Monday, July 8, 2013

Giant-Size July: Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 (1977)
"Death Watch!"
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!


Fred W. Hill said...

Great mag all around. Years ago I read that Starlin included Spider-Man and the Thing in this story specifically in tribute to their artistic creators, Ditko & Kirby. Of course, Spidey was very much out of his element here and it made sense that when he was Thanos take out Ben "without working up a sweat," he'd freak out and scram, but of course he is a hero and even if he knew he couldn't deal with Thanos on his own, he'd figure out how to get help.

Edo Bosnar said...

Yep, great conclusion. I can't really think of anything to add to all of the praise heaped on these Starlin stories by myself and others in the comments over the course of the past few weeks.
Specific to this issue, I agree with Doug that it probably would have been better as a Marvel Team-up annual. Otherwise I thought the inclusion of Spider-man in particular here was really good. I liked how the "street-level" interloper played such a key role in this cosmic saga.
By the way, Karen, I zeroed in on that little cat behind Ben's chair as well. It made me think that it would have been a nice touch if it had been Ben's pet kitty, with recurring appearances in FF and Marvel 2-in-1.

And not to go off topic, but it seems like that last bracketology ended with sort of a whimper, i.e., there wasn't really a post to discuss the final, was there?

Chasing Amazing said...

Re: The point about Spidey getting freaked out about facing Thanos alone, I've long gone back and forth on this ... to this day, I find myself jarred by Spidey's initial response to just flee the situation - it feels very out of character for me ... remember this is the guy who's soul reason of superhero existence is he didn't make a valid attempt to stop a crook when he had the chance. BUT, Starlin saves things for me in a big way the way he has Spidey save the day by throwing himself at the containment vessel holding the Avengers. It's such a lovable loser Spider-Man move and may be one of the best ways he's ever backed into a victory (next to trapping Juggernaut in cement). So Starlin def. sticks the landing for me despite having me initially worried about how he was portraying Spidey.

Doug said...

Edo --

You're right -- and we even left yesterday open! That's a ball dropped by me on closing out the Bracketology. Tell you what: since our comic reviews generally elicit smaller comment totals, please (everyone) feel free to also discuss the J. Buscema/Byrne final, as well as the Adams/Kane 3rd place match-up.

Thanks for bringing it up, and thanks also to Fred and Chasing Amazing for the comments so far this morning.


Anonymous said...

Just want to say thanks for a very enjoyable series of Thanos reviews. Doug you seem to deflect most of the credit for these to your more "cosmic" counterpart Karen, but the two of you make a great team on all of your write-ups so you should each take a well deserved bow.

As to the stories themselves, I had most of these original issues and was even able to find 2-in-1 #2 amongst my very haphazardly organized collection over this weekend. And I echo others' thoughts about Spidey going from freak-out to saving the day - I was worried at first but agree with Amazing that Starlin stuck the landing.

I was just trying to remember if we had prior discussion about how Starlin was given the opportunity to end all this up in Avengers and Thing annuals. Forgive me if that's been discussed already but if someone wouldn't mind chiming in on that, thanks.


david_b said...

Per Chasing's mention of Spidey out-of-character, I sort of agree.. The 'lets scram' idea by Spidey was a very fresh tactic by Starlin, which put a new twist on the final ending where Spidey saves the day..

If that seems 'out-of-character' then Starlin strikes out on both Spidey AND Ben Grimm, which while a fun ending for this saga, doesn't say much for scripting a MTIO Annual (or would have for a MTU Annual). I do agree that there was more protaganist/story progression through Spidey than through Ben Grimm, hence why it would have been better served through a MTU Annual.

Interesting though.., Moonie's pick of Spiderman. Why not Daredevil, since she shared more previous mind-bonding with DD in his pages (ish 105) as documented in the Avengers vs. Thanos tpb. I guess she somehow knew DD was otherwise busy.., but I like Starlin's tribute idea as Fred mentioned.

I picked up the Avengers Annual many many years before this one, but being in love with SO MANY cool covers, I had to pick this one up as well. Glad I did, for the story works very good, aside from the whole Starlin/Warlock continuing story. You didn't need much backstory to enjoy the proceedings.

Karen said...

Tom, when I interviewed Starlin back in 2008 for my Warlock article in Back Issue #34, he said that he had been working for Ralph Bakshi Studios and was back in New York when he ran into Archie Goodwin. Starlin needed some work, and Goodwin (the current Marvel editor in chief) offered him the Avengers Annual. Starlin thought that would be a good place to wrap up some loose ends with Warlock, so he cranked it out. Goodwin decided to offer him the Two In One annual as well, so Starlin accepted that too, and used it to complete the tale. This is just what I was told -I'm sure variations of the story exist!

As an aside, the husband and I watched the Avengers film again this weekend, and I noticed how much the big spaceship shown inside the space warp looks like Thanos' space ark, Sanctuary. It has that strange H-shape. A nice tribute.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the scoop, Karen. It's funny how some things like the finish to a masterpiece come down to a chance meeting/fate/kismet/karma/dumb luck.


Garett said...

Another great Starlin, another great review! Karen I picked up that Avengers Vs Thanos TPB, and yes the art and color look clean and fantastic.

For the bracketology--thanks for running it! Favorite art is always subjective, but I love these top lists, and the discussions that come along with them. Exciting to see JB vs JB the end, and if you'd have asked me at different points in my life, I'd've picked either one! I like Adams over Kane, as I think Adams was more revolutionary with his realistic style at the time, with Kane looking more steady and solid in comparison.

