God Hates Comics [I love toys edition]: Marvel’s “Team America” (pt. III)

Comic adaptations are a vanishing, if not lost, art form. Then again, the Dodo Bird is extinct for a reason. Re-telling the story of a movie, or an episode of a TV show is all well and fine – kids with no imagination need something to read, too.  However, there’s a certain magic that comes from pure, unfettered hubris when a guy like Stan Lee, upon obtaining the license to do the Star Wars comic (1977-1986) sees the movie and proclaims to the Marvel Bullpen, “It’s good, but we can do better. Let’s start with a giant, rabbit-like creature. We’ll call him Jax! Excelsior!!!” Most of the time, this resulted in laughable, B-movie versions of the source material. I’m Rob Bradfield and I take four-color bullets so you don’t have to.
 
Team America!!! FUCK NO!!!  (part three)
 
 

I don’t know why feel compelled to reiterate this point, but I only bought one issue of this clusterfuck. By the time this series wrapped up I’d moved on to girls and activities that might actually let me meet a few of them. And my comic book buying at that age actually wrapped up long before Team America ran its course – no pun intended. If it wasn’t for weed and morbid, MORBID curiosity, you might not be reading this.  

Flogging a Dead Horse as Only “The House of Ideas” Could Do 

Look at Honcho's choice of literature. That, plus his outfit indicates to me that he might not be so much a spy as he is an asylum escapee who thinks he's a spy.

Before Team America was taken out behind the woodshed where Tom DeFalco put one in its heart, then one in its brain, there were four more issues. I guess there must have been a few holdouts who really thought it had some potential. I’m willing to account for a few souls who might have loved motorcycle toys more than story. Or maybe somebody was waiting for the issue where Wolf kills everyone, and starts his own team – Team (Latin) America! Actually, if they’d done that in the 1980’s I might not ever have touched a guitar. That’s writing!  

That's it, redneck. Just keep poking that bear...

Issue 8 is kind of like the plate spinners on old late night talk shows. There’s an overall story, in which the team travels to Egypt to compete in another race – this time, cars. So if you’re keeping count, they’ve basically raced everything but motorized skateboards, and pogo-sticks. Look, I’m not even going to pretend I know about NASCAR, or anything like it, but do racing crews diversify this much in reality? Wait a minute. I’m putting standards on this series like story structure, and rudimentary logic… my bad.

When passed a note from another tourist, Honcho gives the rest of the team the slip in the airport to do his “James Bond” routine. No wonder they have a hard time working together, the guy whose fucking name is slang for boss has shitty leadership skills!!! So the team itself competes against a sort of “bad” Team America, if only because the team’s leader is a woman – she’s kind of a Natasha from “Rocky & Bullwinkle,” by way of Bond villainess, stereotype. I’m still unclear on whether she’s Italian or Soviet (she says she’s “Areadite,” but I thought it was more due to lazy naming conventions than an actual religious cult or country), but I know she’s bad. She has black hair, seduces Wolf and she smokes.   

Areadites come from Areadea. Their chief export is slim cigarettes.

Well, and when Honcho shows back up at the end of the comic – having been beaten the fuck up by some people on his mission… which we’re never quite sure what he’s supposed to be doing…and we don’t see it on “camera,” which you think would be some really cool action especially with some motivation, that people could really sink their teeth into… and by the way, GOOD! It’s good that that fucker Honcho finally got a nice pounding. Desert your team in fucking Egypt will you??? I thought we were a… Where was I? Oh yeah, so the “evil,” female honcho is a “spook” of sorts, too – and recognizes Honcho‘s beaten the fuck up face. Since this was the 80’s, I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that she’s supposed to be Russian…  

Ah! The old "topple a pile of luggage" trick, eh? Stereotypes ALWAYS fall for that one!

This is also the beginning of the end of Wrench’s relationship with Georgianna, and the beginning of Georgianna and Cowboy’s alleged “Jungle Fever.” Looking at it now, it might be the most racially progressive issue of the whole series. They allow for the dramatic potential of an interracial relationship, and it’s not quite “adulterous,” but the conditions under which the relationship could develop can spell doom in a number of ways. And, though I don’t know if McDonalds’ campaign for global domination had actually reached that side of the world yet, but the writer does account for a McDonald’s in downtown Cairo. I mean, I don’t know if that’s bad or good, just sayin’…    

Wrench obviously isn’t familiar with less traditional uses for a screwdriver.

Then you realize Wrench gets stiffed out of an issue to start a story arc where a white guy‘s diddling his goods; the Mexican guy wrecks the car, pushing the pedal to the metal, because he’s not going to let a woman beat him; and one of the swarthy, foreign types tailing Honcho is named “Achmed” and you realize it wasn’t quite time to bust out the champagne and sing “We Shall Overcome.”  

