Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Top 20 Fictional Foursomes

Small ensembles or teams in fiction are always fun.  There’s a special kind of dynamic among its members that isn’t possible in a bigger group.  It’s probably because the small amount of characters enables more focus and investment on their interacting arcs, and it makes it easier to contrast or compare them, to determine individually what they bring to the table, and to analyze them as a whole as well as the sum of its parts.

As usual, I have my favorites.  And I intend to make a series of lists which will enumerate them, and are categorized by the ensembles’ numbers – starting with this list of four-member teams.

Kicking off this list is “The Untouchables”, the titular team of the movie The Untouchables – arguably one of the best gangster movies ever made – which is loosely based on real life events (hence, these four are fictionalized versions of real life people).  Set on stopping mob boss Al Capone’s hold on Chicago, a federal agent assembles a four-man task force consisting of himself, an accountant, a sharp-shooting police academy trainee, and a veteran beat cop.

Though Contra Force isn’t a well-known 90’s video game, it’s one of the games I enjoyed playing the most in the FamCom back then.  Just like the other Contra games, it’s a shoot ‘em up, but unlike them, it has four unique playable characters: Burns, the leader; Iron, a heavy weapons expert; Smith, a sharpshooter; and Beans, a demolitions expert.  Though only a maximum of two of them can be played at a time, I remembered being curiously enamored by the C-Force as a group.

When I was a kid, the Bobbsey Twins were my favorite young detectives to read next to the Three Investigators, Nancy Drew, and the Hardy Boys. Same with the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, the books were written by the Stratemeyer Syndicate’s ghost writers under a common pseudonym.

The Bobbsey Twins are made up of the Bobbsey siblings, which are two sets of fraternal twins: 12-year-old Nan and Bert, and 6-year-old Flossie and Freddie.  The plots of their mystery adventures followed the same formula that the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew had, but more “innocent, juvenile, and safe”, involving minimal crime or no crime at all.

Interestingly, the first Bobbsey books weren’t really mystery stories but episodic string of children adventures, and they only became “detectives” due to the popularity of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew.

Skipper, Kowalski, Rico, and Private are the hilarious penguins popularized by the Madagascar franchise.  With Skipper serving as mastermind, the foursome operates as if they’re an elite squad, with results of their behavior varying between comedy and efficiency.

The Four Horsemen are the central characters of the Now You See Me movies.  They used to be four street magicians and were recruited and assembled by Dylan Rhodes to use their skills in committing feats of thievery and deception against corrupt rich people while doing mindboggling, epic stage performances.

The image featured above is the lineup of the second movie, since I think Lula May has been a better Horseman than Henley Reeves.

As introduced by the TV series’ iconic narration:
“…a crack commando unit was sent to prison by a military court for a crime they didn't commit.  These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Los Angeles underground.  Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire... the A-Team.”

I wasn't able to watch the original TV series, and those who did said it was better than the movie.  Still, the movie’s depiction of the A-Team was delightful enough for me.

“One for all and all for one” is arguably the best saying that beautifully articulates the value and essence of being in a tight-knit group in which everyone has everybody’s backs.  And that alone is enough reason to put the group that introduced such saying in this list.

But wait… isn’t “one for all and all for one” something attributed to the Three Musketeers?  And aren’t the Three Musketeers the epitome of the trio?  Then, what are they doing in this list for foursomes?

Those are valid questions.  But one of the main arcs, if not the central arc, of Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers is actually how a young man named D’Artagnan, whose dream is to be a musketeer, was able to win the respect and friendship of Athos, Porthos, and Aramis – the titular musketeers – and join their ranks.  Thus, in the end of the book, the “one for all and all for one” motto that was originally meant for three was now for the four of them.  After The Three Musketeers, the now Four Musketeers continued their adventures in further novels (oh, yes, there are sequels; the story of the Musketeers actually span across a series of novels by Alexandre Dumas known as the “D’Artagnan Romaces”, with The Three Musketeers serving as “Book One”).

Being Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, tasked to protect the world from the greatest of threats that one or a few heroes won’t be able to handle, there’s a need for the Avengers to have a big roster to call on to.  However, there was a time when there were only four active members: Captain America, Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver.

Nicknamed “Cap’s Kooky Quartet”, what makes this Avengers team delightfully unique, aside from their small number, is that three of them are ex-villains.  Hawkeye, Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver now have had long careers as heroes (that’s why they weren’t in any of my lists for best heel-to-face characters), but back then, when they first became Avengers, their super villain origins were fresh; hence, there was legitimate surprise in their membership.

Even without a powerful member among them (Scarlet Witch back then wasn’t as powerful as she is depicted now), the foursome managed to take on heavy hitters like Kang, the Masters of Evil, and Dr. Doom.  Their run was short, but their adventures had been memorable, thus, “Cap’s Kooky Quartet” is considered by many as among the best Avengers lineups of all time.

The Pevensie siblings – Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy – are the protagonists of several of the Narnia books.  The children first came to Narnia, a wonderful world of Talking Beasts and mythological creatures, via a wardrobe portal in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, wherein they were instrumental in bringing the White Witch’s icy reign to an end.  Afterwards, they reigned as kings and queens of Narnia for fifteen years, giving the kingdom its Golden Age.  They grew into adulthood and had somewhat forgotten their previous lives in their own world.  However, during one of their recreational hunts, they re-discovered the wardrobe portal, which returned them home to Earth and back to their adolescent selves.  Their Narnian adventure embodies every child’s ultimate fantasy experience.

