Or – “Proof That Not Every Licensed Property Is A License To Print Money…

It’s the 4th of July, American Independence Day, and here at Stately Spoilers Manor East, I’m preparing for a campout, purchasing sparklers for young Molly, and wondering if the 231st Anniversary is celebrated with Adamantium or Prometheum. 25 years ago this month, give or take a few days, I was on a boy scout campout, and my ever-awesome cousin Elwood had brought with him a comic book he picked up at the local Duckwalls. G.I. Joe had recently been a HUGE hit for Marvel, followed quickly by the mega-successful Transformers, and suddenly the House of Ideas seemed to be scrambling to find the next big properties. Rom: Spaceknight had been around for a few years already, Shogun Warriors had come and gone, and U.S. 1 (whose star-spangled adventures I ALMOST covered) and Starriors were in the wings. While none of them recaptured the lightning in a bottle, even a quarter-century later, I still have fond memories of a certain red, white, and blue team whose interactions tended to create fireworks of their own…

TA1.jpgTeam America! No, not the Trey Parker/Matt Stone movie of a few years ago notorious for the graphic kinky puppet sex scenes. No, this Team America was based on the Ideal Toy line, probably derived from the real-life Daredevil Evel Knievel (who had a similar toy line.) The toys were pretty awesome (I had one cycle, a chopper, which I eventually ended up smashing into a thousand pieces) but for some reason this comic is one of the ones that stuck with me. Our story starts with a mysterious black-clad man (who, in retrospect, bears a striking resemblance to Snake-Eyes, the breakout character from G.I. Joe) breaking into a building, identified as the headquarters of Universal Technologies, and stealing information from their files: five specific dossiers on five disparate individuals, which he memorizes, then erases. The Marauder (for that IS his name) uses ninja-like skills to sneak away, climbing down a brick wall using only his fingertips, and escapes on a powerful motorcycle. Chased by security, he only gets away after rocketing across a ravine (an impossible jump) to safety. Immediately, we find out that Universal is nothing more than a front for… HYDRA! A minion reports to his fearless leader of the break-in, and is told that the more important issue is Operation: Daytona, and attempt to steal an experimental motorcycle from it’s creator, one Pops Kuromoto. Soon after, three men are summoned to an empty warehouse…

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The men are walking clichesdisparate characters, to say the least. On the left, with the big head of hair, is former rock & roller R.U. Reddy (secretly Winthrop Roan, Junior, child of privilege on the outs from his industrialist daddy. In the middle, former C.I.A agent James MacDonald (no relation to James MacDonald Hudson) and on the left the mysterious loner known as El Lobo, the Wolf. Rocker, spook, and vato feel compelled to join forces, pulling together to form a motorbike squad the likes of which had never been seen… and they called themselves TENACIOUS D! Err, sorry… Team America.

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In retrospect, the attempt to recreate the magic of early issues of G.I. Joe seems pretty apparent to my adult self, with each character having a similar (but distinct) uniform, a personality gimmick and also in their enemy, the faceless hordes of CobraHydra. Team America manages to combine Reddy’s stunt-riding prowess, Wolf’s peak human strength, and Honcho’s guile to defeat the Hydra squad, even though the Kuromoto super-bike is destroyed. Declared the winners of the race, the trio barely has time to savor their victory when Wolf’s temper snaps, nearly killing a reporter, picking a fight with Reddy and smashing their trophy. As they return to their hotel, Honcho is accosted by a down-home good ol’ boy named Luke Merriwether, who drawls “Ah been known t’ answer t’ Cowboy!” Somehow, he feels an intrinsic bond to Team America, and votes himself in. Somewhere south of there, Wolf has found a roving biker gang, and won a place in their team by right of combat. When a nerdy young mechanic named Leonard Hebb (his friends call him “Wrench”) arrives, the gang turns on him, only to face the might of The Marauder!

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Yeah, he’s pretty much Snake-Eyes on a motorcycle. His bike has nearly supernatural powers, and he quickly smashes through the gang, giving Wrench and Wolf a moment to breathe. Moments later, Cowboy, Reddy, and Honcho arrive, somehow psychically aware of their comrades’ mortal danger. Honcho even calls Leonard “Wrench,” before anyone tells him the information. All five men realize that they somehow seem to share knowledge, on some level…

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Dum dum DAAAAH! (I believe that Wrench’s van was also a toy, as well, with built-in ramps, but I’ll be damned if I can find any information on ANY of the toys online.) Even the mighty Wiki knows not of which I speak… Wrench’s skills with mechanical devices allow the team to create a powerful dunebuggy and enter Unlimited Class Racing’s cross-country hullaballoo. (Don’t call it a Cannonball Run…) Wolf pilots the ship, but runs afoul of Hydra once more, coming in a VERY close second place and forfeiting the prize money. The Hydra agent returns to ground, escaping a close shave in which he is nearly stopped cold by the Marauder. Soon afterwards, a conspicuously absent Wolf returns to his new friends, finally willing to slough off his loner facade…

