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Thing Vs. Thing!

Longbox Graveyard #136

It’s Super-Blog Team-Up time again — when a ragtag squad of comic book bloggers all tackle the same subject at the same time! This is our fourth go-round (and for links to our first three forays, click here) … and hard as it may be to fathom, it’s taken us this long to address the most obvious Super-Blog Team-Up topic of all — Team-Ups!

Since the Super-Blog Team-Up crew decided to concentrate on bizarre team-ups, I immediately flashed on the strange tale of The Thing teaming up with … himself?

Marvel Two-In-One #50

I have an obscure affection for Marvel Two-In-One — a second-tier book Marvel team-up book. Mostly this is down to the book staring one of my favorite Marvel characters — Ben Grimm, also known as the Thing, the soft-hearted rock monster from the Fantastic Four. I’ve previously reviewed the very first issue of Marvel Two-In-One (where Ben battled yet another thing — the Man-Thing), and in a moment of madness I even reviewed the entire one-hundred issue run of Marvel Two-In-One in a single, frantic post. So I suppose it is a kind of comic book kismet that I return to this series, to review not one, but two issues featuring this strangest of team-ups.

 

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

That’s right, two issues … because this team-up is a two-part story, albeit one that went fifty issues between installments!

The first tale appeared in 1979’s Marvel Two-In-One #50 — “Remembrance Of Things Past!” with script and art from John Byrne. Back before series were rebooted every dozen issues, even middling books like Marvel Two-In-One might be expected to reach a 50th or even a 100th issue, and publishers usually made a big deal about those landmark anniversary numbers. The half-century issue of Two-In-One was no exception, with one of Marvel’s most talented creators delivering a high concept tale where the Thing of the present traveled back in time to meet his prior self, with predictable results.

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

Predictable, because John Byrne aspired to little more than the conventional Marvel Comics fist opera here, though it was one with additional dimension thanks to its rumination on the past, and a theme appealing to our inborn desire to change our fates.

The tale began with a familiar Fantastic Four trope as Mr. Fantastic attempted to cure his friend Ben of the cosmic disorder that turned him into an orange rock monster in blue bathing trunks. Reed’s formula worked — but the twist was that it has no effect on Ben’s current form, though it would have worked on Ben immediately following his original transformation. This was a fresh take on why the many attempts by the world’s smartest man fail to cure Ben of his condition, and it also acknowledged that Ben’s appearance had changed over the years, from the lumpy orange monster of Jack Kirby’s original design, to the more craggily-defined superhero he would later become.

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

a look at some original pencils & inks from Marvel Two-In-One #50

Man-of-action that he was, Ben concluded that time should be no barrier to a man who had a time machine! If Reed’s serum would only work on the Thing he used to be, Ben decided the only course of action was to administer the cure to the original version of himself!

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

It’s actually not so bad a plan, in the Marvel Comics scheme of things, but of course Ben can never be cured, at least not for long. Franchise requirements would never allow it, and besides, stories where Ben is convinced he’s become human again — only to suffer some cruel or ironic reversal — are as integral to this character as Lucy snatching the football away from Charlie Brown.

So what’s at stake here is not whether or not Ben’s plan will succeed, but rather what kind of gut punch our hero will suffer as our hero has his hopes dashed this time. Byrne kept the story simple: Thing goes back in time; Thing meets Thing; Thing fights Thing; and Thing has his heart broken … but Byrne also managed some nice characterization, particularly in how the contemporary version of the Thing differed from his original incarnation, not only in terms of appearance, but in his attitudes and speech patterns.

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

Ben was a bit of a hot-head himself, of course, but compared to his original version, he’s a U.N. Envoy. Ben gets credit for at least briefly trying to reason with himself …

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

… but it’s not long before talking time yielded to Clobberin’ Time!

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

Ben eventually overpowered his original self, and administered Reed’s cure … which worked! Eager to return to the present, and experience the cure for himself, Ben bolted back to the future before his original version came around.

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

Ah, but here comes the gut punch.

By traveling to the past, Ben didn’t change the present. Instead, he created an alternate reality. Or something like that.

John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #50

That Ben so casually accepted his fate was not remarkable. After all, he’d seen this movie before … but more importantly, Ben had come to accept his condition. Long before the X-Men were out and proud of their mutant origins, the Thing had embarked on his own journey of self-actualization, evolving from his Hulk-like origins to the loveable lug who knows its what’s on the inside that counts.

This is a theme more thoroughly explored in the inferior follow-up to this tale, in 1983’s Marvel Two-In-One #100 — “Aftermath,” also scripted by John Byrne, but with pedestrian pencils from series stalwart Ron Wilson.

Marvel Two-In-One #100

This was the final issue of Two-In-One, and Byrne elected to ret-con himself, revealing that Ben didn’t exactly create an alternate reality, after all.