Several times during the Fantastic Four’s run, its members or the entire team itself goes on a hiatus, and other heroes step in for them.  For me, the best replacement Fantastic Four is the one that debuted in Fantastic Four #348, which is made up of Spider-Man, Wolverine, Hulk (in his Joe Fixit persona a.k.a. the “Gray Hulk”), and Ghost Rider/The Spirit of Vengeance (Danny Ketch).  This team was short-lived (though they had at least two reunions), but the lineup looked so delightfully random that it made quite an impression on me.

What makes The Legend of Korra a fascinating series is hinged on the character development of Korra, being the titular character.   And one important layer to the character is her interaction with her best friends Mako, Bolin, and Asami.  The name of the group was coined – or rather borrowed, since there was an original Team Avatar – by Bolin.  And from the day of formation, the team has been a constant reliable support group for Korra in her Avatar adventures, as Mako is a firebender, Bolin is an earthbender (later, also a lavabender), and Asami, though isn’t a bender, is as badass as one, and is a very talented driver, pilot, and engineer.

Another thing that makes Team Avatar a fun group is the hilarious romances that developed between its members through the course of the series.  But despite of how those romances turned out to be in the end, there weren’t any lasting awkwardness among them but they remained solid friends.

The anime Black Lagoon revolves around the adventures of the Lagoon Company.  Founded and led by Dutch, it’s a boat-for-hire firm that is based in the fictional harbour city called Roanapur, and smuggles or retrieves goods around the seas of Southeast Asia.  They have an assorted clientele – usually criminals like the Mafia, Triad, and Yakuza – but hold no permanent allegiance to anyone.  One day, they could be working for a particular client, and then working against him the next.  However, they do have a friendly relationship with Hotel Moscow, the Russian mafia arm in Roanapur, led by the awesome Balalaika.

It’s not very popular, but I have nostalgic fondness for Mummies Alive! since it was one of the shows I loved as a kid.  And ever since, the Mummies – Ja-Kal, Rath, Armon, and Nefer-Tina – have been one of my favorite foursomes.  They are the former bodyguards of Prince Rapses of ancient Egypt, who is reincarnated in modern times as Presley.  They awake from the dead to protect Presley from an evil sorcerer named Scarab keen of obtaining immortality by taking his life.

I love the Little Women books so much, and have read them many times over already.  Thus, it’s understandable that I’ve also fell in love with the main characters of the first two books.

6.) TEAM 7
Team 7, also known as Team Kakashi, is a Konohagakure shinobi unit under the leadership and tutelage of Hatake Kakashi, an awesome teacher as much as an awesome ninja.  As a fan of Naruto, these are the top four characters I’ve grown invested the most.  Every one of them was given fantastic character arcs – especially Naruto – and the exploration and development of their relationships provided endearing drama to the narrative.

The Ghostbusters are easily one of the most recognizable foursomes in pop culture.  The first movie is such a revered classic, that the remake immediately drew tremendous flak even before it was released.  My first encounter with this property was with the cartoon, and I got to like Egon, Peter, Ray, and Winston almost immediately, finding their quirky ghost busting adventures tons of fun.  When I saw the movie later, I also got to like the live-action originals as much as their animated counterparts.

Here’s another ninja foursome.  Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo, and Raphael have been depicted many times in different comics, movies, and animated TV series – making Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles one of the greatest multimedia properties ever.

To be honest, not many TMNT outings have been great – heck, even the beloved 80’s cartoon is actually objectively dumb and cheesy – and, if you think about it, the concept of characters who are mutated turtles, who happens to be teenagers and are trained in ninjutsu by a giant rat, is pretty ridiculous.  And yet, the Turtles manage to be endearing and kickass in spite of these.  That’s just incredible.

Technically, Team Urameshi – which I originally knew as “Koponan ni Eugene” in the Filipino dub – is made up of five characters, the fifth one being Genkai (Master Jeremiah) a.k.a. the Masked Fighter.  It’s because the name “Team Urameshi” supposedly refers to the team they assembled for the Dark Martial Arts Tournament.  However, in the context of the series, and for the purposes of this list, I will be referring to the four primary protagonists of Yu Yu Hakushu (Ghost Fighter) – Yusuke (Eugene), Kazuma (Alfred), Kurama (Dennis), and Hiei (Vincent) – as “Team Urameshi.”

For quite some time, being a huge fan of the anime when I was a kid, Team Urameshi was my definitive foursome.  They laid the benchmark on what an awesome foursome should be, and only two other teams were able to surpass them in my book.

Mr. Fantastic.  Invisible Woman.  Human Torch.  The Thing.  “Marvel’s First Family.”  Great a replacement Fantastic Four Spidey, Wolverine, Hulk, and Ghost Rider might have been, but nothing ever beats the original.

Despite their small roster size, they’ve become one of the most popular superhero teams ever.  Their “family first, superhero team second” dynamic is what makes them distinctive among other superhero teams, and is also what makes them formidable.

It’s sad that they’re disbanded right now (I blame Fox).  Johnny is hanging out with the Avengers Unity Squad and the Inhumans, Ben is with the Guardians of the Galaxy, Reed and Sue out exploring the multiverse, and the Baxter Building is now serving as the head office of Peter Parker’s conglomerate.  Until they’re reunited, which I doubt is going to be anytime soon (again, I blame Fox), there’s this big hole in the Marvel Universe that can’t be easily filled.
*sniff* *sniff*
No other foursome is as cool and badass as Genjo Sanzo, Son Goku, Cho Hakkai, and Sha Gojyo.  On their way to the West to fulfill their mission of retrieving the Holy Sutra, nothing can seemingly stop them.  Whether they’re facing powerful demons, armies, or even gods – no matter the odds – they overcome them in charismatic fashion.

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