Essential Marvel Two-In-One volume 3


By Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Tom DeFalco, John Byrne, George Pérez, Jerry Bingham, Ron Wilson, Alan Kupperberg & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-3069-7

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

After the runaway success of Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up, the House of Ideas repeated the experiment 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 guest-friendly title. This third economical, eclectic monochrome compendium gathers together the contents of Marvel Two-In-One #53-77 plus Marvel T-I-O Annuals #4 and 5, covering May 1979 to July 1981; a period which saw the best and worst the series could offer.

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

Arguably the very best of these opens this volume; a big scale, and supremely convoluted saga known as “The Project Pegasus Saga”…

Although the company’s glory-days were undoubtedly the era of Lee, Kirby & Ditko leading through to the Adams, Buscema(s), Englehart, Gerber, Steranko and Windsor-Smith “Second Wave”, a lot of superb material came out the middle years when Marvel was transforming from inspirational small-business to corporate heavyweight.

This is not said to demean or denigrate the many fine creators who worked on the tide of titles published after that heady opening period, but only to indicate that after that time a certain revolutionary spontaneity was markedly absent from the line.

It should also be remembered that this was not deliberate. Every creator does the best job he/she can: posterity and critical response is the only arbiter of what is classic and what is simply one more comicbook. Certainly high sales don’t necessarily define a masterpiece – unless you’re a publisher…

Nevertheless every so often everybody involved in a particular tale seems to catch fire at the same time and magic occurs. A great case in point is the self-contained mini-saga which partnered the Thing with a succession of Marvel’s quirkiest B-listers and newcomers…

Project Pegasus had debuted in Marvel T-I-O #42 and 43: a federal research station tasked with investigating new and alternative energy sources and a sensible place to dump super-powered baddies when they’ve been trounced. Ten issues later writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio flexed their creative muscles with a 6-issue epic that found Ben back at Pegasus just as a sinister scheme by a mysterious mastermind to eradicate the facility went into full effect.

Scripted by Gruenwald & Macchio, it all begins as ‘The Inner War!’ (illustrated by John Byrne & Joe Sinnott) sees Ben visiting his educationally and emotionally challenged ward Wundarr who had been left at the secret base after exposure to a reality-warping Cosmic Cube.

Ben meets light-powered security chief Quasar – who debuted here – only to stumble into a treacherous plot to sabotage the facility which continues in ‘Blood and Bionics’ as a reprogrammed Deathlok cyborg stalks the base until the Thing and Quasar crush it.

Elsewhere, Ben’s old sparring partner Thundra is recruited by a team of super-powered women wrestlers (I know what you’re thinking but trust me, it works) with a secret and nefarious sideline…

One of the resident scientists at Pegasus is Bill Foster – who had a brief costumed career as Black Goliath – and he resumes adventuring with a new/old name just in time to help tackle freshly-liberated atomic monster Nuklo in ‘Giants in the Earth’. Sadly the traitor who let the infantile walking inferno out is still undiscovered and in the darkest part of the Project something strange is whispering to the comatose Wundarr…

George Pérez & Gene Day take over as illustrators from #56 as Thundra and her new friends invade in ‘The Deadlier of the Species!’ but even their blistering assault is merely a feint for the real threat and soon a final countdown to disaster is in effect…

Doomsday begins ‘When Walks Wundarr!’ and, in his mesmerised wake, a horde of energy-projecting villains incarcerated in the research facility break free…

With chaos everywhere the traitor triggers an extra-dimensional catastrophe, intent on destroying Pegasus ‘To the Nth Power!’, but as a living singularity tries to suck the entire institution into infinity, the end of everything is countered by the ascension of a new kind of hero as The Aquarian debuts to save the day…

Released as one of Marvel’s earliest trade paperback collections, the high-tension bombastic action of The Project Pegasus Saga rattles along without the appearance of any major stars – a daring move for a team-up title but one which greatly enhanced the power and depth of The Thing.

Moreover, by concentrating on rebooting moribund characters such as Deathlok and Giant-Man whilst launching fresh faces Quasar and The Aquarian instead of looking for ill-fitting, big-name sales-boosters, the story truly proves the old adage about there being no bad characters…

Another sound decision was the use of Byrne & Sinnott for the first half and Pérez & the late, great Gene Day to finish off the tale. Both pencillers were in their early ascendancy here and the artistic energy just jumps off the pages.

Deadlines wait for no one however and the pulse-pounding epic is immediately followed here by Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 which offered an old-fashioned, world-busting blockbuster as ‘A Mission of Gravity!’ (plotted by Allyn Brodsky, scripted by David Michelinie and illustrated by Jim Craig, Bob Budiansky & Bruce Patterson) brought the Thing and Inhuman monarch Black Bolt together to stop unstable maniac Graviton turning into a black hole and taking the world with him…

Wolfman, Macchio, Chic Stone & Al Gordon then explored ‘Trial and Error!’ in monthly issue #59 as Ben and the Human Torch played matchmaker for a dopey dreamer, after which Marvel Two-in-One #60 featured Ben and impish ET Impossible Man in hilarious combat with three of Marvel’s earliest bad-guys.

Happiness is a Warm Alien’ – by Gruenwald, Macchio, Pérez & Day – offers a delightful change-of-pace which applies much-needed perspective and lots of laughs as the madcap invader from beyond gets bored and creates a perfect mate…

A stellar epic started in #61 with ‘The Coming of Her!’ (Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham & Day) as time-travelling space god Starhawk became embroiled in the birth of a female counterpart to artificial superman Adam Warlock.

The distaff genetic paragon awoke fully empowered and instantly began searching for her predecessor, dragging Ben’s girlfriend Alicia and mind goddess Moondragon across the solar system, arriving where issue #62 observed ‘The Taking of Counter-Earth!’

