Thursday, June 28, 2012

Of Super Soldiers and Cosmic Cubes, Part Two

Marvel Two In One #43 (September 1978)
"The Day The World Winds Down"
Writer: Ralph Macchio
Artist: John Byrne
Inkers: John Byrne "and friends"

Karen: The art in our second half is much more to my liking. By John Byrne 'and friends', it is a much more polished book. I'm not certain whose hands touched this issue, but I can see several different styles. Byrne himself is evident, and perhaps also Dave Hunt. The official Marvel website also credits Walt Simonson. So part of the fun with this issue is trying to guess who inked what. Regardless, it looks really spectacular.

Karen: Things pick up in the
Everglades, where Victorius holds the Cosmic Cube and proclaims that he shall use it to bring about all-encompassing entropy. Ben starts to go after him but Cap stops him, predicting the villain is about to explain his plan, and Victorius happily obliges. He explains that he survived his battle with Ka-Zar (see last week's review) but felt directionless. That's when he discovered the Cult of Entropy (by picking up a book in an occult bookstore!). Feeling that the universe was always heading towards decline and decay, the philosophy struck a chord with him. He sought them out and became their new leader. When he heard that Pegasus had the Cube, he knew he had to get it in order to fulfill his new scheme. He used it to re-create the cult's former leader, Yagzan, from his skeletal remains and the Earth itself. This new creature became the personification of Entropy -Jude, the Entropic Man. What kind of a name is Jude for the embodiment of entropy? Personally it makes me think of the Beatles' song! Anyway, the cult happened upon two lovers in the swamp (?) and Jude "initiated" them -turning them to the dust they'd once been. Outraged about how casually Victorius describes the murder, Ben flings himself at the man, but is knocked back by a burst of energy from the Cube.
Karen: The blast leaves Ben unconscious, but Cap is raring to go! He goads Victorius into fighting him one on one. Seeing it as a great opportunity, to test himself against the original super soldier, Victorius agrees. He leaves the Cube floating in mid-air as he and the Captain go at it mano a mano. The two are well matched, although I would assume Cap really has the upper hand in the skill deppartment. The two super soldiers and the cultists do not notice as the Man-Thing makes his way from the swamp. Ironically, we have another would-be super-soldier here, as the Man-Thing was once scientist Ted Sallis, another man who had tried to reproduce the Super-Soldier formula, but with disastrous results. Just an aside, I think it's a cool idea that in the Marvel films, Bruce Banner became the Hulk because he too was trying to make a Super-Soldier serum. Of course, that's taken from the Ultimate universe, but even so, it ties things together nicely.
Karen: As Cap and Victorius fight and debate their philosophical positions, the muck monster is drawn to the Cube. It reaches out and grabs it. Just at this moment, Ben groggily rises, and can't believe what he sees before him: Cap and Victorius slugging it out, the Entropic Man calmly watching, and in the middle of it all, the Man-Thing groping at the Cube. The Entropic Man decides that Victorius' battle is a waste of time, and he begins to "indoctrinate" Cap, basically mind -controlling him. Just as he's about to pull him into his cloak of non-existence, Ben leaps and grabs Cap and throws him aside. However, the Entropic Man grabs Ben instead and pulls him in. You'd think this would kill him -but instead, it turns him back into plain, human Ben Grimm!

Karen: Ben is a bit shocked but he knows he has no tim
e to waste. He tries to stall the Entropic Man, arguing with him over his idea of entropy being peace. The creature begins to have doubt about whether his way is the best one. "I did but desire your happiness," he says, somewhat hurt. Victorius realizes that Ben is beginning to sway him, and punches Grimm in the back of the head. Cap has recovered though and intercedes. Victorius figures his only chance is to use the Cube and erase any doubt from his ally. But the Man-Thing is still holding onto it. The AIM Super-Soldier angrily yells at the monster and seems on the edge of panic. This draws the Entropic Man's attention. He tells Victorius that it is not his time, that life yet prevails on Earth. But he is more than willing to share entropy with Victorius! The man becomes terrified, filled with fear - and as we all know, whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing's touch! The combination of entropy, Cosmic Cube, and that burning touch causes a massive explosion. Cap picks himself up from the goo and finds that Ben has turned back into the Thing again. He doesn't seem concerned about it. At this stage Ben has accepted his fate. They discover that Victorius and the Entropic Man have merged into a strange crystal-like substance. All around them, the swamp has flowered and burst with new life. Ironically, the cult of entropy has become a source of life. Cap scoops up the Cube, which appears to be dormant again. "All ya got there is a cosmic paperweight," Ben says.

