Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

29 October 2006

Essential Marvel Team-Up, v. 2

Collects: Marvel Team-Up #25-51, Marvel Two-in-One #17 (1974-6)

Released: July 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 528 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 0785121633

Marvel Team-Up is a title that doesn’t get much respect. It’s noted more for being a de facto second Spider-Man title — the first Marvel character to get a second solo title — rather than for being a medium for quality stories. Most of what passed through Marvel Team-Up is seen as either forgettable or silly, and the stories in Essential Marvel Team-Up, v. 2 is no exception.

But that’s not to say the stories aren’t enjoyable, even if they didn’t have a long-term effect on the Spider-mythos. (Three of the 27 stories in this volume are expressly forgotten by the protagonists at the end.) There is often a forgotten charm in these ‘70s stories, when Spidey was still in his salad days and some team-ups still hadn’t been tried.

These stories aren’t — or perhaps can’t — be told in the 21st century, but there’s no reason not to enjoy them here. The stories told by Gerry Conway and Len Wein at the beginning of Essential Marvel Team-Up tend toward the silly, with the silliest (or most mythic, if you’re charitable) being #28, in which Hercules tows the stolen island of Manhattan (roughly) back to its correct place. This story is rightly hooted at by modern fans, but it was a product of its times. That doesn’t make the stories good, but it does explain a few things.

The writing improves greatly when Bill Mantlo takes over. Mantlo is a writer who was the backbone of the marvel Universe in the ‘70s and ‘80s — he wrote nearly every character Marvel has at one time or another. Some of his work is reviled (his Alpha Flight comes to mind, and there may come a time when his name is much more associated with “Cloak and Dagger created by”), but you don’t write so many titles unless you have something on the ball. Mantlo certainly did.

After taking over this title, Mantlo wrote a series of connected storylines — difficult to do when Spidey’s supposed to have a new guest star every month. But Mantlo pulled it off, most impressively with a six-part time travel story that takes Spider-Man and a host of associates back to the witch trials at Salem. By the end, the team-up concept is showing its weaknesses (Moondragon? Really?), but overall, the story works — and it has Doom!, which can never be a bad thing. His two-part Big Man / Crimemaster story is surprisingly effective, if a little convenient. A later four-part storyline that introduces the Wraith and Jean DeWolff dispenses with adding guest stars, keeping Iron Man as the featured guest for three issues.

If Mantlo was the backbone of Marvel writing in the ‘70s and ‘80s, Sal Buscema is the apex of Marvel art between the end of the Silver Age and the beginning of the Image Age. In Essential Marvel Team-Up, he was frequently aided by Mike Esposito, but the result is still classic Buscema: excellent storytelling and a style that is nearly invisible until a few signature moments.8 Buscema’s work adapts to the black-and-white format of the Essential as well as any artist I’ve seen.

All right: despite my deep admiration for the work of Buscema and Mantlo, this is Marvel Team-Up. Even at its best, it was the “other” Spider-Man title — until Spectacular Spider-Man came along, when it became the third title. Nothing groundbreaking happens here, no chances in Peter Parker’s life and no world-shattering villains. The mandate for Marvel Team-Up seemed to be to tell entertaining stories that didn’t rock the boat. And that’s just what happens in Essential Marvel Team-Up, v. 2.

Rating: (3 of 5)

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