Marvel Two-In One #4 (July 1974)
Writer: Steve Gerber
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Karen: Team-up time! You know we love team-up books around here -heck, we love team books - and Marvel Two In One, starring the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing, is one of our favorites. The Thing is one of those characters who just manages to fit well with almost any other hero you want to toss in with him. And this issues' guest-star is a doozy: Captain America! Now I will say that I think we get off to a bit of a slow start in our two-parter here, but the second part of our story is well worth it. So let's get started, shall we?
Karen: We begin at the Central Park Zoo, with a rather disgruntled Thing and his new charge, Wundarr. Wundarr became Ben's ward in MTIO #2, when Ben was fighting the Sub-Mariner. Wundarr essentially has Superman's origin: he was rocketed here from another planet as a child. Unfortunately he grew to young adulthood along the way, but his mind didn't keep up with his body, and he has the intellectual level of about a 3-year old. However, he's a super-powered 3-year old. Ben is not happy about being stuck with the kid, mainly because Wundarr's abilities make him hard to keep out of trouble. Case in point: Ben turns his back for a moment to buy him some cotton candy, and Wundarr lets the animals out of their cages! Ben winds up having to subdue a lion, gorilla, and tiger, while Wundarr has a crying fit. I felt like Ben's portrayal was a bit off here, like Gerber didn't quite have him down. He was just too harsh, too rough on Wundarr. There wasn't enough of that big heart that we all know Ben has.
Doug: Couldn't have said it better myself. I had the same response you did to this scene, both in Ben's tone, but also in the length of this element of the story. The entire scene runs seven pages, fully 1/3 of the issue! For this 2-parter, I'm using the Marvel Premiere Hardcover Guardians of the Galaxy: Earth Shall Overcome today (I have the actual comic for next week's conclusion). Anyway, in the hardcover, the coloring on the lion is way off -- he's like a watered-down yellow. And I'm not sure how I felt about Ben banging the king of the jungle on the noggin with his rock-hard mitt. But safety first...
Karen: That coloring is present in the original comic, which is what I was working from. It's flat-out peculiar. Who else should be strolling along but Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, and his girlfriend, SHIELD agent Sharon Carter? Cap sees people running in a panic and quickly puts on his red, white, and blue uniform. He spots Ben putting the animals back in their cages, and starts to go back to Sharon, when he sees some men looting the concession stands. Obviously, he makes short work of them. Meanwhile, two young women come running up to the sobbing Wundarr. They are Namorita (Nita), cousin of the Sub-Mariner, and her room-mate.
Wundarr had encountered Nita in MTIO #2 and remembers her. Ben joins the group, still burning mad at Wundarr, but Nita says that he has to be patient with the youth. Ben settles down but is still annoyed. Nita says that she's going to college now and she and her room-mate could take Wundarr in and tutor him. Ben basically doesn't resist and lets the three of them go off together. I found this so out of character, especially considering how we know Ben cared for Wundarr later on.
Doug: Gerber gives Cap a great line, and it's an issue we've discussed around here before (particularly with Superman). Cap: "Ironic, isn't it, Sharon? I have to take off my mask to avoid being recognized!" The man, or the mask... Here's an observation for you -- whenever we see common thugs, unless it's in a Black-hero mag like Power Man or Black Goliath, the muggers/robbers/looters are always a racially-mixed group. Again, you're spot on and in tune with my feelings about Ben's characterization in this first scene. He's just way too brusque, almost like the raging Thing that showed up in FF storylines every couple of years. He's not that lovable big galoot that most of us are endeared with.
