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Champions #10

Champions #10

A pack of Soviet villains, plus a very-goofy-looking bad guy called The Griffin, have captured the Black Widow and buried the rest of the Champions in a windowless vault deep inside the San Andreas fault. The bad guys sneer that trying to break out of the vault will trigger an earthquake that will destroy Los Angeles, which doesn’t seem to bother Hercules at all, who promptly goes berserk (go Herc!)

While Ghost Rider and the rest of the Champions try to roll Hercules in a wet mattress, the Soviet bad guys go on a big exposition dump about the truth of the Crimson Dynamo’s origins. He’s got some father issues … and because the flashbacks are all set in the Soviet Union, there’s a lot of swearing by Lenin’s beard and railing against Capitalism. Bill Mantlo is as reliable a writer as Marvel ever had, but this script … yeesh. The Champions escape — through no effort of their own — then they punch it out with the bad guys and its over. Ladies and gentlemen — The Champions!

  • Script: Bill Mantlo
  • Pencils: Bob Hall
  • Inks: Frank Giacoia

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Marvel Two-In-One Times One Hundred

Longbox Graveyard #63

Sometimes you go back to old comics series and are pleasantly surprised (Godzilla), sometimes you are disappointed (Deathlok), and sometimes you see them in an entirely different light (Ms. Marvel).

And sometimes you get exactly what you expect, which means my decision to collect and read every issue ever published of Marvel Two-In-One might rightly be termed a suicide mission. I love Ben Grimm, but you have to really love the Thing — I mean, really really love the Thing — to maintain your enthusiasm through the full hundred-issue run of this largely-forgotten comic.

it’s two — two — TWO Things in one Two-In-One!

The premise of Marvel Two-In-One was simple — follow the format of the better-known Marvel Team-Up, which featured Spider-Man with a guest star of the month slugging it out in (mostly) forgettable stories that were (mostly) told in a single issue. Along the way, afford some spotlight time to the lesser characters of the Marvel Universe to keep those trademarks fresh and maybe see if a character sparks with the audience. These team-up books were pure newsstand fodder, with high impulse-buy appeal and limited continuity between issues (and it is interesting to note that Marvel’s team-up books wound down with the rise of the more discriminating Direct Market era, with Marvel Team-Up ending in 1985, and Two-In-One breathing it’s last in 1983).

Always a hind-tit book in the Marvel line, this series had all the liabilities of a team-up book — fractured continuity, rotating creative teams, and awkward story situations as Ben and his co-star was shoe-horned into one crazy situation after another. Add to this Marvel’s propensity to wrap-up cancelled series in their team-up books and you have a recipe for some pretty foul issues … but in Ben Grimm you also have one of Marvel’s best characters, and the series occasionally rises to memorable heights when grouchy Ben plays off of his partner-of-the-month. There were select issues by superior creators on this book, with Steve Gerber, John Byrne, Bill Mantlo, George Perez, and the team of Marc Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio doing good work, but there were also some disappointing stretches, like Marv Wolfman‘s curiously bland tenure on the book (I normally quite like Wolfman), and consistently sub-par efforts from Tom DeFalco and penciller Ron Wilson, who unfortunately illustrated the majority of the series.

None of these are truly great comics, and my survey is additionally hampered by eliminating some of the better titles from consideration. I didn’t review the two-issue run in Marvel Feature, where Two-In-One got it’s start, nor did I consider the seven Marvel Two-In-One Annuals (of which #2, by Jim Starlin, is a minor classic, featuring Spider-Man and the Avengers, wrapping up the first great Warlock/Thanos storyline). I also stop my examination with Marvel Two-In-One #100, rather than continue into the following Thing series, which I recall was a bit better overall.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2 … disqualified!

No, this review is all Two-In-One, all the time, warts and all, and in ranking the books below from best to worst I graded entirely on my own subjective scale. I don’t expect a lot from Two-In-One, but I do hope for fun and (mostly) coherent stories, with good chemistry and some snappy repartee between Ben and his co-star, hopefully at the center of a one-and-done tale with plenty of action. A sense of humor is a plus (but also a peril if the jokes fall flat). Mostly I want Ben saying “cripes” and referencing his dear Aunt Petunia, comparing bad guys to the Yancy Street gang, hollering that it’s Clobberin’ Time and exclaiming about revolting developments.

