Marvel Team-Up #9 (May 1973)
"The Tomorrow War"
Writer: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inker: Frank Bolle
Doug: Before we get to the nitty gritty, how about that cover? According to the Grand Comics Database, it's by Jazzy Johnny Romita (I would have guessed that) with inks by Joe Sinnott (I wasn't sure there). Talk about two iconic poses! I have no idea who would have written the cover's text, but it would certainly rank among the wordiest jobs of the Bronze Age!
Karen: It's a sharp cover. Romita can do no wrong in my book.
Doug: I want to add a NOTE here at the top of today's post. As you read through, you are going to notice several hyperlinks throughout the text. We thought it would be fun to create sort of a "jumping on" post for new readers, so where appropriate (or where our memories were actually working!), we set it up so you could track through a little BAB history. Have fun with it!
Karen: I may as well also mention here that all of the artwork for these MTU reviews will be coming from the Marvel Masterworks volume 1 version, which is why they are a) so brilliantly colored, and b) at times, slightly distorted around the edges (trying not to break the spine of the book as I scan!). With that out of the way, let's get on to our story.
Karen: Unfortunately our webhead is not feeling too friendly when we start our tale. I have to say this is about the crankiest interpretation of Peter Parker I've ever seen. I know Gerry Conway has said that it took him a while to get a handle on Spidey, and it feels like it here. The tale actually opens with our guest star, Iron Man. We see what appears to be an earthquake shaking up NYC, specifically, Avengers Mansion! A police officer at the scene decides that the Avengers must know what's going on and heads towards the mansion -inexplicably, with his gun drawn! It becomes clear from his dialogue that he's not too fond of these "costumed vigilantes," as he puts it. As he gets closer, he's stunned to see the mansion suddenly disappear and then reappear! He starts ranting about what he's seen, wondering what sort of game the Avengers are playing, when a voice from over head chimes in. The startled officer looks up and then says, "So it's you." I thought that was kind of odd. He still has his gun out too. The target of his scorn is Iron Man. The golden avenger lands near him and reminds him that they're on the same team. The officer starts yelling at him about what's going on, but IM sort of steam rolls past him towards the Mansion, until he slams into an invisible force barrier. It knocks him on his can (so to speak) but that just makes him more determined to break through.
Doug: Marvel sure milked the "distrusting cop" thing, didn't they? If Marvel Time was real time, super-heroes would have been around for over 40 years by the time of this adventure; certainly the Marvel Universe as we know it would have been over a decade old. So that there were still folks who didn't appreciate having had their bacon saved a bazillion times seemed odd; you'd think bailing the Earth out of the Galactus situation would have been enough to win people over. And you're right about the cop having drawn his gun. Really? Because that's going to help solve the mystery of an earthquake?
Karen: Now we finally get to the star of our mag. Peter Parker has apparently just arrived home at the apartment he shares with his pal Harry Osborn (a caption tells us this story takes place before ASM 119 and 120 -that would be Spidey's swingin' adventure with the Hulk). He flips on the TV and sees the whole situation with Iron Man on the tube, but he's in a foul mood. "You could probably use some help, but right now I've had it with the compadre bit. I've got enough troubles of my own without getting involved with every world-shaking threat to come down the pike!" He thinks to himself that the Fantastic Four can help out -he's tired and just wants a bath. But then, who should appear but the ever-charming Harry, who swings open his bedroom door and yells at Pete for playing the TV too loudly. He tells him he's had it with his attitude and "if you can't have respect for your room-mate's wishes -then get out!" This ticks Peter off so much that he decides to get out -and we all know where he's going!
Doug: I also appreciated Roy Thomas' inclusion of the box that alerted us to this story taking place before Spidey's trip to Canada in ASM #'s 119-120. Looking at Harry's and Peter's dispositions, and not looking at cover dates for any other mags, I'd have placed this one after the events of ASM #'s 121-122, with Harry all strung out and/or despondent over his father's death, and Peter likewise after Gwen's murder. It's funny -- Peter's thought that he saw Iron Man's trouble and made a decision right then to not help him out was a definite example of superdickery. I'd also comment that herein also lies part of the charm of these early Marvel Team-Ups: the creators could have done a story where Daredevil was the one who happened by, or perhaps Luke Cage would have seen the same story and responded in hopes of getting a paycheck from the Avengers. Personally, I liked the first few years of this mag when it might be Spidey, the Torch, or even the Hulk as the lead in that month's team-up. That Spider-Man eventually became the sole lead was fine, but there was some lost potential along the way as well.