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

That’s some Grade-A mumbo-jumbo, but it worked for me. It’s above my pay grade to try to make sense of the nature of time and space in the Marvel Universe (and whatever the rules may be, the rumor is they will change in a big way come 2015). Ben, too, gave Reed’s revelation little thought, but when he checked up on his old self, Ben was shocked to discover that something had gone very, very wrong.

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

In this reality, it seems, not having a Thing has led to the end of the world!

It started off innocently enough, with the cured Ben Grimm opening a bar, and the Fantastic Four carrying on after filling out their roster with a certain Web-Head.

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

No explanation was offered for why the Silver Surfer failed to exist in this reality, but it had grim consequences for humanity …

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

… and so we learned that this world was the decayed husk of an Earth drained dry by Galactus, where scattered tribes of humans scrambled to survive, a potentially interesting concept rendered sterile by Ron Wilson’s generally uninspired pencils.

Diving back into continuity, Byrne told us that because Ben wasn’t The Thing in this world, he never had a fateful fight with the Human Torch, and the Torch never flew off in a huff, and thus never encountered the amnesiac Sub-Mariner, who never recovered his memories, and so never freed Captain America from captivity, and so in the absence of his arch-enemy, this blighted wasteland was ruled by … the Red Skull (phew!)

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

The Skull commanded a New York that to 21st-century eyes is sadly more remarkable for having any trace of the World Trade Center at all than it was for having those buildings crowned by a Nazi flag …

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

… and so Marvel Two-In-One #100 was basically an issue of What If?, Marvel’s imaginary story series dedicated to obscure wouldas and shouldas. And, yes, these are all imaginary stories, but some are more imaginary than others, and I always had a hard time getting on board with these kinds of stories when they so obviously “didn’t count.”

But at least the Red Skull got to chew the scenery a bit, rejecting Ben’s account of alternate worlds …

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

… before falling prey to his own Dust of Death, when Ben casually blew it back in his face (now why didn’t Captain America ever think of that?). The Skull’s grisly end also confirmed that the Red Skull’s face is actually a mask, beneath which was … a skull.

In this universe.

I think.

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

It’s all a bit bloated (and a double-sized issue, as well), and frankly a disappointment for the concluding issue of Marvel Two-In-One, as the potentially-interesting character study of Ben examining his path-not-taken yields only the usual fisticuffs.

In due time the bad guys were put to route and Ben returned home, leaving his other half behind to begin the work of rebuilding a shattered planet.

Ron Wilson & John Byrne, Marvel Two-In-One #100

Only when he returned to his present did Ben reflect that he might be better off a monster than a man, a realization sadly made muzzy by the fact that trading places with his human self must also land him square in the midst of a post-apocalyptic hell-on-earth.

scan0080

And so ended Marvel Two-In-One — not with a bang, but a whimper, and a sense of missed opportunity. It’s always dangerous to expect too much of these action-spectacle superhero comics, but I could have done with more characterization as Ben got to know his other self, and less speculation on what a world without Alicia Masters is like. Our hero, after all, is the only thing that really “counts” in this imaginary tale, and the wisdom he takes back from that alternate dimension surely deserved more than a four-panel denouement.

But that’s my own personal obsession — I often wonder what I might tell myself, were I to go into the past and meet my younger self. I always come around to some generality, like telling myself that “it’s all going to work out,” because notwithstanding Reed Richards’ fuzzy understanding of alternate realities, I wouldn’t want my younger version to do anything to change where my life has taken me. Sure, there have been hard times I would have liked to avoid, but I wouldn’t want to do anything that might endanger my meeting my friends or my wife, or having my children … and I sure wouldn’t want to create a future where there’s no Longbox Graveyard! So maybe, like Ben, I shouldn’t think too hard about these things …

… and maybe I should get off my soap box in time for you to enjoy these other fine Super-Blog Team-Up articles about the strangest team-ups of all time!

SBTU Contunies

Super-Hero Satellite: Super Man and The Masters Of the Universe
Longbox Graveyard: Thing Vs. Thing
Superior Spider-Talk: Spider-Man and RazorBack!?
The Daily Rios: New Teen Titans/DNAgents
The Middle Spaces: Super Hegemonic Team-Up! Spider-Man, Daredevil & ‘The Death of Jean DeWolfe
Chasing Amazing: Across the Spider-Verse: A Once in a Timeline Team-Up
Retroist: Doctor Doom/Doctor Strange
Fantastiverse: Superman/Spider-man
Mystery V-Log: The Avengers #1
In My Not So Humble Opinion: Conan The Barbarian And Solomon Kane
The Unspoken Decade: Two Wrongs Making A Right: Punisher Meets Archie
Flodos Page: Green Lantern And The Little Green Men
Between The Pages: World’s Finest Couple — Lois Lane & Bruce Wayne
BronzeAge Babies: When Friends Like These ARE Your Enemies

My Super-Blog Team-Up pals have gone to great efforts to bring you some fun superhero reading, so I hope you’ll check them all out — and tell them Longbox Graveyard sent you! Then please join me back here in a week, when I kick off a month of Halloween at Longbox Graveyard with a review of the best darn Zombie Jughead story you are ever going to read!