Karen: Ah yes, the 'racially mixed gang.' A staple of TV shows and comics alike. A heart-warming example of brotherhood. After handling the robbers, Cap shows up and Ben invites him and Sharon back to the Baxter Building for some coffee and conversation. They find Reed and Medusa in one of their labs -yes, this was when Reed and Sue were split up. All these years later, it still feels so strange. Reed is fiddling around with Dr. Doom's time machine. They've had the thing since Fantastic Four #5 and yet Reed is still messing around with it. Personally I think Doom must have been way ahead of Reed when it came to time travel. Then Ben does something that really bugged me: he says Medusa should go fix coffee for everyone! And a few panels later we see Medusa and
Sharon coming from another room with a tray with cups of coffee while the three men are sitting around talking! Nothing like a little bit of sexism in your comics to remind you how glad you are things have changed. Also, Medusa just towers over Sharon! How tall is she supposed to be ? Anyway, as they leave the time machine behind, Ben inadvertently brushes a switch with one of his huge rocky hands and turns on the power. As they prepare to enjoy their coffee, they hear a scream and rush into the lab to find a strangely dressed woman. She demands to know why she has been brought there. Sharon tries to calm her, pointing out that she's perfectly safe, she's with the Fantastic Four and Captain America. At the sight of Cap, the woman panics and runs, saying Cap died a thousand years ago, that it must be a trick. But then she looks out the window and sees the New York skyline. Suddenly she faints.
Doug: A long time ago you ran an Open Forum called "Who is the Smartest?" Your point about Dr. Doom may be correct. And a question about how the platform operates: Near as I can tell, the platform has to have gone somewhere in order for a person or persons to be transported back to a place. For example, later in this story Reed tells the rest of the cast that they have to be back to the same spot they're dropped off within 24 hours. I seem to recall it working the same way in Avengers #56. So I remain confused on how the time-traveling lady showed up in the Baxter Building.
Doug: Maybe Ben's suggestion that Medusa get the coffee just fits in with the rest of his grumpy,
crabby personality in this story! And why in the world does Medusa have her mask on?? I've said it a million times, can't the superheroes just have a little R&R without being battle-ready? And speaking of battle-ready, I never did buy the notion that Cap could wear his shield on his back under his civvies, which he must have been doing back in the park (nor could I believe that Warren Worthington could fit his wings under regular clothes and not look all hunch-backed). By the way, where did Cap stash his "Steve" clothes? Guy just doesn't have a web sack to tote them around in...
Karen: Reed explains that the controls on the time machine indicate that the woman was transported to their time from the year 3014! After she awakens, she tells our heroes that an alien race called the Badoon came to Earth seven years ago her time and took over the planet. Most of mankind is dead, and the rest has been enslaved. That's why Cap's appearance stunned her -he is still a symbol of liberty to the survivors. In fact, the rebels, the Guardians of the Galaxy, even named their starship after him! All of this really gets Cap's attention. After the woman, Tarin, finishes her story, Cap asks
Reed if he can send him back to the future with her. Reed is hesitant, but Ben jumps up and encourages him, even going so far as to say that they should all go back and help the Guardians out. Reed says no, he and Medusa can't go, because he has to work the machine. OK, that explains why Reed can't go, not sure why Medusa couldn't, but whatever. Sharon declares that she's going too. Ben asks Cap if he's OK with that, and Sharon responds that she's a trained SHIELD agent so that pretty much shuts him up. Ben, Cap, Sharon, and Tarin step on to Doom's time travel platform and and it rises up, sending the four over a thousand years into the future. I've always thought that the way Doom's machine worked, with that platform rising up like that was a unique visual.
Doug: I remarked to Karen when we were preparing today's post that way back when we decided to review it I hadn't considered that MTIO #5 (next Monday) was only the second appearance of the Guardians. To see about their first appearance, you can read my review of Marvel Super-Heroes #18. The stature that Cap enjoys all that time in the future carries a similar vibe to that of Superman in the Legion of Super-Heroes stories, doesn't it?
Karen: I've always felt that Cap served as the Marvel Universe's moral compass, and Superman did the same for DC's -although nowadays, I think the needles of both must be spinning madly...
