Marvel Team-Up Marvel Masterworks volume 3

By Len Wein, Gerry Conway, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, Gil Kane & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-0970-3 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Classic Comics Collaborations… 8/10

In the 1970s, 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 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 at that time – they may well have been right.
Nevertheless, Marvel Team-Up was the second full Spider-Man title (abortive companion title Spectacular Spider-Man was created for the magazine market in 1968 but had died after two issues). It launched in March 1972, and became a resounding hit.

This third titanic compilation (in hardback or digital formats) gathers material from MTU #23-30 plus the team-up styled Giant-Size Spider-Man #1-3: spanning July 1974 to February 1975 and opens with a fond, informative recollection from then Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas in his cheery Introduction before we plunge into the many-starred dramas…

Following a try-out in Giant-Size Super Heroes that pitted the wallcrawler against Living Vampire Morbius and the manic Man-Wolf, a quarterly double-length Spider-Man team vehicle was added to Marvel’s schedule.

Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 was cover-dated July 1974 and saw the web-spinner in frantic search of an experimental flu vaccine, improbably carried on an ocean liner in ‘Ship of Fiends!’ The quest brought him into clashing contact with newly-revived vampire lord Dracula and a scheming Maggia Capo at ‘The Masque of the Black Death!’, all courtesy of Gerry Conway, Ross Andru & Don Heck…

Here that bizarre battle is accompanied by its original editorial text feature ‘An Illuminating Introduction to Giant Size Spider-Man’ before we move on to the monthly MTU wherein The Torch and Iceman fractiously unite to stop Equinox, the Thermo-Dynamic Man on ‘The Night of the Frozen Inferno!’ (by Len Wein, Gil Kane & Mike Esposito).

Still embracing supernatural themes and trends, the webslinger discovers ‘Moondog is another Name for Murder!’ in a defiantly quirky yarn illustrated by Jim Mooney & Sal Trapani which brings the decidedly offbeat Brother Voodoo to the Big Apple to quash a Manhattan murder cult…

Wein, Mooney & Frank Giacoia then determine that ‘Three into Two Won’t Go!’ as Daredevil joins Spider-Man in thrashing inept costumed kidnappers Cat-Man, Bird-Man and Ape-Man, after which Giant-Size Spider-Man #2 sees the amazing arachnid drawn into battle with Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu as sinister immortal Fu Manchu frames Spider-Man in ‘Masterstroke!’ The duped heroes clear the air in ‘Cross… and Double-Cross!’ before uniting to foil the cunning Celestial’s scheme to mindwipe America from the ‘Pinnacle of Doom!’ and MTU #26 finds the Torch and Thor battling to save the world from Lava Men in The Fire This Time…’ by Wein, Mooney, Giacoia & Dave Hunt.

At this time, in a desperate effort to build some internal continuity into the perforce brutally brief encounters, the scripters introduced a shadowy trio of sinister observers with an undisclosed agenda who would monitor superhero episodes and eventually be revealed as providers of outrageous technologies for many of the one-shot villains who came and went so quickly and ignominiously…

They weren’t involved when the Chameleon frames Spider-Man (again) and tricks the Hulk into freeing a man – for the most unexpected reason of all – from the New York Men’s Detention Center in #27’s ‘A Friend in Need!’ (Wein, Mooney & Giacoia). They did, however, have a hand in ‘The City Stealers!’ (#28 by new regular creative team Gerry Conway, Mooney & Vince Colletta) when strange mechanoids swipe the island of Manhattan, necessitating Spidey and Hercules (mostly Hercules) having to drag it back to its original position…

After that minor miracle Spider-Man experiences an odd, time-displaced disaster as Giant-Size Spider-Man #3 explores ‘The Yesterday Connection!’ wherein lovely alien Desinna seeks the aid of Spidey in 1974 and – in ‘The Secret Out of Time’ – the hands-on help of legendary 1930s adventurer Doc Savage.

Across a gulf of four decades the heroes individually discover something is not right in ‘Other People in Other Times!’, and with the escape of a savage rampaging monster, two eras seem doomed to destruction. At least until until wiser, more suspicious heads and powers prevail in ‘Tomorrow is Too Late’ and ensure that ‘The Future is Now!’

Marvel Team-Up #29 displays a far less constrained – or even amicable – pairing as flaming kid Johnny Storm and patronising know-it-all Iron Man butt heads whilst tracking a seeming super-saboteur in ‘Beware the Coming of Infinitus! or How Can You Stop the Reincarnated Man?’

Spider-Man and The Falcon then find that ‘All That Glitters is not Gold!’ in #30 whilst tracking a mind-control drug back to its crazy concoctor Midas, the Golden Man, closing the comics capers for another volume. Adding extra lustre there’s still visual treats aplenty in the form of contemporaneous house ads, covers and frontispieces from seasonal tabloid treasury Giant Superhero Holiday Grab-Bag (with art from John Buscema and John Romita) and a triptych of original art pages and covers Gil Kane, Esposito & Giacoia.

These stories are of variable quality but nonetheless all exhibit an honest drive to entertain and please. Artistically the work is superb, and most fans of the genre would find little to complain about so, although not really a book for casual or more maturely-oriented readers, there’s bunches 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…
© 1974, 1975, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.