Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977)
Jim Starlin-Starlin/Josef Rubenstein
Doug: It's sad to see this one go, folks! After the introduction of Thanos way back in Iron Man #55 (February 1973), Jim Starlin would conclude what became one of the true epics in all of comic book history with the publication of Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2. Four years, and no decompression in sight! Let's not waste any time, but instead enjoy the master as he puts the final stamp on his magnum opus.
Doug: Oddly enough, we begin with Peter Parker, the spectacular Spider-Man lost in a dream state. I'll say right from the top, I felt this story was better suited to have appeared in Spidey's own Marvel Team-Up Annual (in case you're wondering, there was no 1977 Annual for that mag. Hmmph). I say that because I felt that Spider-Man was really the headliner in this story, as opposed to its proprietor, Benjamin Grimm. But both heroes get a moment or two in the sun along the way, as do the Avengers and Starlin's cosmic cast. So Parker is having visions of the space opera that took place in Avengers Annual #7. We get a nice 2-page recap of that chapter's events, and then discover that it is Moondragon reaching out to Spider-Man in distress. We then get some not-previously-seen material, of Thanos and his thralls (man, did Starlin overuse and abuse that word over these last two stories!) defeating and capturing the Avengers. Even the heavyweights -- Thor, Iron Man, and Captain Mar-Vell -- fall. The corpse of Adam Warlock was then brought before the power-crazed Titan, and Warlock's soul gem was removed from his cold forehead. Thanos intended to use it as a love offering for his prospective mistress, Death.
Karen: I agree, Spidey does seem to be more the focus than Ben, but I think they were just trying to find a place to finish telling Warlock and Thanos' story, so it got plopped into MTIO. Of course if this were done today, it would be a 12-part series with tie-ins to every book in the line. In retrospect you'd think Moondragon would reach out to someone like Dr. Strange, wouldn't you? But it just wouldn't be the same story.
Doug: Oh, yes -- "Atlantis Attacks" or some such summer "epic". Ugh... And as I've said, I'm no Dr. Strange expert, but I'm thinking with as powerful as he's sometimes portrayed, this whole thing could have been over sooner than later.
Doug: Spidey wakes with his heart pounding, questioning everything that had just gone before. Somehow he knows it was real, and knowing that with great power must also come great responsibility, sets out to find allies for what he knows could be a death-mission. Somewhere in the fabric of space/time, Order and Chaos discuss how Thanos must be defeated. They know that Spider-Man will be a champion, and that he will ally himself with the Thing -- and they hope that their union will turn the tide. Sure enough, Spidey arrives at the Baxter Building and easily gets through the recently-updated security systems. In one of those scenes that we've witnessed before, but is always priceless, Ben's curled up with a stogie and a scary book. Spider-Man, of course sensing the moment in spite of the gravity of the situation, lightly taps Benji on top of his noggin, causing him to inhale his entire cigar and choke on it. Great stuff! After things settle down over a couple of cups of coffee, Spidey relates his dream to Ben. Ben really doesn't question it, and instead offers an experimental space shuttle that Reed's been working on. The two heroes blast off, not really knowing where they are going or what they are looking for.
Karen: That's a pretty good scene. Ben's reading Salem's Lot by Stephen King, which I can say is a pretty terrific book (and I don't even consider myself a King fan). But what's up with the little white cat padding around near his feet? That seemed odd. In any case, it was a good laugh. I will say that I didn't think Starlin quite had Ben's voice -he just sounded a little off, a little stiff maybe. But not enough to ruin it for me.
Doug: Even though Spidey had no coordinates for Thanos' ship, it really wasn't too hard to find -- the thing is huge! Our guys find themselves caught in a tractor beam, and Ben warns the Webslinger that once docked, there's going to need to be some butt-kicking administered -- you know, Ben has experience with that sort of thing. Indeed, clobberin' time does commence. Two pages later, Thanos has seen enough and eliminates gravity in the chamber where the battle is taking place. Totally thrown off his game, the Thing is put down with a blast, as is Spider-Man. Back in space/time, Order and Chaos monitor the events -- although Spider-Man and the Thing are necessary for what will transpire, they are merely catalysts for bringing forth the true champion: Adam Warlock. Say what?