Karen: Agreed- it might have been fun to see more variety in the team ups, although it might not have sold as well without Spidey. We cut back to Shellhead trying to blast his way through the force field surrounding Avengers Mansion. He's not having any luck. Spidey shows up and makes the usual quips, but Iron Man's in a bad mood too, and tells the web-head that he doesn't need his help. Did everyone get out of the wrong side of the bed this morning or what? The two of them start to argue when IM notices a hole forming in the barrier. Spidey, behaving rather impetuously, jumps through the opening, followed by Iron Man. They immediately find themselves in trouble, as they fall through a strange limbo realm of green strands. They land on some sort of large platform, a little worse for wear. Iron Man tries to get an energy reading, while Spider-Man looks above and spots a battle between some flying craft. After one of the crafts is damaged, Shellhead jets off to investigate but is quickly captured in an energy snare by the remaining ship. Iron Man tells Spidey to escape but Spidey says it's pointless, and besides, "I'm not in the habit of running out on people, even armor covered jerks like you." Boy, Spidey is just in a foul mood! Web-head gets ready for a fight as the ship lands in front of him, but a voice from the vehicle claims to be a friend, not a foe. He claims he immobilized Iron Man to stop him from attacking his ship. The door of the ship opens and a bald head pops out. It's not Lex Luthor but Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man. Huh? Yes, an extremely obscure Thor villain.
Doug: For one of the smartest guys in the Marvel Universe, Tony Stark came off as a lunkhead. Brute force against the force field? Repulsor rays that could ricochet into the crowd of police and onlookers? Hello, dude! How about a little analysis? Which ironically is what he does right after our heroes land after going through the portal; which, by the way, I wholeheartedly agree was a dumb move. On the one hand, yes -- it appeared to be the only way to get inside. But on the other, with no knowledge of who created the forcefield or what its actual properties were, jumping right on through was just dumb. And these were two science guys... No one had a conscience about the possibilities for disaster?
Karen: Spider-Man seems especially impulsive here, but I guess you gotta get the story moving somehow!
Doug: Limbo is a very odd place, isn't it? How do you prefer its depiction? Like the rainbow-timestream we discussed in the Legion reviews a few weeks back, or as here in some strange Ditkoesque scape of some sort? Personally, the dungeon-like labyrinth that we saw during the Celestial Madonna saga was OK by me. Anyway, once our featured do-gooders got to superheroing, their moods seemed to improve. I thought it was funny, in regard to our recent review of Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 and Spider-Man taking a powder when it looked like Thanos held all the cards, that in this tale he is not leaving (he can't, really) but instead fights like a tiger. Interesting dichotomy -- certainly either episode gives the reader a little leeway in the perception of Peter's character, given the circumstances of the time.
Doug: As Ross Andru was the artist on the Superman vs. the Amazing Spider-Man treasury, Zarrko certainly did give off a Lex Luthor vibe, didn't he? Although I think Bronze Age Lex was a bit more fit than our Tomorrow Man...
Karen: Zarkko brings Spidey and Iron Man aboard his ship and explains to them why he has brought them to this place. Zarrko is from the 23rd century, a time when weapons have been outlawed, which made his people very vulnerable when they were invaded by forces from even further in the future. Only our buddy Z, because of his previous experiences in our time period, had the ability to fight back. But even so, the invaders established a citadel in his New York of the 23rd century (which is shown as a mix of 20th century buildings, and oddly, flat brown blocks), and what's worse, they've kidnapped the Avengers! Zarrko was trying to bring them to his time to help him and the invaders intercepted them. Now they are trapped in the citadel, which is heavily guarded. It's too much for Zarrko's people -but not too much for Spidey and Iron Man. With nothing more than this flimsy story to go on, our heroes dive out of Z's ship and take on the guards. Iron Man bashes the ground troops while Spidey swings to the top of the fortress and handles the riflemen.They still have to get through a massive door. Shellhead uses a laser in his glove to burn around the edge of the door while Spidey braces it with his webbing. IM questions whether the webbing is up to the task, and Spidey tells him unless he has a tractor, nothing will move it. Iron Man then kicks on the door, which tears through the webbing, and the whole thing comes crashing down. This leads to another mean-spirited remark from our web-slinger: "Okay pal -you're a tough dude. Big deal. Everyone's on an ego trip."
Karen: Once through the door, our grumbling duo encounters troops on flying rocket sleds, who start firing on them. Spidey decides to try something he says he hasn't done in a long time and begins firing webs around -he's spinning an enormous web! Sure enough, the sleds slam into it and are out of commission. Spidey cracks wise and Iron Man jumps on him, basically telling him his smart-aleck routine isn't fooling him, he knows that he's just as nervous as he is, concerned over the captured Avengers. Gee, these two are about as much fun as a toothache. Just as Iron Man starts to jet off, he's slammed hard in the midriff by a huge metal fist! Then an incredibly goofy-looking robot appears, blathering on about how the Master commands they will not proceed. Shellhead utters the obligatory, "My heart...!" and collapses, with various mechanical doohickeys falling out of his armor. The giant robot sees this and then becomes really upset, perceiving that IM is not a machine but a living being -"This is sacrilege. You are a ...cyborg." Spidey jumps to IM's side to try to help but the bot swipes him away. He clambers up the wall and sprays the robot's eye with webbing, then somehow knocks him out by punching him in the back of the neck. I'm not sure exactly what happened there - did he find the off switch? Spidey helps Iron Man up; he's "re-wired" himself, so apparently he's on the mend. They start heading for what they presume is the inner chamber of the citadel.