Hot on their heels Thing and Starhawk catch Her just as the women encounter a severely wounded High Evolutionary and discover the world built by that self-made god has been stolen…

United in mystery the strange grouping follow the planet’s trail out of the galaxy and uncover the incredible perpetrators but Her’s desperate quest to secure her predestined, purpose-grown mate ends in tragedy as she learns ‘Suffer Not a Warlock to Live!’

Clearly on a roll and dedicated to exploiting Marvel Two-in-One’s unofficial role as a clean-up vehicle for settling unresolved plotlines from cancelled series, Gruenwald & Macchio then dived into ‘The Serpent Crown Affair’ in #64.

‘From the Depths’ (illustrated by Pérez & Day) saw sub-sea superhero Stingray approach Reed Richards in search of a cure for humans who had been mutated into water-breathers by Sub-Mariner villain Doctor Hydro – a plotline begun in 1973 and left unresolved since the demise of the Atlantean prince’s own title.

Richards’ enquiries soon found the transformation had been caused by the Inhumans’ Terrigen Mist but when he had Ben ferry the mermen’s leader Dr. Croft and Stingray to a meeting, the trip was cut short by a crisis on an off-shore oil-rig, thanks to an ambush by a coalition of snake-themed villains.

The ‘Serpents from the Sea’ (art by Bingham & Day) were attempting to salvage dread mystic artefact the Serpent Crown, but luckily the Inhumans had sent out their seagoing champion Triton to meet the Thing…

Thundra meanwhile had been seeking the men responsible for tricking her into attacking Pegasus but fell under the spell of sinister superman Hyperion – a pawn of corrupt oil conglomerate Roxxon, whose CEO Hugh Jones possessed or had been possessed by the heinous helm…

With the situation escalating Ben had no choice but to call in an expert and before long The Scarlet Witch joins the battle, her previous experience with the relic enabling the heroes to thwart the multi-dimensional threat of ‘A Congress of Crowns!’ (Pérez & Day) and a devastating incursion by diabolical serpent god Set

With Armageddon averted Ben diverted to Pegasus to drop off the emasculated crown in #67 and found Bill Foster had been diagnosed with terminal radiation sickness due to his battle with Nuklo. Thundra meanwhile, seduced by promises of being returned to her own reality, wised up in time to abscond from Roxxon in ‘Passport to Oblivion!’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Ron Wilson, Day & friends), but hadn’t calculated on being hunted by Hyperion. Although outmatched her frantic struggle did attract the attentions of the Thing and Quasar…

Marvel T-I-O #68 shifted gears as Ben met former X-Man The Angel as they stumbled into – and smashed out of – a mechanical murder-world in ‘Discos and Dungeons!’ (Wilson & Day) after which ‘Homecoming!’ found Ben contending with the time-lost Guardians of the Galaxy whilst striving to prevent the end of everything as millennial man Vance Astro risked all of reality to stop his younger self ever going into space…

Issue #70 offered a mystery guest team-up for ‘A Moving Experience’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Mike Nasser & Day) as Ben was again pranked by old frenemy’s The Yancy Street Gang and ambushed by real old foes when he helped his girlfriend move into new digs, after which the so-long frustrated Hydromen finally get ‘The Cure!’ (Wilson & Day) when Ben and Reed travel to the Inhuman city of Attilan.

Sadly a cure for the effects of Terrigen is a perfect anti-Inhuman weapon and when the process is stolen by a trio of freaks the trail leads to a brutal clash with a deadly Inhuman renegade wielding ‘The Might of Maelstrom’ (Gruenwald, Macchio, Wilson & Stone). The pariah is intent on eradicating every other member of his hidden race and just won’t stop until he’s done…

Marvel Two-In-One #73 by Macchio, Wilson & Stone then ties up loose ends from the Pegasus epic as Ben and Quasar pursue Roxxon to another Earth where the rapacious plunderers have enslaved a primitive population and begun sending their pillaged oil back here via a ‘Pipeline Through Infinity’ (#74), whilst Gruenwald, Frank Springer & Stone celebrate the festive season with ‘A Christmas Peril!’ as Ben and the Puppet Master are drawn into the Yuletide celebrations of brain-damaged, childlike, immensely powerful Modred the Mystic

Alan Kupperberg & Pablo Marcos then detail another tumultuous clash between Hulk and Thing from Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5. ‘Skirmish with Death’ sees the titanic duo team with extraterrestrial explorer The Stranger to stop death god Pluto destroying the universe and cosmic epics remain in vogue in anniversary issue #75 where Ben and the Avengers are drawn into the Negative Zone to stop a hyper-powered Super-Adaptoid, only to find themselves inevitably ‘By Blastaar Betrayed!’ (Tom DeFalco, Alan Kupperberg & Stone)…

Thereafter hitting mundane reality with a bump, #76 exposes ‘The Big Top Bandits’ (DeFalco, Michelinie, Bingham & Stone) as Iceman and the Thing make short work of the Circus of Evil before this paladin-packed tome concludes with a double dose of action in #77 as Thing and Man-Thing nearly unite in a rescue mission where ‘Only the Swamp Survives!’ (DeFalco, Wilson & Stone), which also features a poignant, bizarre cameo from Sergeant Nick Fury and the Howling Commandoes

There’s even one last treat: a revelatory cutaway diagram of Project Pegasus to make sense of all the carnage that you’ve just enjoyed…

Fiercely tied to the minutia of Marvel continuity, 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 some superb adventure romps and a genuine modern comics classic; still as captivating today as it always was.

Even if artistically the work varies from only adequate to truly top-notch, most fans of Costumed Dramas will find little to complain about and there’s plenty 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…
© 1979, 1980, 1981, 2009 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.