Karen: That was a nice touch, the old veteran of cosmic adventures calmly explaining what's going to go down next. Even after seeing that gigantic spaceship, Ben is not phased. Well until he hears Thanos' voice, and realizes they're in the deep doo-doo. The interludes with Chaos and Order let us know that something of great magnitude is happening here. I thought it made sense that both Order and Chaos would represent life - life is full of chaos, after all, and chaos would require life and activity, so it would be an enemy of death and entropy. Comic book metaphysics...probably not worth thinking about too much really.
Doug: We journey into the soul gem, Jim Starlin's version of Heaven or Paradise. As we saw at the end of Avengers Annual #7, Adam Warlock now inhabits this space of peace alongside his friends Pip the Troll and Gamora, as well as even several former enemies. It is a true respite from any and all suffering. Adam says to his friends "I pray it can last." Yeah... Back on Thanos' mother ship, the Thing and Spidey awaken to find themselves at the feet of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, all contained in a stasis field. Thanos is at a control room, but materializes in between our heroes at Ben's provocation. But what he really wanted to do was gloat over his possession of Warlock's soul gem, and how he will use it to destroy our sun. Ben gasps, wanting an explanation. Starlin uses the next half-page to give the reader more backstory on Thanos' ill-fated love affair with Death. As he concludes, Ben's had enough -- he delivers, with gusto, his "world-famous Knuckle Knock-Out formula!"
Karen: It's sort of easy to forget that Thanos, despite his menacing appearance and power, is really just a pathetic guy trying to impress the woman he loves. Of course, that woman is the personification of Death. But still...He's no Dr. Doom, trying to conquer and gain power for the sake of personal aggrandizement and to control others. He's no Magneto, with a cause he fervently believes in. He's not even a Galactus, who transcends good and evil. He's just a madman in love.
Doug: I'll say this for Starlin and the other creators who touched on Thanos over the years of the Bronze Age -- they never did stray from the intent you state: that he's a guy just trying to get the right bouquet for his lady-friend!
Doug: For his trouble, Ben is laid out with a single blow. He's really lucky Thanos didn't kill him, as he had Warlock. Thanos challenges Spider-Man, who chooses the better part of valor and flees. What did you think about this? I thought it was a nice piece of Peter Parker writing -- Spidey gives off the lovable loser, but staunch hero vibe all at the same time. He knew he couldn't do anything right there and then -- Peter's a scientist, and a chance to collect his wits and analyze the situation was what he needed. So he fled. Thanos, not liking it one bit, orders his menagerie of aliens after the Webhead. Spidey has to engage a few of them, but is finally able to find a place to hide out for a few moments. And then he takes matters into his own hands -- he launches himself right into a weak point on the contraption containing the Avengers -- and all hell (and the team) breaks loose!
Karen: My take on this, both when I first read it and now, 36 years later, is that Spidey freaked out and ran! He had a momentary panic attack when faced with a threat way beyond anything he'd ever had to deal with, and just flat out ran! The fact that he was thinking to himself about how could he get back to Earth really makes me believe that for a few moments at least, he was planning on splitting. But after he's had a chance to sort of mentally regroup, he realizes he has to go do something. Figuring that only Thor can stand up to Thanos he knows that freeing him is his best plan. And that's why he's a hero. Spidey doesn't give up, and even sacrifices his body to free the Avengers.
Doug: I can see your point. To be honest, I like your take -- it's very humanistic. Even with Spider-powers, this is a scene pretty far removed from fighting the Vulture or the Molten Man!
Doug: Jim Starlin and Joe Rubenstein then treat us to five pages of sheer mayhem, as Thanos' army descends on the chamber to try to clean up the mess. The Avengers are fully-engaged, and we get several great shots of Thor and the Thing tag-teaming on the Titan himself. I'll be really curious to see how this plays out in Avengers 2 with the Hulk standing in for the Thing -- now that is going to be some real fun, particularly with the ramped-up film version of ol' Jade Jaws! And what of Spidey? He's numb from the jolt he received when jumping onto the machine, and as he clears his head, he has an inkling that there's something he's about to do (what?) and it's going to be pivotal (better move, then!). In space, Order taps into Warlock's mind, preparing him for what will come next. Back on Thanos' ship, Spider-Man now knows that he must get to the soul gem. His mind begins to go haywire -- no spider-sense, really no vision. He busts through some of Thanos' goons, and then has to resort to flailing his arms about in an effort to dislodge the gem from its container. He's successful, as the gem hits the floor and an explosion goes off -- releasing a golden, flaming hero calling himself "the Ultimate Avenger". We know who he is -- and so does Thanos!!
