And back! All Spider-man all the time this time ’round. Click the “Best Team-Up Books” tag at the bottom for previous installments.
3) Brian Michael Bendis (writer) on Ultimate Marvel Team-Up (2001-2002)
Issues: 1-16 and a special (17 issues) Matt “Grendel” Wagner, Phil “the Coffin/Green Arrow” Hester, Mike “Madman/X-Statix” Allred, Bill “New Mutants/Voodoo Child” SIN-KEV-VITCH, Jim (Grrl Schouts) Mahfood, John “Swamp Thing” Totleben, Chynna “Blue Monday” Clugston-Major/Florez, Ted “Metropol” McKeever, Terry “Strangers in Paradise/Runaways” Moore, Rick and David “Kabuki” Mays and Mackartists.
With short pieces from Alex “Daredevil” Maleev, Dan “Nocturnals” Brereton , John “Spider-man!” Romita. Senior (!), Frank “Avengers/Liberty Meadows” Cho, Scott “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” Morse, Craig “Blankets and the much better Goodbye Chunky Rice” Thompson, Michael Avon “Powers” Oeming, Jason “aBody Bags” Pearson, Sean “Sleeper/Criminal” Phillips, Mark “Spider-man/Trinity” Bagely, P. Craig “Sandman/Ring of the Nibelung” Russel, Jason “Scars/Crossed” Burrows, Leonard “Agents of Atlas” Kirk, Dave “Wonder Woman Annual” Gibbons, Michael “Alias” Gaydos, James “Sketchbook Diaries” Kolchaka, David “Kabuki” Mack, Bret “Shot Callerz (Which MarkAndrew liked a lot)” Weldele, Ashley “Spawn/Automatic Kafka” Wood.
Team-Ups: Spider-man with: Wolverine, the Hulk, Iron Man, Punisher, Daredevil, Punisher & Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Man-Thing, X-men, Doctor Strange, Black Widow, Shang-Chi, and cameos by Blade, Mary Jane Watson, Elektra, Captain America, the Human Torch, the Ultimates and Iceman.
Y’know, it took 200-some-odd words but I think my point is proven. How can you argue with talent like that?
Why This Run Rocks
1) This series is basically my platonic ideal of how a team-up run should work. One writer lends a basic consistency to the scripts, but each individual issue looks different as the types of stories change. The earliest Brave and the Bold team-ups used the same sort of method, but the results were wildly uneven. (Although Brave and the Bold # 52 is one of the very best issues of the entire run.)
So, anyway, TERRY MOORE ON THE BLACK WIDOW!
JOHN TOTELBEN ON THE MAN-THING VS. THE LIZARD!
Lord, lord, lord. Beauty.
(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up # 8. Bill Sienkiewicz artist.)
2) There are some really interesting, mixed-media, Watchmen-ish storytelling tricks in some of these stories. The John Totelben Man-Thing is intercut with a love letter between a guy and his wife, and it’s still kind of sweet even though he turned himself into an evil lizard. The last super-size “Special” issue is essentially “Peter Parker does his homework and runs into superheroes along the way.” The Punisher/Daredevil story itself is only, like, five scenes, a couple days, three issues, but it’s interspersed with flashbacks that deal with YEARS worth of back-story. The Fantastic Four story… Well, it is an issue of Ambush Bug, basically, complete with porous fourth wall. And here’s a nice dual-narrative story from the Allred Iron Man issue.
(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up # 4. Mike Allred artist. Man, scans from squarebound comics always come out gooshy. I wish I had the floppies.)
3) Back to the art: It’s fairly clear that Bendis has tailored the story to his specific artist –
Hey, there’s no Luke Cage, Spider-Woman, or Nick Fury team-ups. So all us New Avengers readers KNOW he’s not just picking his favorite characters. (And I believe that Matt Wagner said he chose Wolverine with no input, ‘though I can’t find the quote.) And, yeah, it’s possible to TRY to tailor a story to an artists strengths and fail, but Bendis does a commendable job responding to the skillsets of over a dozen wildly different artists.
(From UMTU # 1. Matt Wagner artist.)
4) “Wildly different” is something of an understatement. To give some quick examples: Scott Morse does weirldy lumpy magical realism. Chynna Clugston-whatever’s best known for foul-mouthed teenage soap-opera. Frank Cho was, at the time, best known for drawing a funny animal comic strip. The number of different styles on display is what really seals this run in the “GREAT” category.
