Marvel’s Old School ‘A-Team’ Comic Pities Fools, Hates Planes
This week's release of "Shotgun Wedding" may have been the first of IDW's "A-Team" comics, released to tie in with this summer's big budget Liam Neeson/Rampage Jackson movie, but it's hardly the first time that the crack commando unit starred in comics.
No, that honor goes to Marvel's 1984 "A-Team" mini-series. Given that Marvel had already had success with licensed properties (most notably "G.I. Joe," "Transformers," and of course the incredibly profitable "Star Wars"), it's no surprise that they went after the show at the height of its popularity. What is surprising that they only made 3 issues, especially considering that they were able to wring seven out of "Logan's Run."
Despite its limited run--or maybe even because of it, as it never got the chance to wear out its welcome -- Marvel's "A-Team" is, like the show, pure, goofy fun, but it seems more than a little weird looking back. Today, most TV tie-in comics use the medium to tell stories that would be impossible on the screen due to budget limitations, taking advantage of the fact that an artist gets paid the same page-rate if he's drawing a titanic space battle or a chatty coversation, but writers Jim Salicrup, Marie Severin and Alan Kupperberg told stories that fit right in with the low-fi, made-for-TV aesthetics of the show.
Admittedly, there's some Russian super-spy-plane action in #3, but given that the plane's only in the air for 3 panels and that the majority of the story takes place on an top-secret Russian airbase that might as well have been on the back lot of Universal Studios, it feels even more like adventure on a budget than the other stories. Even so, it fits right in with other odd, low-rent Marvel Universe titles of the time like "U.S. 1" and "Team America," and at least part of that comes from the fact that the A-Team is essentially a militarized version of the Fantastic Four. Hannibal's plans make him a natural analogue to Reed, the fact that Amy's mostly invisible for the series makes her a stand-in for Sue, Johnny's duties of hitting on girls and annoying the other team members are split up between Murdock and Face, and BA, well, that should be obvious:
He's basically just the Thing with bling.
With his distinctive look, over-the-top growling catchphrases and the "A-Team's" signature cartoonish violence, B.A. Baracus (and, let's be honest here, Mr. T in general) was pretty much a walking comic book character already, which may explain why he's been a pretty frequent subject for comic series. Even discounting the short-lived series from a few years back that I'm pretty sure never made it to the second issue, there was "Mr. T and the T-Force," wherein the T-Force was the mystical energy at the source of Mr. T's power (yes, really), and an original graphic novel where he stars as a boydugard who gets an indestructible suit and then fights his caucasian equivalent, Mr. C, who has his hair cut into a C-shaped mohawk (again, yes, really).
But before any of those, there was "The A-Team," and right from the start, the guy just lent himself so perfectly to big, ridiculous, comic book throwdowns:
The first issue of the series focuses on a plot that, despite the fact that it involves stolen diamonds and a transvestite embezzler, is actually pretty generic and could've been lifted directly from the show, and the third revolves around a Roy Rogers analogue and his desire to steal the aforementioned bright red Russian spy plane, but the unquestionable highlight of the series Is #2, for the obvious reason they put on the cover:
B.A. BATTLES THE SUMO.
In this issue--and buckle up, because this is the most awesome plot summary you'll read all day--the A-Team is hired to rescue a businessman who was kidnapped during a trip to the Grand Canyon and then taken to the headquarters of an allegedly sinister cult known as the Sons of the Desert:
You'd think it would be a little easier for them to just call up the cops and tell them "Yeah, they've got him in the giant orange pagoda outside Flagstaff" than to pay the A-Team's million-dollar fee, but as we wouldn't have much of a comic if they did, that's never really addressed.
What is addressed is that Hannibal's master plan involves sneaking into a cult compound that has rejected the modern technology of the mid-80s by posing as a telephone repairman, which leads not only to Mr. T sumo wrestling, but to Hannibal himself in a nunchuk fight with a one-eyed karate master:
The craziest part, however, is that it's eventually revealed that the guy they've come to rescue has actually pulled a Bunny Lebowski and kidnapped himself, issuing his own $10,000,000 ransom to raise funds to complete his anti-technology cult compound, leaving his sons to assume that he has been murdered by double-crossing kidnappers.
And this is presented as a happy ending. I gotta say, I really hope that's the story they're basing the new movie on.