Monday, July 11, 2011

Giant-Size July: Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1


Marvel Two-In-One Annual #1 (1976)
"Their Name is LEGION!"
Roy Thomas-Sal Buscema/Sam Grainger/George Roussos/John Tartag

Doug: Giant-Size July is in full swing, all! Today's post is part two of a 3-parter to kick things off, and then we'll leave you with a quite-grandiose story to finish this off in a few weeks. If you'll recall, Ben had some concerns at the end of last week's story -- when the Fantastic Four returned from their WWII adventure, they'd only secured half of the vibranium that they thought had gone missing. As the rest of the team left to celebrate and return to normalcy (whatever that is), Ben stayed in the lab -- when suddenly the Watcher reappeared. Yep, trouble still brewing. As Karen mentioned last week, these stories took place shortly after the Watcher had a renewed vow toward non-interference in terran affairs. So Ben was left to play 20 questions with the big, bald galoot.

Karen: Don't ya just love how Reed created a door that is so secure even he can't open it? Now that's a genius for you.

Doug: Roy Thomas and the artists give readers a 5-page recap of the events of Fantastic Four
Annual #11, which must have been helpful as it's my understanding that this story came out a few months after that first installment. All of the high points are hit, so new readers should have felt caught up immediately. I'm not a big fan of "wasting" pages on lengthy recaps, but I've noticed that in the Bronze Age this was more often than not the policy. I think give how inaccessible comics can seem today, this was indeed the right course of action for publishers back in the days of our youth. Anyone should have felt that they could pretty easily find their entry-level with these stories.

Karen: I have to say, I felt that recap went on a few pages too long. Maybe it's because I read the first part of this story just a couple of weeks ago, but it seemed excessive. I can't help but think that they could have done a better job condensing it.

Doug: Ah, yes, but as the guy who volunteered to do the synopsis of this particular issue, I was much grateful t
hat those were five pages I didn't have to synopsize!

Doug: So Ben and the Watcher get down to th
e guessing game, and Ben shows what may seem to some a hefty share of brains and deductive powers. But c'mon -- the guy was a pilot, and supposedly a pretty good one at that. I think Ben was always smarter than he gave himself credit for being. Ben begins to look at a viewer that Reed had used in the previous issue, one that helped them determine changes in New York City's skyline that originally got them thinking about the past. When Ben notices that the World Trade Center has blinked off the viewer (seeing events like that in comic books of the past always gives me pause, given the recent past of our lives), so he surmises that big changes must still be afoot in the past he thought he knew. The Watcher gives him a wry smile, and Ben senses that he's onto something. By the way, Ben's sealed himself inside the lab, so the rest of the FF are outside dealing with a timelock. As they keep working through Ben's hypotheses, Ben finally determines that some sort of "time wedge" (OK, works for me I guess) must have split the cylinder of vibranium in half. Half of it landed in Nazi-occupied Europe, but the other half... Well, only way to find out is to head out on the time platform, and see where it lands. Ben shoves the half of vibranium that he has into the machine in hopes that it will locate its mate, and away we go!

Karen: That time wedge -and its accompanying drawing -was just an indication of how kooky this whole drama would be. It really doesn't make any sense at all. Does this mean that the reality Ben goes off to is different than the o
ne he went to with his team-mates? I have no idea.

Doug: Ben lands in the middle of Times Square, with a thud. But it's not his Times Square, but that of his youth! Naturally the citizens are amazed and a bit scared that a large orange-scaled creature has just been deposited in their midst, so New York's Finest step in. Ben's immediately befriended by a bright young man named Johnny Romita. Fortunately for Ben, this story takes place during the brief time he wore the exo-skeleton, so he's able to remove his helmet and show his face. This serves to initially placate the police, but when questioning begins to go awry, Ben of course loses his temper. In an attempted show of "I'm not going to hurt you", Ben hoists a car over his head. Well, a show of that kind of strength sets off the police, and this suddenly ain't looking good. The festivities are interrupted, however, by an air raid siren. Ben then notices a crawling message on a building marquee calling for "the Liberty Legion". Ben mutters to himself that he doesn't know anything about it. What did you think of that? Whether he and Reed were in Europe at this time in the War of not, I'd think that back in the 1940's people would have known about super-powered heroes...

