13 Comic Book Teams That Might Have Put a Little Too Much Thought Into Adhering to a Central Motif
1. The Masters of Disaster
You’ve got your Justice Leagues and your Avengers, those super-teams where disparate members join forces to fight a common foe. Then you’ve got your Fantastic Four types, where team members survive a common traumatic experience and decide to stay together. And you’ve got your “let’s throw a bunch of random characters together and see if it sells a few more books” teams (see also: pretty much any Marvel hero team from the ’70s). And then you’ve got the teams that apparently came together because they were really, really committed to a common motif. Take the Masters of Disaster, a super-villain team that first locked horns with Batman and the Outsiders in the 1980s. New Wave, the one-female flood! Windfall, mistress of the gusts! Shakedown, who makes with the quakes! Heatstroke, a heat-emitter with fire in her belly, and Coldsnap, the frost-flinging fellow she loves but can never touch! Together, these felons with powers inspired by natural disasters were an easy roster-filler whenever a B-list team needed someone to rumble with. Sadly, no one ever spent much time exploring deeper questions about the team’s workings, like how these five individuals just happened to gain their powers, find one another, and decided to band together for evil fun and profit. Or whether the team ever had a strict “disaster powers”-only policy that would have given them reason to reject, say, a villain with mind-reading powers. Ah well.
2. The Force of July
Another team that went up against the Outsiders, the members of Force of July were not so much into villainy as they were into patriotism, making them easy marks for shady government types who subscribed to the “fight fire with fire” theory of superhero containment. From left to right: Silent Majority, who possessed the power of self-duplication; Lady Liberty, who channeled energy blasts through her torch (and probably made serious coin on the side posing for NYC tourists); Major Victory, the leader and all-around Captain America type; Sparkler, who could fly and project beams of light; and Mayflower, with the power to control plant life, like a repressed British version of Poison Ivy. Given how easily they were duped into fighting for their country, you can safely assume they have proven to be very reliable cannon fodder over the years. In fact, the Wikipedia page on them even contains the phrase “Was beaten to death with his own severed arm by Major Force” in reference to a recent battle involving one of the members. Which helps explain why I don’t read the comics as much as I used to.
3. The Peoples’ Heroes
The Soviet-era counterparts to the Force of July. “Okay, so we need a Commie super-team to go up against the Outsiders in our next issue. And because I’m an average American circa 1986, I’ll give the team members names and powers based on the only Russian words I know. Molotov will blow stuff up, Bolshoi will be the guy with the fancy footwork and martial-arts skills, Pravda will have fancy mind-reading powers and, um…. what the hell, let’s call the other two Hammer and Sickle, because I’ll be damned if I look up the Russian names for those two items on the Soviet flag.” The matching uniforms and red star emblems forever marking them as agents of the Soviet regime, they understandably didn’t get much work after that whole collapse-of-Communism thing back in the ’90s.
4. The New Olympians
Maybe I should just go ahead and call this list “lame teams that went up against Batman and the Outsiders” and be done with it. It’s ironic that the Outsiders, a team composed entirely of misfits and self-proclaimed loners with no real reason for staying together as a team (other than their “outsider” status, which seems odd considering how all costumed vigilantes are arguably outside the law) kept bumping up against teams where a lot of effort went into adhering to a common theme. At least in the New Olympians’ case, there were two good reasons for that: their leader, Maxie Zeus, was (1) obsessed with Greek mythology and (2) batshit insane. So little wonder he allied himself with super-villains named Antaeus (super-strong as long as he touches the Earth); Argus (can telepathically “see” at great distances); Diana (ace archer); Nox (mistress of a dark force); Proteus (shape-shifter); and Vulcanus (wields a hammer and throws fireballs). A battle between the New Olympians and members of the Justice League in a comic based on the Justice League TV series highlighted two problems with their approach: (1) if you’re going to possess powers reminiscient of a particular god, then don’t choose a codename that tells heroes the best way to defeat you, Antaeus and (2) if you’re really that committed to the whole “Olympian gods” motif, then stay far away from heroes with a workable knowledge of Greek mythology (coughWonder Womancough).
There have been a few teams named Zodiac over the years; this one first appeared as opponents of the Avengers back in the early ’70s. As you correctly surmised, there were 12 members in the group, with each one displaying a super-power inspired by their astrological sign. Cancer had super-pincers, Sagittarius is a skilled archer, Pisces was an underwater combatant, you get the idea. (Pity poor Virgo, who only got a “skilled at hand-to-hand combat” in her Marvel Handbook entry… but then, “super-virgin powers” would be pretty hard for anyone to flesh out.) Two problems I can see here. First, three of the team’s members — Aries the Ram, Capricorn the Goat, Taurus the Bull — wore elaborate costumes outfitted with horns for ramming and butting, and that’s just silly. Second, how practical is it to be this committed to the whole Zodiac theme? “Hey, Joe, it’s me. Remember last week, when Thor beat Pisces to a bloody pulp and we started talking about a replacement? Well, I found this guy who can shoot fire from his hands and…. No, I don’t know if he owns scuba gear… Yeah, I’m pretty sure he can’t throw fireballs underwater… I know, Pisces, fish, I got it… Yeah, I was listening at the last team meeting… Listen, this guy can melt the face off someone in ten seconds flat… right, we need a ‘fish guy.’ Sigh. Fine, I’ll keep looking.”
