If you keep up with the superhero genre, you know comic book teams are the pinnacle of production. Take the latest summer blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 3. This film was James Gunn‘s swan song to MCU, and arguably, his best–maybe, ever.
Or, consider Kevin Feige‘s grandiose architecture to deliver The Avengers. The origin movies created by Marvel Studios were amazing to behold, but when those culminated in bringing this one scene, comic book fans worldwide peed themselves. It was magic!
That is the amassed strength of comic book teams–superheroes to supervillains, anti-heroes to tweeners. There is something special about a gaggle of galactic powers getting together to blow some stuff up. And that also makes some of the most heralded comic book scribes’ (e.g., Jack Kirby, Alan Moore, Stan Lee, Grant Morrison, Neil Gaiman, Brian Michael Bendis, Gardner Fox) influence. Those individuals made comic book teams awesome even before the movie studios got a hold of them.
It was their imagination and a blank slate. That’s it! Those tools etched these 10 factions out of the stone we know lay flowers at and dedicated Top 10 lists in their honor. So, let’s focus on when writers and artists had to earn a reputation without the benefit of the box office.
Here are the Top 10 Comic Book Teams Ever…Before the Movies
Author’s Note: That prepositional phrase is important. What James Gunn did for the Guardians of the Galaxy is super impressive because he made casuals love this faction. Today, this trilogy is now one of the most celebrated in nerd movie history.
However, when Arnold Drake (writer) and Gene Colan (penciler) created these sundry characters among Marvel’s comic book groups, they didn’t create the following it has today.
(Not for nothing, but the original roster is a mostly unrecognized one–Vance Astro, Martinex T’Naga, Captain Charlie-27, and Yondu Udonta.)
You know, a rabid raccoon and a tree with a 6-month-old’s vocabulary do not seem that exciting. So, when you read the Guardians don’t crack the Top 10 comic book groups ever, that’s why.
It’s because they didn’t create substantial buzz before James Gunn and Kevin Feige gave them a mantle on which to shine like a supernova!
P.S. Use this same explanation for Suicide Squad, Birds of Prey, Sinister Six, Green Lantern and Sinestro Corps, Young Avengers, The Authority, and The Defenders. It fits. (One last thing: James Gunn will bring The Authority to the big screen. You heard it here first.)
On with the show…
10. Doom Patrol
Stop us if this sounds familiar: A guy in a wheelchair has an idea to bring together a band of mutants to wage war against the forces of evil. Anyone?
Back in 1963, DC Comics had a storyline called My Greatest Adventure. Number 80 by Arnold Drake and Bob Haney introduced the Doom Patrol. This comic book team was so popular that by Episode 86, the comic was renamed Doom Patrol.
Here’s the funny thing: DC Comics developed this idea three months before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created this other gang of mutants led by an ADA-compliant superhero. If that doesn’t make this team Number 10 on this list, nothing will. That’s influence!
9. Mighty Morphin Power Rangers
Oh, you thought this was only about Marvel and DC? The Power Rangers have a legacy that spans three decades. While that may shrivel in the shadows of others on this list, there must be a place among the Top 10 comic book teams for these Anime dreams to come true.
Shoot, toy sales alone surpass $6 billion. That doesn’t include all the forms of TV, film, book, video, and clothing empires that have been spawned from this single idea. And fun fact about the Power Rangers, their history dates back to the late 1970s and the Super Sentai.
The Japanese term means “task force,” which America badly wanted. So, Toei Company and Marvel Comics made things happen in Japan, but it wasn’t until the ’90s comic series, under the Hamilton banner, gained popularity that history was made.
BONUS COVERAGE: This Marvel/Toei partnership originated the fabled “Japanese Spider-Man,” so enjoy.
8. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
There is no way a list of top comic book teams can be made, and the heroes in a half-shell can’t be included in the Top 10. Mirage Studios gets credit for keeping these martial artist lizards floating, but the parodical idea from Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird created the fandom.
Video games to comics, TV series to many films–and it all began with a joke. (That’s what late nights with the hippie lettuce can do for some people.) The two comic fans were Jack Kirby’s big fans, so if you think “Splinter” carries an interesting connection to Daredevil’s “Stick,” you would be correct. Today, these Japanese-inspired, Renaissance Artist-named turtles are globally renowned and aren’t going anywhere.
7. Justice Society of America
This one will hurt to read for those still butthurt over how Warner Bros. Discovery managed Black Adam. That notwithstanding, there’s no denying how influential the Justice Society of America is to comic book teams forever.
Sheldon Mayer and Gardner Fox sat down together in 1940 and helped mold the Golden Age of Comics with the JSA. Different versions of The Flash banded with Hawkman and a few other “mystery men” (as they were called back then) to change how comics were created forever. Superman was the first, and then several other spandex-laden folks followed. It was Fox and Mayer who first put them together.
This was the template for comic book teams, and it was beautiful because it forced fans to look outside the 1 v 1 mindset. And look where we are today.
6. Teen Titans
This may surprise many casual comic book fans who were introduced to the Teen Titans through a Saturday morning cartoon, but they have been around since the 1960s. Another offspring from The Brave and The Bold (see No. 1), the Teen Titans were included in No. 54 of the series in 1964.