Karen: Ben picking up the car to show he's not a menace is just so dang stupid. I guess we
have to inject some action into the story somehow but really. As for him not recognizing the LL, I think the main reason would be that they are not well-known heroes, but 2nd and 3rd stringers. I have to say though, I always dug the Patriot's costume. Those primary colors, the helmet, the eagle emblem -it all works for me.

Doug: In regard to your question about which timeline (above), I have no idea if it was the same reality or not. I guess if it was a different reality, then that would explain why Ben had never heard of the Liberty Legion. However, it borders on a "DC Multiverse" sort of quagmire, doesn't it?

Doug: Just as the air raid siren warned, a fleet of Nazi fighters suddenly appears, followed very shortly by a gang of costumed do-gooders! I was in on the ground floor of
Invaders #'s 5-6 and Marvel Premiere #'s 29-30 back in the day, and despite the Don Heck and Frank Robbins art that populated those stories, I was pretty excited about the Liberty Legion. So that Roy was attempting to flesh out the team by using them here was A-OK with me. You know, I made a comment in one of our last Si
de-by-Sides that the Marvel Chronicle stated that Roy was leery about creating new characters, as he feared they'd become quite successful; in the days before creator rights/royalties, he was concerned that he could lose potential earnings. So his solution was to dredge up old names and characters from Marvel's past and re-use them. The Liberty Legion is a great example of that philosophy -- to this youngster, they were as fresh as anything created in the Bronze Age.

Karen: Of course, Roy is also a huge fan of the Golden Age, much as we are of the Silver and Bronze, so it's only natural that he'd like to write stories about characters from that period.

Doug: A Nazi called the Sky Shark is leading the raid on NYC, and as the Liberty Legion springs into action, our creative team does a nice job of not only identifying each character but also giving as a feel for what they can do. There's a little characterization, and Roy doe
s a fair job throughout this story of adding on to what he gives us here. But by and large, this team is somewhat formulaic. Ben decides he wants in on the action, and the only way to get in on it is to get up in the air. Only way to do that is to launch himself, and the only way to do that is by slinging himself from a bent flagpole. So he gets to the top of the Times Building by clawing his way up the exterior, only to be opposed by the Patriot on the roof. The Whizzer soon arrives, but their attention continues to be on the dogfight. Sky Shark determines that with the interference of these heroes he cannot accomplish his mission, so flies off over the Atlantic, to a hidden base. Back to our protagonists, more introductions are made, and by this time new readers should have felt pretty comfortable.

Karen: Unfortunately, mid-way through this story, it's become evident that this part two has none of the energy and excitement of the first part. A
s you say, very formulaic.

Doug: On the base we get a brief origin of Sky Shark, and a cliffhanger as the dastardly villain shows his Japanese accomplice the weapon that "will pave the way for total victory by the Axis Powers!" Back in New York, the Liberty Legion has been dropped off in upstate New York, site of the secret development of Allied weapons. The heroes feel that they'd best get up there to assist in guarding the new technology. Of course they arrive mere moments too late, as the compound is already under siege, by Master Man! A fracas breaks out, and the Aryan menace makes short work of Blue Diamond, Miss America, and the Whizzer. Master Man is able to escape with new glass cockpit tech.


Karen: I have to say, Sky Shark and his Axis pal 'Slicer' are two of the lamest villains I've ever seen, and surprisingly, look like caricatures rather than what I expect from Sal Buscema. I enjoyed Master Man's appearance here more, although he easily defeats the three Legionnaires.