Yeah - I think I'm more convinced that "Honcho" is the Don Knotts of spooks.

Issue 9 is an old-school Marvel Comics shell game in which they use a guest spot from a more popular character to boost the readership of a book that is, at best, treading water. Jack Kirby called it “The Ol’ Front Cover Switcheroo.” The guest-star in this issue: Iron Man! Okay, not so shabby. If the cover was any indication, it was going to be one of those “mistaken identity” issues, culminating in Maurader and The Golden Avenger squaring off. Awesome! Sure, Captain America’s crossover with these D-leaguers sucked, but certainly ol’ Shellhead would pull this horrible book out of a tailspin!!!  

In the immortal words of Robert McKee (paraphrased): if the shark eats the girl in the first reel, you have to make sure it's caught in the third. Just sayin'...

Not quite. I mentioned that Wolf wrecks the car in the last issue. Now, I’m not exactly how all the rest of the bikes, and dirt-buggies, and whatever, got wrecked, too, but the fact that they’re down to just the camper (was there no camper racing circuit then?) doesn’t say a lot about the team’s skill as drivers, nor Wrench’s aptitude as a mechanic. So either way, by the beginning of the issue, they’re down to one bike – which Wolf burns out… going to buy… tacos.         

Fortunately, the Marauder leaves his bike for the team. So in addition to everything else that Wolf has wrecked – and if we were working with stereotypes, shouldn’t Team America have an Asian guy? – he gets an opportunity with a chopper. But before he can race it, a representative from Stark International offers them a lot of money to join the Stark International Racing Team. Nobel Laureates, Super-Spies, Global Weapons Manufacturers – let’s face it, motorcross was a lot more exciting than I gave it credit for.    

Everybody knows all standardized tests in America are culturally biased!

However. the team doesn’t fit in with the other racers for Stark – and that’s really weird for a team that doesn’t get along with each other… They’re shown the door, and Marauder’s bike is confiscated in the process. The cover promises you that Marauder isn’t going to take it lying down – nor will Tony Stark, who in reality is Iron Man!!! Let me get my popcorn!!!         

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a few panels…  

This is all the Iron Man action in this issue. No kiding!

Tony Stark comes in at the end, and gives the team something like 50 thousand bucks for an idea Wrench had for a brake system. Sure, Stark would probably stand to make tens of millions, but Wrench finally saved… the… day?

There really isn’t a lot to say about Issue 10, and I’m not just getting lazy. Okay, maybe I am, but that’s beside the point. The team travels to Las Vegas for another race, and also, presumably because a friend of Honcho’s was trying to contact him via letter, before he’s turned to dust by the leader of a cult. I guess it’s kind of comic-booky – a guy who turns people to dust and runs a cult. Team America fights a bunch of cult slaves, and in a delicious twist at the end – I mean besides the cult leader accidentally turning himself to dust with his own dusty stuff – the guy trying to contact Honcho at the front of the issue isn’t even his friend!!! He was trying to kill him with some cult dust he’d stolen!!! Silly cult-ist!    

See that, folks? Irony!

Issue 11 I could tell something was wrong the very second I opened this issue: the art was actually good. This is because it’s drawn by another comics legend, Dave Simons, who at the time, was enjoying mass adualtion for his work on Ghost-Rider – the guest-star in this ish. So either Simons was contractually obligated to do anything that Had Ghost Rider in it, or he realized the writing alone on Team America could at least put a little ding in its audience’s good will, and he was polishing a turd.  

This was actually typical of a Ghost Rider adventure. The only problem is that the Marauder hasn't done ANY evil in this book.

Team America and the carnival that Johnny Blaze works for are in town on the same day. So they go from real Egypt to Bumfuckt Egypt in the span of an issue. Johnny’s demonic alter-ego, Ghost Rider, begs to be let out – very emphatic about it, and Blaze’s control is getting more and more tenuous. He needs to know who/what Marauder is – so in other words, the audience can really relate to his plight, and unlike the readers, Ghost Rider isn’t eleven issues deep into this shitpile, either. And that asshole thinks he knows about Hell. Yeesh.  

Art like this is too little, too late. Put Dave Simons in at issue ONE!!!

So Ghost Rider shows up at the end, trying to call out the Marauder by sabotaging Team America’s lead in the race. Despite the obvious ploy, Marauder shows up, they fight and FINALLY something happens: The Marauder is unmasked. I mean, it’s what Jack Kirby called “The Ol’ Last Panel Gasp & Grab,” which is to say that, sure, Marauder is unmasked, just per the prior issue’s teaser, but the actual identity isn‘t revealed until nest issue, True Believers! Excelsior!  

