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 that those were five pages I didn't have to synopsize!
Doug: So Ben and the Watcher get down to the 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 one 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 Side-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 does 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. As 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 the 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 explain 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.