Doug: As this is a team story, it's only natural that everyone gets split up -- talk about formulaic! Red Raven and Jack Frost make their way to another installation, only to encounter Merrano, the U-Man. I liked seeing all of these super-baddies from the Invaders series. U-Man's come for a prototype jet engine, and despite heroic efforts he makes off with the goods. In the sky, the Thin Man again encounters Sky Shark, but all of this goes for naught, as the Nazis come out ahead in all battles. And what did they want all of this stuff for? Why, just to finish off their BIG FLYING SWASTIKA, that's not rotating over New York! And that flag pole? Yep, Ben's flexed it and launched himself right into the Big Apple's sky, at that flying "hunk a' junk" -- it's Clobberin' Time! To be concluded...

Karen: OK -a giant flying swastika? I will suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, but this is too much. THAT is their master weapon? Oy. Another disappointing aspect to this story is the fact that Ben barely appears in it. Why couldn't he have gone with one of the teams? I really enjoyed the first part in the FF annual, but this annual was a big let down.

Doug: I'll agree with you that this story wasn't as good as th
e first, and that this particular installment dragged on a bit. Roy could be so wordy! But when you reflect on the story, on one had it seems like there was a lot going on, but then again there weren't all too many scene-shifts. I found myself trying to view this through my 10-year old eyes, and when I could do that (certainly, all of the warts you've cited were visible to me, too) I had more fun. I did my read about 10 days before my re-read when I framed out this post. The second time around (which would have been the third time I read the story) I laughed off some of the silly stuff. And in regard to Ben's somewhat-absence from the story -- this book screams of Marvel's cross-marketing, doesn't it? A pity the Liberty Legion never caught on; stories set in the past have so many possibilities, and the skies wouldn't have been nearly so crowded as they were in the Marvel Age.

Doug: I want to ask you a question -- maybe you know this, because I am not certain. I know that there was a retcon/revelation around a decade ago that Ben Grimm is Jewish. Are you aware if that was ever hinted at earlier? I ask, because as I've read these first two issues in our little summer trilogy (to be concluded next Monday), one could certainly exp
lain Ben's passions against the Nazis and their symbols in this regard. Now, he's also a veteran with combat experience, so one could argue that is the source of his extreme consternation. What sayest thou?

Karen: As far as I know, nothing was ever said about Ben's heritage until that issue of FF (#56, vol.3). It's been said that Kirby and/or Lee intended for Ben to be Jewish but I don't know if that's ever been said in an interview with either of them (anybody out there have any direct evidence?). I don't think I ever thought about it as a kid -let's face it, until the 70s and later, pretty much all our heroes seemed to be WASPs. But I think it is a nice touch to the character. As far as his animosity towards the Axis goes, I assume we can chalk it up to Ben's moral strength and his outrage at the things the Nazis did. But reading these stories now, with the idea that Ben is Jewish, does add an extra dimension to it.

16 comments:

Joel said...

In regards to Ben being Jewish, I do recall Evanier talking about this in his Kirby HC book. There is also a drawing from Kirby of the "Jewish" Thing on a Hanukkah card (this was probably from the 70's, I think).

david_b said...

Doug/Karen:

Thanks much for the recap of this 'Part 2'.. I never saw this ish, and that cover obviously looks Kirby-esque (especially the Legion), so it seems a fine way of weaving that vintage look into the other books at the time (Invaders, Cap, Kirby Avenger covers, etc..).

As for the story, it does seem pretty lame, many devices which could have worked better perhaps under different hands. Much like the 2nd GS FF (another time traveling ish with the Watcher), it never quite seems to rise to the occasion. Once the climatic situations are all set up.., they just don't seem to deliver, despite any necessary suspensions of common sense. I find this odd, because I typically enjoyed Roy Thomas scripting those FF and Avengers stories.

When I started reading the column today, I was going to start looking for this issue. Perhaps I might just continue my Steranko-cover investments..

pete doree said...

Fairly sure I read an interview with Kirby where he said Ben was jewish. In fact Jack said Ben was him!

William said...

I think it was a big mistake when Frank Miller made Matt Murdock a Catholic or when Mark Waid made the Thing Jewish. Not because I have anything against either religion (my wife was raised Catholic, btw). It's just that as a general rule, I've always felt that when it comes comic book super heroes, their personal religious or political affiliations should remain unknown or neutral. That way, kids (or some adults) can assume that their favorite character is just like them.

