There are three kinds of teams when it comes to superheroes. The first is a group created as a team. The Fantastic Four is a good example. From the start they were meant to be a group of heroes brought together by fate from the start. The second type is the group brought together as a crossover, your Justice Leagues and Avengers. The third is the “family” a group that comes together over time sharing a motif. No, the Fantastic Four calling themselves a family doesn’t count because we aren’t talking the nuclear family or the “we’re such close people we’re a family in the nontraditional sense” type. We’re talking your Batman family or Superman family, where the term is more descriptive than official, a network of heroes with a similar theme rather than the variety seen in most teams. Even the X-Men, despite the shared logo and a matching costume in the early years before getting something more unique to the characters and powers, are only joined by being mutants in a moron world. They could be a family or more like the Spider-Folk where they just get along really well. Especially if you’re Spider-Man and Silk but that’s just a what the hell was the writer thinking ordeal.

This morning (depending on when you’re reading this) we looked at CBR’s list of terrible modern comic trends, as reviewed by Just Some Guy. As he noted this goes all the way back to the Golden Age. The most long-running example is the “Marvel Family”, back before there was a Marvel Comics to take advantage of legal shenanigans by others and deny Billy Batson his proper superhero name because “we’re Marvel Comics so WE should have a character named Captain Marvel” despite none of them ever catching on. Yes, that includes Carol Danvers taking on yet another superhero name to block DC. They weren’t alone, though. Bulletman had Bulletgirl and I think even a dog at some point. Hawkman and Hawkgirl fall into this despite being from the same planet depending on what origin we’re going with that particular Wednesday. Even cartoons got into this, with Hanna-Barbera’s Birdman eventually being joined by a Birdgirl and Birdboy. Not all of these teams share costume designs but they do share a theme.

CBR thinks the existence of the “family” is enough. However I would put it to you that the one big example they brought up is actually the best example of the Family Team concept done right, though the image they used as their example is the one done wrong.

Yeah, I’d say the Batman Family, officially given that title during the Silver or Bronze Age, though you could make the case that unofficially it goes back to the Golden Age. They have a shared motif as they’re all either Bat-themed or former Robins. Nightwing in his current costume is a bit of both, a former Robin but his costume design matches the Bat style, and even Red Hood Jason Todd is a bit of both. On the other hand, each hero is unique and at one point even represented something unique, or at least different aspects of the core character, Bruce “Batman” Wayne.

Batman is the “world’s greatest detective” and one of the best hand-to-hand fighters in the DC Universe as well as a master of stealth. However he’s only learned a few skills rather than mastering them all. He’s essentially a Jack Of All Trades but full master of none, combining different skills into a whole style. The others are each specialized in various skills Batman didn’t fully master. Tim Drake is better at putting clues together, the former Oracle was better at gathering intel and research, Nighting in some versions followed Batman’s training but as a former acrobat adds those skills that Bruce never learned. Batwoman’s current incarnation had military training. Jason Todd, Cassandra Cain, and Damien Wayne learned various other combat skills Bruce either never learned at all due to his nonlethal methods or didn’t fully grasp, including stealth and hand-to-hand mastery. Even Clayface (is he still there?) is a better master of disguise. Quick check: as of this writing yes. Then you have heroes that are just allies like The Knight and Squire. On the other hand, seeing the full list I do think CBR had a point. 27 is a lot of members and allies, though the list does say Alfred is still alive. I’m not saying there aren’t too many because youcan’t keep track of them all. Not all of them have their own books but do all of them show up in Batman’s solo book? And what does the Signal even do?

I can’t get the internet to give me an easy list of current Batman titles but between Detective Comics and Batman Incorporated (and The Outsiders if they brought that back) you’d think anyone that couldn’t hack their own title could get a spot on one of these comics. Frankly Batman Incorporated can be blamed for this, as Grant Morrison upped DC’s Bat-obsession like a drug pusher to someone already higher than Superman Gotham Girl can fly. There is a difference between the main family and allies I would hope, so maybe the Bat Family is an example of doing it right and doing it wrong. It’s basically just Oprah handing out bats and robins, but there was a time when it was done to the benefit and everyone had their own title or didn’t overshadow the core character they wrapped around.