Karen: The two men head off together, but behind them, the Man-Thing re-forms from the swamp. He wanders over to the crystal and touches it -and his hand becomes human. The creature pauses and looks at its new hand, as if almost remembering that it was once human. But then it wanders away into the everglades, reverting to its monstrous state.

Karen: This was really a fun story to re-read. I've always found the Thing and Captain America to make a great team. Maybe it's that shared respect of veterans (recall, originally Ben and Reed were WWII veterans!) but whatever it is, they work well together. The Man-Thing was slipped into the story and one could say he was unnecessary but I thought it was a nice touch, and didn't detract from anything. Heck, it's one of the things I love about the Marvel Universe -these crazy characters were always running into each other! Everything in this issue was really top notch. All in all, a nice two-parter.


dbutler16 said...

I agree that the art is better here. I found the entropy thing interesting. From a thermodynamic standpoint, they’re quite right that the universe is headed toward decay! As far as Jude, that’s the patron saint of lost causes, so I wonder if that had anything to do with the name selection. I agree that it’s an odd name for a supervillain, though.

Interesting bit with the Man-Thing becoming human at the crystal’s touch. A sad ending.

All in all, yup, a nice story.

Anonymous said...

I always liked Ralph Macchio stories, whether he was teamed with Mark Gruenwald, or (far too rarely) on his own. Too bad he didn't have much output in the Bronze Age! His stories were solid and entertaining.


Edo Bosnar said...

I re-read this a few days ago in my Man-Thing Essentials (which, unfortunately, only has this issue and not the preceding one); even in black and white, the art looks spectacular.
And you're right about the story as well, it's great fun, and there's so much packed into it - I definitely agree with Ric, Macchio was a real solid story-teller. And the appearance of Man-Thing made complete sense, precisely because of the super-soldier serum angle. Otherwise, this two-parter also works as a good prelude to the Project Pegasus saga, which makes me kind of regret that it was not included in the Project Pegasus TPB from the late '80s.

david_b said...

Never read the story, but already agreed, it's a big improvement from the previous set-up issue.

The lettering and inking still looks rushed (on Grimm..), but the parts with Man-Thing look pretty interesting.

david_b said...

Oh, and the cover's MUCH better this time out as well.

humanbelly said...

Like the new ID avatar, david_b.

I'm out of town for the week(end), so I can't check this out. HOPING someone can match the high degree of continuity geekiness it asks for: That final tableau of Victorious and Jude. . . do we see that again in either Hulk #197 or 198? Guest starring Man-Thing? It's rather obliquely (and intriguingly) seen and refered to. . . but never explained. I've ALWAYS wondered about the story-behind-that-story. . .

Anthony said...

As far as I know neither Victorious nor Jude have been used in any stories since this issue. Hulk 197 and 198 take place after Giant-Size Man-Thing 1 and all we see of Yagzan is his skeleton after the Glob got through with him. His skeleton shows up again untouched in Iron Man Annual 3 as the setting for that is Omegaville.

Fred W. Hill said...

I thought this was an interesting story and I found the discussion in the letters pages fascinating too, including references to the Thomas Hardy novel, Jude the Obscure, inspiring me to eventually read the novel. Hardy's Jude is very much the embodiment of lost causes. I don't recall whether Macchio ever explained whether he picked the name in reference to the saint, the song or the novel. Hey Jude, of course, is one of the Beatles' greatest songs!
Anyhow, I missed the previous issue, although I had read those Ka-Zar issues where Victorious made his debut -- I didn't think they were quite as bad as Karen mentions in last week's post. Average at worst in my estimation. Funny, I never much got into Tarzan, but I did collect Ka-Zar's mags sporadically, including most of those that included the quest for the Super Soldier serum.
A shame, btw, that in the current era Cap and Ben no longer have a shared history of growing up in the slums of pre-WWII NYC and going on to become heroes during the war -- Cap as one of the earliest costumed cutups and Ben as a fighter pilot. I suppose these days, Ben wasn't born until the late 60s and was a veteran of the first Gulf War. In this regard, aspects of the Marvel Universe as we once knew it have undergone much entropy!

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