Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 1

By various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-2376-6

Inspiration isn’t everything. In fact as Marvel slowly grew to a position of market dominance in the wake of the losing their two most innovative and inspirational creators, they did so less by experimentation and more by expanding 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 lion’s share of this new title, but 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 Marvel Team-Up was the second full-Spider-Man title (an abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues) and it launched in March 1972, with the Wall-Crawler and his friendly flaming rival reluctantly spending the holidays together as an old foe reared his gritty head in the charming ‘Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!’ by Roy Thomas, Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. (Merry Marvelite Maximii can award themselves a point for remembering which martial arts heroine debuted in this issue but the folk with lives can simply take my word that it was Iron Fist’s sometime squeeze Misty Knight.)

Gerry Conway assumed the writer’s role and Jim Mooney the inker’s for ‘And Spidey Makes Four!’ in the next issue as our heroes then took on the Frightful Four and Annihilus and seemingly without pause went after Morbius the Living Vampire in #3’s ‘The Power to Purge!’ (inked by Frank Giacoia).

The new horror-star was still the villain in MTU #4 as the Torch was replaced by most of the mutant team (The Beast having gone all hairy – and solo) in ‘And Then… the X-Men!’ a pacy thriller illustrated by the magnificent Gil Kane at the top of his form and inked by Steve Mitchell. Kane became a semi-regular penciller, and his dynamic style and extreme anatomy lifted many quite ordinary tales such as #5’s ‘A Passion of the Mind!’, (Conway script and Esposito inks) pitting Spidey and The Vision against Puppet Master and robotic assassin the Monstroid and its follow-up ‘…As Those Who Will Not See!’ (with the Thing against the Mad Thinker) that most other pencillers could only dream of…

‘A Hitch in Time!’ by Conway, Andru and Mooney guest-starred Thor as Trolls froze Earth’s time-line as a prerequisite step to conquering Asgard, whilst issue #8 is a perfect example of the team-up comic’s other function – to promote and popularise new characters.

‘Man-Killer Moves at Midnight!’ was most fans first exposure to The Cat, (later retooled as Tigra) in a painfully worthy if ham-fisted attempt to address feminist issues from Conway and Jim Mooney. Iron Man began the three-part tale ‘The Tomorrow War!’ (Conway, Andru & Frank Bolle) as he and Spidey were kidnapped by Zarkko the Tomorrow Man to battle Kang the Conqueror; the Torch returned to help deal with the intermediate threat of ‘Time Bomb!’ (Conway, Mooney & Giacoia) but it took the entire race of Black Bolt’s Inhumans to help Spidey stop history unravelling in ‘The Doomsday Gambit!’ – with Len Wein scripting Conway’s plot for Mooney and Esposito to illustrate.

The same writing team produced ‘Wolf at Bay!’ from MTU #12 as the Wall-Crawler met the Werewolf (By Night) and the malevolent Moondark in foggy San Francisco, drawn by Andru and Don Perlin, and Kane and Giacoia returned for ‘The Granite Sky!’ where Wein pitted Spider-Man and Captain America against Hydra and the Grey Gargoyle. ‘Mayhem is… the Men-Fish!’ (inked by Wayne Howard) matched him with the savage Sub-Mariner against Tiger Shark and Doctor Dorcas as well as mutant sea-beasts.

Wein, Andru and Perlin created The Orb to bedevil Spidey and the Ghost Rider in ‘If an Eye Offend Thee!’ in #15 whilst Kane and Mooney illustrated ‘Beware the Basilisk my Son!’, a gripping romp featuring Captain Marvel, which concluded in ‘Chaos at the Earth’s Core!’ (inked by “everybody”!) as Mister Fantastic joined the fracas to stop the Mole Man from inadvertently blowing up the world.

The Human Torch teamed with the Hulk in MTU #18 to stop Blastaar in ‘Where Bursts the Bomb!’ inked by Giacoia & Esposito, but Spidey was back with Ka-Zar to witness ‘The Coming of… Stegron, the Dinosaur Man!’ (Wein, Kane & Giacoia) whose plans to flatten New York by releasing ‘Dinosaurs on Broadway!’ was foiled with the Black Panther’s help – as well as the artistic skills of Sal Buscema, Giacoia and Esposito.

Dave Hunt replaced Esposito for ‘The Spider and the Sorcerer!’ in #21 as Spidey and Doctor Strange once more battles Xandu, a wizard first seen in Spider-Man Annual #2, whilst ‘The Messiah Machine!’ pitted Hawkeye and Spidey against Quasimodo and a mechanoid invasion. The Torch and Iceman teamed to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ (Wein, Kane & Esposito) and the first two dozen tales conclude with the defiantly quirky ‘Moondog is another Name for Murder!’– illustrated by Mooney and Sal Trapani – as the web-spinner met the decidedly offbeat Brother Voodoo to quash a Manhattan murder cult.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all have an honest drive to entertain and please whilst artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about. Although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers there’s lots of fun on hand and young readers will have a blast, so there’s no real reason not to add this tome to your library…

© 1972, 1973, 1974, 2006 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.