Their age made them uber-popular among fans. Teenagers wanted heroes or villains they could claim as their own. These heroic sidekicks made that possible (and yes, inspired the Young Avengers, Legion of Super-Heroes, and Young Justice). Batman may be considered the godfather of the Justice League, but there is no denying the father of the Teen Titans was Robin. These kids will always be important to comic book lore.
5. The Watchmen
Alan Moore‘s and Dave Gibbons‘ progeny is easily the most polarizing and fascinating among all comic book teams ever sketched and slotted for print. This graphic novel cover, in mint condition, could fetch thousands of dollars because of the story–a misanthrope collection of misfit heroes, retired from justice and secluded from society.
They put the idea of comic book teams on its keister and remolded this lump of clay into what can be made in comic books by stretching the imagination of creators and the expectations of fans. Never mind what you think of the Zack Snyder movie or the HBO series. This comic/graphic novel was mind-blowing work, respected by anyone. And it is majestic.
4. The Fantastic Four
In 1961, Marvel Comics’ icons, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, created a team that would become known as “the first family of Marvel Comics,” The Fantastic Four. These space explorers would become Mr. Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, The Human Torch, and The Thing. While their exploits are historic and established a path for most comic book teams to follow, they gave way to a villain who is like the Darth Vader of big bads in comics.
Of course, that would be Doctor Doom.
While the movies have never perfected the filmmaking formula for this super tetrahedron, they are legendary in print. The why is simple–they’re not just folks put together; they’re family. That allegiance to one another made them tangible and relatable for readers. Fans loved these four, and although they may not have the sex appeal of other heroes and villains, they are an undeniable force–together.
All hail the Mutants! The X-Men’s legacy is forged in adamantium, never to be budged from the top 3 comic book teams in history. Of course, the all-powerful duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were at the helm when this comic kicked off in 1963.
What’s so odd about the “Uncanny X-Men” is they were canceled in 1970! Can you imagine a world without Magneto and Professor X going after each other? It’s inconceivable, but for five years, that’s what happened. In 1975, Marvel Comics did the unthinkable. Under the leadership of “Uncanny’s” writer Chris Claremont, X-Men #1 relaunched and sold more than 8 million copies–a record held by a single comic that will probably never be broken.
That comic book allured FOX in such a powerful way that they chose this team–not the Avengers–to usher in the modern era of comic book movies. From that publication, we get all the Xs like X-Force, X-Factor, New Mutants, Excalibur, and Generation X. Its success in print (that led to TV series beloved to this day) is simply…well, uncanny.
2. The Avengers
Starting here, let the arm wrestling begin. The Avengers bring us one of the most feared and victorious comic book teams in all nerd history. They ran through three of the most menacing baddies ever in Thanos, Kang, and Ultron. But think about their solo careers in comics.
Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, and Captain America all ran roughshod through Marvel Comics’ catalog of villains and rogues. But as a group, they don’t quite reach the marketing, folklore, legend, and fandom as our top bid–not to mention the DC Trinity.
The Avengers spawned solo comics, an underlying group of Young Avengers, another faction in the Guardians (which then spawned the Asguardians), and then there’s S.H.I.E.L.D. They visit Wakanda, Atlantis (Namor), Asgard, Earth 616, and the Quantum Realm. There’s no denying the everlasting force of the Avengers in print or in film.
1. Justice League of America
Superman. Wonder Woman. Batman. That is the fabled “DC Trinity,” and no faction in comic book history have been in more comic strips, retooled by more writers and artists, been in more films or TV anything, and been purchased more by acne-ridden kids than them. Add to that heroic troika forces against evil like Martain Manhunter, The Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Green Arrow, and you have the apex among comic book teams.
What’s impressive about the Justice League of America is that they were a retool and spinoff in DC Comics’ folklore. The Justice Society of America (see. No. 7) was created in 1940 as one of the first comic book teams. And while Warner Bros. completely wet the bed for those heroes coming to us in film, they helped create a template for what comic book teams would do in print for decades.
However, in 1960, the JSA ran a little low on fuel. In his The Brave and the Bold #28-offering, Gardener Fox had an idea to energize the label. There, Batman had an idea of a new team to defend the galaxy against evil.
From there, a family tree grew roots and branches that dwarf other factions. Even the Avengers were inspired by the Justice League, as were Teen Titans, Justice League International, DC Legends of Tomorrow, Shazam and his entire family, The New 52, Justice League Dark, Legion of Doom, Super Friends, and so many more!
That’s how the Justice League was born, and will never be kicked off Comic Book Mountain’s summit.
Since he saw ‘Dune’ in the $1 movie theater as a kid, this guy has been a lover of geek culture. It wasn’t until he became a professional copywriter, ghostwriter, and speechwriter that he began to write about it (a lot).
From the gravitas of the Sith, the genius of Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, or the gluttony of today’s comic fan, SPW digs intelligent debate about entertainment. He’s also addicted to listicles, storytelling, useless trivia, and the Oxford comma. And, he prefers his puns intended.