And so here we go … my capsule reviews of every issue of Marvel Two-In-One, ranked from best to worst!

Above Average

#1 Man-Thing in “Vengeance of the Molecule Man” by Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, and Joe Sinnott. Gerber was a real craftsman, and even in a lesser story such as this he manages some nice characterization for Ben Grimm. He even makes it seem convincing that a hot-headed Thing would hop a bus to Florida to smash Man-Thing in the mouth for taking away his good name! The confrontation promised by the very groovy cover is long-delayed and over in a page but this is still a fun and fast-paced 1970s comic book story.

For a full review of this issue, be sure to read my Dollar Box column!

And to read the entire issue online, visit the always-groovy Mars Will Send No More!

#10 Black Widow in “Is This The Way The World Ends?” by Chris Claremont, Bob Brown, Klaus Janson. Fast-moving espionage tale where Ben and the Widow each get to do their thing — Ben using strength and brawn, Natasha her wits and agility — to thwart a terrorist attempt to flood the East Coast by detonating a doomsday bomb. It’s not an easy thing to team two characters of such wildly differing power levels. Good characterization for both heroes, and Natasha has to take down an old flame. Adequate Bob Brown pencils made crisp by Janson’s inks.

#13 Power Man in “I Created Braggadoom!” by Roger Slifer/Len Wein, Ron Wilson, and Vince Colletta. Ben and Luke battle a big, stupid, green monster, and still find time to slug it out with each other not once, but twice. Luke gets to say, “Christmas!” but Ben fails to declare “Clobberin’ Time!” Sweet two-page spread of Braggadoom knocking down a bridge. Nice bit of characterization when Ben makes reference to nails on a blackboard, and Luke replies, “Where I went t’ school, Grimm — they didn’t HAVE no blackboards!”

#50 (Old-School) Thing in “Remembrance Of Things Past!” by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott. Anniversary issue sees the Thing going into his own past, to cure an earlier version of himself, and getting into a predictable Thing-On-Thing beatdown. Basic fist opera fun by John Byrne.

#53-58 “Project Pegasus,” by Gruenwald, Macchio, Byrne, and Sinnott, then George Perez and Gene Day for the second half. Two-In-One only nominally maintained the guest-star-of-the-month format for this six issue run where Ben provides security to the government’s high-tech energy research project. The extended continuity allowed the book to feel more like a regular Marvel comic of its day, with continuing subplots and a master villain pulling the strings. A solid sequence of books where Ben is written strongly — his sarcastic patter while passing through Pegasus security at the head of issue #53 is especially on-target and serves notice that something special (by Two-In-One standards, at least) is in the offing.

if Marvel does a map, you KNOW it’s a big deal!

#6 Doctor Strange in “Death-Song Destiny,” by Steve Gerber, George Tuska, and Mike Esposito. A vintage (weird) Steve Gerber story, with a cosmic harmonica, a disappearing face, a giant rat, and some nice bits when Ben returns to his Yancy Street childhood stomping grounds. Plus a Jim Starlin cover! The tale continues with Valkyrie in issue #7 — “Name That Doom,” by Gerber, Sal Buscema, and Mike Esposito, when that same harmonica destroys the world in a story that reads very much like one of Gerber’s Defenders of that era, where this story would ultimately conclude.

#3 Daredevil in “Inside Black Spectre!” by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, and Joe Sinnott. Even more vintage Gerber weirdness, in a tale where Captain America beats a slave to death, and Hitler blows his brains out before a live audience. Ah, Steve, you are deeply missed!

get hip, schweinhunds!

#45 Captain Marvel in “The Andromeda Rub-Out!” by Peter Gillis, Alan Kupperberg, and Mike Esposito. This is a ridiculous story … but it is a well-told ridiculous story, with a good point of attack and a fast-paced narrative that forgives a plot and villain that escaped from the third season of Star Trek. Plus, I have a soft spot for Captain Marvel … and it’s bizarre to realize that per Marvel continuity (which the characters themselves call out) that the last time Marv and Ben met up before this weird story was when they were fighting Thanos for the fate of the solar system in Marvel Two-In-One Annual #2.

