These days, super teams adjust their rosters almost constantly, with members coming and going as if through a revolving door. But every so often, teams change completely, in some cases losing every member and replacing them with brand new faces. With Marvel rebranding its long-standing Defenders franchise as The Fearless Defenders, including regular team member Valkyrie, we thought we’d take a look at some of comics’ most radical team makeovers.
10. The New Avengers (New Avengers #1)
When The Avengers first assembled, the team was a collection of Marvel’s headliners, Thor, Iron Man, Hulk, Ant-Man and The Wasp. But over the years, a dozen or so characters who were not stars of their own books became fixtures in the title, such as Scarlet Witch and The Vision. In 2005, writer Brian Michael Bendis decided to go back to the “all-star” concept, bringing in shocking choices Wolverine and Spider-Man. He also wanted to showcase some lesser-known characters and brought in the equally shocking Spider-Woman, Luke Cage, Sentry and Echo (as Ronin). Though the new line-up threw fans for a loop, the change was a hit and redefined The Avengers for a new age.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Captain America, Iron Man)
9. The New Teen Titans (The New Teen Titans #1)
The Teen Titans were created as a junior version of the Justice League of America, starring the sidekicks of DC’s biggest heroes, namely Robin, Kid Flash, Aqualad and Wonder Girl, often joined by Green Arrow’s ward Speedy. Over the years, other teen characters were added to the team, but the book was never a smash success. It was cancelled (again) in the late seventies, but didn’t remain shelved for long. Writer Marv Wolfman and artist George Perez relaunched the team in 1980, with a more mature slant… and without most of its former cast. Robin, Kid Flash and Wonder Girl were back, but were joined by the former Beast Boy (now called Changeling), the damaged class clown and three new characters, Cyborg (an angry, “deformed” former athlete), Starfire (an innocent, yet sexually liberated alien princess) and Raven (an emotionally repressed daughter of a demon warlord). This volatile mix was a smash right out of the gate and even resulted in the Justice League being recast to be more like the Titans! (See #7.)
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Robin, Kid Flash, Wonder Girl)
8. Justice League/Justice League International (Justice League #1)
After, ahem the next entry on this list, DC needed to return the Justice League franchise to its former glory, post-Crisis on Infinite Earths. Writer Keith Giffen had hoped to reassemble the team’s all-star lineup with The Flash, Superman, Wonder Woman, etc. but was told… NO! The writers and editors of the big heroes’ home books wouldn’t relinquish their characters to the team, so instead he, along with co-writer J.M. Dematteis, gathered a squad that included former members Martian Manhunter, Batman and Black Canary as well as heroes that represented the various Earths that had just been merged into one. From Earth S/5, there was Captain Marvel (partially standing in for Superman). From Earth 4, came Blue Beetle. From Earth 2, there was Dr. Fate. And from Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, Mr. Miracle joined, frequently bringing his manager Oberon and wife Big Barda along for the ride. Also included were two heroes that emerged during the Crisis, Dr. Light and Green Lantern, Guy Gardner. Readers tuned in, like the book’s creators, hoping to see a return to form for the illustrious super group. What they got instead was an irreverent and humorous take on super heroics. It was a hit! If you ever see someone in a comic or elsewhere going “Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha,” well, that came from this book. This version of the Justice League was so popular that it spawned many spin-offs including Justice League Europe and solo books for Dr. Fate and Mr. Miracle. Eventually, the writers moved on and subsequent creators weren’t able to match their humorous nature, so the team returned to more straightforward super heroics. But this incarnation of the League is such a beloved favorite that Giffen, DeMatteis and artist Kevin Maguire re-assembled this cast in two miniseries.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Martian Manhunter)
7. “Justice League Detroit” (Justice League of America Annual #2)
Ugh. This happened. Behind the scenes, creators responsible for the solo titles of DC’s biggest stars started making it difficult for their characters to be used in the Justice League of America comic. Sales on the book were slipping and it was being vastly outsold by The New Teen Titans and Marvel’s The Uncanny X-Men, both starring younger, edgier heroes. Hey, what worked for those books should work for Justice League, right? Wrong. Writer Gerry Conway, ditched the all-star line-up, retaining characters that didn’t have their own books and added younger characters; model-turned-hero Vixen (looking more than a little like Tina Turner, who was having a comeback at the time), patriotic Steel, barefoot runaway Gypsy (bearing a resemblance to Cyndi Lauper) and breakdancer Vibe. It. BOMBED. This version of the League lasted three years before being rebooted as #8 on this list. Upgrade!
