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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Brief History of Team America, Part One

Back when I did my two-part review of US 1, the single greatest trucking-based adventure comic Marvel ever published, there were requests--nay, demands--from my loyal readers that I take on another of Marvel's automotive masterpieces. So now, and this may be the first time this has ever been written, because you demanded it...


Because no other comic book quite captures the uniquely American fascination with off-road dirtbike super-villain fighting.

Originally created by Jim Shooter and featuring scripts from Denny O'Neil and Steven Grant, the bulk of the series was written by none other than Boisterous Bill Mantlo himself, including #3, which may actually be the Bill Mantloest Comic of All Time. But more on that later. What's important now is that this is a comic book about a crime-fighting psychically linked motorcycle team, and that's the kind of sentence that brings a tear to my eye.

There Is No "I" In Team America! Wait...

Leading the team, we have former CIA agent and all-around Hannibal Smith simulacrum James McDonald, also known by his old secret agent nickname, Honcho. After discovering the psychic link between himself and the other members, he forms and initially finances Team America as a front to cover his freelance espionage operations.

Because, you know, Unlimited Class Dirtbike Racing in matching red, white and blue leathers is the height of being inconspicuous.

Filling out the role of tough-guy loner, as mandated by the Logan Act of 1980, we have the ex-motorcycle gang leader known only as El Lobo, or, to his gringo teammates, Wolf. He's a firm believer that it's the man who wins races, not the machine, and is characterized as the fastest racer on the team. Oddly enough, the fact that he displays mild super-strength on a number of occasions (including bending a giant steel wrench in his bare hands and flinging a four hundred pound oil barrel at his teammates) is rarely brought up and, to my knowledge, never really explained. Even so, Team America becomes the family he never had, except that he constantly talks about how much he hates being around them. Which, in my experience, is a lot like the family you do have.

For the last member of the initial team, we have disowned rich kid Winthrop Roan, Jr., alias--get ready for it--R.U. Reddy, which has officially beaten Taryn "Down the Highway" O'Connel for best worst pun name ever. Apparently, it's his old stage name from his time as an alleged "rock star" before the psychic link drew him to Daytona and the first Unlimited Class Racing event. He's in it purely for the money, which he intends to use to pay back his "miserable fatcat jerk" father for all the money he squandered before he was cut off.

So, to review: Out of the original three members from Team America #1, we have a former secret agent, a former millionaire rock star, and Wolf, a former gang member who ends up in what essentially amounts to a slightly more legitimate motorcycle gang. Charming!

Rounding out Team America in #2, we have...

Slack-jawed rodeo champion Luke Merriwether, alias Cowboy, who makes his first appearance by literally lassoing Honcho away from a young lady and informing her that Honcho's going to be busy for the rest of the night--a scene tha involves no untoward subtext whatsoever, I assure you--and...

...Genius mechanic Len Hibbs, who, despite being the incredibly talented engineer behind Team America's vehicles, is first seen living in his Winnebago with his girlfriend Georgianna. Admittedly, it's a tricked out RV, but you'd think a guy who could build super-motorcycles could at least get a job where he could afford an apartment.

Finally, we have the mysterious sixth member of Team America: The Marauder!

The Marauder, who has all the skills of Team America and more, appears seemingly out of nowhere during times when the memmbers of Team America find themselves in trouble, which, considering the Mantlo Factor, happens about every two days and generally involves being tied up and left to drown in a flooded office building that is also set to explode.

Clearly, Bill Mantlo is the single greatest comics writer to ever put pen to paper at the House of Ideas.

So there you have it: A group of hard-riding motorcycle champions, traveling around the country tearing up tracks and rightin' wrongs. And who better to serve as their arch-enemies than an international neo-Nazi terrorist organization devoted to nothing short of world domination.


And thus, the law of proportionate response is immediately chucked out the window.

Yes, it's HYDRA, rising to the challenge presented by a reasonably talented group of motorcycle racers with their attempt to steal a prototype motorcycle designed by "Pops" Kuramoto which has, like most irreplacable prototype vehicles, been entered in an almost completely unregulated race in order to test it out. And of course, it happens to be the race featuring the debut of Team America.

In typical HYDRA fashion, they plan to steal Kuramoto's cycle (and its advanced computer guidance system) from the winner's circle after the race, rather than, say, any other time, and in order to accomplish their goal--which, again, is to steal one motorcycle--they employ, by my count, six tanks, eight helicopters, two dozen plainclothes and uniformed foot soldiers, and a zeppelin armed with an anti-gravity tractor beam.