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Quoth the Nickelback, what the HELL is on Reddy’s head? I think he’s prescient, foreseeing the Harry Potter craze two decades later. Having gotten some of the wrong sort of attention, the team moves on to their next race, a motocross battle, where each rider shows his individual skills. Wolf fords a river by knocking over a TREE with his bike (!) while Reddy bounces off nothing at all and leaps the tributary in his showboaty way. But, this is a Marvel comic in the 80’s, after all, and everybody knows the value of fair play…

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Thumbnail sketch of all five characters, bing bang boom! Bill Mantlo doesn’t waste space in his story, as three supervillains (Mr. Magic, Mr. Muscle, and Mr. Mind [not the Wicked Worm] working for the mysterious Mr. Mayhem) set their sights on Team A! With all five men captured, all hope is LOST… until the mysterious Marauder arrives. Marauder displays his powers (he’s as strong as Wolf, as clever as Honcho, as agile as Reddy, as good a trick-rider as Cowboy… I don’t know what Wrench adds, unless his mechanical skills created Marauder’s super-bike) taking out all three men before falling to the level boss. Thankfully, the five T.A. members break free, taking out the big man himself and recommitting themselves to a team. Honcho remarks for the first time that the Marauder CAN’T be one of the team, as they were all present and kidnapped together, but suddenly remembers that he can’t be sure Wolf was there. Could big Lobo BE the ‘Rauder? Proof positive comes in the next issue, as El Lobo stands alone against the oh-so-very 1982 menace of… video games! An evil industrialist has been capturing children, wiring their brain into game consoles for his arcade and burning out their minds. Wolf agrees to help a young woman to find her little brother, captured to be used in the evil arcade. Wolf is captured, but freed by the Marauder, and his vengeance cometh right soon…

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Video arcades were everywhere back in the day (even my small town had THREE of ’em) but are a dying breed now, making for a nearly-nonsensical topical reference in 2007. Wolf’s solo shot (showing his strenght and tenacity) is quickly followed by one for Honcho, in which he is recruited again by “The Company” and sent undercover. He finds the conspiracy within the agency that he is hired to find, but quickly gets knocked out, and must be saved by… the Marauder! So, two members are clearly NOT the man in black, leaving three other suspects. Honcho is horrified to find that the evil types have a secondary plan in place: a car bomb!

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A solo turn for Reddy follows suit, as Mr. Roan heads home to visit an old flame, a girl named Evelyn. He finds only that a new chemical plant has gone up, polluting the entire region with filth (a strange green slime) and his girl has vanished mysteriously. Reddy is horrified to be nearly killed by a couple of good old boys in a truck, but even moreso when the truck slides into the green much and MELTS. He pulls his would-be assassins to safety, and finds his girl hiding out. It’s all very ‘Silkwood’ as he discovers that Evy is now trying to undermine the company, but a crash knocks him (and her) out in the swamp. Suddenly, the Marauder strikes! 3 down… The evil overlord of the company panics, tripping over his own machine and dissolving in slime, which Reddy and his girl run for cover…

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Leaping to safety, Reddy decides to see the future again, presaging ‘Terminator’ by hitting the slime with an oil truck and letting it explode. In a recurring them, Reddy ends up flat broke after paying for the truck, keeping him from paying back the money owed to his rich fatcat old man (the main reason he performs in the first place.) Next up: Cowboy, as Luke heads home to Austin, Texas for a rodeo (which he apparently performs in on his cycle) and some completely implausible tricks.

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Cowboy prefers to call them the SUGGESTIONS of physics. When his new girlfriend P.J. (daughter of a prominent local cattleman) disappears, Cowboy is considered the main suspect, forcing the mysterious Marauder to get involved and track her. Cowboy teams up with the local sheriff (who loves P.J. himself) only to find that the kidnapper is a wackjob who calls himself the ‘Emperor of Texas.’ Cowboy is told that he can win P.J.’s freedom by racing the Emperor’s Spartacus chariot. Nearly sacrificing himself, Cowboy frees P.J. and the other kidnappees (did I mention there were other kidnappees?) leaving the Marauder to deal with the Emperor, who reveals that he is in possessing of a Jupiter Missile, hidden inside his statue of the deity of the same name. ‘Raudy McDowell strikes is forced to move quickly, fusing the machines that control the silo…

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Cowboy throws himself on his own sword, figuratively speaking, fooling P.J. into thinking she was just a fling for him, sending her back to the sheriff who loves her. When the team reunites, we find Wrench’s girlfriend, Georgianna, is suddenly spending a great deal of time with Cowboy. After a series of races go bad, the team finds themselves flat broke, but Wrench has an idea that can get them some of the proverbial phat cash…

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Once again with the whining about money, eh, Reddy? Unfortunately, you can’t build the prototype of Tim Burton’s Batmobile without capital, and the stress of arguing threatens to tear the team apart. For the first time, the mysterious Marauder arrives to save Team America’s members from a DIFFERENT kind of danger: financial ruin.

