Comics / February 14 2018

Scroll of the Teams:

Spells Like Team Spirit

By Sage Jawsh

                     Oh, there you are. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten to "scroll" on over to the GoG. Glad you made it. That's right! It'ss time for me, Sage Jawsh, to unfurl yet another volume of comic-theism. In this months scroll I'll be giving you some wisdom that may come as a surprise.

What is it? Well it's something that may seem particularly familiar to our geeky minds. "Superhero, Team-UPs!!!"Yes. These are mind-blowing unions much like our communions here at the Gathering of the Geeks. For decades, super-powerful fictional entities have come together, culminating their vast abilities for the greater good—or evil.

Yes, for nearly a hundred years my fellow Gogians, we mortals have rallied around our beloved community of both meta and non-meta protagonist and antagonist. All respondent to the fact that there's indeed strength in numbers. Two heads are in fact better than one and that's why this scroll was crafted. You deserve to know exactly how the magic happens. Welcome for the "Spells like Team Spirit!"

" So—What are we?"

A team. Much like Bill Finger and Bob Kane's "Batman and Robin"— the subject of our first scroll—a super-team became known in comics of the 40's due the handsome contributions one another one of Detective Comic's most substantial writers, Gardner Fox and Sheldon Mayer. Fox and Mayer understood what many tactile minds do. Together we stand. Divided we fall! Yes. You could say this was the precipice behind the Justice Society of America and the dozens of superheroes teams to follow.

In All-star Comics # 3 (1940). The Justice Society of America become the first,  proverbial superhero "gang" in comics. A team of heroes tasked with fighting crime too powerful for one man or woman—alone. Just like in our last scroll were, Bruce Wayne, devilishly swore-in a young Dick Grayson— this gang took a part of Batman and Robin's philosophy and made a crime-fighting collective, effective.

So who are the JSA?  To those of you unfamiliar they're some of the most legendary DC comics heroes of all time. Hawkman, The Spectre, Green Lantern, The Atom, Sandman, The Flash, The Hour Man, Dr. Fate. These heroes were the first heroes to gather around a table—rather Arthurian, I know. But this meal was meant to be a nostalgia-feast. They heralded their respective heroic conquest to a engrossed youth, thusly cementing their awesome team-up.

Justice time for dinner.

For years after, more super-teams were forme—and i don't mean just in the NBA. From indie brands like Milestone comic's "Blood Syndicate". To Wildstorm's controversial "Authority". As much as I'd love to bore you with intimate details on EVERY one, I much rather elaborate on a Sage's foresight into this system and its more refined elements.

In many of our superb comic world's, heroes/villains are godly. Just like knight or angels, these masked men were powerful tools off war. Yes. The ideal came at an eclectic time in the real world—just like now—especially in America with World War II raking the attention of it's citizens. In the pages of "All Star Comics" these fictional men were galvanized by the real-world setting and took to the fictional "Grey Shirts"—Nazis— with nigh-lethal superpower.

Years later in 1960, we have the wildly successful "Justice League" taking from the JSA's essence but adding more of a sports appeal, thanks to Gardner Fox again— also a BIG Mets fan—where we find another band of comic-phenoms brought together. In what are morally different iterations of the predating Justice Society members, the "Justice League" sported all the popular fronters for DC's brand of comics. Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and The Flash.

So it was only a matter of time before competitor, Marvel Comics, would took this archetype for their own. 3 years later in fact as in 1963's Avengers #1, Ironman, The Wasp, Ant-Man and Thor began their adventures together. This collaboration seeded what for years became a tree of more Avengers teams than you can shake a stick at—Im guessing a magic wand? These groups were basically the primordial makings of the extremely methodical practice of "the more the merrier comics" motif in comics. So now that we have a brief look at some very factual affairs, let's unravel a bit more. Here's a few ingredients I feel make our "Justice" desserts, so sweet.

"A Chairman"

Now we're going to spend a few moments to cement that while the history of super-groups in comics is great. It's more to them than just Kryptonian-bells and meta-whistles. What is it that truly makes them great? Well. Obviously, any snake might suggest it their head—a leader. JSA started off with a "Chairman"—The Flash. A leader for simplicity sake. A tad bit business-like but this is America right?—aint no way around that!