And in typical HYDRA fashion, this plan completely falls apart when Wolf wins the race instead of Pops, ending up in the winner's circle himself. What follows, as pictured above, is the kind of utter chaos that puts Baron Strucker's troops roughly in the same league as Batroc's Brigade. Fortunately, they've still got that blimp.

Of course, that begs the question of why they didn't just use the anti-gravity dirigible in the first place, but who am I to comprehend the workings of HYDRA?

Then again, maybe a Zeppelin wasn't such a good choice, for as these things are wont to do...

...it immediately explodes as they start to make their getaway with Pops and Reddy aboard. This is, of course, due to the sudden and remarkably mysterious appearance of the Marauder, who--in the most awesome thing you're likely to see today--stands amid the flaming wreckage of a zeppelin and flips the fuck out on nine HYDRA soldiers... at the same time:

Team America: 1

And that's just the first issue.

Next Time, on the ISB!
Bill Mantlo Unleashed!
Iron Man! The Ghost Rider!
The Terrifying Secret of the Marauder!
If you miss this one, everyone you love will hate you!
Be there!

BONUS FEATURE: Decorate Your Home With Team America!

Because I know at least some of you want to.

"He's got more moves than the Harlem Globetrotters!"


Blogger Corey said...

Take notes, class. This is what pure joy made tangible looks like.

9/27/2006 2:45 AM

Blogger Scott said...

God help me, but I hope this Team America retrospective drags on long enough for you to use all four pin-ups. I think Iron Man and Ghost Rider should be a blog entry unto themselves.

And then there's Wolf's pedophilia to talk about — and the Thunder Riders.

C'mon, drag it out a while — leave 'em guessing as to the Marauder's terrible secret!

9/27/2006 2:54 AM

Anonymous Crowded House said...

Holy Freaking Shit. On this day, I have seen greatness distilled down to its purest form. And I wept for joy.

9/27/2006 3:27 AM

Blogger Evan Waters said...

Wow, the entire post, 3 comments and not a single "America, F*** YEAH!" reference.

Obviously the people who planned the bike heist either had worked or went on to work for Cobra Commander. (I'm thinking the former, because his style of plotting is infectious.)

9/27/2006 4:12 AM

Blogger Mike Haseloff said...

Comin' again to save the mother fuckin day, yeah!

9/27/2006 8:55 AM

Blogger Chris Laffoon said...

I used to LOVE Team America. I had the toys as a kid. They had a big thing you'd put the motorcycle on and wind it up and then release it and watch it smash into walls mostly. Seriously...I really wish I still had that...and I totally want to decorate my house based on that one single pin-up.

9/27/2006 9:17 AM

Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

God, I love this series. How Reddy's relationship with his father is resolved is hilarious.

You must do this issue by issue, Chris. Do not hesitate! Show no Mercy!

9/27/2006 10:01 AM

Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

This was a tie-in to a toy line, right? My gin-fogged brain, repeatedly concussed by kicks to the head, cannot recall the eighties well.

Though I do remember The Marauder...Bill Mantlo's version of the Infinity Man!

Motocross riders! HYDRA! The Fourth World!

Now that's Marvel F'in Comics, yo!

9/27/2006 10:34 AM

Anonymous sAX oFFENDER said...

I never got past the issue where Ghost Rider fights the Black Marauder. Who was secretly the Black Marauder? Georgianna?


9/27/2006 10:48 AM

Anonymous Verbatim said...

The only thing that would have made this series better would have been an appearance by The Human Fly, the Wildest Super-Hero Ever -- Because He's Real!

9/27/2006 10:58 AM

Blogger Steven said...

Thanks for clearing up what a unit of Mantlo is.

9/27/2006 11:12 AM

Blogger The Fortress Keeper said...

Lobo's dialogue in the first panel sounds like an outtake from a Speed Racer cartoon ...

9/27/2006 11:32 AM

Anonymous Tom said...

Clearly Honcho isn't Peter Parker because only one lock is hanging down over his forehard instead of Parker's two.

9/27/2006 11:32 AM

Blogger Brandon said...

I now know what I'm gonna be for Halloween. I just have to convince five of my friends to dress in tandem.

9/27/2006 12:19 PM

Blogger Edward Liu said...

MAN, those Parker and Stone hacks TOTALLY butchered this when they did their "Team America" movie, didn't they? Where is the fanboy outrage, I ask?

