Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 2

By Marv Wolfman, Jim Starlin, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, Peter Gillis, Bill Mantlo, Alan Kupperberg, Mary Jo Duffy, Steven Grant, Ron Wilson, John Buscema, Sal Buscema, Frank Miller & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-1729-2

Innovation isn’t everything. As Marvel slowly grew to a position of dominance in the wake of losing their two most inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding and exploiting proven concepts and properties.

The only real exception to this was the en masse creation of horror titles in response to the industry down-turn in super-hero sales – a move expedited by a rapid revision in the wordings of the increasingly ineffectual Comics Code Authority rules.

The concept of team-up books – an established star pairing, or battling – often both – with less well-selling company characters was not new when Marvel decided to award their most popular hero the same deal DC had with Batman in Brave and the Bold.

Although confident in their new title, they wisely left their options open by allocating an occasional substitute lead in the Human Torch. In those long-lost days editors were acutely conscious of potential over-exposure – and since super-heroes were actually in a decline they may well have been right.

Nevertheless, after the runaway success of Spider-Man’s Marvel Team-Up the House of Ideas carried on the trend with a series starring bashful, blue-eyed Ben Grimm – the Fantastic Four’s most iconic and popular member – beginning with a brace of test runs in Marvel Feature #11-12, before graduating him to his own team-up title, of which this second economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #26-52 plus Annual’s #2 and 3, covering April 1977- June 1979.

The innate problem with team-ups was always a lack of continuity – something Marvel had always prided itself upon – and writer/editor Marv Wolfman sought to address it by the simple expedient of having stories link-up through evolving, overarching plots which took Ben from place to place and guest to guest to guest.

Here the tactic begins with busy bombast in ‘The Fixer and Mentallo are Back and the World will Never be the Same!’ (illustrated by Ron Wilson & Pablo Marcos) which unites Ben with Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. battling a brace of conniving bad guys trying to steal killer-cyborg-from-an-alternate-future Deathlok .

The heroes spectacularly failed and the artificial assassin then co-featured in #27 as ‘Day of the Demolisher!’ found the now-reprogrammed killer targeting new US President Jimmy Carter. This time Big Ben had an alien ace up his sleeve and the hit failed…

The tempestuous Sub-Mariner shared the watery limelight in #28 as the Thing and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters ferried the deactivated Deathlok to a London-based boffin. When they were shot down in mid-Atlantic by a mutated fish-man, Ben was forced to fight against and beside Namor whilst Alicia languished ‘In the Power of the Piranha!’ (with John Tartaglione inks).

Master of Kung Fu Shang-Chi then stepped in as Ben and Alicia finally landed in London. ‘Two Against Hydra’ (Sam Grainger inks) saw aforementioned expert Professor Kort snatched by the sinister secret society before the Thing could consult him: the savant’s knowledge being crucial to Hydra’s attempts to revive their newest living weapon…

As part of Marvel’s obsessive ongoing urge to protect their trademarks, a number of their top male characters had been spun off into female iterations. Thus at the end of 1976 Ms. Marvel debuted (with a January 1977 cover-date), She-Hulk arrived at the end of 1979 (Savage She-Hulk #1 February 1980) and Jessica Drew premiered in Marvel Spotlight #32 a mere month after Ms. Marvel as The Spider-Woman

Her next appearance in Marvel Two-In-One #29 (July 1977) began an extended six-chapter saga which was designed as a promotional lead-in to her own series and ‘Battle Atop Big Ben!’ in #30 (by Wolfman, John Buscema & Marcos) saw her logo beside the Thing’s as she struggled to be free of her Hydra controllers, even as a couple of thieves embroiled Ben and Alicia in a complex and arcane robbery scheme involving a strange chest buried under Westminster Abbey.

