Monday, August 19, 2013

Time Passages: Marvel Team-Up 11

Marvel Team-Up #11 (July 1973)
"The Doomsday Gambit!"
Writers: Gerry Conway and Len Wein
Pencils: Jim Mooney
Inker: Mike Esposito

Karen: So who's ready for part three? We've been rather hard on this storyline, but now we're in the home stretch, and I can say while this isn't a classic, it isn't nearly so bad as our last outing. Besides, at least it's jam-packed with Inhumans to ogle! And that cover is pretty sweet -it looks like Romita to me, and Comic Book Database lists Romita, although it says, "Unconfirmed," so I suppose it's their best guess.

Doug:  Image-wise, I couldn't agree with you more -- it's indeed a most sweet drawing.  But "the most long-awaited battle in the history of comicdom"?  Ummm...  Stan would be proud of that sort of hyperbole!

Karen: Len Wein takes over the scripting chores, and his Spidey is much more light-hearted than Conway's, who is still given credit for the plot. I was thinking about it, and this whole story seems like it could have been inspired by Bob Haney and his bizarre Brave and the Bold tales which my partner has featured here frequently. It's a team-up, it's convoluted, it's apparently out of synch with continuity...and much of it leaves you shaking your head. Our first head-shaking moment is the splash page, where we find Spidey swinging down from a helicopter deep into the Himalayas -yes, he's hitched a ride all the way to the Himalayas, and manages to ignore the freezing cold and swing between the mountain peaks as he searches for the hidden home of the Inhumans. Let it go. Just let it go.

Doug:  Specifically, the travel in this storyline has been about as implausible as that Brave and the Bold we reviewed where the Flash ran to the sun!  As to the specific travel on the splash page (so are we to believe he found an American 'copter pilot in a) Latin America, b) SE Asia, or c) none of the above -- somehow he hooked up with this guy and they found a bird with big enough gas tanks to fly around the world), I suppose it doesn't stray too much from how we've seen the Webslinger gettin' around NYC -- on the roof of a bus, swinging from a news station's traffic helicopter, or bouncing from building to car to truck.  BUT -- yeah, you already said it.  I do like the pose that the art team employed, however.

Karen: We should take a moment to discuss the art. Jim Mooney is back again, this time inked by Mike Eposito. It's serviceable, but I find Esposito's inks less pleasing than Giacoia's from last ish.  I'm not sure what it is about it, but the art just looks a little rougher.

Doug:  I think the influence of Esposito is most seen in the faces throughout the story.  Last week I commented that I can generally spot Jim Mooney's work, mostly through his faces (specifically the eyes).  But here it's not so obvious.  I'll add that there's a hint of Gil Kane (read: Kane's influence.  I'm not suggesting that Kane had any role in this mag) in some of the figurework.  I also noticed that at times bodies seem a bit stiff, like poorly-articulated action figures might have been used as models.

Karen: Back to the story, Spidey comes through a pass and sees the huge dome of the Great Refuge, home of the Inhumans. He's immediately attacked by some of the residents, who come after him on funky flying platforms. One of them clips him, and he falls, only to be caught by another. But the web-slinger is out for the count. He regains consciousness in the throne room of Black Bolt, ruler of the Inhumans. With the king are his royal family -- Gorgon, Triton, and Karnak, who acts as Black Bolt's voice. Karnak questions Spider-Man, asking why he has come to their hidden land. Spidey then spends nearly two pages recapping MTU's 9 and 10, thankfully leaving out some of the more insipid parts. He explains that he has sought out the Inhumans because Zarrko's time disruption device emits a radiation similar to that of the negative zone around the Great Refuge, and Spidey thought maybe they could figure out some way to use the devic to send him back to Zarrko's time to save the Avengers and battle Zarrko and Kang. Gorgon, always ready for a fight, pipes up that they'll all go to the future with him -- and then remembers to ask Black Bolt what he thinks. The silent king is all for it.

