Team America #1
Issue(s): Team America #1
It's pretty obvious that sci-fi concepts like ROM or the Micronauts can fit into the Marvel universe, but it's a lot harder to see how you can tell a story about motorcycle stunt guys and make it interesting in a world where people can walk on walls or fly. Same problem with the Human Fly. Captain America and Daredevil can do everything he can, and that's just for starters.
So Marvel tried to solve this problem by giving Team America a mysterious background with a supernatural element. The mystery gets dragged out well beyond what it's worth, however, and it doesn't really solve the problem. Everything about the characters being too ordinary in a world of super-heroes is still true but now there's also a deus ex machina resolution to every plot.
It wouldn't be worth harping on this so much (i get it; it's a comic based on a toy line line for little kids) except that it does tie in with the larger Marvel universe, using Hydra as the main villains, guest starring Iron Man and Ghost Rider in later issues, and then even getting worked into the New Mutants after this series is cancelled (and later, an appearance in the Thing's solo series).
On top of that, it'll be worth looking at the depiction (or, in the case of Wrench, non-depiction) of non-white characters in this series, especially Wolf. While it's to the creators' credit that they thought to include some diversity in the book, the inclusion of a hot tempered, prideful Latino ex-gang member who scatters his dialogue with Spanish phrases probably did more to hurt than help. You know what i am saying, amigos? Caramba!
This starts with a mysterious man, fully garbed in black, breaking into an AIM facility and deleting the records of five individuals. It's worth noting that in this first appearance, the Marauder is acting before Team America has formed and indeed none of them are even around.
You can already see the script fighting with the art; the image depicts a very mundane rooftop and skylight but the narration panels assure us it's all actually very high tech.
While getting chewed out over losing the files, the mid-level Hydra boss also gets his next assignment, which conveniently enough involves motorcycles.
Apparently Masatake "Pops" Kuramoto has developed a cutting edge motorcycle, and, seemingly very irresponsibly for himself and those around him, has decided to test the only working prototype at a live (and "unlimited class", which is i guess why he's allowed to bring in a non-standard bike) race. And Hydra wants the bike.
Now i'd hope Hydra has more going on than stealing motorcycles. From what we've seen and what we'll continue to see, this particular subdivision of Hydra does not exactly qualify for elite, so i think it's fair to say that this is the type of assignment they hand out to their less than stellar performers.
But before we get to how Hydra bungles Operation: Capture a Motorcycle, let's meet Team America.
First is the aforementioned El Lobo, the Wolf.
Next is James McDonald, former CIA agent. Again, the script tries to add some drama here. Did that Hydra agent just flat out miss with his knife? No! MacDonald by nature walks around "Anticipating the unexpected, always being tensed and ready... jumping instinctively when that door slammed down the hall"!
Next is Winthrop Roam, Jr.. He will make sure to tell you every issue that he wants money to pay back his rich father as a way to assert his independence.
No explanation on dodging death for him; the Hydra agent assigned to him just sucks.
By the way, McDonald will go by "Honcho" and Winthrop = R.U. Reddy. Good god.
Hydra is after these guys because they are three of the five people whose dossiers were erased. And after each assassination attempt, they find a note from the Marauder. Between that and a subtle telepathic bond, the three guys get together in a warehouse and, um, form their own motorcycle team. Clearly!
Oh and i said they didn't have super-powers, but Wolf sure seems strong.
Meanwhile, remedial Hydra is still after "Pops" Kuramoto's motorcycle. But why grab it before the race, or maybe after the race when everyone is out celebrating or something? No, the decision is to get it after it crosses the finish line. I guess they just wanted to enjoy the race.
And you have to word your orders to these guys very carefully, because they take it very literally. They know they have to get the Japanese guy's experimental bike. But the orders were "take the man in the winner's circle." And Wolf happened to win the race.
And with that little bit of confusion, three guys on motorcycles are more than a match for Hydra.
Doesn't matter that they've got an endless supply of troops, a swarm of helicopters, some goddamn tanks, and even a blimp.
When R.U. Reddy goes down under a horde of Hydra agents, the Marauder appears in his place.
After the fight, Wolf accuses Reddy of being the Marauder, but Reddy denies it and Honcho believes him.
When it's all over, "Pops" Kuramoto is ok, but his bike is destroyed. He reveals that not only was it the only working prototype, but the thing that made it special was a complete accident and he can't replicate it. So of course, his first thought was to use it in a race.
Madness. And that's just the first issue.
In the comments on his blog, Jim Shooter uses this issue as an example of the problems he had with Denny O'Neil as an Editor:
Team America was such a train wreck that I had to assemble a crew to rework it literally overnight, it was that bad, amateurish and embarrassing. It was a toy license, and I could not allow it to go to the licensor for approval in the state Denny left it. I took the book away from him. I doubt that his name appeared in the credits. Probably the original writer's name was taken off, too, since what he wrote was unusable.