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The team awakens the next day to find Marauder’s bike in their camp, with only a note that says “M” to explain it. Once again, there is suspicion that one of the squad IS Marauder, but they manage to use the magical black cycle to win a series of races, and the accompanying cash prizes, but everyone wonders the same thing: Where the heck did this bike COME from? It’s well beyond anything any of the experienced riders of Team America have ever seen… Having raised the prize money to build his project, Wrench is heartbroken to see his girl keep disappearing with Cowboy, but builds the car to save them all. The stresses of HAVING money also threaten to pull Team America apart (makes you wonder if they’re really supposed to be together since all it takes is a mouse breaking wind and they’re at one another’s throats) and Honcho breaks up a fight about who will drive by making a command decision and doing it his own damn self.

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When your car just blows up like that, I’d say perhaps that design isn’t nearly as innovative as Wrench wants to think. Maybe he shouldn’t power it with sparklers and bottle rockets dipped in 3-In-1 Oil? Either way, Team America agrees to work for Stark, but finds their individuality crushed in a huge squad of polished, professional riders. Wrench, unable to specialize to the degree a huge team of mechanics expects, has trouble fitting in, and is horrified to find that Stark Industries has taken the Marauder’s bike (part and parcel of the Team America contract) and begun to dissect it to find its secrets. Mudge laughs it off, sending the team packing when they wash out of his stupid tests, but isn’t ready for their SIXTH member. Unfortunately, Anthony Stark is…

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The Golden Avenger allows big M to retrieve his property, and takes the Mudge issue into this own hands. Mudge is “disciplined” (Maybe he’s the first to be fired into the Negative Zone?) and when the team busts into Tony’s office the next morning to demand the return of the stolen ebon cycle, they find that Stark understands all too well the demands inherent in keeping up with technology.

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Yay! Iron Man is a hero! Team America is able to bankroll new equipment and return to the racing circuit. Soon afterwards, Honcho is stunned to see a young man sifting through his hotel room. When he tries to apprehend him, the man leaps out the window and disintegrates on his way to the ground. A group of dirty hippie types calling themselves The Children of Dust suddenly arrive, saying they’ve come for Honcho. Their leader, a man called Ashe, gasses Reddy and escapes with Honcho. When MacDonald awakens a few hours later, he is apparently on the Spahn ranch

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Perhaps it’s indelicate of me to mention, but that woman has a balcony you could do Shakespeare off… Anyway, Ashe arrives, saves Honcho from disembowelment, and explains that he used to be a rich chemist, but created his “magic dust” by accident, and decided on a life of Hedonism. He uses the poison dust (which is what made the kid dissolve) to keep his enemies in line. Cowboy and Wolf join forces to track down a member of the Cult, freeing Honcho, but not before Ashe takes off in a plane laden with enough dust to kill the entire city of Vegas. The Marauder once again saves the day, steering the plane into the desert and setting it on FIRE. Go, Marauder! Returning to his hotel suite, Honcho finds that he’s recieved a letter, mailed by one of the cultists to undermind the cult. This letter is what led Ashe to Honcho in the first place, and Ashe rips it open to destroy the evidence…

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Wow. Turns out the turncoat was really a true believer in Ashe who wanted to kill Honcho in his name. That’s what they call Cosmic Justice… Tensions ratchet up again as the team enters a series of road races, only to find that Georgianna and Cowboy are yet again disappearing together. Wolf and Reddy are getting on one another’s nerves, with El Lobo refusing to help pack any of the tools or gear, indicating that he’s a driver and won’t sully himself with such menial pursuits. Even easy-going Wrench finds his temper getting away from him…

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Lobo stomps off in a huff, only to see ads for the Quentin Carnival, and it’s star attraction, stunt-rider Johnny Blaze. Even Wolf is impressed with Johnny’s motorcycle mastery, but his fun is due to be cut short, as Hydra once again rears it’s shrouded head in agony! That night, The Marauder rides free, but finds that he’s not the ONLY super-cyclist in town, as Johnny Blaze’s other half comes to the forefront, and the demon Zarathos takes control of their shared form as… GHOST RIDER!!

