Monday, August 12, 2013

Johnny and Pete's Excellent Adventure: Marvel Team-Up 10

Marvel Team-Up #10 (June 1973)
"Time Bomb!"
Gerry Conway-Jim Mooney/Frank Giacoia

Doug:  I suppose the art is as good a place as any to begin today's discussion.  On the job are two Silver Age veterans in Jim "Madman" Mooney and Frank Giacoia.  As I mentioned last week, I am using the first volume of Essential Marvel Team-Up as my resource (thanks to my partner for providing the pretty color images over these first three weeks of August!).  I'd bet you I could flip through that book and randomly stop on a page and at first glance tell you if Mooney was on the art team.  Where am I going with this?  I don't dislike Jim Mooney at all -- not a bit.  But, his art is "qualified".  What I mean is that his figurework and storytelling is OK, above average even -- the guy was a pro.  But his faces are just generally so darned cute it's hard to take these characters seriously.  Johnny Romita had this same sort of "soft" style, but managed to pull off a menacing look here and there.  I think Mooney was perfect for his tenure on Supergirl, but here his Johnny Storm just isn't getting it done in the hero department.  Does this make sense?

Karen: Generally I like Jim Mooney. Not one of my favorites but a very serviceable artist.I didn't really have a problem with his Johnny Storm -I guess I've always thought of him as being a "teen idol" type anyway.

Doug: Storywise, we pick it up just about where we left off at the end of last issue.  Kang and Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man are squaring off in the 23rd Century -- the home time of Zarrko, and a spot in the timestream Kang has come to conquer ('cause that's what he does).  Iron Man and Spider-Man had been brought into the conflict and Zarrko had used them as wild cards in attacking Kang's citadel.  But in one of the fracases, IM was knocked for a loop.  Spidey was as well, but recovers just as the scene between the two time masters is about to climax.  Zarrko reveals to Kang, a plot which Webhead overhears, that he will send three time capsules back in time to effectively stop the evolution of innovation.  When these doohickeys go off, jets will become biplanes, guns will become slingshots, etc.  Once the tech. is out of the question, Zarrko will swoop in and take over the Earth in that era.  However, he plans to leave one weapons depot untouched so that he can use it to rule.  From there, he will somehow (I'm just not clear on the logic or plausibility of this scheme) rule all of time.  Kang seems a bit nervous, so this thing must have some legs.

Karen: When it comes to time travel stories, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief quite a bit if the story is entertaining. But this whole scheme is beyond ludicrous. Your use of the term 'evolution' is apt. It's not time travel, but some sort of bizarre rewinding of progress, like you could "devolve" technological or societal developments. What I'm talking about will become more apparent during the course of the review. But I have to say, it's idiotic.

Doug:  As I said, Spider-Man is alert during Zarrko's monologue.  He whispers to Iron Man that they need to head this plan off at the pass and engage the super-baddies.  But Iron Man, although also conscious, tells Spidey that he'd better make tracks -- the armor is damaged and has no power!  In effect, Tony Stark is a prisoner in his own metal skin!  Knowing he's no match for Kang and Zarrko, Spider-Man looks to find a way a) out of harm's way and b) back to 1973.  Well wouldn't you know it, he finds a time machine and miraculously figures it out faster than would Reed Richards.  Couple of things about this scene, but I'm trying to roll with it:  young Peter Parker deduces how time travel should work and what sort of equipment would make it work, and then is able to run the processes necessary to get what he wants.  Oh, and one more thing -- I teased last week about Zarrko's labeled device; here we see "Portal Effect" just where it needed to be for Spider-Man to escape.  A-hem...

Karen: Was everything conveniently labeled back then? I found it amusing that Kang and Zarrko were so rapped up in their argument that they completely missed the fact that Spidey escaped.  

Doug:  As Spidey materializes back in 1973, Zarrko continues to menace Kang. But as the Conqueror moves to end the nonsense, he's startled -- scared even -- to see the arrival of some mystery folks... who we'll meet in the next issue.  Spidey is indeed home, but not home home.  Nope -- he plops down square in the middle of the Baxter Building.  The Torch happens to be the only one home, and since he and Spidey go way back there's no need for any senseless fisticuffs.  They act like the old chums they are (Johnny sure is cuuuute!), have a beverage, and Spidey brings his buddy up to speed on the adventure.  No other FF members are around, so it's just the two of them to save the world.  They decide they need to locate Zarrko's three time capsules and destroy them.  Spidey knows that they are set to land in Japan, South America, and Greece.  So they split up and set off -- Johnny for the Land of the Rising Sun, and Peter for Venezuela.  Since neither of them could get to those locales, Johnny hops a trans-Pacific flight (what do you suppose that last minute ticket cost him?) and Spider-Man does the same -- sort of.  He webs himself to the bottom of a plane, and then somehow knows exactly when to disengage.  I am trying really hard to believe this, putting my best kid hat on.  Really?  Webbed to the bottom of a plane, flying at 30,000 feet?  Whatever...

