I’ve always been a fan of international super-teams. Maybe it’s because I was an American-born kid growing up in Canada or a Canadian-raised kid going to school in America. My affinity for superheroes based in other countries inevitably extended to teams representing other nations. I like teams from my own country or similar nations: Alpha Flight and Excalibur are two of my favorite titles. But I also loved it when the old Cold War Soviet Super Soldiers appeared in The Avengers. And I’ve always enjoyed meeting new international teams, like Japan’s Big Hero Six.
I like that every country has its own set of heroes: America, Canada, Russia, Japan, and so on. I like how these other heroes represent different cultures and different ways of looking at the world. I like how their interests sometimes conflict and sometimes overlap. I like that people from other countries are shown to be heroes too (even as someone who’s half-American, I get a little tired of a completely U.S.-centric approach).I like international super-teams.
The past two years have given me numerous opportunities to indulge this particular interest of mine. Grant Morrison introduced two new Asian super-teams from Asia and DC gave each of those teams their own mini-series. Japan’s Super Young Team appeared in Final Crisis: Dance last year; China’s Great Ten is currently appearing in an eponymous title. Marvel is also giving a push to the former Soviet Super Soldiers. They’re now known as the Winter Guard and they’ve appeared in a Hulk one-shot before moving on to their current mini-series, Darkstar and the Winter Guard.
Great Ten is the best of this trio. Tony Bedard and Scott McDaniel are telling a story that is simultaneously sprawling and compact. It’s been a delight to see how they juggle the diverse demands of the series. Each issue focuses on an individual member of the Great Ten, using flashbacks to tell their origin stories. We’re clued in to their powers and their personalities. The characters and their stories are different enough that the technique doesn’t feel repetitive. Meanwhile, the Great Ten are also involved in an epic story in the present as the gods of old China appear to have returned. The presence of the gods has split the team: some think it’s a hoax, some think it’s real, some serve the state no matter what and some don’t care. It’s a riveting and enjoyable story with sudden betrayals and other surprising turns. Great Ten has been one of the best mini-series I’ve read this year
and I’ve eagerly anticipated each new issue.
Unfortunately, Great Ten’s quality has been obscured by a cloud of other concerns. The big one is bad sales. DC infamously canceled Great Ten- initially scheduled as a ten-issue mini-series- with issue nine. It appears that Bedard and McDaniel will still be able to tell their whole story; the tenth issue mentions two featured characters instead of one. But the quick hook turned the Great Ten into an internet punch-line. It’s undeserved as Great Ten is an excellent mini-series.
Final Crisis: Dance is, sadly, the worst of the trio. Artist ChrisCross does a decent job, though his art is occasionally obscured by the all-too common complaint of too-dark coloring. Writer Joe Casey, however, misses the mark by a mile. It’s a problem that has affected other Casey projects such as Youngblood or the Intimates. Casey often chooses to portray the superhero life beyond the battle between good and evil. He’ll explore politics, celebrity or technology. It could make for an interesting theme or a great setting but it doesn’t work as the center of the story. It’s all icing and no cake. We’re not interested in Superbat’s website or twitter account if we’re not interested in him as a person or a hero. And if we don’t see him do anything other than tweet, we won’t care about him.
FC: Dance almost gets interesting around the fourth issue. The team temporarily
disbands. Shiny Happy Aquazon goes home to Japan and tries to join the Big Science Action team that her father helped found. However, she’s rejected for membership partly because of the Young Team’s celebrity status. It’s a poignant emotional moment as Aquazon feels rejected by her own father. Regrettably, it was a short-lived sub-plot. However, it does show that the Super Young Team has the potential to be interesting.
The focus should be on developing personalities instead of portraying caricatures. Technology and celebrity should be a side-dish to a story with action and emotion as the main course.
Winter Guard falls somewhere in the middle. David Gallaher and Steve Ellis give us a solid superhero story. It’s not as technically proficient or interesting as Great Ten. But they do throw in a slight twist to the concept. The idea of the Winter Guard is more important to Russia than its individual members, so they’re replaced by other heroes with
the same powers when they die or become too troublesome. In a way, Winter Guard shows FC: Dance how it’s done, striking a nice balance between a main plot and the government control concept. I miss the original Darkstar, Laynia Petrova- who I knew from Champions, X-Men and other comics of the ‘70s and ‘80s- yet I think they deal with her absence effectively. The replacement Darkstar asks the same questions about being able to fill the former heroine’s shoes. Plus, Ursa Major continues to mourn the loss of his sister.
It’s a little early to give Winter Guard a full verdict. So far I’ve only read one issue
of the three issue mini-series, plus the Hulk one-shot from this past winter. It’s
off to a good start, though. At least it won’t be canceled early a la the Great Ten.
That’s what’s going on around the world. At least, around the world as we see it from our vantage in America. That’s a fine thing or a fan of international super-teams like me.