NEXT WEEK: #137 Afterlife With Archie

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About Paul O'Connor

Revelations and retro-reviews from a world where it is always 1978, published once a month or so at www.longboxgraveyard.com!

Posted on September 24, 2014, in Super-Blog Team-Up and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 25 Comments.

  1. Loved this so much..I actually have to track down this story! As usual high quality work from a Super Blog Team Up Pioneer! Awesome work Paul!

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  2. same mutation, equal muscles, the outcome the same as the spin of a coin, which means equal chances. To hold us in his thrall, the author will have to be ingenious indeed, casting a spell with an iron grip. A feast, a delectable feast!

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    • It is interesting, because in this case, the contemporary Ben Grimm was superior in every way — more powerful, more experienced, and more level-headed. There really wasn’t much of a contest once the current Grimm decided to cut loose. I’m not sure things would go as well for me were I to face off with my younger self. I am more determined, now, maybe more … vicious? But giving away those decades would hurt.

      (I am taking too much pleasure from imagining the beating I’d put on my younger self. I need to call my shrink, now.)

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  3. That always confused me as a kid. Why did old Ben talk more eloquently than current Ben ? No “Dems & dose” at all.

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    • In broad terms I think you will find that Byrne scripted the original thing to speak the way he did in the first few dozen issues of the Fantastic Four. The charming Brooklyn patois that became such a part of Ben’s character didn’t come along until a little bit later.

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  4. I’m a big Byrne-FF fan, but not as big a fan as I thought I was — I only found out he wrote and drew #50 a couple of years ago. How did I miss that? Still haven’t gotten ahold of a copy because 1) I’m a little lazy and failed to act on it when I found out, and 2) I quickly forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder! Looks and sounds like classic Byrne.

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    • I filled in my Byrne FF run a couple years ago but haven’t gotten around to the big re-read and/or review, yet. Does it hold up? I recall it kind of went downhill after the Galactus trial.

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      • (After a quick assay of the innards of my Byrne FF/Alpha Flight box):

        232 to 249 are great! The relentless joy ends for me with the faux X-Men appearance in 250. Issue 249 was a terrific action comic; pretty much one long fight scene with a fabulous cliffhanger. 250 was a let-down. Nothing but skrulls, and the resolution of that story was my first Byrne FF disappointment.

        I resented the “Into the Negative Zone” arc because of the required crossovers with the Avengers — the Avengers being a book I was not even mildly interested in at the time. The Doom, Terrax and Silver Surfer arc was good stuff, but the transition to the Search For/Trial of Reed Richards was a disappointment. I know it’s is considered a high-point, but there was too much hand-wringing and exposition and rumination, and not enough clobberin’, if you’ll allow me an adolescent moment.

        There were a couple of pretty good stories after that, but it wasn’t as fun, and the insertion of She-Hulk totally ended it for me. I struggled through those when they came out. Over the decades I’ve flipped through them a few times but haven’t had the discipline to overcome my bias and reread them.

        I think you hit a nerve. I blurted out about seven more paragraphs, but pruned them. Stupid comics. I’m way too old to be up typing about 30 year-old Fantastic Four stories when I have to be up early for a labor intensive assignment for work. I’m giving up and going to bed, where I might, you know, read a little bit of, um, Byrne’s “Too Many Dooms!” in, um, FF 246. (My favorite Byrne issue!)

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        • You are NEVER too old to by writing about 30-year-old Fantastic Four stories, and if you ever want to give full vent to your passions in the form of a blog entry I would love to host it here at Longbox Graveyard!

          (in the meantime I will bump the Byrne FF’s closer to the top of my reading pile)

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  5. Holy sheep dip!
    Yeah, the FF went downhill FAST after that.
    I kinda forgot about this issue of MTIO. Cool to see it again! However, I think the Red Skull probably had a whole head of, er, skin, I guess, before that dust got blown back on him. Now we’ll never find out what he really looked like.
    Anyway, I am proud to be front and center for Super-Blog Team-up!
    Marvel maximus!….I think Stan Lee said something like that.

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    • I really can’t keep track of The Red Skull’s skull. At various times I could swear it has been a mask, and others a genuine skull. But I think you are right in this case, the skull on display is a result of the dust of death (though what the face atop that skull looked like before the dust is open to debate … it might have been a fleshy red skull!)