Doug: When you were reading the FF back during Sue's hiatus, did you ever think there was, or should be, something going on between Reed and Medusa? Not very often, but occasionally I got a sense that various writers would have liked to have "gone there". To the best of my knowledge, none ever did.
Karen: You know, I often did wonder about that. Medusa did seem to fill a sort of 'companion' role for Reed, and at times there seemed to be some desire, at least on her part, to get closer, although it was subtle. Or perhaps I am remembering things that weren't really there! You know I've interviewed Gerry Conway for his Spider-Man and Thor runs, and I'd love to talk to him about his FF run. The whole separation of Reed and Sue really bothered me as a kid. And turning Franklin into a vegetable -well, that's why I still hold a grudge against Reed! But anyway, we're getting a bit off track here.
Karen: Sal gives us a two-page spread of New York of 3014 -but I have to say, it's not terribly exciting! There's a sort of Dr. Seuss-like oddly shaped tower, some rockets flying by, and a building labeled "Planetary Radio-Teleport" but its all rather pedestrian and empty-looking. Almost immediately the foursome is attacked by a "zom patrol" -humans who have had their brains operated on ("psycho-surgery") and are now practically robots. They can't feel pain, despite all the clobberin' Ben does. The Zoms keep coming on, and in a rather gruesome development, Ben declares, "The only way to stop 'em is ta break every bone in their bodies! I don't like the idea...in fact...it gits me a little sick ta think about it. Still it's either that or git mauled ourselves!" Although nothing graphic is shown, the idea is certainly a nasty one, and it struck me as particularly disturbing. That was probably the most Gerber-esque moment in the story. Just as the tide is turning, a huge monster comes crashing through a wall. Ben actually takes it in stride -after all, he's fought plenty of monsters in his time. He gives the creature his best haymaker -and it has no effect. Shocked, this allows the monster to get the upper hand. Cap and Sharon are also taken down by the Zoms. The Badoon's servants haul the three off, leaving Tarin unharmed. She wonders why they left her -did they think she was harmless? She vows to make the Badoon pay!
Doug: That 2-pager should have been handed off to Jack Kirby, even if he was at DC at the time.
The label on the building might as well have been ACME, or Bat-something, huh? That's just silliness. What sort of commentary do you think Gerber was going for with the Zoms? I agree that he probably had some sort of agenda -- Watergate was in the news, and the Vietnam War was not yet over. Who knows? But I also thought it was very out-of-place in a newsstand comic for 1974. Maybe it's just an example of Bronze Age envelope pushing.
Doug: The Badoon monster may have been more visually uninspired than the double-splash cityscape.
Karen: This issue seemed to be mostly set up for next issue. I recently read a Daredevil comic written by Steve Gerber that was published a few months before this, and I have to say that at this point in his career, Gerber had not found his voice yet. There's not a lot here to distinguish him from any other writer. He hadn't become the guy we would all remember, the one who wrote those crazy Defenders, Man-Thing, and Howard the Duck stories. This is a pretty basic super-hero comic. I also felt like Sal Buscema's art was less than inspired here. All in all, a solid if standard effort.
Doug: I really wanted to like this story when I sat down to read it (1st timer, was I). But I thought the introductory scene was way too long, contained an unlikable Ben Grimm, and by the time Namorita showed up it was beginning to feel like a Joel Schumacher production (although there were no nipples on Cap's suit). However, if I look at this within the temporal parameters you established for us at the top, that Wundarr had only been in Ben's care for two issues, it's a bit more palatable. I'm not sure if it was Sal's pencils or Giacoia's inks, but Ben's facial expressions were pretty inconsistent, and not all that good at times. Cap was always drawn great, however -- you know Sal was very comfortable with him. And to be fair, I've heard many an artist complain that the Thing is one of the toughest characters to draw and get right. But overall, and I know I sound really nit-picky, it was not a bad read; not the greatest, but there are a whole lot of Bronze Age books beneath this one. So my time was not wasted, and we'll see what sort of pay-off we get next week.