Monday, May 2, 2016

When Your Protagonists are Antagonizing... Super-Villain Team-Up 2

Super-Villain Team-Up #2 (October 1975)(cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia)
"In the Midst of Life... the Way to Dusty Death!"
Tony Isabella-Sal Buscema/Fred Kida

Doug: Continuing a week's worth of Civil War-themed posts, what about bad guys fighting bad guys? This was the first issue of Super-Villain Team-Up that I ever bought, and I stayed with the series (when I could -- you know, distribution woes) until the end of the original run; I did not know until years later that there was a 16th and then a 17th issue (each released waaaay after the 15th issue). Super-Villain Team-Up seems typical of other short-lived series at Marvel in that (in my opinion) sub-par and oft-rotating creative teams doomed it. Case in point: during its 17-issue run (plus Giant-Size issues), the following writers and artists helmed the series --
Giant-Size SVTU #1 -- Roy Thomas-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott (framing sequences)
Giant-Size SVTU #2 -- Roy Thomas-Mike Sekowsky/Sam Grainger
#1: Tony Isabella-George Tuska/Bill Everett/George Evans/Frank Springer
#2: Tony Isabella-Sal Buscema/Fred Kida
#3: Jim Shooter-George Evans/Jack Abel
#4: Bill Mantlo-Herb Trimpe/Jim Mooney
#5: Steve Englehart-Herb Trimpe/Don Perlin
#6: Steve Englehart-Herb Trimpe/Jack Abel
#7: Steve Englehart-Herb Trimpe/Pablo Marcos
#8: Steve Englehart-Keith Giffen/Owen McCarron
#9: Bill Mantlo-Jim Shooter/Sal Trapani
#10: Bill Mantlo-Bob Hall/Don Perlin
#11: Bill Mantlo-Bob Hall/Don Perlin
#12: Bill Mantlo-Bob Hall/Don Perlin
#13: Bill Mantlo/Keith Giffen-Giffen/Don Perlin
#14: Bill Mantlo-Bob Hall/Don Perlin/Duffy Vohland
#15: Larry Lieber-George Tuska/Wally Wood/Mike Esposito (reprint)
#16: Peter Gillis-Carmine Infantino/Bruce Patterson
#17: Peter Gillis-Arvell Jones/Bruce Patterson
So if you're scoring at home, that's six writers (I won't count Lieber due to the reprint), 11 pencilers, and (wait for it) 13 inkers. That's right -- 13 inkers working on 18 issues in the series (again, not counting the reprint). Granted, they doubled-up a few times, but still... If that's not a major reason why a book would look different month to month, I don't know what is. And regardless what you think of a guy like Herb Trimpe, when you place him under the influence of Don Perlin... well, let's just say it ain't Trimpe under John Severin! I will say, though, that the Bob Hall/Don Perlin issues look pretty good.

Doug: There's something for you to chew on as we now get on to the task at hand -- reviewing what's sort of a bridge issue, but fun nonetheless. We pick up the trail on one of our favorite Bronze Age conventions -- the visi-screen! I mean seriously... if I can't have a couple of panels with a rubber mask reveal, then just hit me upside the head with a visi-screen! Here's your 100-Word Review of the plot of this issue:

After a battle near Hydrobase, Namor has fallen under the combined might of Attuma, Tiger Shark, and Dr. Dorcas (now there's a moniker for ya). But somewhere distant Namor's would-be ally Dr. Doom watches, and reflects on the brief history of his and Namor’s alliance. Doom is found out, forcing his hand. Seeking to liberate Namor, Doom encounters the transformed Betty Dean Prentiss, former love of the Prince during the War. Doom infiltrates Namor’s prison, but in the melee Betty is killed trying to save Namor from Dr. Dorcas’ blast… she falls just as Namor breaks free. “Avenging Son”, indeed!
Doug: If I were an editor working at Marvel in the Bronze Age and I wanted to stabilize a book either to keep it on schedule or to smooth out its "look", I'd turn it over to Sal Buscema. That's not to say that he was the best artist Marvel had at their disposal, but he could crank out the "house style" in an efficient manner. I don't know if that is why he was tapped for this particular issue, but in the looks dept. his presence makes this one of my favorites in the entire series. So...