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Martian Manhunter, Aquaman, Zatanna, Elongated Man)
6. The All-New, All-Different X-Men (Giant Size X-Men #1)
The X-Men weren’t always the success they are today. The book, starring five Caucasian American teens that came across more than a little like a retread of the more successful Fantastic Four, was actually cancelled in the early 70s. Then in 1975, writer Len Wein and artist Dave Cockrum brought back the X-Men concept, heroes born with a genetic x-factor that granted them super powers when they hit puberty, but in a more diverse fashion, including characters from around the globe. From Africa came Storm, who could manipulate the weather. Colossus was a simple Russian farm boy, who turned into indestructible steel. Native American Thunderbird had super strength and stamina. German-born Nightcrawler looked like a blue-furred demon and could climb walls and teleport. Pre-existing characters Banshee (Ireland), Wolverine (Canada) and Sunfire (Japan) were also added to the mix. But the only carry-overs from the former team were founder Professor X and field leader Cyclops. The result? A certified phenomenon that changed the face of comics. Chris Claremont took over writing the book with this team’s second issue and killed off one of its new members, establishing that readers could never know what was going to happen next. Claremont wrote the book for almost two decades and crafted some of comics’ most famous tales, including “Days of Futures past” and the “Dark Phoenix Saga.”
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Professor X, Cyclops)
5. “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” (Avengers #16)
As stated, The Avengers were created as Marvel’s answer to the Justice League, a rallying point for its biggest names. Yet… in issue #16 of their original comic, the big headliners, Iron Man, Thor, Giant Man and The Wasp departed, leaving the only-recently-revived Captain America to assemble a new force, comprised of ex-criminals looking to reinvent themselves as heroes, Hawkeye, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. It kind of worked! The Wasp and Giant Man (now calling himself Goliath) returned within a year and the group was later joined by Hercules (essentially standing in for Thor) and later the Black Panther. Eventually, Iron Man and Thor returned as well, but Cap’s Kooky Quartet are a fondly remembered period of Marvels’ super team supreme.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: Captain America)
4. The Legionnaires (Legion of Super Heroes Vol. 4 #24)
In 1989, writer Keith Giffen relaunched DC’s long-running Legion of Super Heroes by leaping ahead five years. He slowly reintroduced the characters from the old series, but as grizzled, hardened adults, who didn’t use code-names and maybe weren’t so heroic anymore. It was a darker, more mature take on the once sparkly clean, optimistic team. Eventually, this older Legion discovered what they thought were themselves, except younger. It turns out that the villain the Time Trapper, knowing that Zero Hour was approaching, created temporal duplicates of the heroes from a period of time before Ferro Lad’s death, in preparation for Zero Hour. This “back to basics” take proved popular enough that once Zero Hour reconfigured DC’s continuity, the Legionnaires became the “real” Legion again.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: None… Or maybe all.)
3. X-Factor (X-Factor Vol. 1 #71)
In 1986, Marvel revived Jean Grey and she reunited with her former X-Men co-founders Cyclops, Angel, Beast and Ice Man as X-Factor, an incognito team that claimed to be mutant hunters, but who were secretly seeking out young mutants to protect them. This version of the team lasted years, but eventually it was decided that these founders should return to the X-Men. Since X-Factor had been successful, Marvel chose to keep the title, but to recast the entire team. Stepping into the leadership role was Cyclops’ brother Havok, and he was joined by Polaris, Wolfsbane, Strong Guy, Quicksilver and Jaime Maddrox. Writer Peter David established the book with a unique, humorous voicen (one issue revolved around them attending therapy) and it remains a fondly recalled fan-favorite title.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: None)
2. X-Force (X-Force Vol. 1 #116)
X-Force was originally a reboot of The New Mutants, with Cannonball and his allies gaining the leadership of Cable and becoming a more proactive super team. This version lasted for quite some time, but eventually the book was completely relaunched under the hands of writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred. This new version bore NO resemblance to the former, showcasing a government-sponsored mutant team dispatched on deadly missions. In a shocking twist, nearly the entire team is killed off in their first issue! This series seemed designed to shock with death and super-violence appearing quite commonplace. They even planned to do a story starring a reanimated Princess Di, but common sense prevailed and the story was altered.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: None. Also, I don’t think anyone from this version survived either.)
1. The Fantastic Four (Fantastic Four #348)
The one team that seems the most consistent in all of comics is the first family, The Fantastic Four. Oh sure, Luke Cage or the She-Hulk might fill in every so often, but the FF are Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Human Torch and the Thing. Or Reed, Sue, Johnny and Ben. But once, these heroes were unavailable, so who filled in? Marvel’s biggest sellers, Spider-Man, Wolverine, The Incredible Hulk and Ghost Rider! Wait… what? It was just a one-off story, with these disparate heroes battling FF baddie the Mole Man, but what a crazy concept! The illustrations, by Art Adams, were quite memorable and fans still remain wistful for this two-part story.
(Characters remaining from former line-up: None)
Did I miss anyone? Please comment below!