It's really not necessary to have Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or even the Thing taking one side or another when it comes to a religious or political philosophy. Writers should steer clear of that kind of subject matter, IMO.

Religion and politics are extremely divisive topics (especially in todays world) and you really don't want to risk alienating a large segment of your reading public by assigning a specific set of dogmatic or polarizing ideals to a popular (and beloved by all) kind of character.

david_b said...

William:

Totally agreed on your points. The character that comes to mind to me was Firebird. I recall Shooter's comments in the WCA Letters Pages specifically promoting her as a 'christian hero'. I guess my idea is.., 'Who give a rip'..??

Bill Mantlo apparently created her in '81 (Hulk #265), but Englehart played it up the angle in WCA, whether it was under editorial pressure from Shooter or not. Her dialog referencing her beliefs always seemed forced and a bit wonky.., unfortunately much like most of WCA.

Doug said...

William said: "That way, kids (or some adults) can assume that their favorite character is just like them."

I'd like to think Stan Lee taught me more about life than that.

As I sit here today in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, teaching American teachers how to bring the events of the Shoah to their students, instructing on the causes of that hatred and the dangers of homogeneous thought, I just want to celebrate our differences as well as those people who make it a mission to break down the barriers that exist between us as human beings.

So I'm glad if Ben Grimm is Jewish, Matt Murdock is Catholic, and maybe Steve Rogers is a Protestant -- who knows? But it makes me think they're just like the folks I know in my little corner of the world. Diverse. Don't let bad writing make it a bad idea.

Doug

Dougie said...

A bit wonky? Wonky was the whole point of a Californian Avengers series, dude!
Anyway. love the Liberty Legion. Never want to see them in some kind of Saving Pvt. Ryan scenario, just "whaling the tar" out of finny fiends like U-Man. Especially since Roy T had already envisaged tragic futures for Miss America, the Whizzer and Red Raven.

Anonymous said...

I remember being so excited after reading the FF annual, then being sort of disappointed after the Two In One annual....so much so that I never even read the third part. I guess you can fill in the gaps in a few days on what I missed.

I always had the impression that the Thing was Kirby...don't remember where I saw that because I know I'm not sharp enough to have figured it out myself. :)

Darpy

Fred W. Hill said...

This type of issue was a bit of mindless fun. Certainly not one of Roy's best, but he's indulging in one of his nostolgia kicks to bring back some of these characters, most of whom would disappear again, although I recall readins somewhere several were brought back for a recent series.
As for politics and religion, while I can certainly sympathise with William's views, I don't think touchy subjects should be entirely taboo in superhero/ fantasy comics. Stan the Man himself wrote stories regarding racism and bigotry when those were very hot button topics in the mid-60s; sure, his views represented those of a majority of Americans, but there was still a very substantial subgroup that would have been keenly offended by his echoing of Martin Luther King's sentiments that we should judge people by the content of their character rather than by the color of their skin (or ethnicity, or religion, or whatever). Steve Gerber took things to another level in the 1970s, probably the most politically opinionated mainstream writer of the era, although Englehart and McGregor weren't too far behind.
I was a bit surprised when I read about Ben Grimm being described as specifically Jewish, but then I hadn't previously thought of him as particularly religious at all, just as I hadn't thought of Matt Murdock as Catholic. On reflection, however, both make perfect sense, especially with Kirby having admittedly largely based Grimm on himself, and Murdock's origin story. The hints are there from the start, although Lee was prudent in not being explicit, if he really thought about it at all. In the 1960s, the Thing being Jewish and Daredevil Catholic might have really been controversial and offputting for many readers. However, I think the modern audience, typically older and less prone to ancient prejudices, if much less likely to be fazed by it at all.

Edo Bosnar said...

One thing (no pun intended) about this annual that's a big no-no for me - and is rather unusual for Marvel's annuals in the '70s - is that it's not a done-in-one story, and is in fact only the second part of a larger story.
As for the religious or political or other identification of characters in comics, I think it's all right as long as the writer doesn't overdo it. For example, I always found it amusing that in the X-men Nightcrawler, with his tail, pointy ears and fangs, was a Catholic, and occasional references were made to the fact.