Although the Arachnid Dark Angel was unable to kill Ben she did kidnap Alicia, who became ‘My Sweetheart… My Killer!’ (#31 by Wilson & Grainger) once Kort and Hydra transformed the helpless waif into a spidery monster. In #32’s ‘And Only the Invisible Girl Can Save us Now!’ (Marcos inks) Sue Storm joined the repentant Spider-Woman and distraught Thing in battling/curing the out-of-control Alicia whilst those two robbers continued their long-term campaign of acquisition and accidentally awoke a quartet of ancient elemental horrors.

It took the Arthurian sorcerer Modred the Mystic to help Spider-Woman and Ben triumph over the monsters in the concluding ‘From Stonehenge… With Death!’ before a semblance of normality was restored…

Back to business as usual in Marvel Two-In-One #34, Ben and sky-soaring Defender Nighthawk tackled a revivified and cruelly misunderstood alien freed from an antediluvian cocoon in ‘A Monster Walks Among Us!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos) before Ernie Chan stepped in to illustrate a 2-part wrap-up to one of Marvel’s recently folded series.

Issue # 35 saw the Thing dispatched by the Air Force through a time-portal in the Bermuda Triangle to a fantastic world of dinosaurs, robots, dinosaurs, E.T.’s and dinosaurs as ‘Enter: Skull the Slayer and Exit: The Thing’ detailed the short history and imminent deaths of a group of modern Americans trapped in a bizarre time-lost land.

Marooned in the past it took the intervention of best buddy Mister Fantastic to retrieve Ben and his new friends in #36’s ‘A Stretch in Time…’

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 then provided the second half of a landmark story, by Jim Starlin & Joe Rubinstein, which completed a tale which began in Avengers Annual #7 (not included here).

In that missing episode, the World’s Mightiest Superheroes in combination with Captain Marvel and cosmic wanderer Adam Warlock had forestalled a massed alien assault and prevented the Dark Titan Thanos from destroying the Sun – but only at the cost of Warlock’s life.

Now, in ‘Death Watch!’, Peter Parker was plagued by prophetic nightmares, revealing how the Titan had snatched victory from defeat and now held the Avengers captive whilst he again prepared to extinguish Sol.

With nowhere else to turn, Spider-Man headed for the BaxterBuilding,  hoping to borrow a spacecraft, unaware that the Thing also had history with the terrifying, death-obsessed Titan.

Although utterly overmatched, the unlikely champions of Life upset Thanos’ plans enough that the Avengers’ and the Universe’s true agent of retribution was able to end the threat forever – or at least until next time…

Marvel Two-In-One’s apparent function as a clearing-house for old, unresolved series and plot-lines was then put on hold for awhile as issue #37 teamed Ben with Matt Murdock (alter ego of Daredevil) for ‘Game Point!’ (Wolfman, Wilson & Marcos).

Ben had been framed for monstrous acts of wanton destruction, and when the case went badly he faced decades in jail. However, DD and a strange street punk dubbed “Eugene the Kid” determined that the Mad Thinker was behind the plot to place the ‘Thing Behind Prison Bars’ (by Roger Slifer, Wilson & Jim Mooney) and tackled the maniac whose ultimate game plan was to corner the future and mass-produce his own android Avenger in #39’s ‘The Vision Gambit’ (with inks by Marcos).

Slifer, Tom DeFalco, Wilson & Marcos then detailed a spooky international yarn as the Black Panther became involved in a monstrous reign of terror: a zombie-vampire stalking the streets and abducting prominent African Americans. The concluding part – ‘Voodoo and Valor!’ (David Kraft, Wilson & Marcos) – saw Jericho Drumm (AKA Brother Voodoo) volunteer his extremely specialised services to Ben and T’Challa, in hopes of ending the crisis…

The trail took the heroes to Uganda for a confrontation with Doctor Spectrum and the far more dangerous real-world crazy killer Idi Amin

Marvel Two-In-One #42 then introduced a mainstay of the Marvel Universe as Project Pegasus debuted in ‘Entropy, Entropy’ by Ralph Macchio, Sal Buscema, Alfredo Alcala & Sam Grainger

The Federal research station designated the Potential Energy Group/Alternate Sources/United States was dedicated to investigating alternative power sources and soon became the most sensible place to dump energy-wielding super-baddies once they were subdued.

