Aug 17, 2021
3 ridiculous superhero teams you'll never see on-screen (we hope)
We’re living in a Golden Age of superhero media. Movies and TV shows are turning more and more comic book characters into household names, which is a doubled-edged sword for die-hard fans. On one hand, our beloved sophomoric power fantasies are now publicly accepted more than ever before. On the other, the longer this boom goes on, the bigger the chance Marvel is going to drag out something that reminds the general public why they used to beat up comic book fans like child-molesting ex-cops in prison in the first place.
With the premiere of Iron Fist on coming up this week, Netflix has finally assembled all of the Defenders to much critical acclaim (even if early reviews say Iron Fist is a snooze-fest). Meanwhile, the Avengers have turned into Fight Club for superhero franchises, resulting in perpetual domination of the summer box office. As a result, the casual Marvel fan is blissfully unaware of the shit-show that lies slumbering just beneath the surface.
It’s not all Avengers and X-Men out there. Here, I’m going to be talking about superhero teams, and not the good ones. At some point, an editor at Marvel actually sat down and either thought these teams were good ideas, or he was trying to get fired (without going through the hassle of coming up with a good character that Stan Lee could steal, can him, and deny him credit over).
1. The Champions
Can you tell what Ghost Rider, Iceman, Angel, Black Widow, and Hercules have in common? If your answer is “absolutely nothing,” you’d be right, and also you’d have been a better writer than the ones Marvel had on staff in 1975 when they thought the Champions were a good idea.
The Champions were formed when the original X-Men disbanded and Angel and Iceman ended up in Los Angeles. Apparently they didn’t know what to do without a team of metahuman weirdos to hang around with, and stumbled across the other three by complete accident. Since this sounded like a great foundation for teamwork, Angel, being the rich douchebag of the group, bankrolled the team and named them the “Champions”, because making your superhero team sound like a brand of cheap sports watches really makes the bad guys piss themselves in fear. As far as heroic motivations go, “founded by two bored teenagers who haven’t found a new weed dealer yet” isn’t the best, and it didn’t help that because of the wildly different backgrounds of the characters, all their enemies ended up being a bizarre grab bag of supervillain nonsense.
The original idea for the team was Angel, Iceman, and the newly created Black Goliath, but those plans fell through when Goliath got his own title. On top of that, editors mandated that the team have at least 5 members, meaning they pretty much grabbed a few characters who weren’t doing anything in particular and threw them together. The series lasted for all of 17 issues (and that was in the ’70s, not like today when a comic is cancelled after 3 issues for not spawning four movies and a toy line in a week). The cancellation came so quickly, the team ended up having to disband in a flashback in one of Spider-Man’s series.
2. Power Pack
No matter how red-faced and sweaty comic book fans can get about it, comics were mainly intended for children, at least before the books turned into terrible soft-core porn sometime in the ’90s. Despite that, you rarely saw kid characters in Marvel, unlike DC, who went through kid sidekicks like Bruce Wayne was running some weird insurance scam.
That is, until 1984, when writer Louise Simonson decided that there wasn’t enough child endangerment in comics and introduced a team entirely made up of prepubescent children (the youngest all of 5!): Power Pack! Now, on the surface, this isn’t a horrible idea; there’s plenty of lighter kinds of stories that wouldn’t feel completely horrifying to see kid characters be part of. The problem was, Power Pack didn’t actually do that; the series treated them exactly like it treated the adult heroes, meaning that we got to see a group of toddlers take on Sabretooth, a guy who goes through children like a plate of buffalo wings.
Thankfully, they had Wolverine with them, so the issue didn’t end with Marvel losing its Comics Code license, but still, this was right in the middle of the Morlock Massacre event, meaning that these kids got front row seats to not just an encounter with Mutant Ted Bundy, but also got to witness the aftermath of an ethnic cleansing. I don’t care what powers you have, that shit is going to make some therapist a lot of money in a few years. And if that doesn’t make you uncomfortable enough, they also starred with Spider-Man in a one-shot comic about dealing with sexual abuse because Marvel wouldn’t rest until they completely destroyed any illusions you had about the world.
Despite the frankly horrifying implications of the series (or possibly because of them), Power Pack was fairly popular and lasted for 68 issues before cancellation, ironically because the series was moving in an even darker direction, which proved unpopular and would presumably have involved several fun-sized cemetery plots.
3. Teen Brigade
One thing that made Marvel stand out from DC, especially in its early days, was its relatability to teenagers, which was one of the main reasons for the success of Spider-Man and the X-Men. However, most of their characters were still adults, so what could they do to make titles like Hulk and Captain America even more appealing to younger readers who wanted more than just 22 pages of Jack Kirby aliens (which were mostly glowing dots and weird eyes) and barely concealed anti-socialist propaganda? Hey, how about adding a gang of annoying douchebags who followed the heroes around and got in the way? No? Well, too bad, that’s what they did.
This was the Teen Brigade, a group of teenagers grouped together by Rick Jones, the Hulk’s weird beatnik sidekick. The idea was that the teens would serve as informants who would contact heroes via radio whenever they found out about some supervillain plot, because villains in the 1960s were so bad at covering their tracks that a group of suburban brats regularly just stumbled across their schemes while hula-hooping and drinking malt shakes and enforcing segregation or whatever the hell kids did in those days. Of course, they often didn’t limit themselves to information gathering, and decided it’d be a good idea to personally antagonize the costumed psychopaths.
For obvious reasons, this group didn’t stick around for long, probably because the idea of using a radio informant network was about as relatable as someone using a pager today, and because kids didn’t identify with characters whose sole means of defense was calling someone who was actually good at fighting. It also made the villains seem a good deal less intimidating when a bunch of scrawny hipsters could just stumble into their evil lair and fuck up everything like an episode of Queer Eye (haha, remember when getting verbally abused by gay guys was considered entertainment?).
For more sucky superheroes, check out Agony Booth’s series of Bad Superhero Movie Showdowns or 3 comic book characters whose superpowers came back to bite them in the ass.