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.