Today, we look at how a new semi-licensed book by Marvel was completely re-written and re-drawn in a weekend.
This is "Look Back," where every four weeks of a month, I will spotlight a single issue of a comic book that came out in the past and talk about that issue (often in terms of a larger scale, like the series overall, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic book from a different year that came out the same month X amount of years ago. The first spotlight of the month looks at a book that came out this month ten years ago. The second spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we look at weeks broadly, so if a month has either five Sundays or five Saturdays, it counts as having a fifth week) looks at books from 20/30/40/60/70/80 years ago.
This is a fifth week, so this time around, we'll do 40 years ago, January 1982, for the strange story of Team America #1, nominally written and drawn by Jim Shooter, Mike Vosburg and Vince Colletta.
HOW DID TEAM AMERICA COME ABOUT?
As I wrote in an old Comic Book Legends Revealed (this is how many of these I have done, I was writing about this story and I was, like, "Wow, this would have made a good legend and, of course, I had actually done it already a decade ago"), Evel Knievel was the most famous stunt motorcyclist in the world during the 1970s. He was riding high with plenty of big ticket endorsements.
His career took a major hit in 1977 when he served a six month jail sentence for assaulting one of his former promoters, Shelly Saltman, for writing an unflattering book about him. At the time, one of his endorsement deals was for a line of toys by Ideal Toys, most famously the Stunt Cycle. Well, after his conviction, Ideal Toys canceled the contract and re-released the toys as "Team America."
In 1974, Marvel had produced a promotional Evel Knievel comic book for Ideal promoting the various Evel Knievel toys Ideal was making at the time...
So a couple of years after Ideal launched the "Team America" replacement line of toys, that connection (also likely inspired by the success that Hasbro had with having Marvel craft a back story for the G.I. Joe action figures) led to Ideal hiring Marvel Comics to make a comic book based on the Team America toy line. Jim Shooter and Ed Hannigan came up with the brand-new characters who would make up "Team America" and they debuted in the pages of Captain America #269 (by JM DeMatteis, Mike Zeck and John Beatty)...
They were then set to launch in their own series edited by Denny O'Neil. But then...there was a snag.
WHAT WENT WRONG WITH THE ORIGINAL LAUNCH OF TEAM AMERICA #1?
First off, Denny O'Neil was the editor of Daredevil at the time and so his connection to Frank Miller got a Frank Miller sketch for the cover of the issue that Bob Layton turned into a gorgeous cover. That was something, at least...
As to the issue itself, though, Jim Shooter explained on his blog years ago, "Team America was such a train wreck that I had to assemble a crew to rework it literally overnight, it was that bad, amateurish and embarrassing. It was a toy license, and I could not allow it to go to the licensor for approval in the state Denny left it. I took the book away from him. I doubt that his name appeared in the crediits. Probably the original writer's name was taken off, too, since what he wrote was unusable.
Among those who worked all night were Frank Giacoia, Vince Colletta, several production people, a few pencilers, and I think — guessing here — colorist Max Scheele pitched in. Others, too. There were a lot of us. I did the rewriting. It was literally an all-nighter.
Miller drew the cover and Layton inked it. The book wasn't great when we finished, but it was better than before. If Denny were not the hall-of-fame guy he is, I would have fired him. I let it go because he was doing great work on Daredevil with the new kid, Frank Miller. I figured he just wasn't interested in Team America, a 'toy book.'"
HOW WAS TEAM AMERICA SAVED OVER A WEEKEND?
Shooter then came up with a basic new plot and oversaw the alteration of the original comic book page by page, panel by panel, to make it work for a new story that Shooter felt was acceptable.
The comic book involves a mysterious makes motorcyclist known as the Marauder who finds out the names of a possible new team...
He then collects "Team America" together...
They ultimately agree to work together...
In the end, they help stop a Hydra attack at a race where Hydra is trying to steal the guidance plans for a "superbike" that could be used on deadly Hydra planes that would keep them from being shot down...
They defeat Hydra, but they don't know who among them is the mysterious Marauder, so they figure they'll deal with it some other time and just celebrate that they also won the race...
Tom DeFalco was one of the people involved in the rewriting and I asked him about it for an old Comic Book Legends Revealed and he explained:
The comic book was Team America #1 and Jim Shooter was the one who decided the comic book had to be redone at the last minute. I don't know why we ended up in my apartment, but we did. Jim sort of re-plotted the book--page by page, figuring out if we needed new artwork or could live with the pre-existing art and I re-wrote the script. Jim gave me the first few pages in order so it was easy to re-write them. As the night wore on, Jim would give me pages out of order with notes on how to re-script them.
Eventually, he started cutting up pages and giving me panels--sometimes in groups and sometimes individually. Talk about a man with vision! I still don't know how he managed to keep the story straight, but he did. Me, I was just struggling as I scripted individual panels and fed them to the letterer.
I do remember that my wife woke up around 6:00 am to get ready for work. She discovered Bob Layton asleep on our kitchen floor with his head inside our refrigerator. I later learned that Bob wanted a soda or beer and the last can was on the bottom shelve in the back. He was so tired he sat on the floor to get it, but fell asleep. Yeah, we freelancers live glamorous lives! Jim led another of these re-do parties over the years.
Since I always felt we were replacing a sub-par book with a different type of sub-par, I stopped the practice when I became editor-in-chief.
Thanks to Jim Shooter and Tom DeFalco for the great information!
If you folks have any suggestions for February (or any other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972 and 1947 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we're discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.
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Brian Cronin (15313 Articles Published)
CBR Senior Writer Brian Cronin has been writing professionally about comic books for over fifteen years now at CBR (primarily with his “Comics Should Be Good” series of columns, including Comic Book Legends Revealed). He has written two books about comics for Penguin-Random House – Was Superman a Spy? And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed and Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! and one book, 100 Things X-Men Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, from Triumph Books. His writing has been featured at ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, About.com, the Huffington Post and Gizmodo. He features legends about entertainment and sports at his website, Legends Revealed and other pop culture features at Pop Culture References. Follow him on Twitter at @Brian_Cronin and feel free to e-mail him suggestions for stories about comic books that you'd like to see featured at email@example.com!