9/27/2006 12:20 PM

Blogger Kevin said...

Following up Kanigher/Haney Battle Royale with some Mantlo craziness really begs the question, "What would happen if Mantlo/Kanigher and Haney all joined forces to write one super-comic?" I'm pretty sure the result would be the greatest comic ever created, or something that would kill all that read it due to its awesome mind blowingness.

9/27/2006 2:10 PM

Anonymous timmdrums said...

Thanks for beginning a recap of Team America! I remember having a few issues of this when I was like 12, and boy did I love them! Didn't Captain America make an appearance in one of the issues, or am I smoking crack again?

9/27/2006 3:43 PM

Anonymous Hydrogen Guy said...

Kevin - that comic was produced sometime in the eighties, I think, but was immediately classified Ultra Super We're-Totally-Not-Kidding Top Secret by the U.S. government, because anyone who even saw the cover freaked out so hard that their head exploded.

There was one guy who accidentally saw page 4, but no one knows what happened to him. Carl Sagan theorized that he was removed from space-time altogether.

9/27/2006 3:54 PM

Blogger paperghost said...

Bah, nobody's mentioned durka-durka-durkastahn yet :(

9/27/2006 4:37 PM

Anonymous Matthew MG said...

Thank God you stopped when you did, I nearly died from the AWSOME! God help me when you cover more than one issue at a time

9/27/2006 5:38 PM

Blogger Kevin said...

Hydrogen Guy-
I can only imagine what the comic actually entailed but I'd like to think that it was along the lines of-
After losing a fight to the ghost of Genghis Khan the ghost of JEB Stuart somehow switches universes and goes forward in time to inhabit one of Team America's motorcycles. JEB then convinces Team America that they have to go back to his universe as well as back in time so that they can stop an army of Nazi Dinosaurs (what JEB was fighting to prevent) from rolling over the allies. Team America is able to switch universes but gets the time wrong and ends up in the swinging 60s where they end up encountering Metamorpho and the Metal Men who join TA in going back further in time and defeating the Nazi Dinosaurs....But more awesome.

9/27/2006 5:49 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You forgot tht Len had nicknmaer too. He was Wrench!!--- Please kill me now!

9/27/2006 6:53 PM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorr I menat Nickname

9/27/2006 6:53 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Wow, the entire post, 3 comments and not a single "America, F*** YEAH!" reference.

Despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, I don't always go for the easy joke.

9/27/2006 8:39 PM

Blogger Chris Sims said...

Also, I'm pretty surprised that nobody noticed that R.U. Reddy's poster in the background bears a striking resemblance to Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters 2.

9/27/2006 9:13 PM

Anonymous kate said...

I have come to suspect (after a brief search and some cogitating) that I threw out my only issue of Team America.

That's right. Not my mother, not my dog, but me. Myself.

I will go hang my head in shame now.

9/27/2006 10:45 PM

Blogger Randall Kirby said...

I LOVE Team America! I've loved it since I first read it as a kid. I think "R.U. Reddy" is one of the coolest names ever. And I like the motorcycle racing tips they used to put in the end pages that I would practice with my bike.

9/27/2006 11:12 PM

Anonymous Hydrogen Guy said...

After losing a fight to the ghost of Genghis Khan [...] Metamorpho and the Metal Men who join TA in going back further in time and defeating the Nazi Dinosaurs....But more awesome

And then on the second page --

9/27/2006 11:45 PM

Blogger Hale of Angelthorne said...

As I recall, Team America first appeared in an issue of Captain America where the Mad Thinker was kidnapping Nobel Prize Winners WHO WERE ATTENDING A DIRT BIKE RACE. You just can't keep that Stephen Hawking away from NASCAR, either. The Team eventually ended up in a series of cameos in, all of places, X-Men, where Claremont (who I imagine was forced to accept them at gunpoint) played it straight. A sad end. Well, no, not really. Pretty damn funny, actually.

9/28/2006 1:12 AM

Blogger Scott said...

Edward Liu wrote:
MAN, those Parker and Stone hacks TOTALLY butchered this when they did their "Team America" movie, didn't they?

It's still a better adaptation that Karate Kid. He wasn't even from the future in the movie version ... .

9/28/2006 2:27 AM

Anonymous Lost Marauder said...

This series would be great as, say, a modern day revision written by J Michael Stratzynski...

8/12/2007 6:47 PM


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