Doug:  Did you think it was a little clunky that Spidey carried the device, rather than making some sort of backpack out of webbing to schlep it around in?  I'm thinking that if I were him, I would rather have been a little more precise in my webslinging around those mountains.  You know, had we the time, a neat post would be to assemble images of single-carry assault vehicles!  But I don't have the time.  Hey, Comicsfan!!  Is that in your wheelhouse?

Doug:  Spider-Man was unconscious for some time -- I loved the minutiae of actually showing his webbing dissolve off of the time bomb.  Karnak was his usual short-man-syndrome self; come to think of it, Triton's easygoing personality sort of saves the Royal Family's men from being a complete set of asocials!  I'm with you on the recap -- had we done this as a single issue review rather than a 3-issue arc, I think we'd have both been happier!  I'll also agree with you, now that we're about halfway through this issue, that Len Wein's dialogue (while not perfect) is more palatable than what Gerry Conway had written in parts 1 and 2.

Karen: The royal family takes the time device to Maximus, their insane cousin who is locked up in a nice, safe cell, and asks him if he can turn it into a time machine. Of course he says yes, and they hand it over to him. Spidey is incredulous -"You guys sure you know what you're doing?" he asks when he sees Maximus, who looks like he could give the Joker a run for his money in the fruit loops department. Karnak tells Spidey to relax; sure, Maxie is nuts, but his pride won't let him fail. mean he wouldn't use the parts to create a death ray or anything like that... or to escape...? OK, let's just roll with it. While Maximus works on the time machine, Triton gives Spidey a tour of the Inhumans' home, but the wall-crawler is impatient -he's itching to get 'back to the future' and set things straight.
They return to check on Maximus and find he's finished adjusting the device. He tells the five of them to gather around the device and as they do he presses a switch and whammo! They find themselves standing outside the future citadel that we saw in issue 9. But oddly enough, they have come back at a point in time prior to when Spider-Man left, as he sees the guards all still lying around and Zarrko entering the building and repeating his actions from before. Just as they are about to enter the citadel, they are attacked by guards on flying sleds. Black Bolt takes to the air, and weaves about, causing two of his attackers to slam into each other. On the ground, Gorgon stomps one of his huge hooves and sends men flying. Karnak on the other hand essentially karate chops his foes. Spidey once again spins a huge web to trap the flying soldiers, like he did in issue 9, and Triton just punches guys. So we have a demonstration of each hero's powers, but to be honest, it's kind of lackluster.

Doug:  You know, Black Bolt and Maximus are brothers, Medusa and Crystal are sisters -- why are all of the other Inhumans only children?  That brings me to a thought, so here's a little "Inside the BAB editorial meeting room" -- for a couple of years we've knocked around the idea of doing a series called "Tales of Attilan", where we review some of the Lee/Kirby Inhumans tales that ran as back-ups in Silver Age Thors.  What sayest thou, the faithful BAB reader?  But back to the story at hand... you know how, a few years ago, the Hulk was blasted off to the moon or wherever?  Maximus was such a pain in the fanny over the years, I don't know why the Inhumans didn't do that to him!  Your misgivings about Maximus are well-placed -- who is to say that the little nutjob didn't memorize how the time bomb worked and come up with something similar of his own design later?  And how did they trust him in the first place?  Death ray, indeed!

Doug:  I know many of our readers enjoy the nit-picking that can go on in time travel, so here's one for you:  Maximus sent the good guys back to the future, but arriving minutes before Spider-Man vacated the premises to try to get help.  So technically, Spider-Man has been alive in the time in which the Inhumans arrive as the cavalry.  Doesn't his presence in this scene duplicate his presence in the scene as it played out back in issue #9?   Effectively, there are two Peter Parkers running around now, one living in the moment and the other with knowledge of events yet to occur.  Raise your hand if you find this confusing.

Karen: (raises hand)

Doug:  I enjoyed the series of panels that showed the Inhumans cutting loose.  We've remarked in the past that team-up books often served as marketing vehicles for B-level characters.  In case anyone is wondering, this issue would have been on the stands about a year and a half after the Inhumans ended their run in Amazing Adventures, and a bit over two years ahead of the Inhumans self-titled series of 1975.This issue
of Marvel Team-Up seems to be that midway jumping on point for new readers, historically speaking.

