There’s a lot of restructuring going on in the Big Two. The absence of the Trinity in the DCU, combined with personal differences, have cause the Justice League to go kablooey and Marvel is already teasing us with images of Avengers both secret and known. The two biggest teams in the world of superheroics are going to look quite different over the next few months but as anyone who has read comic books for the majority of their life knows, the more things change the more they stay the same.
We’ve already made our suggestions for some characters we’d like to see get an Avengers membership card to put in their wallet but this week we thought it best to offer a reminder to both companies that certain criteria must be met when assembling a superhero organization. There are guidelines that every team has to follow and in the interest of world peace, we’ll go over a few of them. You see, a team can’t be a team if it doesn’t have the following…
It goes without saying that a leader has to be brave and stoic: someone the rest of the team looks up to. If we had the slightest inkling of how football works, we’d probably compare the team leader to a quarterback. As it is, we spend most of our time locked in a hermetically sealed vault drooling over our mint-in-box Secret Wars action figures, so you won’t see any sports comparisons here. Bottom line: a hero has to lead.
But more important than his or her leadership abilities is the leader’s self-doubt and feelings of not belonging. Perfect examples of this are Cyclops (constant sadness over the deaths of various teammates from Thunderbird to Phoenix), Captain America (constant sadness over the death of Bucky and his inability to adapt to the modern world) and Superman (neither human nor truly Kryptonian). In the heat of battle, a leader should be confident and stable, but once the fight is over: he’s a total wreck. A modern example is, quite naturally, the new Captain America (constantly distraught over his time spent as a Soviet assassin).
If such a hero cannot be found, a suitable replacement is the female who no one thought was capable but ends up setting a shining example with her awesomeness – examples include the Wasp and Storm.
Because no one expects the big, huge muscley guy to be a lover rather than a fighter, right? While it’s true that a character like Superman fills the role of the bruiser and he does have a heart of gold, he doesn’t quite fit the mold we’re looking for here.
A perfect example of the “loving bruiser” is Colossus of the X-Men. Big scary Russian bear made of organic steel on the outside with the heart of an artist lurking underneath. Thor also works. Even though he has a love of battle, he also comes equipped with a strong moral code and sense of honor. In a pinch, we’ll even accept the Beast, as long as he’s blue and furry.
Other examples of the big muscley bruiser with a heart of gold include Volstagg of the Warriors Three and Bane from Secret Six (yes, we know they’re villains, but even villains are subject to these guidelines).
Sometimes a big, tough guy isn’t enough; you need to up the ante by adding a big, tough guy who can’t walk down the street without wearing a trenchcoat, hat and sunglasses. Because of this hideous curse, one never knows if they can fully trust him or if (perhaps when) he will turn on everyone and go the villain route.
Benjamin J. Grimm cornered the market on this category long ago but in recent years has been joined by the likes of Cyborg of the Teen Titans, Damage of the Justice Society and the New Mutants’ Wolfsbane. The Doom Patrol’s Robotman fits as well, though he’s probably more likely to just kill himself in a fit of self-loathing rather than turn evil. Be careful not to include Hank McCoy, Nightcrawler, Strong Guy or Beast Boy in this group though. Not every hideously misshapen mockery of man harbors resentment toward humanity; some embrace their oddity and become lovable big brother characters. Others become comedians as a way to cope, but you never have to worry about them turning on you.
An early example of this archetype would be Green Arrow, who’s never been particularly popular with anyone outside of Green Lantern and Black Canary. Wolverine was the classic 1970’s guy that everybody hated who quickly turned into the guy that everybody loved and was followed by Gambit and Cable as “the dude that no one trusts” quickly became an X-staple. On occasion, reformed villains will be added to the mix, such as Magneto or Sabretooth. Once upon a time, the Avengers actually had an entire roster comprised of reformed villains.
But the title of King Asshole has got to go to Guy Gardner during his stint as the Justice League’s resident Green Lantern. From his lewd comments to his all-around dickish demeanor, nobody got on their teammates’ nerves like Guy did. The new Dr. Light may hope to follow in his footsteps, but being bitchy just isn’t enough. Guy did it all with style and panache – his teammates may have hated him, but readers couldn’t get enough.
Lest your villains stop taking you seriously, every team needs a guy who is willing to crouch into a fighting position in every group shot. That’s how you know they mean business and that maybe, possibly, they might even kill somebody.
Spider-Man’s a croucher. So is the Beast. But neither of these gentlemen are mean or even remotely scary (even when Spidey’s in his black suit). They probably fall into the subcategory of “fun loving bouncy guy”, a category that had to be cut due to space constrictions. No, the type of crouching tough guy that we’re talking about has got to put the fear of God into evildoers. The JLA has Batman and the X-Men, Dark X-Men, Avengers and X-Force have got Wolverine (or his son). In the absence of Wolverine, several other characters have done their best to fill out the ranks, including X-23 and Feral.
The croucher is a modern-day staple of every team. To go without one means certain death on the battlefield.
If you can’t beat ‘em, distract ‘em. These days more than ever, eye candy plays an important role in the foundation of any team of superheroes.
Marvel Girl, Sue Storm and Wonder Woman have all worn short skirts (or much, much less) during their tenure on their respective teams, but they may as well be wearing snowpants and parkas when you compare them to Spider-Woman’s painted-on bodysuit and Power Girl’s boob window. The boob window was an important addition to Power Girl’s costume, as her previously low-cut shirt wasn’t nearly distracting enough. The boob window ensured that no villain could escape her clutches or her assets while simultaneously making sure that every female comic book fan felt insulted and objectified. Double whammy! Mort Weisinger would be proud.
The late Dave Cockrum was a genius when it came to the addition of The Boobs on a superhero team. The man made a career of designing costumes for superheroines that resembled nothing more than skimpy bathing suits. Fanboys, heroes and villains alike owe this man a great debt.
We’ve run out of room here but special attention must be given to The Brainiac (Reed Richards, Hank Pym) and The Squabbling Couple (Reed/Sue Richards, Scott Summers/Jean Grey, Scott Summers/Emma Frost, Hank Pym/Janet Van Dyne). Sometimes we see a mixing of the archetypes as well, such as Hank McCoy (deformed/crouching/brainiac) and Puck (deformed/bouncing/crouching/funnyman) and even Wolverine (crouching/tough guy/bruiser with heart of gold).
A simple piece of advice to DC and Marvel in this time of team reconstruction: follow our easy guidelines and your universes will remain safe and sound until the next big crossover results in half of your team dying, being reborn and/or splitting off to form a tougher, modern version of said team that don’t take no crap from nobody (see: X-Force, JSA All-Stars, Outsiders, Justice League: Cry for Justice).