Friday, 22 March 2013

Team Titles

Spider-Man has traditionally been a loner. Or so the legend runs.

In the last decade Spider-Man has found his way onto various teams, most notably the Avengers and the Fantastic Four. Some purists reacted with outrage but these were hardly unprecedented. After all the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man saw him trying to join the Fantastic Four. Later in the 1960s he received invitations to join both the Avengers and the X-Men. The 1970s saw him sharing adventures with most of the Marvel Universe in the pages of Marvel Team-Up. In the early 1980s he hung around with the Defenders for a brief bit, long enough to qualify him as a "member" - the "non-team" status of the Defenders makes it impossible to say for sure who was and wasn't. Marvel Team-Up may have come to a close in 1984 but Spider-Man still found time to team up with many heroes in both his and their titles and he also served as part of ad hoc teams in various Marvel events such as Secret Wars. He came close to Avengers membership a couple of times in the early 1980s, but one time stopped himself and another time was vetoed be the government. Moving into the 1990s there were more events, plus he finally achieved Avengers membership only to resign it soon afterwards and subsequently became a reserve member. The same decade saw him as part of the brief lived "New Fantastic Four", then he went on a mission with the Secret Defenders (although that was even less of a permanent team, with groups selected for individual missions) and he even formed his own brief team, the Outlaws. Spider-Man might have ducked out of the 1997 relaunch of the Avengers and subsequently formally resigned his reserve membership but he kept on teaming up all over the place. Plus there was a brief return of the dedicated team-up book, first in the form of Spider-Man Team-Up and then a revived Marvel Team-Up which Spidey headlined for the first seven issues. The early 2000s saw the format tried again for Ultimate Spider-Man with Ultimate Marvel Team-Up. And then 2004 saw another Avengers relaunch, with Spider-Man a prominent part of the New Avengers, as was the original Spider-Woman. Looking back this wasn't such a break with the character's history as it might at first seem.

Team titles are reasonably well represented amongst the Marvel Essential output, with seven or eight volumes for each of the Avengers, Fantastic Four and Defenders, a whopping fourteen volumes for the X-Men (albeit split over two series titles) and even five for the 1980s team X-Factor. However some of the shorter running and/or less well-known teams from the 1970s & 1980s haven't yet been Essentialised such as the Champions, New Mutants, Alpha Flight, Avengers West Coast, Power Pack or Excaliber (in at least the case of the New Mutants this seems to be for technical reasons as the artwork on some of the early issues just doesn't convert to black and white at all well), though there are other trade paperbacks collecting some of their adventures. Of the Essential volumes out there, they generally haven't reached Spider-Man's memberships. But it's worth a look at the first volumes of each of the team series to see how they started out, whether the teams have a workable reason for even existing and just how suitable the members are. So over the next few weeks I'll be doing just that.

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