The Good
: Obviously the art. I really don't have a lot of experience with inker Fred Kida, or at least I don't think that I do. Maybe that I can't recall Kida's work is a good thing? Perhaps you immediately inferred that he's not a memorable artist. Maybe that's his strength, because when I look at this I see Sal Buscema. It's no Joe Sinnott production, that's for sure (and you all know I love Joe Sinnott). At this stage of his career Sal was a grid guy, utilizing 4-8 panels on a page. Only the double-page spread (pages 2 and 3) rejects the notion of borders; every other panel in the book contains the art. So if you're looking for anything resembling the better design aspects of Jim Steranko or Neal Adams, you won't find it here. And that's OK. As I said, if someone felt this book needed a steadying hand, they got it.

There is one specific panel that I think is genius. I've provided it here -- Tiger Shark emerging from the ocean. Look at his right hand. He skims the water with the backs of his fingers, just like you or I would if we were walking to shore, thinking or watching. I just find that bit of familiar motion fascinating -- what a detail. I also have a love/hate sense with a single panel of Doom holding his chin in the crook of his thumb and index finger. While it's an image that conveys the motion of stroking one's chin and it fits Doom's mood in the scene, it does seem somewhat odd that a fellow would place a hard metal finger beside a hard metal chin. Not exactly the pensive beard-stroking one might think of. The emotion on the final panel of the book leaps off the page. Fabulous ending (see the end of this post)!

Earlier I mentioned the visi-screen. Unlike in the past, when our would-be world-dominators are just able to kick back and look at these things as if possessing some sort of universal clairvoyance, here we actually find the source of the images Doom is perusing. Doom had devised a mechanical fish that looks to me quite a bit like a Joker fish. Even though Tiger Shark spied it and wrecked it, I did appreciate that we got a "plausible" explanation for Doom's spying capabilities.

While I'll take issue with Tony Isabella's characterization here in just a minute, I must compliment him here on making me root for the main character of the magazine (the Marvel Universe's alpha super-villain) against all other characters -- especially when everyone in the book is a bad guy! Namor's rogue's gallery is bereft of true heavyweights, so of course Doom would be able to out-smart them, out-tech them, etc. But there was still the sense that I wanted Doom to be the victor (no pun intended) here. I don't say that in he pages of the Fantastic Four.

Lastly, I've been on record for years stating that I love this life-giving suit that Namor wore in the early-mid 1970s. Love the look! It's certainly more regal than trying to rule or lay waste to the world in a green Speedo.

The Bad: Let's go right into my scripting complaint. If you would be so kind, hop back to my review of Sub-Mariner #8, written by Roy Thomas. That issue was narrated by Betty Dean Prentiss, who is a major supporting character in today's story. You can see some narration boxes in the art samples -- those were "written" by Prentiss in her diary. Got her voice? Yeah, Isabella must have just ignored all that, because I think he took her character profile (she worked for the NYPD) and just wrote her as some hardened beat cop-type of person. It's really off, and I think I'd feel that way even if I had not known the character from that other book. The way she addresses Doom is pretty stupid, as well. I'm all for bravado in the face of extreme adversity, but c'mon... the monarch of Latveria could have vaporized her on the spot. I guess I'd rather she'd been written differently.

Note - You may notice that some of the "human" characters, like Betty Prentiss, are amphibians. This was apparently a development in the last issues of Namor's solo mag, which was cancelled around six months before Giant-Size SVTU #1. I don't know if this is necessarily a bad thing as a plot device, but I'll put it here since I was discussing Betty Prentiss.

The Ugly: Tiger Shark's teeth. You know -- like a shark. Boy should have had braces! That being said, are his teeth uglier than Attuma's whole face? Discuss.

Doug: I am hesitant to read the entire trade Super-Villains Unite: The Complete Super-Villain Team-Up, which I have used for today's festivities. As I said, the art is a real turn-off at times. And that's a shame to middle-aged me, because my memories of this series are better than the reality of it with which I am now faced. "Hold up"? Umm...

Doug: For conversation starters, what other instances can you come up with where super-baddies fought super-baddies? Were there some memorable tussles? Who would you have liked to have seen -- where were two guys (or gals) who may have conceivably had a beef with each other?


Humanbelly said...

OMG-- that last panel/page is so perfect and powerful that I fear the first page of the next issue couldn't possibly live up to the dramatic potential it promises. . . !