William said...

DOUG & FRED: I think I was at least partially misunderstood. I did not say (or even suggest) that there should be no controversial TOPICS presented in super hero comic books. I just said that I don't agree with long-standing characters suddenly being assigned a specific religious (or political) philosophy. Especially if they have been around for 40 plus years and never had one before. It just seems like another gimmicky ret-con type plot device to me.

One of the appealing things about superheroes is that they are usually an outsider or free agent not bound by the rules of the establishment, such as a major religion, political party or legal organization. (See Batman, Spider-Man, Wolverine for example). This frees them up to remain a non-biased and impartial crusader for truth, tolerance and justice for all. But by firmly establishing that a longtime comic book hero now has a predetermined world view based on a religious dogma, or anything else, the writer is pigeonholing that character into a certain mindset that must, at least partially, dictate their actions. I think it's much wiser to allow a character to retain a sense of mystery about some things and let the reader decide for themselves what that character's motivations are. I just personally think it makes for a more satisfying reading experience. That's all I'm saying.

dbutler16 said...

First, I am all in favor of the recaps, as I like to think every issue is somebody’s first issue, and they need to get up to speed.

As to the story, I think the screen capture of the panel with the flying swastika says it all.

As far as Being being Jewish, isn’t Stan Lee Jewish? It makes sense he’d like to have a Jewish hero in there somewhere, but I’m sure heroes’ religious affiliation wasn’t discussed back in the day.

Finally, I agree with William in that I don’t want the comics to get too bogged down in religious discussions. To me, comics are first and foremost for entertainment, and they are secondly moral plays, but I really don’t want them to become a religious treatise. I also don’t care for retcons in general, more to Williams’ point, though, Ben Grimm being Jewish, as a specific example, doesn’t bother me much. Firebird didn’t bother me too much, though I think she laid it on a bit thick.

Inkstained Wretch said...

I read this one in the MTIO Essentials collection. Yeah, it didn't quite work. The story had way too much exposition and frankly the Liberty Legion wasn't that exciting. Roy Thomas would have much better luck doing these kind of stories with the All-Star Squadron.

On the other hand, that flying Swastika bad guy ship was a great visual. This is a comic book after all and seeing that kind of wackiness redeemed the rest of the story for me.

(Gotta love that Jack Kirby cover too.)

As for the Thing being Jewish, my understanding is that Ben Grimm was always intended that way -- his characterization being modeled after Jack Kirby himself -- but they skirted past this point in the stories because they tended to skirt past religion period in these stories. I mean if you have Asgardian and Olympian gods running around, it's probably best not to get too into theological matters.

P.S. Doug, you're at the holocaust museum in DC? That's right near where I live.

david_b said...

Dougie:

Actually, I'd like to use a more profane word than 'wonky', but I will defer.

As for the Holocaust Musuem, Doug, it is quite an impressive exhibit. Having toured both Dachau and Auschwitz over 20 yrs ago, trust me, you can still smell 'death' in the trees and air. It is surreal, and very ominous.

Fred W. Hill said...

Hi, William, I pretty much agree with you. I'm a liberal atheist myself, and even put together a monthly newsletter for a local freethought group I belong to. However, I think for the most part, ye olde superheros shouldn't be seen as taking explicit sides in extremist politics or religion -- except, of course, to oppose any person or group that would unjustly oppress anyone. Captain America puncing Hitler in that famed first issue from early 1941, nearly a year before the U.S. entered WWII, had very political overtones that would have rubbed pro-fascist or even isolationist Americans the wrong way. However, judging from the strong sales of those early issues, it seems a great many young Americans already viewed Hitler as a bad guy who needed to be punched out! He made the perfect villain, and he was far worse in reality than the comics depicted him, perhaps far worse than Kirby & Simon could even imagine at the time.

Doug said...

Inkstained --

If you are getting these follow-up emails, I will be in DC July 4-13 this year.

Doug

Related Posts with Thumbnails