Wednesday, November 19, 2008

kracka-THOOOM!!! - Bad Guys & the Team Dynamic

I enjoy “team” titles for various reasons. The varied characters, the inter-team conflicts and relationships, the fight scenes are often on a much grander scale, and the possibilities for storylines are seemingly endless. Within this realm of books I have an affinity for books featuring evil team-ups. The books Villains United & Infinite Crisis planted this seed for me.

Villains United: While I find this book to be well written but poorly illustrated, what I liked most about it was that it was my introduction to a vast amount of lesser-seen criminal characters and how it really helped flesh out the DC Universe for me when I was relatively unfamiliar to anything beyond the Justice League. The book also introduced me to the dynamite storytelling and compelling plots spinning out of the head of Gail Simone.

Identity Crisis...the GOAT of the new millenium (so far)? Even if one leans to the side of it not being the GOAT (its not) one might still lean toward the opinion that it’s pretty fockin brilliant (it is). And I absolutely lurv the way it opens: following the good guys who are following the bad guys and how they do both do business…Firehawk & Elongated Man watching Bolt watching a couple of hoods while trying to scramble up info. From the criminal 411: Calculator. Also cool for the way it bookends Merlyn’s narration up on the bad-guy satellite o’ love with his good-guy “master arrowsmith” doppelganger (and the guy who I think the story is actually about) Green Arrow. Following Merlyn as the main voice of the baddies, It was really interesting to follow the way one bad guy views others of his ilk. There are those he despises, those he fears, and those he seems to reluctantly admire. The camaraderie is out of necessity and most definitely not borne out of affection. The bad-guy team ups as Merlyn seems to portray it, and as we see Calculator arrange, are borne out of financial motives with a tinge of a revenge factor.

I have followed bad guy teams in other books featuring: Secret Six, Spider-Man’s Sinister Six, Thunderbolts, etc. and one 3 issue run in a book, ironically following the exploits of a super-HERO team, really got me thinking on villain teams. That run was JSA Classified Issues 5-7. Now, I don’t mean the kind of “every single criminal getting together” type of enterprise like the Society, nor the “one chief will tell all the super-villains what to do” type of conspiracy depicted as Two-Face’s elaborate plot to take over Gotham featured in the slickly-written and stunningly drawn Batman: Dark Victory. JSA Classified Issues 5-7 featuring a formation of the “Injustice Society” comprised of: Icicle (the narrator), Tigress, Wizard, Ragdoll, Solomon Grundy, Gentleman Ghost, & The Thinker. I really liked a lot of the runs in that title. I especially liked THAT little run, produced by the incredibly talented team of Van Meter, Oliffe, & Geraci, as it focused more on the IJSA[/b] and how they depended upon, came to the aid of, and supported each other, as opposed to the JSA and they’re usual troublesome travails. An aspect of the storyline I enjoyed, and to tell the absolute truth I’m not sure if this is good comic book or bad comic bad storytelling, was icicle’s solid friendship with Wizard and how determined he was to assist his friend in his friend’s hour of need. Even though the risks were great and he wasn’t quite sure of what he was dealing with, Icicle was not going to let his friend give up without trying everything to help him. He also used the formation of their little cabal in order to re-ignite his love affair with Tigress. Like I said, I can’t tell if its good comic book writing or bad comic book writing to have a bad guy, a through-and-through villain, be so driven by friendship and romance. Its not that he does stupid and illegal things for his friend and lover and only do crime because he has to, no…he’s an avowed evil-doer. Rehabilitation is not in the cards for Mr. Mahkent. However, he is given complexity and layers to his character so that he’s not hated without reason and he’s not just a caricature of a nefarious ne’er-do-well. I’ll come down and say it’s GOOD comic book writing.

Soon though, the baddies all learn who and what they’re dealing with and aren’t really all that excited about letting Johnny Sorrow back into this dimension as he is not known to play well with others. Ragdoll double crosses them all, as they expected all along, and ends up getting fricasied by Mr. Sorrow’s return to this dimension. they expected all along. It ends with Johnny Sorrow eagerly voicing that he is back in command of the Injustice Society, and is the only one in the room happy about this turn of events.

Long story short…what I’ve been thinking about is the dynamics of “super teams” and specifically, super-villain teams. It seems like there are specific key elements to comprising teams that comic book authors and illustrators follow faithfully. I think it’d be a kick in the pants to be able to bounce around ideas of who could fit well with who and what they could be good at. But I’m a nerd like that. Here are some I’ve noticed:

1. Each team needs a physical powerhouse. Whether its IBAC, Solomon Grundy in the JSA run I mentioned or Solomon Grundy in Dark Victory, each team needs one character who’s going to be able to fight several people at one time and, subsequently, take a large amount of the blows.

2. Each team needs a meta-human, magical, or alien powerhouse. Well, they need one if they want to be successful, that is. Some key member that can lay waste to a city by blinking or something. Someone to lend some credence to the squad’s cache and someone possessing the firepower to make any serious threats believable. I’m thinking someone like Prometheus, Amazo, or Black Adam. Black Adam filled this role in the Society, IMO (although with Luthor, Deathstroke, and Calculator on the squad that’s like a literal “Murderer’s Row” line-up there).

3. Each team needs a legitimate “psycho”. Someone who actually scares the other bad guys on the team. This is vital because when you’re on a bad guy team doing bad guy stuff, someone is going to have to get their hands dirty. Just in case you’ve comprised a team of somewhat squeamish bad guys, it pays to enlist someone like Joker, Crime Doctor, Shadowthief, etc.

4. Each team needs to know that one of their own is going to double-cross them all. That’s just the price of doing business with the baddest of the bad, I guess, but there will always be one member of the team to say “Screw you all” and go for themselves. I think this plot twist has borne itself out in every bad-guy team ever. EVER.

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