(And all of that alliteration was completely unintentional. Hunh. I'm turnin' into Stan. . . )


Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, as you noted, due to the fluctuating creative teams, STVU was always an inconsistent title. There were a few good stories in there, like the one that crossed over with the Avengers, but I think it was more miss than hit - and oddly enough, those last two issues, which came out a year apart from each other, had one of the better stories.
As for this issue, I definitely agree with you on the art. If Sal had been the regular penciler throughout the series, it would have at least had a nice visual consistency. He may not have the best artist at Marvel's disposal at the time, but he was still one of the better ones. Just those panels you posted almost make me want to pull out my Essentials volume (there's no way I'm going to upgrade to the new color reprint book) and re-read this one.
As to Namor's rogues gallery, I'd say Tigershark and Attuma (despite the silly headgear) were both pretty formidable...

Doug said...

Yep, Edo - you would be wise to stick with your copy of the Essential SVTU. While color rules the day, parting with the extra shekels would not be a good economic decision.

As to Namor's rogues gallery, mainly he was up against a bunch of toughs, right? I mean, Attuma is a self-styled barbarian of all things; not going to win many contests in the smarts department. I did like Tiger Shark, and always felt he had a really cool look. But Dr. Dorcas? The name says it all. Oh wait -- Commander Kraken. Yeah, no.


Edo Bosnar said...

Well, Doug, I didn't mean either of those two were geniuses, but both are mean and troublesome, with Tigershark sometimes quite terrifying, while Attuma caused more than his share of grief not only for Namor, but also the Avengers, Defenders, and so forth.
But yeah, otherwise, Namor often faced off against some really lame villains: I see your Commander Kraken and raise you a Captain Barracuda.

Redartz said...

Wow, that's quite a list of creators. No wonder the book still retains a rather spotty record in my memory...

Doug- you (and HB) are right; that last page/panel is an eye-opener. It looks to me like Sal (and perhaps inker Kida) must have given some extra facial detail there to really emphasize Namor's fury, and it works.

As to your question about villains taking on each other: first big epic that came to my mind was the Galactus vs. High Evolutionary battle in the pages of Fantastic Four, but that is action on a much bigger scale (and one can debate the 'villain' status of both combatants). So I'll mention another; slightly post-Bronze age: Amazing Spider-Man 312. Featured a pretty cool fight between the Green Goblin (Harry Osborn) and the Hobgoblin. One of McFarlane's better issues, imho.

Doug said...

Edo -- I think I fold. Captain Barracuda may take the kitty. A search of the covers of the 1968 Sub-Mariner series shows a definite lameness of villains throughout, really only broken up by battles against other Marvel heroes.

Redartz, good suggestion of the Big G vs. the High Evolutionary. Also a few years later against the Sphinx.


david_b said...

Thanks for the GREAT info, Doug.., I just picked up both giant-sized issues last month.., was planning on getting the regular SVTU mags soon.

I enjoyed getting entire short-runs of Shanna, Howard the Duck and others, will plan on this as well. I heard the Red Skull issues were interesting.

As for this ish..? Definitely picking it up. Can never have enough Sal-drawn Namor.

Doug said...

David --

Were I still collecting comics, I think I'd enjoy putting together those runs of short-lived series. That is one of the elements of the Bronze Age of which I have very fond memories. It's fortunate that we're seeing more and more of those reprinted, but the chase of the individual issues was always fun.

Sal's so steady. I think that's what I appreciate most about him. A true pro.


Anonymous said...

Doug, nice topic and review. I think I had just about all of those issues. I guess the problem I had with the series was the idea of billing Namor as a "villain". A pompous, arrogant jerk maybe. But a noble, righteous, pompous, arrogant jerk.

As to other baddies vs. baddies - I liked the infighting within Zodiac when Aries tried to overthrow Taurus in Avengers 120-122. Then there was the daughter of Fu Manchu trying to take over from her Pop in Master of Kung Fu. Actually, come to think of it, the list of villainous infighting could go on and on. Most of it was just name calling.

"Dolt, your simplistic plan was doomed to failure when compared to the sinister plots of MY evil genius." - Insert villain name here


pfgavigan said...


I still remember one of the most callous acts of cruelty by a villain occurred in this series . . . and I don't mean Kissinger signing a non-interference agreement with Doom. It happened in the third issue when Doom had Attuma's jester, who had earlier mocked Doom, hit two mortar type shells together and die in the resulting blast. I wanted to argue that it was OOC for Victor to do so, especially when earlier in the book he was portrayed as a demanding but protective ruler, but considering his ego issues I could see him doing it.