6. Global Guardians
Are national stereotypes a viable theme for a super-team? Apparently so. The comics have always been home to nationalist heroes whose identities and powers were inspired by some aspect of their home countries (I give you Shamrock, Marvel’s Irish heroine with the power of super-luck), but DC cranked that knob up to 11 with its Global Guardians. Let other, lesser teams feature heroes foolish enough to base their costumed identities on something as mundane as their power sets or weapons of choice. No, to be a true Global Guardian you had to have a name and powers that immediately identified your nation of birth. Hence we had such luminaries as Jack O’Lantern of Ireland, Godiva of Great Britain, Little Mermaid of Denmark, Rising Sun of Japan, Olympian of Greece, Icemaiden of Norway, Tundra of Russia, Centrix of Canada, Tasmanian Devil of Austral– wait a second. “Centrix of Canada”…? No Maple Maple Leaf or Captain Permafrost or even Universal Health Care Man? Centrix? Well, let’s see what his powers are… “ability to project waves of force from his body” — nope, nothing Canadian there. Maybe “Centrix” means something Canadian (fires up Google)… nope. Huh. I don’t know how to describe this feeling of learning my home country can’t even get a half-assed nationalist superhero for a D-list team. But there you go. “What, of course he’s Canadian, he wears a red and white costume so shut up and buy it, you adorable little hosers.” Sigh.
7-8. Wrecking Crew/Demolition Team
I like the Wrecking Crew for a lot of reasons. They’re mortals who first went up against Thor, which shows moxie. They received their super-powers thanks to an enchantment by the Norn Queen when she mistook one of them for Loki, which suggest the most crazy-assed good luck you can imagine. They’re the only reason the phrase “enchanted crowbar” comes up on Google, which makes me smile. They chose names of demolition equipment for their sobriquets, which makes perfect sense given their propensity for wrecking things. Plus, they are game for any story where a bunch of breathing punching bags are needed, as long as they get to wreck something first. How can you not love that kind of work ethic? On the other hand, DC’s Demolition Team always left me a little cold. They wore matching T-shirts with their team’s initials on them, which is always hard to pull off without looking like dorks. They thought hiring a professional jai-alai player and giving him a hydraulic power-scoop would make them more badass. Their cigar-chomping female leader went by the codename “Rosie” and sported a rapid-fire hot-rivet gun (Rosie the riveter, get it?). It’s called “trying too hard,” people.
9. Circus of Crime
Oh God, YES!!! How can you not love these guys? Only a truly demented mind — oh hi, Steve Ditko! — could have thought up something as completely demented as a circus full of super-criminals (then again, anyone who has ever really paid attention to carnies might have come up with the same thing). First appearing in the pages of the Hulk’s third issue way back in the ’60s — and way to set your ambitions high on your first outing there, people — the Circus of Crime consisted of a mesmerizing ringleader, a murderous clown and several others who used their circus skills in the service of crime (though how useful a human cannonball would be in a fistfight — or anywhere, if we’re being honest — is up for debate). Since then, they’ve been treated as a bit of a joke in the Marvel Universe, and rightly so; you’ve pretty much reached the end of the bad guy line when Power Pack is giving you grief. Still, just the fact they exist is awesome.
10-11. Serpent Squad/Serpent Society
One member of the Circus of Crime, a snake charmer by the name of Princess Python, recognized the vocational error of her ways and accepted an invitation to join the Serpent Society, a group that first appeared in 1985 and was home to super-villains with names, powers and costumes based on different types of snakes. All things considered, this was a step up for her, mainly because the team’s leader, Sidewinder, treated the team like a trade union, offering camaraderie, access to technology and get-out-of-jail-free cards in exchange for a cut of their ill-gotten gains. Setting up shop in Serpent Citadel (which did not, alas, resemble Skeletor’s Snake Mountain), the group — whose members used such nom de guerres as Asp, Cottonmouth, Cobra and Diamondback — scored a couple of sizable wins in their first few outings, including the assassination of MODOK and turning the citizens of Washington, DC, into savage-minded snake-people. That’s called branding, people. As contrived as the whole “Serpent Society” thing was, it was a damn sight better conceived than the original Serpent Squad, a three-man operation first thrown at Captain America in 1973 that included a villain named the Eel among its members. Bad taxonomy, Marvel! Bad!
12. Royal Flush Gang
Sometimes, the commitment to adhering to a certain theme goes beyond giving team members matching outfits or complementary motifs. There have been several incarnations of DC’s Royal Flush Gang over the years, but one of the more prominent versions had a gang consisting of a former “king of the hobos” (with super-persuasive powers), a former “Queen of Broadway” (disgraced actress given super-disguising powers), a con artist/gigolo who hews closely to the trickster image that most literary “Jacks” tend to portray, and… a female test pilot who turned to costumed crime after working for one too many sexist jerks (maybe she’s considered a “Ten” because of her stunning looks; the story that introduced her never explained that part). Oh, and there was an Ace who was fond of saying things like “ace in the hole” and other card-related phrases. They had a giant house of cards in the Mojave Desert, flew around on flying cards, shot card-shaped missiles at the Batplane, trapped the rest of the Justice League in a maze of giant cards… what I’m saying is, they liked cards a lot.
Evil jugglers, people. Jugglers! Who, by the way, went by the codenames Bombshell (she throws grenades!), Knickknack (he throws anything!), Oddball (he throws death-filled balls!), Ringleader (he throws razor-sharp rings!) and Tenpin (he throws burning bowling pins!). Try to convince me someone at Marvel wasn’t deep into the mescaline when they came up with that concept. OH MY GOD! “Death Throws.” Death throes. I LITERALLY JUST GOT THAT!