Friday, June 5, 2009

Open Forum: The Worst Team-Ups Ever ...

Or, as I'm fond of calling anything with the big planet-eater in it, "GALACTUS: HUNGER WAS THE CASE THAT THEY GAVE ME."

The pitch for this must have taken less than eight seconds; Just the time needed to place a phone call across town and utter the words "Galactus consumes Apokalips." Kirby nerdgasm aside, the premise is paper-thin and the story brings out the worst in both characters; Galactus' ponderous planet-munching preparations and Darkseid's sleep-inducing soliloquizing. The absence of heroes hurts - I found it tricky to give two Apokaliptian shits about Parademons dying in droves - and the utter non-starter of a plot trickles down to a neverwas ending, and all in all it's as pretty a picture of sound, fury, and a noted absence of significance for which you could ever wish.

Matt: (Three-Way Tie) SUPERMAN/TARZAN - SONS OF THE JUNGLE and the two BATMAN/PUNISHER crossovers
Chuck Dixon and Carlos Meglia take what could have been an interesting story and just butcher it. Meglia can be a good artist but here he let his penchant for freakishly distorted faces and anatomy just go buck wild, and Dixon phones it in with a suboptimal writing performance that makes me sad every time I read it. There's so much potential wasted here. It's set in a weird alternate late 19th/Early 20th Century (there's dirigibles) but Dixon opts for the old and tired "What if Superman's rocket landed in the Jungle and he was adopted by the apes instead of Tarzan, who ends up going home and being unhappy as a British lord" approach. The Tarzan as unfulfilled aristocrat is fine, but Superman as jungle lord was already done in a far superior story where Kal-El grows up to be Mowgli from Kipling's Jungle Book.

This time around Dixon just seems bored with the whole thing. Why not just do a story where 1930's Superman (you know, the one who could jump really far and have cannon fire knock him down) meets an older, wiser Tarzan who has been at the whole adventuring shtick for years? That would have been interesting, This is just bad.

As for the Batman/Punisher stuff, unless it's 1930's Batman (who gleefully murders people) there's only one way this story should ever end. Batman kicks the crap out of the Punisher and takes him to jail, end of the story. It's even worse when we have to read the adventures of Azrael as Batman, who makes the Punisher look SANE. All in all, this is just slop. It's not even fun slop.

I gotta be honest with you – I haven't read this. I am a great admirer of both Spidey and Cool Barry Smooth, so I'm just awarding this thing "Worst Team Up" on the basis of it's terrible, terrible cover art.

Seriously, that's not a portrait, that's not even a caricature. That's just a drawing of a face that's been colored brown and that doesn't bear any notable resemblance to the ostensible subject. I'm not asking for Vermeer or even Nast here. I just want it to be recognizable. I don't think that's too much to ask.

Oh, sure, it seemed like a good idea at the time. A lot of things seemed like a good idea back then. The idea was this: National Periodical would give their brand-spanking-new super-team, the Legion of Super-Heroes, a boost by getting them involved with Superboy, the teenage iteration of the most popular superhero in existence. It was, at least in theory, a well-conceived team-up; the Legion was a teenaged group that meshed well with the adolescent version of the Man of Steel, and they were suffused with the sort of pulpy sci-fi trappings that were then popular in the main Superman titles. Writers would get to tell new Superboy stories, and the Legion, then just getting off the ground, would receive a boost in popularity. Pages in Adventure Comics would be filled, new fans of both Superboy and the LSH would be created, and lots of x-ray spex and copies of Grit would be sold.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Fans of the “Superman is a Dick” site know that it’s easy to see Supes acting like a horse cock jerk if you take many of his Silver Age stories slightly out of context; people who have actually read Silver Age Superman stories in their entirety know that it’s just as easy to see Supes acting like a horse cock jerk by reading them entirely in context. But for every dick move Kal-El pulled during those years, he got paid back a hundredfold when he first started to hang around with the Legion of Superheroes, because the writers of these stories used the ever-entertaining device of time travel as a platform for Lightning Lad, Cosmic Boy and Saturn Girl to pretty much fuck with Superboy’s head non-stop for no real reason than to be assholes.

