Earlier this month, Marvel introduced its newest superhero team-up book, Guardians Team-Up, featuring the publisher’s latest sensation, the Guardians of the Galaxy. However, team-up books have been a staple of the “House of Ideas” since the first issue of Marvel Team-Up in 1972. Scripted and illustrated by a host of landmark creators including Roy Thomas, Ross Andru, Sal Buscema, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Frank Miller and J.M. DeMatteis, the series ran for 150 issues and typically featured Spider-Man pairing with another hero or team of heroes against a common enemy. While it wasn’t technically considered a Spider-Man “B” series, MTU did eventually give way to Web of Spider-Man in 1985.
In the years that followed MTU’s cancellation, Marvel attempted to resurrect the team-up series format multiple times over, which bring us to today’s Guardians of the Galaxy-led. To commemorate the brand new series, we though we take a look back at the original MTU and rank the series' best team-ups.
10. “And No Birds Can Sing” (Marvel Team-Up #95)
Readers who loyally follow the adventures of S.H.I.E.L.D. agent extraordinaire (and later, co-founding member of the West Coast Avengers) Bobbi Morse, should note that this one-off issue of MTU marks the first appearance of Morse’s Mockingbird persona.
Because of the perennial popularity of Spider-Man, Marvel often used its flagship team-up book to test drive a new character or design, before finding a more permanent place for the character in one of its ongoings. It would still be a couple of years after MTU #95 before Marvel hit upon a winning storyline for Mockingbird — as one-half of a love/hate but always white hot romance with Hawkeye — but this MTU issue does an excellent job establishing Bobbi’s duplicitous ways. Up to the very last page, readers are guessing her true allegiances. For Spider-Man fans, the comic does some great work reaffirming how The Wall Crawler can't really swing all of Nick Fury’s mind games and subterfuge.
9. “The Best Things in Life are Free … But Everything Else Costs Money (Marvel Team-Up #131)
Years before he became known as the character-centric writer who frequently broke Spider-Man down in stories like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “The Child Within,” J.M. DeMatteis developed his chops during a long, and often silly run, on MTU.
MTU #131 reunites Spider-Man with the (sorta) hero JMD introduced a few months earlier in the pages of MTU: the "Fabulous" Frog-Man. If that’s not silly enough for readers, Spidey and the bumbling Frog-Man are pitted against the blue checkered jacket, white furry boot-wearing villainess White Rabbit and her gang of criminals.
As the title suggests, MTU #131 is a bit of farcical storytelling, but as JMD would later prove on his epic Justice League run, he certainly has the comedic talent to pull off a story of this nature.
8. “Twinkle, Twinkle” (Marvel Team-Up #137)
MTU was in its final throes when Mike Carlin and Greg LaRocque collaborated on this … ahem … classic story where Peter Parker’s Aunt May becoming the herald of the world devouring demigod Galactus. May dubs herself the cosmic-powered “Golden Oldie” and sets out to find the galaxy’s largest Twinkie — excuse me, TWINKLE (any resemblance to the yellow, cream-filled sponge cake produced by Hostess is clearly coincidental).
Though trumpeted as a real, in-continuity story, the creative team undoes this patently absurd tale by making it all a dream; first a dream of Peter’s, and then a dream of Spidey-book editor Danny Fingeroth’s (followed by Jim Shooter, Stan Lee, Galactus and then everyone in “Readerland, USA”). It's completely insane and irreverent, and yet absolutely memorable, as in, how can anyone forget a story this terrible after reading it.
7. “The Mystery of the Wraith” (Marvel Team-Up #48-51)
While MTU wasn’t particularly well-known for introducing characters that would go on to play a significant role in Spider-Man’s universe, this four-part storyline from Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema is a rare exception.
“The Mystery of the Wraith” is a fun little whodunnit that pairs Spidey with Iron Man as the duo attempt to discover the identity of the masked villain tormenting Captain DeWolff (spoiler alert, her father is the original Wraith). The arc is also ahead of its time as it addresses sexism in the workplace via the tough but vulnerable DeWolff and the rest of the New York City police force.
But the story's legacy continues to this day by way of Police Captain Jean DeWolff, a newcomer whose best known story would come years later (when she incidentally meets her end) in Peter David's epic Spectacular Spider-Man arc, “The Death of Jean DeWolff.” The arc also introduced a minor villain, the Wraith, who is about to play a key role in the upcoming “Spiral” Amazing Spider-Man miniseries by industry legend Gerry Conway.
6. “Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas (Marvel Team-Up #1)
Marvel made the odd choice of kickstarting its brand new team-up series with a Christmas-themed issue from Roy Thomas and Ross Andru . Still, even with the holiday theme's forced sentimentality, Thomas and Andru expertly establish the MTU template very early on: the main hero (usually Spider-Man) is swinging around Manhattan when he bumps into his prospective teaming partner (in this issue, Johnny Storm, aka, Human Torch), leading to some kind of discovery that the tandem shares a mutual adversary (Sandman).
MTU #1 gives a very funny moment where Spider-Man tries pawning Sandman off on Johnny since he’s become more of a “Fantastic Four villain” in recent years. However, MTU #1 is also notable for being one of the first storylines to depict Sandman in a sympathetic light — a characteristic that future comic creators would mine (not to mention film director Sam Raimi for Spider-Man 3). Poor ‘ol Sandman just wants to see his mother one more time before he goes back to the clink. Of course, he eludes Spider-Man and Torch before they can return him behind bars, but since it’s a holiday issue, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!
