When Ghost Rider fought Team America in the 80s, they made the villains look good. With “heroes” like these, no wonder some people say, “Hail Hydra!”
Let’s get this straight right off the bat: This is not the cult-classic puppet movie, but a comic about a diverse biker gang that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike Evel Knievel. The “Team America” brand was created by Ideal Toys to capitalize on the Evel Knievel stunt-bike craze of the 70s and 80s, though they dropped the Evel license after Knievel was arrested for assault.
Marvel was big on licensed comics at the time, publishing the likes of G. I. Joe, Transformers, Godzilla, and their biggest hit, Star Wars, so they adapted the toys to the comics, fitting right in with other motorcycling heroes like Captain America and, of course, Ghost Rider.
Being a smaller book with beyond C-list heroes, the series didn’t get a lot of traction, so as the series was on it’s way out, Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter took over plotting duties, with Tom Defalco scripting – and boy did it get weird.
Yes, This Guy Is One of the Heroes
This issue focuses on one of the team, El Lobo. Everyone else calls him “Wolf,” but he calls himself “El Lobo,” in the third person. I guess Spanish was too difficult to attempt. Speaking of, El Lobo wins a motorcycle race in Oklahoma, but is pissed when “Señor McDonald” asks him to pick up his own equipment while the others pack up their own. The nerve, right? So he takes off on his own and runs afoul of the Winderfields. The elderly Mr. and Mrs. Winderfield comment on the hippie-Nazi biker as their daughter decides to get on the strange man’s bike. Because of course she does.
This moment of liberation for young Mary-Michelle takes a dark turn as El Lobo – who hasn’t even introduced himself yet -tells the girl he’s going to take her away for “a while.” Uh… yeah… and just in case things weren’t clear enough, the next panel lets us know “hours pass.” And before anyone asks, a later page establishes that she’s 19, so that’s … okay, I guess?
Wild oats having been sown, El Lobo takes his girl-for-the-day to the Quentin Carnival to check out potential stunt-bike rival Johnny Blaze (don’t tell anyone, but Johnny is Ghost Rider!). The rest of his team shows up and tell him not to get involved with a “local chippie.” Seems they’re as creeped out interest in him as they are worried he’ll start trouble with local Okies. Little do they know, her parents have been following El Lobo (For how long? Did they see the… uh… hours pass…?). On a nearby hilltop, Mama and Papa are spying on the team using high-tech, computerized, X-ray binoculars. Where would two old folks from Oklahoma get that kind of equipment, you ask? They’re deep-cover Hydra agents. Naturally.
The Bad Guys are Sympathetic
First off, the Winderfields don’t seem to be in the wrong – not entirely. Sure, they are overprotective of their legally-an-adult daughter, but this guy is, to all appearances, a creeper. It’s not like they go and kidnap their daughter away from him. Hell, even Johnny Blaze notes that the members of Team America are creeps and punks upon meeting them (and strangely says team-leader Honcho “smells like a cop”). Still, they are Hydra, and that makes them evil, right? Well, the Winderfields call their regional command center, not to get back-up saving their daughter from herself, but to inform Hydra Regional Director Elsie Carson that Team America is in the area.
Although modern comics are all about deconstructing superheroes and making bad guys seem like conflicted lost souls, it’s rare to see a comic from that era (outside of a few standout gems like Power Man and Iron Fist) give the villains such a fleshed-out, human backstory. Elsie, as she encourages her peons to call her, is a nice boss who only wants what’s best for her company. She knows Hydra has been interested in Team America since birth (literally), and is trying to uncover the identity of the Maurader, an unexplained and seemingly supernatural biker that appears whenever Team America’s in trouble (this was an ongoing mystery, with even readers kept in the dark). To make things more interesting, we learn Hydra has great employee packages – Elsie takes home $250 K a year when the average American earned $14,000. This enables her to care for her wheelchair-bound husband and two young children.
Because of course the Hydra leader’s husband is in a wheelchair with her two young children at home.
Meanwhile, the heroes of our story are busy a) fighting amongst themselves, b) creating rivalries with other bikers, and c) corrupting the youth. Ghost Rider, the heroic guest star of the issue, gets involved to challenge the Maurader to a bike-measuring contest.
Ghost Rider and Maurader Fight – Because Reasons
After Team America verbally spars with Johnny Blaze, Mary-Michelle says goodbye to El Lobo.
“I know I’ll never see you again, Wolf … but that really doesn’t matter! You’ve already opened my eyes so much, in such a short time. I’ll do whatever you think is best. Bye!”
That’s literally all her, with no real prompting from El Lobo, and only a grunt from him as a response. That night, the Maurader drives by the Winderfield home just as Mary-Michelle tells her parents she’s leaving forever, then the mysterious motorcyclist parks in the desert and waits. On cue, Ghost Rider appears – keep in mind, at this time Blaze had a Banner/Hulk relationship with the demon Zarathos, who was a Spirit of Vengeance, but mainly existed to start fights. Sensing the Maruader’s “great power,” Zarathos saught the biker out, but as the mute being stared, Ghost Rider just yelled and pouted until Johnny resumed control of his body. No fight that night.
The next day, Agent Elsie begrudgingly orders a “visible and spectacular” assault on Team America at the command of the Supreme Hydra, but just as dozens of heavily armed Hydra agents attack Lakebed Speedway where Team America is racing, Ghost Rider publicly calls out the Maurader. (As an aside, racers are competing from around the world, so as the Rider appears, one blurts out “sacré bleu!”)
Ghost Rider and Maurader trade blows while the race continues (because they’re here to win, dammit). The demon Zarathos doesn’t consider the bystanders at first, but as Maurader moves to save El Lobo from Mr. Winderfield (who helped set up Hydra’s involvement, but stayed to get revenge on the mustacheod biker), Rider realizes who the real bad guy is. Not himself, obviously, that would mean taking some personal responsibility. Rider starts blasting away at Hydra agents, singlehandedly turning back the enemy army.
When All’s Said and Done
Once the “heroes” and villains have fled, Winderfield is without his daughter, Elsie is forced to admit failure to her commanding officer (with the expectation of her death as a result), and Mary-Michelle is happy to learn the man who changed her life is still alive.
With Ghost Rider gone, Team America finally confront the Maurader to learn the unknown biker is… To be continued next issue.
Ah, heck with it. Next issue they learn the Maurader is all of them. It seems “he” was a gestalt being made up of their combined psychic energy (or somesuch), possessing one of them in times of need. No doubt it possessed El Lobo the night it drove by the Winderfield’s house. Shortly after that, Marvel lost (or gave up) the license to Team America, and the group was re-dubbed the Thunderiders. Characters like El Lobo and Elsie belong to Marvel while the “Team America” brand (and probably the characters’ stage names) could be property of either Mattel or Hasbro today.
Then they were never heard from again.
Gotta admit though, it’d be fun to see the Thunderiders, or at least El Lobo or the Maurader, again. C’mon Marvel, the stunt motorcycle racing craze could make a come back any day now!