Shooter is correct that there is no Editor credit on this issue. The "original writer" was probably Bill Mantlo, considering he wrote issues #2 (which was also a jam job) through #9. The cover is signed by Layton only, but it is confirmed in the lettercol for issue #3 that Miller drew the initial sketch.
CBR's Comic Book Legends Revealed gives another version of the creation of this issue from Tom DeFalco's perspective, making the point that all they did was replace one substandard comic for another (the article also talks about Evel Knievel and the toy line). It seems that Frank Giacoia, Tom DeFalco, and probably Bob Layton should be added to the credits, but i'm hesitant to do so based on anecdotes.
A note in the credits says that Team America was "conceived by Ed Hannigan and Jim Shooter". Hannigan didn't work on any of the issues of this series (or their Captain America debut).
I will say this. Considering the rush job, this is not a shambling mess, production-wise. The story is obviously not good and the scripting isn't either, but honestly not moreso than a lot of books. The art is consistent and clear throughout. Nothing to get excited about. But serviceable. The biggest problem with the book is really just the basic concept. How do you make a series out of a bunch of stunt motorcyclists?
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I've tagged this issue as a Continuity Insert because it was published after the Team's debut in Captain America #269 but is the "building of the team" issue and definitely takes place before.
Continuity Insert? Y
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showHoncho, Marauder, R.U. Reddy, Wolf
Ay, Caramba? No es bueno.
Pops Kuramoto is probably a reference to Marvel longtime production guy Morrie Kuramoto.
By the way, Marvel actually did do an Evel Knievel comic; it was a giveaway included with the mid-1970s action figure/bike set.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 28, 2013 5:15 PM
Team America comic really shows that when it comes to corporate toy licenses, it really depends on the initial idea of the first writer involved.
GI Joe was awesome almost entirely because Larry Hama had a lot of personal military experience and had conceived most of the ideas initially as a SHIELD revival. The amount of intelligence and work into it was apparent. Transformers was far better than it should have been. ROM should have been a complete disaster, but giving him his own unique story arc of fighting a menace unknown to other heroes (although slowly revealing itself to them) cause the comic to be fairly successful.
In contrast, it is clear no one had any idea what to do with a team of stunt cyclists (probably because they did not care for the concept) and used a hack approach. Of course, it's very difficult to conceive what kind of ongoing fights or drama would occupy a group of stunt cyclists, but the use of HYDRA here as generic villains just indicates how little thought was put into this (and how low HYDRA's reputation within the Marvel Universe had sunk from Blofeld level coolness to generic villains).
Marvel really needed an initial brainstorming session here. The basic idea of "Evel Knievel as a superhero" should be awesome.
Posted by: Chris | August 3, 2013 8:44 AM
Chris, Marvel did do "Evel Knievel as a superhero" with THE HUMAN FLY. I loved it, but fnord is not a fan (he is undoubtedly not alone).
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 3, 2013 4:02 PM
Jay, interesting point. I would say that the major difference in concept is that the Human Fly was actually just a normal guy who did not intend to fight crime (albeit he did in the comic, much like how the New Mutants were merely "students" instead of superheroes like the X-Men). As fnord stated in his reviews, the actual lack of super powers was a hindrance (I've never been a fan of heroes who lack super powers unless they are heavily pulp derived with good origins and tend to fight ordinary crime like Batman).
Anyway, since I knew who Evel Knievel was and had no idea who the Human Fly was, I guess I missed it.
Since Team America is entirely a Marvel creation, and they went the super power route anyway with the Marauder, they could have done a much better job with the concept even if the Human Fly was similar.
Posted by: Chris | August 4, 2013 9:43 AM
I wouldn't want to see it the way things are at Marvel now, but bringing back Team America and adding the Human Fly to the cast could be a lot of fun. There is a director out there who is trying to get funding for a Human Fly documentary; it's possible that the Fly or whoever owns his IP might be willing to give Marvel the license again to try and get some name recognition out there for the movie (unlikely I know, but a boy's gotta dream).
Posted by: Jay Patrick | August 4, 2013 2:47 PM
I think in a way there is something in this sort of world for a Human Fly. Someone who can prove he can do these amazing things without powers or being a mutant or something would just be neat and probably inspire ordinary people who could say "hey, I can do that and I don't have powers either".
Team America though...not as much I don't think.
Posted by: Ataru320 | August 4, 2013 5:04 PM
Wow, fnord. Having stuff like Micronauts and Human Fly is one thing. But owning Team America? That's serious dedication. I couldn't believe it when they let them cross over into the New Mutants storyline. Good god did that suck.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 2, 2015 6:25 PM
According to Comics Feature #15, this series was based on "concepts by Jim Shooter" and Denny O'Neill was the original writer.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | September 18, 2017 11:28 AM
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