In mainstream comics, the concept of a team book is almost as old as the medium itself. The advent of the super hero team was essentially an excuse to get the biggest of the big all in one book together, however if you look at Marvel’s premiere super hero team The Avengers, you find that throughout the years the book has played host to a myriad of more obscure characters, with the team(s) now including the likes of the Red Hulk, Protector, Jewel, Valkyrie and Spider-Woman currently standing side by side with Marvel’s bigger guns. Plus, both Marvel and DC offer several team titles that are entirely populated by characters that could never make it far enough to get to the big leagues (Secret Six and X-Factor, just to name a few) of their respective universes. Rather than beating around the bush with this one, I’ll just come right out and say that by including obscure characters on mainstream titles and giving the D-list some mid-profile corrals to play in is ultimately very good for the health of the industry on the whole. Click on down to find out why.
Before we delve into the nitty gritty specifics, I want to clarify my stance a little more than my opening allowed (and since you already clicked down, I assume you’ve read one or two of these things before and are okay with semi-vapid exposition). To most people, I’d say opinion is split between not caring what characters are on the Avengers to actively disliking it when relative unknowns/new blood is injected in a team traditionally reserved for all-stars (though many of those same people were angered when Spider-Man and Wolverine joined the team, for some odd reason.) However, in recent years I’ve come to enjoy it whenever an unlikely character joins a prominent team, or a group of forgotten characters is given their own title and thereby revitalized.
I’m a fan of these tactics for multiple reasons. One, as a fan that tends to gravitate to…lets call them non-traditional…characters, I simply enjoy getting to read stories featuring the likes of, say, Shatterstar and Negative Man. However, from more of a wide-scope perspective, a company taking an active interest (albiet a small one at times) in not only focusing on the same seven or eight characters ultimately promotes a healthy, vibrant universe. While I would be naive to think that every character is created with a reason and a purpose, I would say that MOST are and I am also a fervent believer in the idea that there are no such thing as bad characters (except for this one) and that in the right hands, any character (no matter how obscure or underutilized) can shine.
Case in point: Peter David’s current run on X-Factor. Following the brief but beloved Madrox mini-series from 2004/5, Peter David was given a chance to reboot the book he revitalized in the 80s with a largely new cast and an entirely new purpose following House of M in 2005. Except, of course, for the fact that other than Layla Miller (who still had that new character smell at the time), no member of the cast WAS new. In fact, counted amongst their ranks were a few select leftovers from some dearly departed X-Men Satellite books such as X-Force, New Mutants, the original X-Factor and Generation X. Whether these were the only characters David was given to work with or whether he actively selected them for their obscurity remains to be seen (though the answer is probably the latter), but under his expert penmanship these characters flourished into compelling, thoughtful characters in their own right, that were as flawed and human as they were godlike. None more so than team leader Jamie Madrox, who went from being a traditionally ancillary character in an ancillary book to a character I would never be comfortable seeing in anything short of a leadership position. Over the course of the book, David went on to take similarly thrown aside characters like Longshot, Darwin and even Pip the Troll and revitalize them to the point that X-Factor became, and remains, a must read title on my list (and given that it is entering its seventh year of publication, I’m clearly not alone.)Continued below
The same can be said for Gail Simone’s Secret Six. Whether the book will still exist following the upcoming DC reshuffle remains to be seen (I’d put even money on it though), but much like X-Factor the characters involved in the book are either brand new or haven’t been used significantly for a couple years since that one time they broke someone’s back. Also like X-Factor, Simone’s method of breathing life into seemingly lifeless character stock appealed to fans so much that DC was forced to stand up and take notice. After three mini-series (I’m counting Villains United since there’s no reason not to), the team was awarded their own ongoing that continued her trend of telling compelling, funny stories featuring characters no one ever expected to care about.
And that’s the real beauty of books like these two, they not only help expand and diversify the tapestry of their respective universes, but they put something out there for people that is legitimately different from other books on the market not only because of the stories being told, but right on down to the characters being used. A wide and varied publication output is a happy publication output, and a happy publication output is a happy medium.
Bringing things back to the Avengers before we conclude, that book (traditionally and again right now after taking an all-star break) is for all intents and purposes the big leagues for characters in the Marvel Universe. And yet we have characters like Protector and Red Hulk on the team. While I would hesitate to call Red Hulk obscure given the character he is based on and the high profile his book has had recently, he is still a very NEW character and hasn’t quite been around long enough to have a history worth of an all star. So too with Protector: sure a lot of people liked the Morrison/Jones mini-series (burning expletives across several blocks of Manhattan can’t not be liked), but the character never really entered anyone’s radar until Bendis invested in him post-Secret Invasion. And yet there they are, running around the big leagues with Thor and Iron Man, and I think it is a wonderful thing. Showing an active investment in expanding the universe and the league of characters present in it ultimately ensures the availability of new and exciting stories down the road.
Simply put: Wolverine can only stab so many red shirts before it gets old (though it hasn’t quite yet, mind you), but we’re into the fertile cresent of Protector and Red Hulk stories, where everything they do is fundamentally new and different, and new and different equals exciting.