Karen: Finally our quintet breaks through to where Kang and Zarrko are squaring off (with the Avengers locked up like action figures on shelves behind them). Kang zaps Zarrko with the same ray he had paralyzed Spidey and Iron Man with, and then turns as he hears the airlock opening.  Kang sees the new arrivals and surprised, shouts, "No, it cannot be! Not you! Not you!" So now we know who he saw in issue 10 after Spidey left- although his reaction seems a bit over the top! He quickly recovers his wits and tries to zap our heroes but they dodge his ray. Seeing this, he conveniently tells them that once he flips this switch, the Avengers will die. But Spider-Man sprays webbing on his hand, making it too sticky to pull the lever (that's what it says!), so with his other hand, Kang pulls a pistol and is about to shoot, but Black Bolt sees this and decides to speak. Yes, he can level buildings with his voice, but he's apparently being careful. He sends the time-warrior flying, also smashing his equipment, and freeing the Avengers. How's that for efficiency? Spidey sees Zarrko trying to take off, so he hogties him and rolls him up in a web ball.

Doug:  Master of time aside, had Kang had any interactions with the Inhumans previously?  We're unequivocally led to believe "no", but I agree -- his reaction seemed way too strong for the sight of Spidey alone.  I find Kang a difficult foe to defeat -- or at least he should be.  He should be the Brainiac-5 of the Marvel Universe:  forcefield belt, gravity controls in his suit, etc.  Instead, Gorgon stomps him right onto his blue butt!  Black Bolt's voice is the biggest deus ex machina in the MU...

Karen: Everything seems good, the Avengers are getting back on their feet, the villains, have been foiled -- hey,what about Kang? Spidey goes to check on him and discovers-an empty suit! "We were battling  -a puppet!" Suddenly a voice comes out of nowhere, and tells the heroes that they think they've won, but they'll meet again, blah blah blah. So it seems Kang was never really there, although this whole empty suit thing is pretty silly. Why not just have a robot? How does an empty suit move? Anyway  the time device conveniently teleports Spidey and the Avengers to New York, and the Inhumans to the Great Refuge, and things are pretty much back to status quo.

Doug:  To quote one of my least-favorite comic book scribes:  Oy...

Karen: I suppose this three-parter ended better than we might have hoped, based on the middle section, but this ending was still fairly mediocre. I feel the art was a real let-down. You've got the Inhumans in the book, so you have at least five super-heroes running around for a good portion of the time, yet there was no sense of excitement to this tale. The fight scenes were dull and static. The biggest problem was the story was weak. I think this was not unusual in MTU and other team up books. I've read the first ten issues of MTU in the Masterworks format now and I can honestly say they're mediocre at best. They're mostly an excuse to get two characters together. Now I do think there were some very good MTU's put out -the Claremont/Byrne run was exceptional - but by and large, these early issues were not very good.

Doug:  Our buddy J.A. Morris, among many others, has used the term "holds up" when referring to certain stories here and on his own blog.  I argued many years ago over on the Avengers Assemble boards that I didn't know what that meant, that even the not-so-great stories had an inherent charm linked to the time in which they were written.  Feeling middle-of-the-road and non-combatitive as I write this, I'll offer that this 3-parter is indeed something that doesn't "hold up".  Karen and I have remarked that as we write these reviews some 25-45 years later that it is difficult to view them as we did when we were children.  But man -- how cool was it to grab these off the shelf or spinner rack back in 1973?  Seriously?  Iron Man, the Torch, the Inhumans, the Avengers, and Kang the Conqueror.  Sign me up!  But as discriminating adults, this storyline, as a story, borders on rubbish.  So, hard as we've been, I keep telling myself that when I purchased Marvel Two-In-One #7 with the Thing, the Valkyrie, and the Executioner on the cover it was the best piece of literature I owned at that time.  And since I haven't read it since 1974, I don't even know if it holds up -- but I still have that goofy-grin feeling as I did when I was an 8-year old.  And somewhere there's a Bronze Age fan who didn't read today's review, who still thinks Marvel Team-Up #'s 9-11 is some fine reading.  I think I envy that person.