So, it's eerily useful in my next inference too. Here I'm using a staple in comics. He's responsible for another popular comic-book team—You may have guessed it. None other than than illustrious X-Men. 10 points if you were expecting a Prof. Charles  Xavier. You should have. Not only is he one of the greatest telepaths in fiction, He's also a paraplegic and legendary leader of the X-Men in some of the most uncanny works Marvel has every produced. One who's ideology and sense of purpose empowers X-Men—and their fans—to this very day.

For any team there must be a leader who personifies an ideal. JSA's respective chair+people were meant to brand the warfare and might of America—as does a current, ignorant administration—Yet unlike that, Charles was a man of extraordinary allure. A mutant. This obscure connotation followed him and those like him the world over. Prejudiced by America much like the Justice Society had the Nazi regime prior.

Charles lead his mutant brethren regardless, championing a jaded sense of equality and importance. Charles strengthened young, impressionable, mutant-children in yet another a war against America's own racism-riddled integrity. A powerful message that drove yet more innocent youth into conflict. Hmm? Why does that sound so familiar?

Nevertheless​, Charles was of course a wealthy benefactor—something quintessential to most comic—built and lead his X-men. Through a dream of a world sound for both humans and mutant kind. Charles watered a sit of discontent and help leave behind a legacy for a group of outcast, not solely renowned for their plight. Its was also due to their education and leadership. Factors Charles used to help make their camaraderie bar none.

Mutants he mentored like Storm have lead all female teams. Cyclops—my personal favorite— cut-throat black-ops teams. Even Charles's antithesis, Magento have lead cells of good and bad mutants on missions battling for what they believed was just. Whether good sportsmanship is employed or not is subjective but so should the leadership of ANY team. Undoubtedly this explains the prejudice a Mutant leader and his face. Deadly is the stead that leads the crowd.

" Recruit! There it is!"

Okay. So you think your team has a good leader but what makes you think it's gonna always function like a team? What facets does your team boast? Do the members work together well or are you just asking for disaster? These questions need real answers and some teams give them directly. Making sure you have the right mates is difficult. Which is  why most teams have fluctuations in their rosters. You cant really just have just anyone working for you or with you. Well, unless you're Amanda Waller.

By Any Means Necessary

Who's that—woman? Waller is not just a tough as nails, African-American military woman, you don't want to piss off. She's also one of the best super-recruiters in comics. If they're "skilled" enough to land themselves in a High-max prison like Belle Reeve Penitentiary; than they're fit enough to risk their livelihood to protect American interest—and of course, Waller's. Waller understands the importance of having "good" players. Even if they're bad. That's why the aptly titled "Suicide Squad" takes their recruitment "dead" serious.

Taskforce X uses convicts to do its bidding. Felons, killers, psychopaths, like Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, and Deadshot working in tandem for lessened sentences. All at the behest of Amanda's commandant tone—and neck-implanted explosives. While Waller's not the most empathizing administrator, it's also her recruitment of Rick Flag's militaristic mind that makes sure her squad stays on deck.

Sometimes it takes a lot of precaution to ensure things go over well. I mean what bad guy doesn't want to get out for "bad" behavior? Incentivizing has always done wonders for morale. Waller embraces this concept to it's fullest potential. With her brash tact, she's solidification why a scout's honor is always trusted.

"Home-Base"

This portion is especially crucial. Honestly, to any group relationship not just superhero-clubs. A team's headquarters are where all the maintenance for their alums goes down. In comics, these locations are often more memorable than certain protagonists. It's in these vicinities that teams begin there plotting for their daring coups, or seek solace in times of retreat—basically in case things go south.

Speaking of south, there's few bases with the appeal of the Bat-cave, especially coveted for being a discreet subterranean location. It's no surprise originally the Justice League followed suit. Formerly seeking refuge in an otherwise inconspicuously cavernous mountain, aka the "Secret Sanctuary". Just years before leaving Terra Firma for their orbiting satellite and eventually the "Watch Tower". This was a secure— albeit less secret—base for the League's now public endeavors. It dignifies the teams purpose as protectors of Earth. Aside from being incredibly amazing.