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  6. I think if you’re a Marvel person, it’s impossible not to love the Thing. The same could be said for Byrne during this era. The guy has written some real duds over the past 20 years, but it stuns me that someone with his amount of talent was relegated to a “B” team-up book like this (he also penciled Marvel Team-Up with Spidey with Claremont of all people!).

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    • Those Byrne/Claremont Marvel Team-Ups are a lot of fun — they’re pretty much the only issues from Team-Up that I’ve sought to retain or collect. They are of a kind with the Byrne/Claremont Iron Fist books for me — fun adventure stories where those two creators were finding their footing, before things got more serious in an X-Men run that came to crowd out everything else they ever did.

      I suspect Byrne was on Two-In-One because it is what he wanted to do. You are right — there’s no way sales of the book could ever justify his particular talent. For the most part, Two-In-One was a dumping ground for indifferent Ron Wilson work, but there are a few gems, most notably when guys like Byrne or George Perez penciled an issue. A mixed bag, to be sure.

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  7. Cool post. I love the The Thing.

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  8. Captivating stuff Paul. I particularly like where you’ve drawn attention to the difference in characterisation between old Thing and new Thing in issue #50. I’ve always enjoyed time-travel issues in comics were artists spin the development in artistic style and quality into an in-story evolution of the character in question.

    I’ve never read issue #100 but I think I would be more tolerant of it than you find yourself. I have a soft-spot for any “What if?” alternative reality stories that put my favourite characters into a new context. While the exploration of Thing’s coming to terms with his cosmic transformation is hardly unique I like the fact that this story takes his inner struggle and externalises it with the the human Ben Grimm appearing as a separate character in his own right.

    Thanks for the share!

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  9. The “thing” about Marvel Two-In-One for me was that it was part of the Marvel books that always went into my “favorites” pile. I was always more interested in the fringe Marvel books (especially stuff like Master of Kung Fu, Luke Cage, the monster/horror books like Tomb of Dracula, Man-Thing and Werewolf by Night, etc.). Two-In-One and Team-Up always had oddball stories and guest-stars, and were mostly contained in one issue so I got a complete story even if the art was 2nd tier (except for the Byrne issues). While they often fell into the trope of characters meet/misunderstand/fight/make-up, I still liked them.

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    • Yes, but I’ve SEEN the kinds of comics you hoover up at the comics show, Tom — “ironic” ain’t the word for it! You have a taste for rare schlock (as well as a rare taste for things that aren’t schlock), and a series as goofy as Marvel Two-In-One is right in your wheelhouse.

      (Despite purging much of my collection, I still have a near-complete run of Two-In-One, so I am a fine one to talk).

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  10. Gonna be neat to see Afterlife With Archie LB-Style!
    I love the Marvel team-up books. There’s something that appeals to the kid in me that “2 superheroes are tons better than one!” The adult me agrees. I am also into them for the same reason that our pal Tom Mason discussed, which is that the fringes of the MU have always been more interesting to me. Faster. More things happen, mostly b/c more things are allowed to happen, as you alluded to in your FANTASTIC article in regards to Thing being a franchise.

    I’m with you on more Thing/Ben Grimm interaction. This story could have been well-served by getting another issue for that team-up in and of itself. That would have been some fun!

    Great Job as always, Paul. GO ROYALS!

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    • With this entry I think I have finally put paid to Marvel Two-In-One (unless I get the Annuals), but it might be time to take a look at Marvel Team-Up … or at least the Claremont/Byrne issues, which I remember being quite good fun.

      (And yes, Go Royals!)

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  11. Hi, Paul! Great write-up.

    I actually like Ron Wilson’s art. He sort of reminds me of Sal Buscema, in that he does not have a flashy style, but he has good, solid storytelling skills, and he can always be counted upon to turn in quality work. I once met Wilson at a comic convention a few years ago, and I think he has become an even better artist over the years. He had for sale some recently-drawn recreations of his MTIO covers that looked even better than the originals. Of course I got a sketch of The Thing from him.

    Anyway, I’ve heard of these two issues of MTIO before, but I’ve never had the opportunity to read them. Next time I see them for sale in the back issue bins for a reasonable price I will be sure to pick them up.

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    • Thanks for reading and commenting, Ben!

      Sal and Ron both have solid storytelling abilities, as you note, but … I still can’t warm to them. They did most of their work in an era where storytelling was a given for pencillers (unlike SOME eras I could name), so I need something more from my guys.

      And if you are looking for Marvel Two-In-One at firesale prices, the Longbox Graveyard collection is for sale! Check that (Almost) Free Comics tab at the top of the page for details …!

      Liked by 1 person

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