Kirby called this one "The Ol' Ten-Panel Pump & Dump."

This issue, besides having decent art, has, to me, the best thing about this issue, nay the series. It’s something I’ve been teasing over the last two segments: Mary Michelle. At last, Wolf finds a suitable vessel for his rage toward the Anglo power structure, and that vessel is the lily white daughter of two HYDRA agents, who in their off time, work conventions as look-alike models for the old “American Gothic” painting.          

Issue 12 was most likely written in an evening – more specifically the evening Bill Mantlo got the memo from Stan Lee that said: “You’ve only got one more issue to phone in, Billy! That shitheap is dead!” It’s hasty, but there is an attempt at tying up all the loose ends, and filling in the elephantine holes in the plot. I didn’t say there was a good attempt at it. I just said there is an attempt.  

But then, if Cowboy and Wrench didn't even join the team until... Never mind. You'll just hurt your brain.

So, if you haven’t guessed by now Georgianna is the Marauder. Don’t feel bad – there’s not one single hint to this in the book, except for a line from Wolf: “Perhaps thees Marauder ees a wooman…” Well, she is and she isn’t. Honcho, Wolf, Wrench, Cowboy, and R. U. Reddy are mutants. Looking at it in its context in the History of the Marvel Universe, this very well could be the first book to change its shtick under the “Make Marvel Mostly Mutant” editorial policy.   

This woman is a career-minded HYDRA girl, who actually joined the organization because her husband – a fallen fireman – had his health insurance cut off. I’m not kidding!

What’s weird here is that, not only does this book pre-date an era of comics where there are an average of a dozen X-books on the shelves at any given moment, but they’re forced mutations instead of natural mutations via injections of “mutant juice,” or “formula X.”    

The various and sundry methods and plots of would-be world conquerors are always too complex! Doctor Doom is an intellectual midget. All you need to do is make some mutant babies… and hope that they get together… and that they all develop a love and talent for racing… and…

Their mutant power is taking all of their talents and energies and projecting them into one being. Anybody will do, but aside from banging Cowboy, Georgianna had nothing to do.. So… Excelsior?  

Outta sight, Mama! Now gimme some! DYNOMITE!!!

But actually, that was another red herring. Psyche! Georgianna wasn’t banging Cowboy. Cowboy was giving her riding lessons so she and Wrench could have a proper redneck wedding just prior to the team disbanding. 

I like the wedding themed leathers on Georgianna. However, without a trailer and shotgun, this picture lacks authenticity

But Wait! There’s Still More!!!

Sort of. Being mutants, they were folded into the Marvel Universe background cast as The Thunderiders – mainly because Marvel believes anything mutant can dupe a certain percentage of readers, AND they no longer had the rights on the Team America name.  

If somebody in editorial was really thinking, they could have had them killed as the first line of defense in whatever cataclysmic, universe changing Marvel has going on. But that would be giving them something interesting to do – and that would be counter to the spirit of the book.

Unlike the comic, these figures are actually worth something on eBay!

Another ineresting aside, R.U. Reddy, Honcho, and Wolf were eventually made into action figures that you could put on the bikes or in the cars. There was even a figure that resembled Cowboy that came with one of the cars. Wrench, however… you know the story.  

Now, in the immortal words of Daniel Plainview, I’M FINISHED!!!    

Next week: Kirby Does Kubrick – Marvel’s 2001: A Space Odyssey!  

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About Bradfield

Bradfield is a millionaire. He owns a mansion and a yacht. He likes the chili spaghetti at Bob's Big Boy.
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5 Responses to God Hates Comics [I love toys edition]: Marvel’s “Team America” (pt. III)

  1. Clint says:

    Jesus H. Christ, I remember actually having an old issue of that Star Wars comic you mentioned, which I bought because Star Wars, and then was all of eight or so going “Who’s this talking rabbit? Where the fuck is Han Solo?” It was like the experience of watching the prequels twenty years before they happened.

    Anyhow, my favorite panel in this whole piece is the one where Wolf is being suddenly mobbed by a blue zombie horde invading his driver’s ed class. I don’t think that makes sense even in context.

  2. Bradfield says:

    The formatting is still giving me fucking fits!

  3. Pingback: Why Did G.I. Joe Work When Others Didn’t? « The Comixverse

  4. Howard says:

    I was obsessed with the comics. I was 8 when they came out. Motorcycles? Spies? A man in Black? Totally.

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