Of course if you want an example of not getting it right, the Spider-Folks are probably the best example. While the Bat-Family is cored around Batman but each offers something to the table the current crop of spiders haven’t been the best of that. Spider-Woman was created because Stan Lee remembered when they ran out of Tarzan knockoffs and created the Jungle Girl craze and didn’t want the same mindset to hit competitors when Spider-Man took off. So they made their “woman spider” character first so they’d have a lock on the idea. However, Jessica Drew really had no connection to Spider-Man outside of the shared universe. Her origin isn’t tied to Spider-Man and isn’t even similar. She got her powers from an untested serum to save her life from a spider-bite. I think she shares his spider-sense and wall-crawling and not much else. Even her webbing, at least in the cartoon, came from her rather than webshooters, while she also could glide like some spiders and had a spider sting that immobilized opponents. She isn’t just “Spider-Man but a girl”.

Venom was supposed to be a villain but fans liked him so much that Marvel got the wrong idea and assumed they wanted him to be an antihero. The symbiote can shape-shift and his webbing is part of the symbiote but otherwise he just stole Spidey’s powers. Miles Morales was a rehash of Peter in the Ultimate universe down to his origin, the genetically altered spider you may remember from the Sam Raimi films. Raimi kind of borrowed a few things from the Ultimate Universe more than the regular Marvel universe, like Peter’s wrestling costume. Miles eventually got his own costume and now being in 616 there’s a grandfathered uniqueness to his origin but outside of turning invisible and sharing Jessica’s sting he’s nothing special. (Peter could also turn invisible thanks to his nanite anti-symbiote suit in the Spider-Man Unlimited cartoon while also having that power with the symbiotes if he thought about it, so nothing is really “new” about Miles besides his race, as his critics bring up.)

Gwen Stacy is literally a what-if as Ghost Spider of another universe but in some versions out of comics she’s in the regular universe with Peter and Miles. Scarlet Spider is literally just another Peter since he’s a clone. Silk is an Asian girl with her own costume and because they were bitten by the same radioactive spider they just want to have sex because Dan Slott. Okay, I double-checked and she does have organic webbing for some reason, which Raimi gave Peter in his movies because somehow chemist enthusiast with minor engineering skills instinctively creating artificial webbing was the one hill Sam wouldn’t die on. My point is none of them bring anything new to the table beside race or gender. Maybe Venom because of the alien symbiotes but these new spider-folk are retreads rather than the Bat-Family offering mastered versions of Batman’s individual skills.

And don’t get me started on all the different colored Hulks. Better parody writers and commentators than myself have already dissected that. Chris Giarrusso managed to do it with strips within actual Marvel comics and got away with it. Then there’s the current crop of Superman family members. Superman, Supergirl, and later Superboy were fine, with Steel as an ally. Now we have the Superman of China, clone Connor is back from the dead, Supergirl and Power Girl may be part of the team now, and we have the Superkids to replace the kid factor when they aged up Jon and ruined the story potential of watching Superman raising his child. Sorry, the kids are not a proper replacement. Also Lana may or may not still be Superwoman. I didn’t get enough research time to confirm that. Bet she doesn’t have a cape now, either.

This is slightly better. China’s “Super-Man” is just DC playing to China because that’s what Hollywood does and DC is part of the Hollywood system now. Jon was ruined before he ever left the closet. Connor is just there for the fanshippers with Tim, who was also turned bi for the fanshippers. Supergirl has a bad attitude. I’m not fully convinced they made Natasha the new Steel to compete with Ironheart but she should have gotten her own supername since her uncle John is still in business. The kids we just discussed. I don’t think they really bring anything new to the table that wasn’t lost elsewhere or done better.

Ultimately how you make a good “family” is having them offer something so unique that they could make it in their own title but together they’re stronger as a whole with the same theme. For the Superman family you have something more sci-fi, for the Batman family something more mystery related, while the Spider-Folk were better at just Peter, Jessica, and maybe Venom. Others are just derivatives to mark a representation checkbox (and that’s getting worse with the whole Spiderverse idea) or to keep a name. Sorry, Julia Carpenter, but there’s a reason you haven’t shown up outside of comics again outside of a non-Spider show and so few really remember your time as a Spider-Woman. The only Spider-GIRL that had any staying power was the alternate universe daughter of Peter Parker, and even poor Mayday only survived on fan demand for so long because there weren’t enough buying her comic.

The concept isn’t the problem. However, to make a good superfamily you have to get the formula right. Otherwise you dilute the concept and the hero the family is based around gets lost in the shuffle. Not everyone can be the Green Lantern Corps, even the Nova Corp. Done right they build on the core hero, give him or her allies and friends, and maybe be an actual family. Don’t throw out a good idea, just don’t bury it in cheap knockoffs of better ideas.


About ShadowWing Tronix

A would be comic writer looking to organize his living space as well as his thoughts. So I have a blog for each goal. :)

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