As regarding the Wheel-Of-Creators that this book went through in it's brief run, it was certainly one of the factors that kept it from establishing it's own identity. Even Jim Shooter contributed to it . . . as an artist. And it just happens to be one of the few issues that I don't have.

In regards to Namor being considered a villain . . . I have no problem with it, or, at the very least calling him an anti-hero. I guess I just got tired of him lecturing us surface dwellers on our failings in the wake of his latest failure to invade and conquer us.

By the way, wasn't there some sort of Super-Villain war in Iron Man during this time period? I seem to remember something involving the Yellow Claw duking it out with various other Z-Listers.



Anonymous said...

Yeah, I remember that Iron Man supervillain war thing... mainly because it featured Modok, who I've always liked a lot, but otherwise it was terrible. Very much in the same vein as SVTU in that even when I was a kid it all seemed fairly tedious - I shudder to think how that stuff would stand up now. Doug, if you actually read that collection, you're a braver man than me!

That all sounds a bit harsh, doesn't it? Maybe I'm just still annoyed decades later that when I wanted to read a book about Doom, I got the origin of he Shroud instead... thats pretty annoying.


Martinex1 said...

I am late to the discussion today but I will take on the role of Namor villain apologist here. As you know I am a big fan of Namor, but one of the difficulties with his book are all of the limitations of undersea adventures which are of course in his nature. It does make it hard for the reader to relate to the people of the undersea kingdom and its tribulations. Namor's enemies fell into a few classes: 1) the goofy like Barracuda, Dorcus, Orca and Kraken mentioned above, 2) the thugs like Attuma and Tiger Shark who I argue are decent brutes and Tiger Shark's costume is top notch, 3) the heroes, such as Hercules, the Thing, Captain Marvel, Stingray, and Triton who all took their shots at the anti-hero, and 4) the despots and conquerors like Krang, Llyra, and Naga. Some fall into multiple categories.

I think the book was at its best when it involved political intrigue, back biting, and positioning. Naga could have been a world class villain as the ruler of Lemuria but they killed off the little snake in the Serpent Crown Saga. Llyra also could have been a top notch villain as the high priestess of Set, ( and perhaps one of the only top tier female villains) when she had a hand in killing Lady Dorma.

The serpent Crown storyline was a high point and there was enough treachery and back-stabbing (literally) that made it extremely enjoyable. But the problem was that their source of power was limited and these villains never had a chance to plausibly attack the surface world. It was all underwater intrigue, and the fish out of water didn't work here! Killing Naga, though an exciting moment left a gap for the big bad in Namor's book. Llyra could have taken on a more "Conan-like adversarial role" but was never elevated as much as she could've been.

The book was so much better when Namor wasn't just an undersea powerhouse but a self-righteous ruler and protector of Atlantean ways. But the book itself lacked some range. Unlike books set in the cities on land, it was difficult to create villains that varied. Where were the simple street criminals or scientific masterminds or mutants or the crazed teams. Because they all had to have an underwater theme, it just unfortunately more often than not relied on cliches and fishy villains.

I think that had to be part of the reason that John Byrne moved Namor onto land more frequently in the later book. I cannot say for certain, but that definitely expanded the type of threat.

On a totally different note, Kida was a great artist in his own right on Westerns like Ringo and Two Gun Kid. That's where his best work was in my opinion. He had a long career in the industry.

Anonymous said...

Talking about battles between villains, Tomb of Dracula featured a lot of battles between Drac, nobody's idea of a good guy, and beings or entities as awful or maybe even worse than he was.
Rogue vampires, Dr. Sun, Satan, criminals, hitmen and various supernatural creatures. Marv Wolfman had the uncanny ability to make you root for Dracula sometimes!

Anonymous said...

Hmm now SVTU looks like one of those titles which had potential if it wasn't for the revolving door of writers & artists working on the book.

Doom & Namor? What's not to like? AND drawn by Sal? Double points! I've always loved Tiger Shark for some reason I can't explain, maybe it's the teeth or the big dorsal fin! As for Doom stroking his,er, metal chin with his armored glove, maybe Doom had become so accustomed to wearing his facemask all the time that he strokes it nonchalantly with his glove in much the same way as a normal person strokes his chin with his finger.

- Mike 'until Namor starts riding seahorses like Aquaman' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Namor riding a manta fish at one point, Mike.

Related Posts with Thumbnails