Karen: Where do I start? There's just so many 'shake my head' moments here. So by sheer coincidence, Spidey winds up in the Baxter Building? Why not just have him arrive somewhere in NYC and then go to the Baxter Building to get help? Then they just hang out and have a pleasant little chat. They don't know exactly where the capsules are landing but they head off. Johnny at least gets a ticket and rides inside a plane. I am just as incredulous as you are regarding Spidey's mode of transport. He even makes a comment about his 'air supply' about to run out -what did he do, web one up? I have this image of Spidey huffing from a web sack...the mind boggles.

Doug:  Both of our heroes encounter the time capsules just as they've gone off.  Johnny ends up fighting a local with a gun who reverts to a samurai warrior.  It's a weird scene, as the Torch obviously doesn't want to hurt the guy and so fights him hand-to-hand.  Spider-Man encounters some of the Venezuelan locals, who revert back to pre-Columbian indigenous Americans.  Both of our heroes get close enough to the time capsules that they are affected by its radiation.  Johnny feels like he's losing his mind; Spidey feels about the same.  As Spider-Man is about to succumb, the Torch shows up.  Whaa--aaat??  Yup.  Johnny tells Spider-Man how to avoid the pull of the radiation.  He says an hour ago he was having the same trouble, figured it out, and then "hitched a ride" on a plane, figuring Spidey would be having the same problems.  An hour.  From Japan to Venezuela.  And by the way, how did they know how to locate these devices in the first place?  Oh, man...

Karen: You know a lot more happened in those scenes but you still spent more time than they deserved describing them. This is utter crap. I'm sorry. It's just that bad. This device somehow turns not time back, but progress back? So a modern Japanese man becomes a samurai? Oh and they misspelled 'samurai' in the book too. And what commercial plane can go from Japan to Venezuela in an hour? I was tempted to stop reading but I didn't want to leave you hanging. Really...

Doug:  I'm sure our readers who've not previously seen this story can tell from the art samples that the Torch's and Spider-Man's battles were told separately.  In the interest of my own valuable time, as well as my sanity, I condensed about five pages into that one paragraph.  Yeah, this is bad.

 Doug:  Johnny says he thinks he recognizes the radiation that the time capsules emit, but cannot place it; Spidey says they have one device to find and destroy.  So our youthful protagonists jump in a biplane -- Johnny piloting -- but once not under the influence of the time capsule the plane soon becomes a jet.  Apparently no sweat, as Johnny pilots it anyway.  They head for Greece, where it looks like an episode from
the Hellenic period.  The boys do a little dust-up of the hometown folks, and locate the time capsule.  As Johnny is about to incinerate it, Spider-Man stops him -- he says, wait, dude -- it's the only way we have to possible get back to the future and free the Avengers!  So they neutralize the deal, and then the Torch tells that he's figured out why he knows that radiation pattern.  He thinks it's the same as the negative zone that radiates around the Great Refuge -- home of the Inhumans!  Spidey's like, "Let's roll!" but the Torch says no way -- he's got a certain ex-girlfriend who lives there and he doesn't want to open old wounds.  But instead of helping Spider-Man, he just leaves!  Just leaves!

Karen: Well of course he does! You were expecting it to start making sense now?!

Doug:  Being a gentleman, I'm going to give my partner first crack at the summation of today's yarn.  But I hope I don't prejudice her if I say this might be a notch below a Spidey Super-Stories tale!

Karen: I already called it 'crap' so I think it's pretty clear how I feel. Really, this is a sub-par effort on the part of Conway, and I bet if we were to ask him, he'd agree. Now I will take up the role of apologist here, and note that the man did seem to be writing an awful lot of titles and fill-ins back in the early 70s, so you know not every single one of them is going to be gold, or silver. Let's face it, this isn't even brass. I'm sure his 'progress devolver' must have seemed like a nifty idea at the time, but in action it just seems completely silly. To be fair, as a nine-year old, I probably would have reacted differently. But even if we disregard the inanities of the plot, overall, this is an unsatisfying affair, with no central villain and a lot of running around but not much pay-off. Truly a real low point in our reviews.

