Illustration: David Galletly
In April 2011, comics writer Mark Millar teamed up with more than 60 fellow writers and artists to create an issue of his Superior series in less than 12 hours. The proceeds went to a children’s foundation, and I would’ve bought a million copies if I could. Early this year HTM, an elite design group consisting of genius Japanese polymath Hiroshi Fujiwara, longtime sneaker designer Tinker Hatfield, and Nike CEO Mark Parker, unveiled a futuristic shoe made of something called Flyknit that fits like a sock. I’ve only seen it in pictures and I want it. Bad.
I can’t help it, I love a good team-up stunt. “We Are the World“? Great. Watch the Throne, when Kanye West and Jay-Z turned rap into a three-legged race and lapped everybody? Awesome. The fact that Spike Jonze directed the video for their first single, “Otis”? Bonus! Screenwriter James Gunn (Dawn of the Dead) and videogame freakshow Suda 51 making June’s cheerleader vs. zombies title Lollipop Chainsaw? I think I speak for everyone when I say: zOMG.
There are rules, though. A team-up has to consist of already-prominent individuals who collaborate on something, and that something has to be absurdly grandiose. That’s why the X-Men don’t count and the Avengers do. Sure, Cyclops and Beast are badasses, but they went to boarding school together. Forcing the Hulk and Iron Man to save the universe together, on the other hand, is hot. Volatile.
Team-ups are compelling because they’re risky. With the alloy of two creative geniuses, the dial starts at Gonzo and cranks all the way up to 10-Megaton Failure. The Traveling Wilburys—that graying ’80s supergroup comprising Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, and Tom Petty—could never get it together to actually travel. When Jay-Z and R. Kelly made their 2002 album, The Best of Both Worlds (or, as I like to call it, Watch the Throne Beta), the tour was cut short when R. Kelly was hospitalized after a pepper spray attack … allegedly by someone from Jay’s camp. That, ladies and gentlemen, is magic.
Thankfully, sometimes your favorite creators get better (and weirder) from playing with others. Before joining the HTM triumvirate, Tinker Hatfield honed his collaborative genius over the course of more than a decade creating Air Jordans with Michael Jordan. Nicola Formichetti, creative director at fashion label Mugler, spent three years helping Lady Gaga invent—and reinvent—her look. “You’re not supposed to work with musicians,” Formichetti says. “It’s considered tacky.” Yet he’s gone on to work with other musicians, from award-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto to splashy young it-girl rapper Azealia Banks—and it’s only made everyone better.
Ninety percent of the pleasure of a supergroup is dreaming about what’s to come. It’s every Kirk-and-Adama-walk-into-a-bar discussion you’ve ever had, your wildest fanfic realized. Consider all your shared Google Docs—those half-finished, top-secret collaborations with a handful of revolving participants. Now imagine if you could see everyone’s team GDocs. Dizzying, right? Sure it’s just a sniff, but it’s a heady one.
When the payoff pays off, though—oh, boy. I fell into a frost-rimed Euroswoon when Thom Yorke and Björk’s accents commingled on a song. When Community and Cougar Town slobbered Easter eggs all over each other last season, it was a mindfuck for everyone. Plus, on a clear day in 2003, someone in Geneva had to cater a meal on a video shoot for a song by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony and Phil Collins. And if that doesn’t give you hope for the world, I don’t know what will.