5. “Live from New York It’s Saturday Night” (Marvel Team-Up #74)
This incredibly irreverent issue from the Chris Claremoent/Bob Hall creative team unites Spider-Man with the “Not Ready for Primetime Players,” better known as the cast of the revolutionary sketch comedy show, Saturday Night Live.
This standalone issue smashes a wrecking ball into the fourth wall as the story's conflict centers around the Silver Samurai invading a Stan Lee-hosted airing of SNL. Peter Parker, along with his girlfriend Mary Jane, are conveniently in the studio for the show, so he’s able to suit up and prevent the Samurai from slicing John Belushi--an accidental possessor of a magical macguffin-like ring--into pieces. The audience thinks the whole incident is a part of the show, and the “Not Ready for Primetime Players” prove to be worthy collaborators with Spider-Man.
4. “No Way To Treat a Lady” (Marvel Team-Up #82-85)
Fans of the recently concluded cult-hit Superior Foes of Spider-Man should take note of this four-part arc by Chris Claremont and Sal Buscema for being the first storyline to pit the loveable bungler Boomerang against Spider-Man.
Beyond the Spider-Man/Boomerang showdown, and the numerous Boomerang lies and putdowns — he attempts to intimidate the likes of Spidey and Shang-Chi by boasting that he once survived a punch from the Hulk— the storyline is also notable for teasing a potential romance between Spider-Man and ace assassin Natasha Romanoff, aka, the Black Widow, who starts the arc off experiencing a bit of amnesia. Spidey epitomizes kindness and patience with Natasha, as she struggles to accept that she’s a trained killer and not some innocent school teacher. However, when Natasha finally regains her memories and kicks some Madame Hydra butt alongside Nick Fury, Shang-Chi and Spidey, she tells the Web Slinger that a girl like her could ever find romance with someone as naive and nice as Spider-Man. Sorry Spidey, but you’ve been officially locked in the “friend zone.”
3. “Night of the Living God” (Marvel Team-Up #69-70)
Yes, ladies and gents, a few years before they redefined the Uncanny X-Men, Chris Claremont and John Byrne were subjected to scripting and art duties on Spider-Man's “B” book, (for the record, the duo were also collaborating on an Iron Fist solo series at the time). Still, Claremont/Byrne’s penchant for stellar storytelling via sequential art is on full display in this two-part storyline showcasing Spider-Man first team-up with the mutant Havok, and later Thor, in battle against the Living Pharaoh/Monolith.
Claremont scripts a quintessential Spider-Man story. When The Wall-Crawler tries saving Havok from the Pharaoh, he accidentally makes things 100 times worse by knocking him into Havok’s power source. This creates the gigantic (and powerful) Living Monolith, because of course it does. Just when it looks like Spidey will fall to his death, Thor suddenly appears, promising to have Spidey’s back after he rescued the Avengers from the clutches of Thanos (in the epic Avengers Annual/Marvel Two-in-One Annual story).
Byrne, meanwhile, gets plenty of opportunities to demonstrate the artistic talents that would make him one of the industry’s very best. His full page splash page to end MTU #69, which depicts the creation of the Living Monolith, is worth the price of admission on its own.
2. “Karma!” (Marvel Team-Up #100)
How’s this for a creative team tour de force: In addition to Claremont and Byrne working on MTU’s centennial issue, future industry superstar Frank Miller gets a co-pencils/plotting credit for this comic. Creative team aside, the issue depicts Spider-Man losing control of his facilities and fighting the Fantastic Four. But he regains control of his mind, it's the Fantastic Four who have become manipulated. The villains behind the mind control are a pair of psychic twins. Spider-Man survives the onslaught by the skin of his teeth when one of the twins turns on the other, creating the psychic force known as Karma.
In typical Claremont/Byrne fashion, Karma turns out to be a villain with a complicated background, thereby attracting sympathy from the reader. Miller’s pencils make a great thing even better, providing a greater sense of action and urgent pacing from what Byrne had been producing for the series.
If that’s not enough, MTU #100 also features a backup story that is considered an all-time great for fans of the mutant Storm. The flashback story depicts an early meeting between Storm and Black Panther, setting the stage for their future romance in the comics.
1. “Murder World” (Marvel Team-Up #65-66)
Claremont and Byrne hit another mutant-less homerun with the two-part “Murderworld” arc. It's historically significant for a number of reasons: it marks the very first American appearance of Brian Braddock, aka, Captain Britain (readers of Jonathan Hickman’s current run on the Avengers/New Avengers will understand the importance of having the Captain Britain Corps. in American comics), and it also introduces a new villain, the video game loving sociopath, Arcade.
But the comic’s historical significance aside, “Murderworld” is a crazy amount of fun. Spider-Man and Captain Britain are kidnapped by Arcade and forced to endure insane deathtraps, like killer pinball machines. It’s the kind of over-the-top storytelling that probably works best in a “B” series like MTU. However, one could argue that the Claremont/Byrne run on the series was superior for its creativity and good ol’ fashioned superhero fun than what was being concurrently published in Spidey’s “A” book, Amazing Spider-Man.