Doug:  Having obviously read the first two issues in this little 3-parter, I'll add that I've also read the conclusion, which we'll feature next week.  This middle installment is definitely a stinker.  I wonder if the creative team was working Marvel Method, or if Conway was responsible for a plot synopsis or even a full script.  At the top I spotlighted Jim Mooney and Frank Giacoia as Silver Age guys; I could see Mooney hearkening back to those days at DC Comics and coming up with some of the elements of this story.  If true, and I agree with you about the volume of work Gerry Conway was churning out at this point in history, then the outcomes here might be explained.  But even if my little fantasy explanation is true, it doesn't make it a good story, and the bottom line is that either Stan Lee or Roy Thomas signed off on it!


Colin Jones said...

Marvel were never big on scientific knowledge in those days, like when the FF would jump in a spaceship and be on the other side of the galaxy in three hours - never mind the speed of light or anything like that. These days they do it via wormholes etc. which is more believable.

Fred W. Hill said...

For the most part, Marvel Team-Up was written more like very early Marvel, with very absurdist elements meant to be taken with a straight face, more appealing to the 10 and under set than to more sophisticated or knowledgable readers.
As for Jim Mooney's art, while he's not in my favorites pantheon, I enjoyed his art on Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown, which were both written for an older audience and I thought had a sufficient moodiness to work. On this issue of MTU, however, he was taking Conway's cue and drawing for children (but at least not quite as young as for the Spidey Super Stories).

Humanbelly said...

Thing is, I read this 3-parter just about a year ago. . . and I have no lingering memory of it whatsoever. Sheesh.

I know I've made a similar comparison before, and it echoes what's been said before, but one could REALLY imagine this whole story taking place in the pages of JIMMY OLSEN circa, like, 1963 or so, y'know? But here at Marvel in '73? Yikes, that's a crucial 10 years behind the curve.

Honestly, the art is much better than the inane (and over-long) story-line. While remaining a devoted adherant to the CCA strictures (I'd have to check back, but do we ever see any direct personal violence shown on-panel?), Mooney does have a pleasantly clean, clear visual style, and you can always tell what's goin' on. IIRC, MTU was kind of a book where they planted him for quite a long time, sometimes penciling, sometimes inking, as the rest of the creative team shifted around him.


Doug said...

With apologies to those who've already read, a sentence I'd written near the top of the post had been partially lost to cyberspace publishing. I've reconstructed it, so this should read seamlessly now.

Our first three commenters all make valid points. Specifically, I think Fred's notion of marketing to the younger set with the team-up style books is certainly valid.

And one of these days, I'd like to get hold of some of Mooney's Supergirl work. If you've ever seen his commission work, it seems to be the character he most identifies himself with.


Doug said...

Whoa -- on the re-read, this post has a lot of issues with sentences that do not make sense. I'll do what I can to clean up the missing words, and pronto! Aye, there be gremlins afoot!


Doug said...

OK, I think I got it cleaned up. Man, there were 4 or 5 places where the material was there, but for some reason multiple clauses or even a complete sentence had been jettisoned to the end of a paragraph. We're not just sitting here writing jibberish, you know!

Thanks again for your patience today!


david_b said...

I've read a bit about this ish, mostly it's the silliest of this 3-issue arc. I picked up ish 11 in VF+ condition, I'm looking at ish 9, but I'm... not in a hurry for this one. It's essentially Haney-writing, perhaps by saying that, I'm insulting Haney fans world-wide. We just saw how Spidey flipped out with Thanos in that beloved MTIO Annual 2, but somehow handling time-travel (again a few yrs later with the Vish and Wanda as well) is no big deal. By this ish, it just seemed like the Spidey-Torch team-ups were wearing a bit thin, the next ish with Blackbolt would be much better.

Don't get me wrong, totally agreeing with Fred on MTU's 'absurdist' nature, this title designed specifically as a venue for the more weirder, grander scoped stories which just don't fit the groove of ASM (much like DC's B&B..), this one just seemed too contrived and rushed for even younger readers to enjoy.

Humanbelly said...

Hunh. I wonder-- do you suppose that sort of aping B&B's loopy vibe wasn't entirely accidental? Given that this book clearly must have been an answer to that DC series? (Or am I stating the obvious?)

Like Colin, I've never stopped being both amused and amazed at the complete lack of even rudimentary comprehension of basic scientific facts and principles exhibited by the Marvel stable of writers-- from Stan on down. I long ago came to the conclusion that, really, none of these guys (or the artists, for that matter) were the A or B students in their public school science classes. That would kind of make sense, since these guys would be more the "creative" nerds, as opposed to the "science" nerds.

But, boy, this story/plot-- Conway may have been a little too in love w/ what he perceived as his own cleverness, eh?


WardHill Terry said...