(From Ultimate Marvel Team-Up Special. Jim Mahfood Artist.)
On the Other Hand: This series messed up Ultimate Universe continuity forever. Check the Wikipedia article – Which is 86% continuity bitching and doesn’t even mention the Marvel Fanfare inspired concept for this series – for more information. And as annoyingly anal as wiki is it doesn’t even MENTION the most egrigious error – In her cameo appearance BLUE Finnegan from BLUE Monday has RED hair. I’ a a reasonable guy. Idon’t often advocate the tar-and-feathering of colorists and editors, but some errors are just inexcusable.
Much less importantly, one of Bendis’ big strengths as a writer come from his long-term plotting – his stories usually offer pay-offs months, even years, down the road. Unfortunately, he has no chance to show off here, and his single issue scripts are relatively weak. There DOES seem to be a long-term meta-plot involving Doctor Doom in the making here, but the series was cancelled long before it reached fruition. Another strike against. Still – It is the best conceived and team-up book over the long haul, and that’s worth a # 3.
Bonus Link! Here’s Brad Curran from a while back on the Jim Mahfood penned Fantastic Four issue.
2) John Byrne (artist/co-plotter) and Chris Claremont (writer) on Marvel Team-Up (1976-1980)
Issues: 59-70, 75, 79 and part of 100. (14 annahaf issues.)
Team-Ups: Spider-man and: Yellowjacket and the Wasp (the ONLY appearance for either of ’em as featured players in a team-up book), the Human Torch, Ms. Marvel, Iron Fist, the Daughters of the Dragon, Captain Britain, Tigra, the Man-Thing, Havok, Thor, Luke Cage, Red Sonja (!) and a Spider-man-less Storm and Black Panther back-up feature.
Why This Run Rocks:
Some general thoughts:
Team-up books feature a bunch of different characters. (Fine, OBVIOUSLY. But I’m building here.) Since stories are based on characters, this means that the wily team-up book creators must work with a variety of story-types. All writers and artists have their genre-based strengths and weaknesses. Which means that the quality of team-up books tends to be a HAYULL of a lot more variable than most comics.
Which is why this run is a little miracle. Every single darn issue is GOOD. *Bam* *Bam* You hear that? That’s rock solid baby. And that’s not something I’d say of any of the 15 other runs mentioned.
Or, to put it another way, the Claremont/Byrne run has, by far, the best worst issue of any of the hot 16.
(From Marvel Team-Up # 70. Tony Dezuinga inker.)
2) Characterization. Miraculously, the two starring characters have relationships that feel (more-or-less) like actual human relationships. Captain Britain and Spider-man start out regarding each other with suspicion, but some intense experiences turn this into trust. Spider-man and Thor have a professional’s regard for each other’s work. Luke Cage and Peter Parker share an instant, and easy camraderie. Storm and the Black Panther want to get it on till the break ‘o dawn. You know who fails to do this? Pretty much everyone else who’s ever written a team-up book, ever.
(From MTU # 75. Al Gordon inker.)
3) Friggin’ S-p-e-c-t-a-c-u-l-a-r fight scenes. Honestly, I’d never been that much of a Byrne fan before collecting these issues, but his MTU just sold me. His fight correography is up there with anyone in the business. The Super Skrull issue – which I left at (my scanner-less) home ’cause I’m an idiot – was especially good. But here’s Spider-man vs. Tigra to make up for it.
(From Team-Up # 68. Bob Wiacek inker.)
4) Spider-man and Red Sonja. Byrne and Austin.
On the Other Hand: The plotting is tight. Each character is distinct. The coloring is perfectly effective. The sequential story-telling is well thought out. The individual panels are nicely designed. Geez. I can’t t think of anything bad to say.The aren’t my favorite covers ever, I suppose. Honestly, I got no complaints: For my money this is as good as the duo’s X-men run.
Which means we’ve eliminated fifteen of sixteen runs… And I’m an English major so this is hard for me, but I believe there’s only one left.
God knows how long it’ll take me to re-read all this stuff, and I think I’ll have a lot to write about. Seeya… I’ll try for Sunday-ish, OK?