For the rest of the vote, Sal Buscema stood out for me as the guy many people love, that I'm just lukewarm about. Last night I looked at his Avengers work again with fresh eyes, and enjoyed it more than before. I like this group for giving me new appreciation for artists, writers, comics I may have overlooked. The other artist I should mention is Bernie Wrightson--I don't think he's been reviewed at B+B, yet he still made the final 8. Nice to see, he deserves it! Perhaps a Swamp Thing issue could be reviewed in the future?

With this great Starlin story about a "Top Writers" vote next time around?

William said...

Thanks for doing this one Karen and Doug. Nice job. As I've stated in previous posts, Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #2 is one of my all-time favorite comics. I actually read this issue years before I ever got my hands on a copy of Avengers Annual #7. Strangely, I actually like this story more without reading the first part. I think the main reason for that is that if you only read this chapter, you come in at the same time as Peter Parker/Spider-Man and you sort of see the whole thing through his eyes. You only know what he knows at the time he learns it, and then you follow him through the rest of the adventure. In that sense it's like the reader can put themselves Peter's shoes, and it makes the story an even more compelling read, IMO.

Now, I'd like to address a couple of points, that you guys brought up. First I think that Moondragon contacted Peter Parker (instead of say, Dr. Strange) because his spider-sense probably makes him a great receptor for telepathic communication. (Plus Dr. Strange is a magic user, and he would have seemed out of place in this extremely science fiction based story).

Next, I usually agree with Karen, but she stated that she thought that Starlin didn't really capture Ben's "voice". I have to disagree. I thought he did a marvelous job of writing the Thing. He had some of the most memorable, dramatic, and funniest lines in the whole book. Such as "What have you been smoking kid, old tennis shoes?" or "Mister, you're really sick. But I tell you what… Dr. Grimm here has got the cure for ails you-- his world famous knuckle knock-out formula!" That's great stuff, IMO.

As for Spider-Man initially running away-- I have to agree with Karen when she said it was a uniquely "human" moment for the web-slinger (in an age when you didn't see that kind of thing a lot in comics). Peter Parker, (who's basically just a kid from Queens) temporarily freaked out, but he got his act together and in typical Spidey fashion he ended up saving the day. So when you think about it, it was actually a pretty cool and heroic moment for ol' web-head.

For me, this comic pretty much had it all. It featured practically all of my favorite Marvel superheroes of the day, (Spider-Man, The Thing, Captain Marvel, and the quintessential Avengers team) all pitted in a desperate battle against one of the most purely evil and extremely powerful Marvel super-villains of all time. (BTW, I'll never forgive Starlin for killing Mar-Vell the way he did).

Also, I personally thought the art was better on this issue than Avengers Ann 7. I thought the lines were cleaner, and there was more detail. But maybe it's just me.

In closing, there is a great trade paperback out now called "Avengers versus Thanos" that features the entire Thanos saga in one stunning volume. It has his first appearance, and his battles with Captain Marvel and Warlock all culminating in Avengers Annual #7 and Marvel 2-in-1 Annual #2. I highly recommend it!!

On an unrelated topic, and if anyone is curious, I have my complete Spider-Man collection up for sale at Comic Connect. The collection includes Amazing Fantasy #15 and Amazing Spider-Man 1-650, plus most of the Annuals, plus full runs of every other Spider-Man title, all mini-series, and spin-offs. Check it out.

Garett said... comment was here earlier, now it disappeared. Well great Starlin, great review!

Anonymous said...

Man, this is one of the comics I've never read but always wanted due to all the glowing reviews it has gotten over the years.

Spidey getting that psychic SOS from Moondragon highlighted a previously unknown property of Spidey's spider-sense - the ability to pick up a telepathic signal. I've always wondered if his spider-sense wasn't psychic in nature somehow. Or maybe just ultra-sensitive hairs on his body? Similarly, the Hulk is one of very few individuals who can 'see' Doctor Strange's astral form.

Anyway, whether Spidey or our lovable blue-eyed Ben Grimm should have been the star of this epic is moot - when you have to take down Thanos it's all hands on board! The scene where ol' webhead taps Ben on the head causing Ben to swallow his stogie is priceless.

It'll be interesting to see how the Thanos saga is portrayed in the upcoming Avengers sequel. I've heard Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch will be involved, but no mention of Adam Warlock! I hope Starlin at least gets a writer's credit on this.

I'm intrigued by Karen's comment about Starlin taking on this assignment in the way he did - sounds pretty much like he got an unexpected opportunity to wrap up his Thanos/Warlock saga purely by a chance meeting with Goodwin. One wonders how many great comicbooks would never have been made if not for a series of serendipitous encounters between various creators.

All in all, MTIO Annual #2 has always been one of my top picks of must-reads; great comments and reviews guys!

- Mike 'did I really use the word serendipitous here?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Garrett -

For some unknown reason your first comment was in the spam folder. I've published it.



Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

This has got to be one of my favorite Avengers annuals. I just wish Starlin was allowed to stay on the Avengers as a regular artist. George Perez was my favorite Avengers artist my overall favorite artist of the 70's. Next in line would be John Byrne. It's at this time in 77' that I started buying the title on a regular basis. I just got Avengers Essentials #8 where it is re-printed in black and white. If you don't mind the Essentials format, the price is under $20 if one of our readers would like to see it. The Essentials format for me is the most economical for me because I like to read my ol' 70's books that I sold to repair my car.

I have to wonder why Thanos had to be exclusive to the Warlock and Captain Marvel titles. He made a great Avengers villain and should have been utilized more often.

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