William said...

I got "Marvel Masterworks: Marvel Team-Up Vol. 1" for Christmas this past year, so I actually read these issues for the first time pretty recently. And I must sat that have agree with your basic assessment of this entire 3 parter, in that it doesn't "hold up" against the test of time. First of all, I'm not a big fan of time travel stories. (I guess that's why I've never been a big Kang fan). As for the content of the issues, I thought the writing was just plain bad, and the interior art was pretty mediocre. However, the covers of all three issues were fairly awesome. It's kind of like a Venus flytrap. You look at the covers and you think, "Ohhh yeah! This is going to be great, I can't wait to read it!" And then you do, and it's something of a letdown.

"Karen: (raises hand)" lol :)

Anonymous said...

William, the covers are often the best thing about those old comics - the modern covers can be quite dull in comparison. An interesting thing about the Inhumans was how the Royal Family looked basically human while all the other Inhumans looked like weird aliens. In the modern stories some of the Royals look alien too.

david_b said...

Agreed with you both, I sort of chalk that up to 1st year 'Whats this supposed to look like?' birthpains, remembering that Marvel only had DC's Brave&Bold to emulate back then.

Besides ish 13 with Captain America, which was one of my nearest- and dearest- first comics ever, I didn't find the MTU stories getting good until the MarVell/Mr Fantastic issues with the Basilisk (16&17), then the awesome Stegron story with Kazar and Black Panther (19&20).

All in all a fair story..

BUT.., if they wanted to add a meager helping of emotional weight, Conway should have had Johnny go with Spidey to the hidden home, just for a 1-2 panel meeting with Crystal.

Y'know, 'eyes could have met, Crys would have ran off crying', etc.., something along those lines. It would have been a nice cross-over from the main FF title, ratchet up the drama a bit more, thus make the previous issue's ending not quite as, well, unexplicable. And like MTIO 5 with Guardians and Captain America still remaining, Johnny would have just woven in to the background after the Crys meeting.

Just one of those missed opportunities.

Doc Savage said...

Really love this Mooney-Esposito team. Never cared for the Inhumans or time travel stories, so aside from the purty pitchers this one's got nothing for me. I seem to recall skipping these issues and waiting for the next team-up tale.

Fred W. Hill said...

Speaking of those first couple of pages, how was Spidey even able to do his webslinging traveling with just one arm while holding the timebomb with the other? And why couldn't Spidey have gotten Reed or Medusa, who was currently with the FF to give him a lift to & helping hand at the Great Refuge, which moved from the Himalayas to the Andes & maybe even to the Alps between appearances (I suppose the Rockies just weren't exotic enough).
Logic was in very short supply in this yarn. A moderately fun but stupid romp.

Anonymous said...

Now THAT is a cover.

david_b said...

Fred.., probably the same way he's carried Norm Osborne at the end of Gobby-classic Spectacular Spiderman ish 2 ('68), various other folks, groceries, broken arm, you name it.

Remember he 'does whatever a spider can'..

("..Um, whatever that's supposed to mean...")

Anonymous said...

Costumed credits indeed!

First off the art here was OK, nothing spectacular, but the real letdown was in the story - I kinda like the Inhumans and some time travel stories are good but not this one. It looks to me like Conway and Wein were instructed (OK ordered!) by the editors to do a story with Spidey and the Inhumans but the story here looks rushed. They tried to tie up too many loose ends too quickly here.

I agree with Doug when he says the use of Black Bolt's voice was mishandled here. Everyone within earshot should have been annihilated here! Yet only Kang and the cages holding the Avengers were affected! Too illogical and implausible - even in the world of superhero comicbooks you have to ground your action in reality otherwise it becomes pure narrative fantasy.

- Mike 'your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Fan' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Comicsfan said...

I wondered about the lack of a web backpack, as well. I mean, we don't see Spidey carrying his street clothes under his arm when he's swinging in and around NYC on his way to an appointment. I don't get around by webbing, but I have to believe navigating the wind-swept, snowy Himalayas has to be a hell of a lot more difficult than smokestacks and chimneys.

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