brotherhood have had to go on living. They’ve had to justify their lives in new ways, and it has been fascinating and fun to read. Toad, like I said, is on his way to joining the X-Men. Avalanche bought a bar and tried to stay under the radar. Sabretooth and Mystique continue to be super-villains, but Magneto has fully joined the X-Men, standing prominently alongside Cyclops.
The name ‘Brotherhood of Mutants’ will always be trotted out by new writers looking to seize on classic ideas. But the story of the real Brotherhood, and the characters that were a part of it, has already been told. Now they have to live in a world where the X-Men won, and where the X-Men aren’t just going to beat them up and leave them for the cops to arrest. Because being a mutant, whether superhero or terrorist, is a complicated life. And it’s even more complicated when you lose and have to pick yourself up again. That, to me, is the Brotherhood of Mutants. It’s a story told over years, across many X-Men comics, often in the cracks and background, but it’s there, and it’s fascinating.