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Before Ghost Rider can kill him, though, Johnny Blaze regains control, and both men return to their lives… The next day, Team America (represented by Reddy) participates in the great road race, only to see Johnny lose control of Ghost Rider again. Not understanding what the Marauder is, G.R. sets out to destroy him, playing a deadly game of chicken… As the Marauder and Ghost Rider are consumed by a huge ball of hellfire, the entire TOWN reveals itself to be agents of Hydra, and attacks Team America! Holy $#!+! Both cyclists stagger free of the wreckage, but it is Ghost Rider who gains the upper hand.

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Timing is everything, however, as Hydra suddenly swoops in to attack, and instead of facing Marauder, gets devastated by a terribly angry Ghost Rider. Zarathos destroys nearly all the Hydra agents single-handedly, then departs for his carnival, while Team America finds the unconscious Marauder on the ground. Finally able to unmask the mysterious Marauder and see who he is, they’re shocked to find that Honcho was right: Marauder IS one of their own!

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Not only can she not ride like The Marauder has shown himself able to do, she didn’t join the group until AFTER The Marauder had assembled the original three members! Georgianna doesn’t have any memory of being the big M, but the questions are tabled as the leader of the local Hydra sect attacks. Reddy gets the best of her, but it’s Honcho who finally holds a gun to her, forcing her to tell the truth… She explains, for the first time, the true origins of Team America!

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The woman reveals that she is just a normal housewife, mostly, who took a job with Hydra when her husband was injured in an industrial accident. The Team comes together again for the final time to overcome Hydra, once and for all defeating the cell that has been following them for a year. During the fight, even Georgianna rides a motorcycle into battle, and afterwards, her skill with the beast leads Wrench to ask if she’s the Marauder again… Georgianna replies that she’s not, but that all the time she’s spent with Cowboy hasn’t been for romance. It’s been so that he can teach her to ride so she can join the team! Wrench is so happy, he proposes to her, and the team regretfully decides to go their separate ways. Reddy is crushed by this, having still not made enough to pay off his dad, but with Honcho’s support, Winthrop Jr. contacts Winthrop Sr., who not only doesn’t care about being paid back, he’s willing to help spring for a huge wedding to celebrate getting his son back…

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After the wedding, Wrench and Georgianna set off on their honeymoon, and Honcho is conscripted back into CIA service straight out of the reception. Wolf bids Cowboy (but not Reddy) farewell, and takes off on his chopper into the sunset, and Cowboy reveals that he so enjoyed teaching Georgianna that he’s considering opening his own riding school. A tearful Reddy boards a plane and heads for home, but as he takes off, he wonders… Even if they’re broken up, can they still create the Marauder? As his plane flies over a bluff, the answer to his question stares up at it, watching impassively as the last T.A. member disappears.

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So… wait. If they psychically imprint him on an innocent, doesn’t this mean that some poor bastid is now stuck as a ninja biker? And moreover, where does the motorcycle come from when they do that? It’s never quite made clear, even when the team reappears later in New Mutants (to have Charles Xavier train them in the use of their powers) and The Thing (where they’re rechristened the Thunderriders, as the Team America license was no longer Marvel’s to use.) Extremely minor characters, even by MY standards, Team America is nonetheless an interesting read. Full of potboiler cliches and flowery prose, it also contained some beautiful pinups, and a recurring feature throughout the twelve issues called Honcho’s Hints.

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You gotta love Wolf’s 1950’s Spaghetti Western badguy dialect… Team America was certainly not the success that G.I. Joe became, lasting a mere 12 issues, but crossing over into the Marvel Universe itself, something that G.I. Joe’s more realistic take would not allow. The idea of a roving band of stunt-bikers is an odd one to hinge a superhero title upon, and though I love it, it’s through the rose-colored glasses of “awesome when I read it the first time.” Still, as predictable as it could sometimes be, it had colorful characters and situations, a fair helping of drama, and some fun (if exaggerated) character interactions. It may not hold up to scrutiny against today’s more believable stories, but it also doesn’t depress me the way many titles do now… Team America’s run, judged as best I can against the twin devils of memory and increased sophistication, still rates as an above-average run of comics that can be had for virtually nothing. It’s one of the titles I wish Marvel would trade paperback, and I give it 3 out of 5 red-white-and-blue holiday stars. If only Honcho were here to make a stern speech, followed by a Cheech Marin digression from Wolf, a dumb joke from Reddy, and some southern-fried cornpone idiocy from Cowboy… At least we’ll always have the Emperor of Texas.

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The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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2 Comments

  1. John Smith
    August 12, 2007 at 5:37 pm — Reply

    This is one series I’d LOVE to see get a modern day revision!

  2. Stefanie
    March 7, 2012 at 5:33 pm — Reply

    I love Georgianna’s wedding outfit!

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