I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
I had just begun my delirious jaunt into the magical land of superhero comics when the SPECIAL DOUBLE-SIZE 100TH ISSUE! of Marvel Team-Up hit newsstands, way back when that was actually a place a person could buy comic books. I wasn’t buying any Spider-Man comics yet, nor was X-Men part of my monthly habit, which theoretically have made me interested in this issue, given that it was written by the scribe of Marvel’s Merry Mutants, Chris Claremont. I had already purchased an issue of Daredevil, drawn (though not yet written) by Frank Miller, and had read it nearly to tatters, but that still wouldn’t have inspired me to grab this comic, despite the presence of those distinctive pencils. Perhaps it’s foolhardy to assert the motivation of a ten year old version of one’s self decades after the fact, but I’m confident that I bought this comic because it featured the Fantastic Four.
As I’ve mentioned before, Marvel’s First Family became my instant favorites when I started consuming the adventures that transpired across the publisher’s fictional multiverse. For a time, anyway, I would follow the super-team absolutely anywhere. And, as I’ve also previously confessed, I was a quick sucker for any issue that promised it was momentous, which the oversized anniversary implicitly (and often explicitly) did. It turned out this particular outing somewhat lived up to that promise, thanks to the introduction of a character known as Karma.
The story begins with two young, Vietnamese siblings, Xi’an Coy Manh and Tran Coy Manh. Fraternal twins, the duo are also mutants, blessed or cursed (depending on perspective) with the power to mentally possess others. In a place like Marvel’s New York City, that means there are a bevy of superheroes swinging around, susceptible to unwillingly doing the twins’ bidding. Their suspect efforts begin with the psychic appropriation of everyone’s favorite wall-crawler, your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. As the colorful logos on the front cover suggested, the mind-controlled web-slinger quickly runs afoul of the Fantastic Four at a gala event. Given the circumstances, it was a little easier than usual for Claremont to employ the tried and true conceit of having heroes bound to collaborate begin their interaction by squaring off against each other.
Those rubbery arms of Reed Richard flail around quite impressively when he takes a two-footed kick to the face.
Eventually, as is always the case, matters are sorted out and our beloved heroes start working together. They also become acquainted with the backstory of the twins, including some nasty dealings being perpetrated by their relations. This was Claremont playing around with some of his favorite themes, led by the honorable mysteries of Asian cultures, which now plays with just the tinge of deluded condescension that a modern reader might expect from a thirty-five year old comic book story. Really, though, even in my many, many re-readings of the comic back then, I tended to skip over all that stuff. I was there for one thing: the fightin’! Thus, I considered it a major plus when the twins used their powers to posses the entirety of the Fantastic Four, forcing Spider-Man to battle them all at once.
Yeah, that’s the stuff. Even though this was exactly the sort of spirited fisticuffs I was excitedly hunting for, this issue of Marvel Team-Up stuck with me for a slightly different reason. Though the twins are the clear antagonists of the story, their villainy, at least as a shared quality, is not entirely clear cut. As I would later learn through reading more of her work, this was exactly the sort of moral ambiguity Claremont loved to introduce into the good guy vs. bad guy model. While Tran was clearly on the path to follow the lead of their more insidious relations, his sister, Xi’an, was more conflicted about such a path. Finally, she is so dismayed by her brother’s actions and the inevitability that he will continue to use his mutant abilities for ill purposes that Xi’an turns her own powers on her sibling.
The scene ends with Tran’s suddenly empty Vovinam uniform (to be generous and assume some level of cultural accuracy, when the instructions from Claremont were more likely “Draw him in a kung fu outfit”) tumbling to the ground. His twin sister had essentially psychically consumed him, imprisoning his damaged soul within hers, a development represented by the half of a taijitu symbol on her own clothing becoming whole, the yin and yang joined within her. With that, she dubbed herself Karma. Sure, it seems a little hokey now, but for a ten-year-old that was some hardcore shit.
Karma may not have been the amazing character find of 1980, but she proved to fairly significant in the corner of the Marvel Universe that was swiftly becoming a sensation. Under Claremont’s guidance, perfectly calibrated towards teen readers’ sense of alienated persecution, the X-Men became huge for Marvel in the nineteen-eighties and anything storyline that included mutants was almost guaranteed to be a hot seller. A couple years after this Marvel Team-Up issue, Claremont teamed with artist Bob McLeod to introduce a team called the New Mutants, essentially a junior version of the X-Men. Karma was the only member of that new quintet with a prior history in the comics. As a devoted reader of the series The New Mutants (see below), I got to have a bit of smugness, the tween nerd hipster version of having seen that one band you just got around to loving in a beat-up club years ago, you know, when they were still good.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27
Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema
Metal Men #20 by Robert Kanigher and Ross Andru
The Avengers by Roy Thomas and John Buscema
Fantastic Four by Marv Wolfman and John Byrne
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra
American Flagg by Howard Chaykin
Marvel and DC Present by Chris Claremont and Walter Simonson
Batman by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #5 by Alan Kupperberg and Pablo Marcos
Web of Spider-Man by Louise Simonson and Greg LaRocque
Super-Villain Team-Up #12 by Bill Mantlo and Bob Hall
What If? #31 by Rich Margopoulos and Bob Budiansky
Fantastic Four by Scott Lobdell and Alan Davis
Magik by Chris Claremont and John Buscema, Sal Buscema, and Ron Frenz
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Green Arrow: The Longbow Hunters by Mike Grell
Avengers #202 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie and George Pérez
Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Jim Steranko
Captain Victory and the Galactic Rangers by Jack Kirby
What If? #6 by Roy Thomas, Jim Craig, and Rick Hoberg
Iron Man #39 by Gerry Conway and Herb Trimpe
Stig’s Inferno by Ty Templeton
Avengers #221 by Jim Shooter, David Michelinie, and Bob Hall
Fantastic Four #176 by Roy Thomas and George Pérez
Fray by Joss Whedon and Karl Moline
Legends by John Ostrander, Len Wein, and John Byrne
Uncanny X-Men #153 by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum