Thursday, June 21, 2012

Of Super Soldiers and Cosmic Cubes, Part One

Marvel Two In One # 42 (August 1978)
"Entropy, Entropy..."
Writer: Ralph Macchio
Artist: Sal Buscema
Inkers: Alfredo Alcala, Sam Grainger

Karen: This post kicks off a two part review of a story in Marvel Two-In-One that deals with the both the super soldier serum and the Cosmic Cube. Originally I had intended this to be a longer series of posts, as the story actually started in Astonishing Tales, featuring Ka-Zar, back in 1973. But after having read those issues, I decided to spare you the pain and just go with the condensed version. Honestly, those Ka-Zar stories are pretty dreadful. All you really need to know from them is that both AIM and SHIELD were working hard to rediscover the super-soldier formula of Dr. Erskine -the formula that turned Steve Rogers into Captain America. A scientist, Victor Conrad, at AIM got ahold of the original formula and used it on himself. He went on to fight Ka-Zar and lost, and presumably died in a great fall into a moat. Got it?

Karen: Present-time: Bashful Benjy tears thr
ough a six-inch thick titanium steel door at the new Project Pegasus research center. He's surrounded by men knocks them around like children. Leaping from the other side of the room is none other than Captain America. He orders the men back and lands just in time to block a huge orange fist with his shield. Ben is raging, beyond reason. it turns out he's upset about Wundarr, the alien super-teen with the mind of a child who was once Ben's ward. Project Pegasus has taken him and Ben wants to know why. Cap tries to calm him but it does no good. Finally, the Captain triggers a device that puts Ben into a force field. Unable to do much more than float, Ben finally settles down.

Karen: Cap gives Ben a quick tour of the facility run by "the new Department of Energy" (started by Jimmy Carter, remem
ber?) but all Ben cares about is Wundarr. The two men take an elevator down to a lower level, in the cosmic radiation section where Wundarr is being held. The scientists want to use Wundarr's abilities to see if he can stimulate the Cosmic Cube back into functioning. Just like in the Avengers film, the technos theorize that the cube could be a tremendous energy source. It's interesting to note here that when Ben complains about Wundarr being held captive, Cap says that Wundarr is an illegal alien after all! Where's that Englehart Cap when you need him? But he also assures Ben that the scientists are trying to help improve his intelligence, which has been badly stunted. Wundarr is brought out in a fancy shackle, which he promptly bursts, and goes running off. Ben jumps in to intercede and protect him. The youth sees him and cries out "Unca Benjy!" and runs to the one person he trusts. Ben wraps him in a protective bear hug.

Karen: Ben tells Wundarr that he's going to be OK, he won't let anything happen to him. But he feels badly about taking him back to the lab. Wundarr is strapped into a chair with a big colander over his head and the dormant Cube hangs before him. The helmet gizmo apparently activates Wundarr's power, and the Cube begins to pulsate with power once again. Wundarr begins to get panicky, and Ben, watching from another room, is in agony. Suddenly, one of the scientists throws a switch and Wundarr is bombarded with energy. He screams in pain, and that's enough for Ben. He once again tears a wall down to get to his young friend. Cap immediately suspects sabotage and spots a figure on a catwalk. He jumps up and the scientist there says "Blast! I- of all people -should have known you could reach me up here!" This perplexes Cap enough that he's caught off guard, and the mysterious saboteur backhands him hard, sending him flying. The man jumps down into the cell with Wundarr and grabs the Cube and teleports away.

Karen: Our scene switches to a swamp and a group of red-robed cultists chanting in an unearthly tongue. They seem to be praying around a human skeleton. Suddenly, the man with the Cube appears before them. He tears off a mask (here we go with the masks again! A running theme for comments here at BAB) and reveals himself as Victor Conrad, aka Victorius, the AIM scientist who took the Super Soldier serum. It appears he's become the leader of these 'Entropists'.

Karen: Back at Project Pegasus, things are not looking good for Wundarr. The energy he absorbed from the Cube has rendered him comatose. Ben is crushed and Cap does a sort of poor job consoling him, almost as if he's preparing Ben to lose Wundarr.
Since he can't help Wundarr, Ben wants to go after the man who hurt him and took the Cube. Cap points the way to a jet equipped with devices from Stark Industries designed to detect energy signatures. Ben jumps in the cockpit despite the protests of the technicians, and he and Cap are off.

Karen: They trace the Cube to the Florida everglades. Landing the VTOL craft in
the swamp, Ben questions whether the equipment is working properly. Who would take an object as powerful as the Cube and go here? Moments later, they get their answer, as they are faced by Victorius and his followers, included a cloaked dark being called the Entropic Man. Victorius declares that he is going to usher in a new order for the universe. Just like everyone else who has ever had the Cube! But as Ben says, "Wotta revoltin' development."

Karen: I enjoyed this story, although
it really is mostly set-up for part two. The art is all right, although I think another inker on Sal might have worked better. It sometimes looks rushed. This was our introduction to Project Pegasus, which would have its own saga in MTIO #53-58 . I have to say I think George Perez did a great job in getting the size and scope of the lab across in those issues. But I thought it was interesting how some of the ideas from the Avengers film appear to have originated here. I had not remembered that the Cube had been taken to Project Pegasus after Thanos' defeat. The base at the beginning of the film is shown to be Project Pegasus on a sign briefly seen. I also did not recall the idea that the Cube could be an energy source- I thought that originated in the Captain America and Avengers films alone, but obviously that is not the case. Now if they'd only call the thing the Cosmic Cube, I'd really be happy!


Anonymous said...

I always really liked The Thing's team-ups with Captain America in Marvel Two-in-One (seems like there were 3 such team-ups). The two have alot in common... regular blue collar guys from New York that ended up as super-heroes! Their relationship always seemed so easy and natural.

Great story, and great review!


david_b said...

This looks like an alright story, and as I've said several times in the past, it was a smart move for the team-up books to have their own consistency and feel with supporting characters outside the main titles (Willie the longshore man in early MTU, way under-utilized, Wundarr in MTIO, etc..).

I loved the first CA/Thing teamup in MTIO 4&5, with better cover art. This time out, I'd agree that the lettering and inks seem to be a bit too rushed, which to me seemed common around this timeframe. 'Course, it's probably just me.

dbutler16 said...

I just so happen to have read these issues within the past year, so good job on your timeliness. I would probably give this issue a B-. The next issue was a bit better, but like Karen says, this is a set-up issue. The best thing about this is that it sets up the classic Project Pegasus storyline. I agree that the art was only ok. The story was good though a little weird at times. Good ol’ Ben swinging first and asking questions later. I think it’s sweet the way Ben is so protective of Wundarr, though I have to say he didn’t really do a very good job of taking care of him. I thought the Entropists were interesting. I also think it’s great that the Avengers film stuck in Project Pegasus, and that the borrowed a good idea from the comics.

William Preston said...

I remember this issue largely because of how much I disliked the pages Grainger inked. I think he inked the MTIO annual with the Invaders (and some What If? issues), and he Benjy always came out looking a bit of a mess.

Anonymous said...

For some reason, I always preferred MTIO to MTU. There seemed more direction to MTIO and more continuity, probably because Benjy didn’t have his own mag or his own personal foes, so there was less need to shoehorn stuff in. I’d forgotten this pre-cursor to Pegasus.

I’ve been on a project myself (see what I did there?) for the last few years of completing all the sets I ever wanted as a kid and reading them all. As I’ve completed MTIO, I might have a go at reading them all in time for Karen’s Pegasusathon.

The entropic man fits cleverly against the energy theme, but maybe a little too cleverly for the average 10 year old. I agree about Sal’s art – it’s under-inked can tell from the almost total lack of detail in the backgrounds. Also, Sam Grainger usually looked better over Sal’s pencils. I always liked the way Sal drew people being bombarded with pure energy (not something that happens much in everyday life, but pretty de rigueur in the Marvel universe). He puts the shadows in the wrong places to imply that light/energy is coming from the wrong direction. At this point, I invite you to summon to mind the cover of Avengers #89, which is an example not only of the aforementioned head-thrown-back-teeth-gritted-energy-bursting-out-of-my-bonce face by Sal but also a fine example of better inking on SB by SG. This is the Marvel Age of tidy posts.


Ps did the Avengers movie actually name the Tesseract project as Pegasus? I completely missed that. Damn. You know what this means? I’ll have to go & see it AGAIN! Oh well...

J.A. Morris said...

I guess they felt that calling it "the Cosmic Cube" in the movie would sound dumb to the non-comic fans.

This is the same mentality that says "movie audiences will never believe a science wiz kid could make mechanical web shooters".

Anonymous said...

I never saw that cover before. Nice.

I hate "Tessaract". Why not call it the Cosmic Cube? You've got a guy in red/white and Blue tights caalled Captain America for crissakes.


david_b said...


AWESOME response..!!

You made my day.

Karen said...

Nice one Starfoxxx. It also annoys me that they won't use "Black Widow" or "Hawkeye" -it's Agent Romanoff or Agent Barton -or even 'The Hawk', as the Scandinavian doctor refers to him in the opening scenes. Dumb.

As far as Ben going berserk not once but twice in this issue -hey, it seems excessive, but that's what Marvel was all about!

Anonymous said...

OK, I just went and saw it again (no really....the things I do for you people) and it’s only referred to as the Dark Energy Project. Actually, I noticed quite a few things I didn’t notice on my first two viewings. Whedon actually designs a character arc for Iron Man in a way that none of the others have. At the start when he is teasing Pepper about Coulson, he takes exception to her calling him Phil and says ‘his first name is agent’ but when he blasts Loki into the floor at the end he says, ‘there’s someone else you’ve pissed off, and his name is Phil’. Also, in his face off with Cap, the thing Cap accuses him of is always looking for a way out rather than facing responsibilities particularly with regard to making sacrifice in combat, so the part at the end when he flies into near certain death with the bomb is a real moment in their relationship and a real sea-change in Stark.

Also, I assumed that Banner knew where to rock up from the news reports, but actually, right before the Heli-carrier gets hammered, his search program locates the cube and he says ‘Oh God’ so he actually knew it was in NY and probably even guessed it was in Stark’s tower.

BTW, anyone contemplating a second viewing, I saw it in IMAX 3D the first 2 times and normal 3D last night, and the 3D definitely gained from being more confined. Not sure the film did, but the 3D was definitely more eye-popping.


PS – someone is now going to tell me that Pegasus was re-named the Dark Energy project sometime in the last 30 years, right?

William Preston said...

I'm pretty sure I saw "Pegasus Project" at some point in that film. I remember turning to my friend and saying something about it. It was on a box, maybe?

Anonymous said...

You mean I have to go AGAIN?

Oh well...

Karen said...

The Project Pegasus sign is seen for only a second or two as Nick Fury heads into the facility at the beginning of the film. It says "Project Pegasus" and below that "Dark Energy" (Research Center? not 100% sure).It also says something about it being a DOE -NASA project, which shows the film-makers did their home work, because there was a proposal for a DOE-NASA Joint Dark Energy Mission put out a few years ago.

Dave, UK said...

Whaddayamean, thirty years ago?!!!
Wow. Time flies and then some.

The MTIO stories were some of the last comics I bought before I stopped reading regularly because I was too old :p.

Wish I'd kept them. I remember this storyline with fondness. The characters (with the exception of Cap as Karen mentions) were treated with what felt like genuine affection. Ben was realistically challenged by his usual deference to authority in tension with his strong moral sense of right and wrong.

Although, I always thought Wundarr was gimmicky, the story arc was a good one (on the whole, I prefer lengthier sagas than the single issue stories). There was plenty for Ben to react to and think about.

BTW, thank you for this article. I am so glad I have found this site and can relax in the company of fellow Bronze age afficianados. Hope you've got some PM&IF; Ghost Rider; Champions action going on somewhere! Nuff said!

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