How to build a better superhero team
DC Comics debuts three new titles, and they all follow the ‘formula’
For DC Comics this summer has been all about teamwork. Normally, DC is known for its individual heroes — you know ‘em all by name: Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman.
But this summer, DC has come out with a trio of new comics that focus on superhero teams.
Looking over the new titles, “THE TEEN TITANS,” “THE OUTSIDERS” and “FORMERLY KNOWN AS THE JUSTICE LEAGUE,” I realized that they all fell into familiar territory.
Each had a team member with super strength. Every team had a weird funny guy. And someone in every group could blast apart your Mom’s SUV if you looked at him cross-wise.
It’s then I remembered a long-standing comic-book mainstay. Every superhero team, from the Justice League to the X-Men is built upon a formula. This “superteam formula” outlines what types of characteristics are appropriate for those on a superhero team.
Now, non-comic book fans might start thinking of things like: “Works well with others” or “A good leader type” when they build a team, but not so with superhero teams. Not only are these squads of spandex built on such typical premises, but they also need two other attributes to sell a comic book: attitude and big-time skull-busting abilities.
DC Comics’ “The Outsiders” features old and new characters on a new team with an old name.
In that sense, comic-book super teams tend to pick up the following types of characters:
The strong hero: This character is super-strong and super-tough. Most teams have several strong heroes. In the Justice League, DC’s premiere superhero team, the strong heroes are Superman and Wonder Woman.
The clever hero: Strategist defines this character as he figures out how to disrupt the villain’s plans. Again, the Justice League provides the best example with Batman. Not only does he find the best way to beat the bad guys, but he’s even devised plans to take down his fellow teammates if they were to go crazy.
The energy hero: With an inner energy that can be channeled into powerful blasts, this hero is a supervillain’s greatest threat because he can attack from a distance. Probably the best example of this is the X-Men’s Storm, who controls the weather and blasts her foes with lightning bolts.
The quick hero: His goal is to beat his opponents before they even know he’s there; such tactics usually involve having super speed or teleportation abilities. The Flash of the Justice League, who can run faster than the speed of light, is a prime example.
The tech hero: This character is either a robot or relies on technology. In the Marvel Comics’ series “The Avengers” this role falls to Iron Man, who wears a suit of high-tech armor.
The psychic/mystic hero: Some of these characters have abilities derived from the arcane arts. Others have psychic talents that allow them to get in the heads of their opponents. Collectively, the psychic/mystic hero is a character who uses his mind to fight. In the X-Men, Jean Grey, with her “mind over matter” telekinetic abilities, is one that no supervillain in his right mind would mess with.
The weird hero: Bizarre powers, along with a strange sense of humor, set the weird hero apart from the rest. In the Justice League, the whacky, shape-shifting, super-stretching Plastic Man takes on that role.
The mean hero: Having the right attitude is key when you’re in a desperate battle, and the mean hero cuts all the corners he can to take down his foes. There’s no one better to illustrate this point than the X-Men’s claw-handed berserker, Wolverine.
Using these points, it’s easy to talk about DC’s new superhero teams.
Teen Titans: This team gathers together some of the DC universe’s greatest sidekicks, Superboy (strong hero), Kid Flash (quick hero), Wonder Girl (a second strong hero), and Robin (clever hero), so they can be trained by Teen Titan graduates Cyborg (tech hero), Starfire (energy hero) and the guy who can change into any animal he wants, Beast Boy (weird hero). Also waiting in the wings is the creepy Raven (mystic hero).
Old members of the Teen Titans are training new members in the new comic.
In the first issue, Superboy, who’s actually a half clone of Superman, finds out the other 50 percent of his DNA was provided by none other than Superman’s arch-enemy, Lex Luthor.
Outsiders: Led by Nightwing (clever hero), the guy who was the first Robin, the Outsiders is a motley crew of veterans and rookies. Topping off the roster is the weapons master known as Arsenal (mean hero), the chemical-controlling shapeshifter known as Metamorpho (weird hero), and Jade (energy hero), the daughter of the first Green Lantern. Its rookies include the robot known as Indigo (tech hero), the former bouncer called Grace (strong hero), and the density controlling Thunder (strong hero).
In the first few issues of The Outsiders, Grace demonstrates her super strength by catching a fighter jet as it crashes from the sky.
Formerly Known As The Justice League: Oddly, this team doesn’t really have a name as of yet. As one can guess from the comic’s title, this team used to be members of the Justice League. This team, popular in the 1980s, took a whole different spin on the dynamics of a comic book. Instead of focusing on crimefighting, the writers of the comic took their turns at comedy.
Still, the “FKATJL” team, even in its current incarnation, hammers home the basic principles of the superteam formula. There’s the genius-inventor Blue Beetle (clever hero) and the guy wearing the futuristic super suit, Booster Gold (tech hero). The Elongated Man (weird hero) has his super-stretching powers. “Mary” Marvel (mystic hero), the sister of the “Shazam!”-saying Captain Marvel, gets her power from ancient gods. Fire (energy hero), an import from Brazil, can generate and control flames. Finally, Captain Atom (energy hero) can fire off atomic blasts.
Time for a change: If you ask me though, the formula could really handle a change. Why not build teams based on something a little different?
Instead of having the boring old “Outsiders” and “Teen Titans,” why not group heroes by themes, kind of like the way people decorate a room? It would be like the “Trading Spaces” of comic books.
In just a short time, and well under budget, a person can come up with some new team scenarios to spruce up the comic book landscape. Using the heroes from “THE TEEN TITANS,” “THE OUTSIDERS,” and “FKATJL,” it’s easy to shake up the status quo.
Here’s what I cooked up:
The Green Team: With “Trading Spaces”-like inspiration, this team has been charged with promoting the much-maligned color of green. On the Green Team’s roster is:
- Beast Boy (Teen Titans) — A green-skinned fellow who only can turn himself into green-colored animals, he’ll be a hit at the Animal Planet studios.
- Jade (Outsiders) — Like her dad, the original Green Lantern from the 1940s, Jade can summon forth a green energy and shape it to her will. As a fashion model, she’ll refuse any assignment where she doesn’t get to wear her color. Take that, Calvin Klein.
- Fire (FKATJL) — While you know Fire has the ability to control and generate flames, the strange thing is she only generates green fire. With a talent like that, she can start her own celebrity cooking show.
- Metamorpho (Outsiders) — As an atom-shifting master of chemical reactions, he’ll turn himself into copper, and wait for himself to corrode.
OK, so it’s a stinker of an idea, but I’ll keep working on it. But until I come up with something better, take a trip to the local comic book store, pick up some superhero team comics, and watch the “superteam formula” work its magic.