Karen: I wish my comic wasn't so muddy looking. The full page shot with Ben trying to restrain Thanos while Thor is about to strike the mad Titan with Mjolnir is pretty cool. I think I would have preferred to see a less cluttered page but it's still a nice shot. The three panel sequence that follows is even better. (This would make a really cool diorama (triorama?).
Doug: While I did not purchase any of the Marvel Legends dioramas (everyone versus Galactus, the Hulk vs. the Thing, and the cover of Fantastic Four #1), I would agree that this image would be a worthy contender to have been immortalized in resin. In regard to the muddy look, I have a ton of comics that had white back covers that are all dirtied up from the pre-bag era of my collecting. But additionally, I also have many, many books from the Bronze Age that have that muddy look from the poor paper quality and printing processes. It is frustrating. While I don't always like the coloring on trade paperbacks, at least it's clear.
Doug: The BIG FINISH is sort of funny; almost anticlimactic. Adam Warlock ends Thanos' life as quickly as Thanos had ended Warlock's earlier. With but one touch, Thanos is transformed into a statue of solid granite. A monument to his wild obsession with conquest and destruction as a means to love Death. The next page, the penultimate of the epic, needs to speak for itself, and appears below.
Karen: Adam returns as "the ultimate avenger". Well everyone's an Avenger nowadays...I kid, I kid. With the golden coloring and the flames, I thought immediately of an angel, and not the happy, harp-playing kind. I thought it was interesting that he tells Thanos he had to return while he remained a threat to "my universe!" I wonder what Starlin's intent was there? Of course Warlock had served as a Christ stand-in on Counter-Earth. Had his death and life in the soul gem allowed him to ascend to a higher level of consciousness? As an aside, I wonder if anyone has done a story that went back to Counter-Earth and showed people worshiping Warlock all these years after his death and resurrection? Or is that potato still too hot? Karen: Captain Marvel's eulogy was well-said, and ironic, since he too would be dead in a short time -and killed by the same man! At least his life was somewhat happier than Warlock's.
Doug: As we close this one out, I just want to again say "thanks" to Karen for getting these issues on the docket. What a wild ride! I'm really glad I read all of these, and as I said earlier now need to get into some of the Warlock stories. Jim Starlin was quite a talented writer in these yarns. Just a small quibble on the art in today's issue. While I know that this issue was created concurrently with last week's fare, I would just note that I thought the overall art performance was better in Avengers Annual #7 than here. Given that it's the same team, I just have to write that off to the burden of the deadlines. But hey -- Jim Starlin and Joe Rubenstein operating at 85-90% efficiency beats a whole lot of other people, for sure!
Karen: I'm really glad you enjoyed them, Doug! I think they are a true Bronze Age epic. I do agree with you about the art in this issue -it does seem not quite as polished as the Avengers Annual. My guess is it got rushed. But as you say, it's still better than most! Now that I have seen the super clean scans from that trade paperback, I'm going right over to Amazon to buy it. It makes my comics look like they've been dragged through the mud!
Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two sons in college, one working on a BA, the older an MA. The oldest got married on June 21st, making for a great Father's Day.
Karen originally hails from northern California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
Believe it or not, the Bronze Age Babies have never spoken to each other...
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BI #44 is available for digital download and in print. I've read Karen's article on reader reaction to Gerry Conway's ASM #121-122, and it's excellent. This entire magazine was fun! -- Doug
Back Issue #45
As if Karen's work on Spidey in the Bronze Age wasn't awesome enough, she's at it again with a look at the romance of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Back Issue's "Odd Couples" issue -- from TwoMorrows!
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