When I was a youngster…and as I got older, too, I was always a big fan of the Super-Team. The X-Men, X-Factor, Alpha Flight, The Avengers…some of these were my favorite comics. And of course, the Super Friends was an old school cartoon that we loved as littl'uns.
A quick google tells me that the Justice League was the first superhero team in comics, in 1940. That made me happy because I thought I had an earlier example that made a big impression on me as a kid.
In The Wizard of Oz (1939), one of the classic scenes (in a movie full of classic scenes) is the poppy field sequence, where Dorothy and company encounter the poppies en route to the Emerald City. Excited, the group rushes forward.
There's a shot of the Scarecrow and Tin Man running full tilt before realizing that Dorothy, the Lion and Toto are all unsteady on their feet and wanting to rest. All three of them pass out. Of course, the Scarecrow and Tin Man do not. They are magical beings. So is the Lion, but the man of straw and man of metal do not breathe air, so are not affected by the poppies.
This made a huge impression on me as a kid for some reason. It just rang so true to me as a fan of comic books and superhero teams, to see certain members with certain powers or properties that set them apart from others: Each member has their strengths and weaknesses.
I think I read the book but didn't remember, so I looked it up and the poppy field scene plays out pretty much this way in the novel by L. Frank Baum from 1900! So that puts Dorothy's squad well before the Justice League. In the poppy chapter there's also a sequence where the Scarecrow is stuck on a raft in the river, and a Stork is able to lift him because he's featherlight, being composed mostly of straw.
The Scarecrow and Tin Man also have their specific weaknesses, fire and water, respectively. And all the cohorts have the mix between being more than human, and less than human (or believing they are).
Anyway, I don't know if this is stupid, but it came back to my mind this week for some reason. The Wizard of Oz is not a superhero story, exactly…but are they the proto-Superhero Team in a way?
Okay, IIIIIIIII'm off…
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Super Teams are the BaumBanes at 12:00AM, Dec. 15, 2022
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bravo1102 at 9:38AM, Dec. 16, 2022
Ozoneocean might want to check out the German 1942 version of Baron Munchhausen. It heavily influenced Gilliam as well being a very good reworking of the story. And it was made as an escapist fantasy like the Huge Hollywood movie Thief of Baghdad. Great filmmaking and no politics. UFA for their anniversary wanted to show up Hollywood so they did.
PaulEberhardt at 5:18AM, Dec. 16, 2022
Anyway, no wonder, superhero team stories are aplenty and will never get old. I love them a lot, too, as long as they're not preachy the way I tried to illustrate with the mangled quotes below. The old ones you mentioned here never are, and, fortunately, a lot of the newer ones aren't either. Perhaps their most positive promotional message is that you don't give up any of your individuality to be part of a team, but the team will actually help you to really stand out, as long as your team can work as a unit with every member supplementing each other (the very kind of near-perfect coordination that is any working team leader's wet dream). Those stories that recognise that it needs effort and discipline to get to that point are my favourite ones.
PaulEberhardt at 5:18AM, Dec. 16, 2022
...leading us to the other main motif, apart from helping each other realise their own powers: Alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much! The strength of each team member is the team!! Talent wins duels, but teamwork and intelligence slay dragons!!! Lone wolfs are the bark, packs are the bite!!!! Yadda yadda!!!!! Now for some group work, kids, because it's the optimum preparation for life!!!!!! Team work means everybody's teaming while one's doing the work (cue screeching sound of sb. slamming on the brakes) - ahem! - This kind of thing is as old as the first stone age hunting groups, and stories like that have always resonated well, because as social animals building teams is hardwired into us. Today's chiefs (i.e. bosses who want to appear up-to-date and teachers who include the inventors of this labour-saving device called group work in their morning prayers) for some reason feel team work needs promotion - because it's easier to hunt mammoths on your own these days?
Ozoneocean at 8:06PM, Dec. 15, 2022
Then there's the super team of Thor, Loki and Odin as the join up on at least one adventure... Usually it's just Thor and Loki. And we can never forget Money, Pigsy, Sandy and Tipitaka in the Journey to the West! That bunch are a team of mega heroes for sure! Then there's the Irsh Finn MacCool, Diarmuid of the Love Spot, and Conan who had wild adventures in the mists of Irish mythology. You might also remember The Adventures of Baron Von Münchhausen (the Guillam movie version), he had a group of superheros in that that I'm pretty sure came from an older alternative source to the original Baron's stories though I don't know for sure. I read about all those characters when I was little in a picturebook - a guy who can sneeze so hard he creates storms, a man who can run faster than a bullet, a hunter who can shoot amazingly well and so on. They all team up in a super powered group. It's a very old story. Wish I could recall what it was called!!!!
Ironscarf at 8:26AM, Dec. 15, 2022
Definitely not the first super team, they precede recorded history I'm sure, but a really good example and an enjoyable post! It was always the group dynamics of the Fantastic Four and especially the Avengers I loved as a kid, much more than the action.
EssayBee at 6:30AM, Dec. 15, 2022
Just commenting to tip my hat to the brilliant title of this article. And your take on Wizard of Oz isn't off-base at all. Doom Patrol has all sorts of Oz nods.
bravo1102 at 3:25AM, Dec. 15, 2022
Jason and the Argonauts definitely a superteam. Most Greek mythological heroes match modern superheroes. Gil-gamesh is way up there and even appeared in some Marvel comics. Hercules had his own title with modern adventures. I was a fan of the 1970s Invaders when they backdated them to WW2. I also remember reading a the compilation of 1950s comics DC put out in the 1970s with the JSA. They also had a far future incarnation of it that was occasionally featured.
MOrgan at 1:57AM, Dec. 15, 2022
No it was the Justice Society of America, the Justice League of America didn't come around until around I think the early '60s. Although for a proto-superteam go to Greek mythology's Argonauts, a whole bunch of Greek heroes coming together for a quest for the Golden Fleece.
bravo1102 at 1:38AM, Dec. 15, 2022
It's been said that the whole story is the character's quest to realize their powers like Percival or Lancelot in the Chretien de'Troyes versions of their stories.