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The Book Review: Essential Super-Villain Team-Up

Stan Lee brings on the bad guys with the help of a host of old school greats in this classic collection of nefarious tales as Dr Doom and the Sub-Mariner team up to take on the world. With special guest Adolf Hitler.
18 April 2005

Writers: Stan Lee, Roy Thomas et al
Artists: John Buscema, George Perez et al
Collecting: GIANT-SIZE SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #1-2, SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP #1-14 and #16-17, AVENGERS #154-156, CHAMPIONS #16, and ASTONISHING TALES #1-8 Price: $16.99
Publisher: Marvel Comics
ISBN: 0785115455

It's a story I'm sure many of us recognise. It's about the fact that friendships end, but you can still go out on a bang regardless. It's about two men - the thinker who's constantly narrating the action as he goes along, who never seems to crack a smile; and the unpredictable one, who's mercurial, prone to bouts of rage, and drinks like a fish. It's ESSENTIAL SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP. It's WITHNAIL AND DOOM.

Victor Von Doom is one of Marvel's perennial nearly-men. He's too good a character to leave dead/in another dimension/on another planet on the far side of the sun for too long, but if he turns up too often he becomes another in the long line of Marvel villains whose repeated butt-kickings effectively neuters their threat - by this point, does anyone expect Spider-Man not to hand Doctor Octopus his backside? The only way around it has traditionally been to award ol' Vic his own title, either in the format of the ongoing (see the 2099 version) or mini-series (such as Ed Brubaker's upcoming BOOKS OF DOOM).

The problem with this approach is that, when you get right down to it, it's a book about the bad guy. Mark Waid and Barry Kitson's EMPIRE got round the main problem by starting after the Earth had been subjugated by their main character, but in the Marvel Universe, how are the readers meant to engage with a would-be world conquering villain if he's not villainously conquering the world?

The answer Marvel came up with in SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP was twofold: first, don't portray him as the villain, and second, let him conquer the world...

This ESSENTIAL volume collects #1-17 of SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP (excepting the reprint #15), together with scattered issues of AVENGERS, CHAMPIONS and ASTONISHING TALES. As you might expect from that list, it's a rather bitty affair, and the main ongoing story is only 13 issues long. The super-villains of the title are Doom and another of Marvel's long-running Fantastic Four-botherers, Namor the Sub-Mariner. Only one of these fellows is, strictly speaking, a super-villain, but MISANTHROPE TEAM-UP would surely have been a title aimed at a fairly niche audience.

The main plot charts the alliance between Doom and Namor as they re-establish Doom's lost hold over Latveria, stop the Red Skull from taking over the world, and eventually restore Namor's Atlantis to its former glory. Along the way, they team up with the Avengers and introduce the blind criminal-cum-superhero, The Shroud.

While this might sound pedestrian, the story's main appeal lies not in its by-the-numbers plot, but in the depiction of the interaction between the two main protagonists. Namor's fantastically uptight adherence to the shotgun alliance he makes with the manipulative Latverian monarch, coupled with Doom's slavish devotion to what he sees, in his own warped way, as "honour", makes for interesting reading as the tale plays out.

The scope of the story, too, is something special - in the current age of decompressed storytelling, where a two-issue story is stretched out to fill a trade paperback, it's great to see a plot that fully utilises every page of its thirteen issues to give a real sense of an wide-ranging saga that takes the reader all the way from the moon to the bottom of the ocean. ll this - and the fact that such a sprawling story manages to remain coherent - is even more notable when you take into account the fact that there are five different writers who guide it from start to finish.

The artists change around even more often than the scripters do, but what could have been a disastrous mish-mash of styles instead allows us to see Keith Giffen, John and Sal Buscema and Wally Wood, among others, working on the same saga. There's even a bit of George Perez's first AVENGERS run in there to seal the deal. That's not to say that every artist in the book acquits himself well - there's some pretty poor work from a Carmine Infantino who was past his best, and a Herb Trimpe who was phoning it in - but on the whole it's not too shabby.

The other stories in this collection are less worth the price of admission than the main plot, however. Evidently dismayed by the sales of the title, SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP was reworked as a straight-ahead "bad guys" version of its sister title, MARVEL TEAM-UP. The remaining issues saw Doom go up against Magneto and actually succeed in conquering the world, only to be defeated by a completely nonsensical last page, and an atrociously bad two-parter with the Red Skull teaming up with Adolf Hitler (honestly). Meanwhile, even the excellent work of Gene Colan on the last ASTONISHING TALES issues can't save the series of dull 11-page vignettes that start the book.

These are stories that are hard to come by, and even though there are a few clunkers in the package, the Doom/Namor issues make it worth the excellently low price point. Not exactly a lost classic, but a good solid piece of old-school funnybook entertainment nonetheless.

Alistair Kennedy is the coordinator of the PunchDrunk Pop blog and a former editor for Robot Fist.

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