It's What's on the Inside That Counts

A headquarters is a reminder of a team's meaning not just to the world—but themselves. Teams like the "Teen Titans", a younger collection of heroes with a lesser-grade than their the big name competition, used their "Titans Tower" as a symbolic  compensation for their juvenile stature—and an arguably better vantage-point for the city they fought to protect.

No matter their influence, a super-team isn't much more than a bunch of super-powered dudes and chicks, or animals without a place to call their own. Your team can be the strongest, most intelligent goodies around but where do they turn when they need to prepare? Or do their homework? Like what good team doesn't take time to—you know, strategize? I mean while of course the library is cool, it isn't much in the ways of discreet superhero-forum.

Bases of operations give any cluster of teammates a common-ground. These places make it possible for these initial loners to cultivate their alliances into deepened, almost unbreakable bonds. Ties that will reflect on the battlefield, harmoniously. Whether it be a Pentagon where generals clamor around one another in times of crisis or the perspective of soldiers sharing a barracks. A base, is a shared environment where teams eventually evolve into a unbreakable brotherhood—an in more contemporary, a sisterhood.

" La Familia"

This last outlier may seem a bit personal but in no way minuscule in terms of significance. While a "Home" base adds to the "Hallmark channel" methodology of any team, it is definitely a double-edge sword—I guess that's why they're usually hidden. That isn't the case for the infamous, "Fantastic Four". This family's home—The Baxter Building—is a place few comic fans can forget—probably moreso for the team's enemies. All in all, Marvel's Fantastic Four is like most families, in they treat the place as an heirloom in many senses.

Family First

Enemies good or bad will use a family home as a means of disheartening said family. But like all families, a team must work together. No matter what. This is why they're together. Using each of their strengths and weakness as a foundation for one another. Learning from each other mistakes and inconsistencies in order to invoke the better versions  of their allies. These are the core element of any teams esteem. The Fantastic Four has had many rosters but they've all become or been family in some way. As have many teams over the course of comic-history.

A family dynamic is a must have, in some form for a team to truly be effective. It helps center them around a cause that even with adversity, remains unchanged. Families are often a reflection of ourselves. These corporeal expansions of our own physiological or theological dimensions. Ones that despite our personal differences can always be superceded.

Take Marvel's "Thor: Ragnarok" on for size. In the MCU film, we have Thor and his half brother, Loki, fighting alongside Hulk and Valkyrie, as a team. Loki and Thor half-brothers. Former enemies but still family. While Valkyrie a servant of Valhalla and Hulk a solider. He is also a fellow Avenger. So the four together all represent a dysfunctional family. Whether tied by blood or belief, they we're all allied together under one cause. Teamwork. Their rapport came from that heritage shared between them as gods and warriors. Heroes more than anything else—even ones destined for villainy and evil.

So. There you have it. A more pervasive look at our thriving age of superheroes unions of both print and film. These are franchises that includes literal pantheons of gods, aliens, cops. As humans,  I feel we all resonate with a notion of unsurmountable odds and chilling fate.  We automatically assume that due to our foundry of comic-knowledge, religion etc, these team ups are meant to be nothing more than just fanfare showcasing blockbuster heroes/villains causing mayhem for the greater good of evil.

While partially true, there's more too this pathology writers have practiced so successfully. I task you to do as I did with my last scroll, hereafter. Look beyond the lines written. Check deep between the pages and plots of your favorite comics and film—and discover the answers.  It is these presentations that cause we geeks to gather and enjoy, all things nerd. There IS a rhyme—and reason. Ironically teams, especially fictional, thrive off more than just showmanship or sport. There needs to be a leader who empowers. A mind amongst the crowd that knows exactly what the team is and should be. A place for the collective to function and recuperate.
And moreso than all a family vibe...Yes, sappy as it may sound, the more characters congeal—the better.

Till next time, Gogians. I'm just a Sage. And these—are my scrolls.

Sage Jawsh is a corespondent for the GoG.