Ben found and started trashing the place whilst tracking down his educationally- and emotionally-challenged ward Wundarr who had been renditioned by the Government, only to be contained by Captain America in his role as security advisor. They were only just in time to stumble over a sabotage scheme by martial maniac Victorius who unleashed a deadly new threat in the ghostly form of Jude, the Entropic Man

This phantasmic force easily trounced Cap and Ben but found the macabre Man-Thing a little bit harder to handle in the concluding episode ‘The Day the World Winds Down’ (Macchio, John Byrne – & Friends – & Bruce Patterson)…

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #3 then offered an old-fashioned, great big world-breaking blockbuster in which Nova the Human Rocket battled beside the Thing to free captive alien princesses and save the Earth from gigantic cosmos-marauding space invaders a simple yet entertaining tussle entitled ‘When Strike the Monitors!’ carefully crafted by Wolfman, Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

Back in the monthly comicbook issue #44 strayed away from standard fare with ‘The Wonderful World of Brother Benjamin J. Grimm’ (Wolfman, Bob Hall & Giacoia) with the Thing telling rowdy kids a rather fanciful bedtime story concerning his recent partnership with Hercules to free Olympus from invading giants…

In issue #45 Captain Marvel’s Cosmic Awareness warned him that the Thing had been targeted by vengeful Skrulls in ‘The Andromeda Rub-Out!’ (Peter Gillis, Kupperberg & Esposito), after which the Incredible Hulk’s new TV show compelled an outraged Ben to head for Hollywood, only to become embroiled in ‘Battle in Burbank!’ (Alan Kupperberg & Chic Stone)

Perpetual gadflies The Yancy Street Gang headlined in MT-I-O #47 as ‘Happy Deathday, Mister Grimm!’ (Bill Mantlo & Stone) saw a cybernetic tyrant take over Ben’s old neighbourhood. The invasion ended – once awesome energy powerhouse Jack of Hearts joined the fight against ‘My Master, Machinesmith!’ in #48 by Mantlo, Stone & Tex Blaisdell.

Mary Jo Duffy, Kupperberg & Gene Day then piled on the spooky laughs in #49 as the ‘Curse of Crawl-Inswood’ saw Doctor Strange manipulate Ben into helping him crush a supernatural incursion in a quaint and quiet seaside resort.

The anniversary issue #50 was everything a special issue should be. ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ by Byrne & Joe Sinnott took a powerful and poignant look at the Thing’s history as a monster outcast and posited a few what-might-have-beens…

Following another failure to cure his rocky condition, Ben steals the chemical and travels into his own past, determined to use the remedy on his younger, less mutated self, but his bitter, brooding, brittle earlier incarnation is hardly prepared to listen to another monster and inevitable catastrophic combat ensues…

Issue #51 was even better. ‘Full House… Dragons High!’ by Gillis, up-&-coming artist Frank Miller & Bob McLeod, detailed how a weekly poker session at Avengers Mansion was interrupted by rogue US General Pollock, who again tried to conquer America with stolen technology. Happily Ben and Nick Fury found Ms. Marvel, Wonder Man and the Beast better combat comrades than Poker opponents…

This mammoth tome ends on a sinister paranoic note with Marvel Two-In-One #52 and ‘A Little Knight Music!’ (by Steven Grant, Jim Craig & Marcos), as the mysterious Moon Knight joins the Thing in stopping CIA Psy-Ops master Crossfire from brainwashing the city’s superheroes into killing each other…

These stories – from Marvel’s Middle Period – are certainly of variable quality, but whereas some might feel rushed and ill-considered they are balanced by many timeless classics, still as captivating today as they always were.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to quite superb, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s lots of fun to be found for young and old readers. So why not lower your critical guard and have an honest blast of pure warts and all comics craziness? You’ll almost certainly grow to like it…
© 1977, 1978, 1979, 2007 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.