Thursday, January 28, 2016

BAB Classic: "Cows, Pigs, and Witches! The World is Beset by Devils!" Marvel Team-Up 44


This post was originally published on 12 April 2010.

Marvel Team-Up 44 (April 1976)
"Death in the Year Before Yesterday!"
Bill Mantlo-Sal Buscema/Mike Esposito

Doug: Last chapter, folks... and I'm sorry to say I'm sort of glad. As Karen and I discussed off-site, this little story started out promising -- Spidey, time travel, lots of Avengers, Doc Doom -- should have been good stuff. And while I have fond memories of this as a kid, it is perhaps one story that hasn't held up over time. I think it suffers, maybe even as some superhero movies do these days, of too many characters cavorting around in what became a big mess of a plot. But we'll put a smile on and trudge through.

Karen: Indeed, every so often we come across these books - ones which were far more interesting in our memories than in reality! But let's finish it up.

Doug: We begin on the roof of Avengers Mansion. Moondragon is distracted by her thoughts as Iron Man approaches. I have to say, I really hated Moondragon when I was a kid. This issue of MTU was on the stands the same month as Avengers #146, and of course that was the fill-ins that ran in the middle of the Serpent Crown Affair. If you recall, that was the arc when Moondragon tried to convince Thor that he was above his fellow Assemblers. And what's more, she basically declared herself his equal. Man, I hated that woman.

Karen: I don't think you were alone. I didn't like her either. But of course, I believe that was Steve Englehart's intention when he thrust her on the Avengers. She was that rock in one's shoe, always causing some irritation.

Doug: "Rock in one's shoe" is a great way to put it! So Moondragon succumbs to the same hex bolt that had uprooted Spider-Man back in MTU #41 and is lifted into the timestream, to emerge back in 1692 to find our heroes bound on some gizmo. The Dark Rider is present (still a giant), as is Cotton Mather. The Rider commissions Mather to plunge the Soul Blade into our heroes, which will commence the transfer of their powers/energies to the Rider. Mather hesitates, and that's when Moondragon enters the fray.


Doug: Moondragon zaps the Rider with a mindblast, stunning him. Spidey, Vision, and Wanda awaken to see these new developments, and Doom stuck in some bubble doo-hickey. Spidey and the Vision leap into action to free Doom. While they free ol' Vic, the Rider reverses the mindflow back at Moondragon, who now has to see his origin.

Karen: I thought that was a really strange two page spread, where the heroes are on some altar and Doom is inside a bubble, all very magicky, but the Rider has these mechanical-looking cables coming out of his glove, linking the bubble and altar.

Doug: What was even stranger was the scene where Spidey and the Vision free Doom -- instead of being solid, the bubble peeled back like a... well, like a bubble -- pliable, not solid.

Doug: But wait, there's more! We get to see the Rider's origin as well, and it's... well, to be honest, sort of bland. Wizards, and blah, blah, blah. OK, I've about had enough. This story couldn't get over fast enough. I think, sticking to Bronze Age baddies, that we'd see this sort of thing again shortly with the Sphinx (in the pages of The Man Called Nova and later the Fantastic Four). He was much more interesting with a similar backstory. But, in case you wondered, the good guys gang up on the Rider and eventually Moondragon turns the tide and they blast him out of existence. The story does end on a touching note, as Spidey arrives just too late to save his Puritan friends. I guess I'd forgotten the last scene of the hanging -- while only the victims' feet are shown, it is a bit disturbing.

Karen: Man, you're not kidding. After grinding our way through all the hokum with the Rider, that last page is like a punch to the gut. I'm glad we're done with this one.

Doug: Agreed. This one probably could have been done in 3 1/2 issues, with a lot of the chaff left out. To be honest, some of the Witch Trials scenes became laborious to get through, but it might have been better, more emotional had the scene to the right been set up a bit better. On the one hand we got some really good Sal Buscema art, but on the other we got a Bill Mantlo who seemed to wander the longer this story went on.

18 comments:

Steve Does Comics said...

I've never read this story but it really does sound terrible. Is there some reason given in the story why all these people keep turning up at the same time and place or is it just meant to be coincidence?

Terence Stewart said...

Um, I liked Moondgragon, just because she was the dissenter in the ranks - I know Steve Englehart originaly planned that role for Mantis in The Avengers before she grew into something else, but those guys needed a little kick up the back-side. Plus, she wore green. The best superheroine colour of all time!

Doug said...