I've not read these issues, but this description seems sufficient. I've been trying to think what my younger self would have thought of a story like this. The super-heroics are great. Spidey webbing himself to the belly of jet? Sure! Torch showing up in the nick of time? Of course! The thing that would have bothered young me is the villain. Who is this guy? Or these guys? Am I supposed to know them? What do they do? Back then I could roll with loose science (geography, physics, etc.), but I wanted clear-cut good guy/ bad guy delineations. Now, I can take the basic set-up, but the blatant impossibilities drive me nuts!

david_b said...

Probably out on a limb here, but interestingly enough, those 'time rings' look familiar; just the following month in Johnny's FF mag ish 136, they meet up with Slugger Johnson, one of Gideon's men who runs into the 'Shaper of Worlds'.

The Shaper used Slugger as his own personal muse and recreates reality in accordance to Slugger's imagination, this time as the Patriots and the Wild Ones.

Granted, it's another Haney-esque Conway 'gem' we're talking about, but I was scratchin' my head over the similarities. At least ish 137 ends up with a much better FF cover and story.

Fred W. Hill said...

Roy Thomas was responsible for the time travel loopiness in the FF yarn -- at least it was his plot although Conway took over the writing during that story if I recall correctly

Humanbelly said...

That. . . was a true gobbledygook of self-indulgence, that story. IMO.

I'm remembering a giant ape with Sputnik for a head attacking a drive-in? Right? Man, that smacked more of Gerber in the Defenders (down the road) or Howard the Duck, than anything else!


Matt Celis said...

Gerry Conway always seems hit-or-miss with his plots. Never found him consistently good or bad. Was this while he was his own editor? That'd explain how this made it past editorial. Jim Mooney I always enjoy. Supergirl was great, but I've never seen him and said "how awful" on anything he's done. Quite enjoy his Spidey. Time travel or whatever you call this plot never gets me interested. Always seems to end up undone and without meaningful repercussions.

Noted the Haney comparison but Haney would've gone way over the top to point that I could get into it. Love Haney's blithe disregard for common sense and (ick) "continuity" in favor of telling whatever wild tale he wants to tell.

Matt Celis said...

P.S. Spidey Super Stories was a fun comic book. Usually had better art than the main Spidey magazines.

Matt Celis said...

P.P.S. Are you sure the title shouldn't be Spidey and Pete's Bogus Journey?

Matt Celis said...

I mean Johnny and Pete!

Doug said...

John Romita, Gil Kane, Ross Andru, Jim Mooney, and Keith Pollard vs.... Win Mortimer.

Nope, not feelin' that at all. I'll take the former group any day.


Fred W. Hill said...

All silliness aside, the scene with Spidey relating to Johnny what happened previously while they have a bite to eat and get on like old pals was actually pretty nice -- a bit of normal human behavior amidst the absurdity. Whether intentional or not, their friendship as written by Conway here and in ASM somewhat parallels Pete's relationship with Flash Thompson -- former rivals in their late teen years who got on much better in early adulthood. Even with all his teaming up during the '70s, it seems to me that Johnny was the closest Spider-Man had to a real friend in the superhero community even into the closing years of the Bronze Age.

Anonymous said...

Hmm well first off I kinda like Jim Mooney's artwork here. He's one of those artists who while not in the class of a John Buscema always put in a workmanlike effort. It's not awesome but he and Giacoia get the job done. As for Gerry Conway's plot, it seems like he really thought a story like this would be great but it falls flat in the execution. Devolution through time travel indeed!

Spidey's plane ride was ludicrous too; it's true his spider strength gives him superhuman lung capacity but to survive a long trip at high altitude like that was too much suspension of belief.

- Mike 'what's a Samauri?' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Fred --

I agree with you almost 100%... but why o why couldn't Peter have taken his mask off? Karen and I have remarked endlessly about heroes always in costume. Your point about Johnny and Peter going back to the beginning of the Silver Age is spot on and would have made that scene all the more treasured had Peter let his guard down.


Edo Bosnar said...

I was going to sit this one out, since I never read any of the issues in question, but I have to chime on Fred and Doug's conversation about the Spidey/Johnny Storm friendship. I think one of the big missed opportunities for character development in the '70s/'80s was the fact that Spider-man never revealed his identity to Johnny. It would have added a whole new dimension to the friendship.

Matthew Bradley said...

Just reviewed this miserable excuse for an issue for a forthcoming post on Marvel University, and deservedly doffed my hat to you folks with the following line: "The 'around the world in eighty minutes' plot is superbly deconstructed on Bronze Age Babies; let’s hope the third act improves." Job well done!

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