Doug: Where have we seen this degree of animosity between heroes before? Ben and Johnny? I'm thinking not, because as much as they get under each other's skin, at the end of the day there is still that bond of "big brother-little brother" between them. As I read on, this was becoming sort of uncharted territory. But as I said above, it was OK -- out of the ordinary, but it didn't feel all that bad.
Karen: It's just so weird because they really have no reason to be so ticked off at each other! Typically there's some sort of misunderstanding that leads to the heroes fighting each other, and then working together, but here, it's just like, "Hey jerk, I'm gonna help ya whether ya like it or not!"
Doug: The scene with the giant robot was indeed odd. It was almost like some Silver Age mag with a giant monster or robot thrown in for visual effect. The "personality" of this creature was grating, even in the few panels to which we were exposed to it, and its defeat seemed simplistic. I wrote it off to Spider-Man finding a weak spot in the joint between shoulder and neck -- but yeah, given Spider-Man's strength compared to the scale of the robot it did seem like a quick fix that worked. And the heart thing with Tony Stark... How in the world did he "re-wire" himself? Wasn't he remarking that the batteries in his chest (?) were shattered, and he needed to "reconnect"? I assumed he was looking for some sort of power source, but I don't know that he found anything. Nor do I believe that he'd have been equipped to draw on any 23rd Century power source. Oh, well.
Karen: While our heroes fight outside the citadel, old baldy -Zarrko -lands his ship and makes his way inside. He says something about how their presence has lowered the time storm level, which will allow him to control the temporal energies. Then he gives an exultant cry about 'controlling all.' What exactly he means is unclear, but from the way he says it you know it can't be anything good.
Doug: Not only could Zarrko have been a super-baddie on the 1966 Batman show, but his gauge looks to have been a prop on that very program!
Karen: Back in the inner chamber of the citadel, Spidey and Iron Man get through the final airlock and see before them the Avengers, all trapped inside what looks like glass rectangles. This reminded me of the Collector's set up on the cover of Avengers #119, or Avengers Annual #7, when Thanos had Earth's Mightiest imprisoned in stasis beams. What's really amusing here is it looks like Jarvis trapped is with them! Iron Man freaks out upon seeing them, and Spidey points out a figure at the far end of the room, saying he must be the one responsible for it all. A shocked Shellhead says, "Don't you realize who that is?" And around turns -Kang! He says a little spiel about how fearsome he is and then zaps both heroes, seemingly into unconsciousness. While Kang gloats over them, Zarrko sneaks up behind him and announces that "thanks to these credulous imbeciles" he will now use Kang's power to attack 1973! Good going, heroes! Spidey, not unconscious but paralyzed, hears this and realizes that they "blew it" -but quickly wonders: what can they do now?
Doug: I also noticed Jarvis hanging there! And hey -- what about Cap's mask? Looks like Reb Brown... I have to say, I'm reading for this 3-parter from Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 1, and in the B&W reproductions you can really tell where shortcuts were sometimes taken by the artists. Color covers up quite a bit of "sketchiness". What did you think of the way Ross Andru drew Kang? I sort of liked it -- again, not having the coloring it looked good. Kang seemed a little leaner, maybe a little cat-quick. In multi-part team-up stories, knowing new heroes will be added to the mix each month, I always have a sense of anticipation for how they'll be worked into the story in a seamless manner.
Karen: This one was a real mixed bag. The art was not bad, although I've never been a big Ross Andru fan -and who is Frank Bolle? I don't think I've ever heard of him before. But I didn't feel Conway had Spidey's voice here, or if he did, he had a very grumpy, unpleasant Spidey/Peter. I looked over at the Amazing Spider-Man issues around the same time period and he didn't seem to write Peter so belligerent. I guess we'll just chalk it up to experimentation or a bad week or something. But the feeling I got reading it was that both Spidey and Iron Man would have easily won our 'jerks' post the other week! The plot is a bit weak -really, both Spidey and Iron Man just take Zarrko's word for what's going on? But let's see where things go next time.
Doug: I will agree with you on all of your summary points. Although I have a soft spot in my heart for Ross Andru's Spider-Man (he was "the guy" when I began reading ASM), I've never felt he was all the way to my liking. He seems more of the style of a Ditko or Kane, while I prefer John Romita's Spider-Man. Andru can also be questionable when working on other characters -- he did a really short run on the Fantastic Four and I didn't care for it. But if nothing else, this was familiar. I did think Andru channeled Gene Colan a time or two in some of the Iron Man panels. And concerning Frank Bolle -- I also had no real knowledge of the man's career, so here's one more chance for you to go "off-campus" and check out this chronological list of his career, which began in the Golden Age!