Much like actual teenagers, the LSH acted like a bunch of petulant, bratty creeps who pick on people out of pure boredom. Using their futuristic foreknowledge of Superboy’s entire history, they repeatedly travel back in time to mmind-fuck him just because they can. It’s carried off as all-in-good-fun hijinx, but to Superboy - whose entire culture was eradicated soon after he was born and whose relationship to his adopted homeworld was complicated at best - it must have been agonizing. You’d think a bunch of aliens would be more sensitive to that, but no: the Legion just kept showing up to put the zap on poor teenage Clark’s head because there was nothing good on holo-TV. “Hey, Superboy! We’ve denied you Legion membership because you’re a big fuckup who failed all our rigged tests! No, JUST KIDDING, you’re in,” went a typical story. “Hey, Superboy! Guess what! All of Smallville has turned against you and hates you forever! No, JUST KIDDING, we set that all up, everyone loves you, ya big galoot,” went another. “Hey, Superboy! Your adoptive parents are dead and we ate Krypto at a Mongolian barbeque,” was probably the next one, or something like that.

The LSH, in almost every early team-up with Superboy, seemed to delight in nothing more than playing pointlessly cruel pranks on Earth’s greatest hero, and then uncrossing their fingers at the end and having a good laff.

It didn’t end there – they carried this routine over to Kal’s cousin Kara, also known as Supergirl, putting her Kryptonian tit in the wringer for similar cruel laugh. Luckily for her, and for anyone who was getting a little tired of the Legion’s arbitrary, mean frat-boy escapades, Kara figured out a way to stay in the 31st century indefinitely, which led to a downturn in the hazing as the LSH membership began to fear what would happen if she went all Carrie on them. But it still stands as one of the ugliest ‘friendships’ in superhero history, and in light of what they did to him in those early days, Superboy’s incredibly harsh decision to toss Mon-El in the Phantom Zone for a few thousand years gets a lot easier to understand.

For three issues the Fantastic Four were replaced by The Hulk (as Mr. Fixit), Ghost Rider, Wolverine and Spider-Man. Why were they replaced? The short answer is that Walt Simonson had a stroke following a mid day Nyquil binge. The long answer doesn't make any sense, but involves a crash landed Skrull who takes out the FF in less than five pages and tricks the replacements into doing her bidding, looking for an egg. For some reason the Mole Man is also involved.

When you combine an unstoppable giant in a tacky mob suit, the animated spirit of vengeance, an unkillable hairy dwarf with bad table manners and a sticky photojournalist dressed in his pajamas, you rather expect them to take on something of importance. This team combined two of the most powerful heroes in the Marvel Universe with an immortal sociopath wielding fancy cutlery and, well, Spider-Man. Instead of going up against Loki or Kang, they were pitted against the Mole Man and a ship full of Skrulls about as deviant and dangerous as the Keystone Cops. Spider-Man did save the day by using his webs to grab an egg though. Seriously. I wish I'd made that up.

At one point, Richie Rich was the X-Men of Harvey Comics. At his height, approximately 163 titles a month were dedicated to the "Poor little rich boy." That's a lot of pages to fill. Often, the solution was to fallback to the Hanna-Barbera formula- just pile on the new characters when you run out of story ideas- to keep Ernie Colon busy. Or, slap the red bow-tied oligarch scamp together with an existing character, which is exactly what the company did for forty-five months in the Richie Rich and Casper title.

Sure, there's the Oh-Hey-Casper-Is-Richie-Rich internet chestnut, almost as old as the Batman-and-Robin-Are-Totally-Gay gag, which the series sort of puts down, by having the two very similarly-faced titans in the same story. The catch is, Richie Rich always sees his meetup with Casper as some sort of dream, even when it's in the middle of the day and he's wide awake. EVERY TIME. They'll go off on some adventure and billionaire Richie Rich, no matter the evidence against, always chalks it up to an Ambien episode. Of course, they'll get through the story and even though there will be reams of physical evidence afterward, young master Rich will still insist up and down that the whole episode was nothing more than a figment of his imagination.

One of the odder occurrences of this melding of the worlds of the living and dead involved Richie being trapped in a cave on the vast Rich estate (which spans three or so counties). Casper, through some contrivance ends up in the same cave and is somehow powerless to pull Richie's dainty white shoe out of a crack in the floor. Instead of finding some other way to free the pre-pubescent billionaire, he decides the next best thing is to impersonate him so that no one notices his absence. So, he goes to the Rich mansion, cuts one of Richie's mother's wigs (what?) to approximate his doppelganger's middle-part, steals one of the kid's 100 identical suits and spends the day as a much paler imitation, one to which no one is the wiser. Whether or not this story was meant to be some sort of deeper commentary on the transience of material possessions or Richie Rich as some sort of super-rich cipher, is left up to your interpretation.

At any rate, these monthly team-ups pretty much followed the same formula, starred two almost-identical characters and typically ended up enacting no reaching change on either characters' regular storylines. So, pretty much no different from their more superheroically-oriented counterparts.

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