Steve --

The goofy thing is, it started out really well, and then for us (if I can speak for Karen) it got all muddled up with too many characters, a weak origin story for the Dark Rider, and no real pay-off (in spite of the solid last panel). There were parts of the whole thing that I liked, but as a 4-issue arc it was much more fun when I was 10 than now when I'm 44. And that saddens me, because it was a really exciting story all those years ago.

As far as the characters joining the story, Spidey and Moondragon join the same way -- caught in some sort of hex-bolt launched by Wanda (Spidey's spatial "kidnapping" is more believable than Moondragon's temporal kidnapping, however). The Vision -- we never know. Doom's entry is tied to his time machine and his sense of magic, I guess.

Thanks for the comment!

Doug

Terence --

I understand what Englehart was doing... and I think the goal was for some of us to not like Moondragon. In that, he succeeded with me. But you are spot on when you say that she was there to disrupt the status quo. I'm just glad her tenure with the Avengers was relatively short.

And thanks to you, too, for the comments!

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen, Doug,
Another fun story arc review - thanks!
I'm just a bit sad that you're not doing the next two issues, which are kind of a cool denouement to the whole time travel story. And what's not to love about Spidey teaming up with Killraven and Deathlok? Also, unlike the four you reviewed, I actually had those when I was a kid (initially I kind of skipped around with MTU, just picking up a few issues here and there...)

Doug said...

Edo --

As many other Bronze Age bloggers have enjoyed the two subsequent issues you speak of, and since Karen is a big Killraven and Deathlok fan, then I say we put this on our "to-do" list. We'll revisit the conclusion of the time travel story at some date in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks for your continued comments -- it's appreciated!

Doug

Steve Does Comics said...

I still have nightmares at the memory of the Spider-Man/Killraven team-up.If ever two characters and their worlds were incompatible, it had to be those two.

Karen said...

I think as a kid just having all these characters appear together made up a great deal for the deficiencies in the story itself. Also, the fact that I read each issue a month apart probably also made it easier. Sitting down and reading all of these one after another just left me shaking my head. The Dark Rider was also such a weak antagonist. I never really cared what he wanted or bought that he could threaten the heroes. Not one of Mantlo's best efforts.

Shane said...

I have to say THANK YOU. I remember this comic from childhood but couldn't remember what the title of the mag was. All these years later, you answered that nagging question. Thanks again.

Doug said...

I'll lead off today's comments with a thought on the cover. I think it was Redartz last week who mentioned the unique look of the gray background on the MTU 41 cover. Today's subject may be even stranger. I'm not sure I've ever seen that color used as a background before.

Doug

Humanbelly said...

I can see why they went with it, though. Just like the story itself, the cover is 'way overcrowded with a lot of conflicting color combinations (although that was never a problem for other team books, I suppose). That pale yellow(?) may have been the only choice left that would ensure that all of the characters have some visual pop, y'know?

Here's the strange thing-- I didn't remember that last panel until I saw it here. Or rather, I remember the panel, but didn't associate it with this story. While it's extremely well-rendered by Sal, I remember feeling. . . angry with it? Cheated by it? It's a terribly (and for this book, uncharacteristically-) grim ending. And although it's obviously meant to evoke great pathos and emotional impact, it fails miserably, IMO, because the inane, largely-directionless story didn't EARN that kind of moment whatsoever. If one is going to write THE CRUCIBLE, that's fine-- but trying to give it relevance by combining it with a poorly structured super-hero story does a disservice to that small but ugly and tragic event early in our nation's history. It really cheapens it-- which I'm SURE was not Bill Mantlo's intent. I agree with whoever mentioned early on that Bill surely seemed to have a deep interest (even fixation?) on the Salem incident-- but the mistake is assuming that a personal interest translates into something being appropriate material for whatever genre one happens to be writing.

And as a side thought: Haven't the Salem Witch Trials been used as a setting or explanation or origin for any number of things in the Marvel Universe? Where do Salem's 7 fit into this story, exactly? Sort of the same problem we have with the Great Pyramid and the Sphinx in the MU-- there are about a bajillion different Secret Origins behind those ancient Egyptian monuments. They simply can't all be true.

Nah, I'm rememberin' that I've never been a huge Mantlo fan, me.

HB

Ward Hill Terry said...

Thanks for re-running this set of reviews, D & K. These were on the stands just before I started collecting, and would not have been to my interests anyway. I can appreciate what you cite as deficiencies in the story, but here's what really annoys me; Moondragon was NOT an Avenger! Her status with the group from this time to the mid-1980s (when the roster seemed to grow to include any costumed cut-up), was membership-by-asociation and editorial fiat. This issue of MTU may have appeared during the run of Avengers issues with Moondragon, but that was one story. She shows up in response to the PSA("We do seek new Avengers!"), gets invited to do some time-travelling with Iron Man and Thor in the fight against Kang, THEN receives the official invitation to join. Which she declines. As Doug noted, her appearance in MTU was concurrent with a fill-in issue of the Avengers, but the Kang story was still going on. MAybe she joined after I stopped reading The Avengers, but I contend that she was not a member at any time in the 1970s! Take the challenge, BABers! When could she have been on the roof of Avengers mansion! (I bet Kurt Busiek has figured out the exact day and time.)

Edo Bosnar said...

On April 13, 2010 at 8:19 AM, Doug wrote: "We'll revisit the conclusion of the time travel story at some date in the not-too-distant future." Well, a little over 5 years have past, and still no reviews of the conclusion. I'm shocked and indignant at this lack of follow-through! Shocked! ...and if lest anyone is fooled, yes, that aforementioned comment was written with tongue so firmly planted in cheek that it was in danger of piercing a hole and making me look like Jonah Hex.

As for Moondragon, she was never an Avenger, she just used her telepathy to fool comics fans into thinking she was.

Doug said...

Edo --

When I reread the review this morning I had that "Doh!" moment.

I've never even read the Deathlok and Killraven stories! True confession? If memory serves, when we did this review my resource for the four Marvel Team-Ups was the now long-defunct site htmlcomics.com. Yeah, that whole FBI thing...

Doug

Edo Bosnar said...

Typical FBI, wouldn't be surprised if they were in cahoots with Moondragon... :P

Dougie said...

I loved this story when I was 12. I wasn't aware of the Crucible for another couple of years. It's probably quite flawed but it's also ambitious. I also liked Moony but she seemed to be an enabler for Hellcat really. Her career as an Avenger was derailed in the early 80s by 60s nostalgia.

david_b said...

I've been musing over the reviews for this story-arc over the few days, wondering whether to pick it up.

The Sal art during this Bronze timeframe can be considered both serviceable, yet majestic in pure 'Salness' (most of his cliché panel work is evident.., NOT that it's bad, but no real surprises). Again, for the workhorse he effectively was during the entire Bronze era, there's lots of greatness, but seemingly too much at times. The covers were all excellent as well.

Anyhow, confusing as that my initially sound, I too consider it an ultimately trite script. Great to see the players involved as they were (especially before Vish and Wanda got exceedingly dull and suburban..), but with Doom involved, you'd think more bizarre and 'hang-on-to-your-seats' mayhem would have erupted purely on his attitude and indignation alone.

Even with Moondragon, of which yes, I'm one of the loyal dislikers, I would have expected more and with perhaps a better closing panel.

Poignant..? Yes, but was it indeed a satisfying ending to this extended adventure..? Ehh, perhaps not.

Again, great series of reviews, Doug and Karen.

Redartz said...

Thanks for revisiting this arc, Doug and Karen! I missed out the first time around. It has piqued my interest, although I can still recall thinking (even as a youthful teenage reader) that the story kind of dragged... on, and on...
Perhaps a reread in digital. Don't think I want to invest in the originals at this point...

Not to cast anything against the creators of said tale. I usually find Mr. Mantlo's writing enjoyable, and sometimes excellent (say, Micronauts and Peter Parker). Anyone can have an off day (or off six months, in this case). And the cast was promising (Spiderman, Doom, Wanda and Vision anyway; Moondragon not so much...). Ah well.

This all brings a question to mind. How different would Marvel Team-Up have been if it had been approached as sort of a revolving writer book. Utilizing the regular writer of the book featuring that month's guest star (for example, Steve Englehart writing the issues featuring Avengers). You could have had Starlin write the Warlock issue. Don McGregor on the Killraven issue. Kind of giving these writers a chance to step outside their regular confines. Might not have worked, but then again...what if.......

Humanbelly said...

Hmm- good question, Redartz.
I suspect just the logistics of having to schedule writers in continuously (and them griping about the added workload for a mere one or two issue return) would have been daunting on the production end. Doing the book likely would have turned into a chore rather than an enjoyable, dependable assignment-- and would have been a nightmare for the editor. (I'm just thinkin' about the nature of the artistic temperament, here. . . )

And while the guest-stars would probably have been more in line w/ how they were presented in their own books (if they had books), what you'd lose would be a consistent treatment of the the book's lead-- Spidey. Hoo-boy, and the book in its middle/later years was no bastion of consistency even then-!

HB

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