#43 Man-Thing (and Captain America) in “The Day The World Winds Down” by Ralph Macchio and John Byrne. A lesser cosmic cube story, but still fun, with Ben thinking with his fists and an entirely unthinking Man-Thing briefly claiming the Cosmic Cube while Captain America is at his patriotic, speechifying best. John Byrne just makes everything better … read this issue at Mars Will Send No More and see if you agree!

#51 Frank Miller in “Full House — Dragons High!” by Peter Gillis, Frank Miller, and Bob McLeod. Of course Frank Miller isn’t the guest-star — there’s a fist-full of Avengers here, and Nick Fury too — but Miller is clearly the star, elevating a forgettable story above the average Marvel Two-In-One standards with an energetic pencilling job that provides a glimpse of the glory years to come. His full-page layout of Ben’s traveling poker game is particularly clever. The story is some muddle involving the Yellow Claw.

#2 Sub-Mariner in “Manhunters From The Stars” by Steve Gerber, Gil Kane, and Joe Sinnott. Ben inherits custody of man-child Wundarr, trades punches with Namor, smashes a robot, and doesn’t know what to make of the Sub-Mariner’s flower child cousin, Namorita.

#37 Matt Murdoch in “Game Point!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. Ben is set up and goes on a bus-smashing rampage in downtown New York and Matt Murdoch defends him at trial in this nice change-of-pace story. Pablo Marcos was one of the few inkers who could wring better-than-average results from Wilson’s pedestrian pencils, and it shows here. Interesting to note that Ben’s self-esteem is so low that he is more eager to convict himself than the kangaroo court set up to judge him.

Average

#5 Guardians of the Galaxy (and Captain America) in “Seven Against The Empire” by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, and Mike Esposito. Our heroes travel into the future to battle the Badoon. Plenty of action and Cap gets to be a literal living legend, coming from the past to inspire and lead in a future where he is a fabled hero of myth. Events had a sense of scale and permanence not common to team-up books.

#29 Shang-Chi in “Two Against Hydra” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Sam Grainger. Ben enjoys a business vacation in London, and has a nice romantic exchange with Alicia before getting pulled into a contrived battle with Shang-Chi, which is appropriately amusing. The ruminating Shang-Chi is a good foil for Ben, and their scenes together are brief but effective and in character. There are HYDRA goons a-plenty for the two heroes to smack around.

#64-66 Stingray, Triton, and Scarlet Witch in the three-part “Serpent Crown Affair,” by Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, George Perez, Jerry Bingham, and Gene Day. A less-successful attempt to capture some of that Project Pegasus mojo with another extended arc that features some of the characters and threads from that earlier run. The story climaxed with Ben placing the Serpent Crown on his head, but resisting its power and dashing it to pieces, kind of the Marvel Universe equivalent of smashing Sauron’s ring.

Ben Grimm, ringbearer?

#15 Morbius in “The Return of the Living Eraser” by Bill Mantlo, Arve Jones, and Dick Giordano. A bloodthirsty Morbius tries to suck the blood from everyone in sight while Ben alternately smacks him around and teams up with the “Living Vampire” to fight one of the all-time ridiculous villains — the Living Eraser. Morbius is appropriately angsty and tormented, while Ben just seems disgusted by the whole affair. A typically-dependable effort from the typically-dependable Bill Mantlo.

#28 Sub-Mariner in “In The Power of the Piranha!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and John Tartag. Ben teams up with a strangely level-headed Namor to fight the bloodthirsty Piranha. A fairly forgettable story is kicked up a notch by a truly creepy villain.

#40 Black Panther in “Conjure Night,” by Roger Slifer, Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. Some nice character bits mixed in with the action, as Ben makes pizza for his pals, then sits in on a middle school class taught by T’Challa, here maintaining a secret identity as a black studies teacher. Some adequate vampire-fighting action as Ben and the Panther investigate a series of kidnappings in the black community. Earns points by avoiding the usual pitfalls of Marvel tales examining “ethnic” stories — this is just Ben and the Panther in an urban superhero story.

#41 Brother Voodoo in “Voodoo and Valor,” by David Kraft, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. Concludes the previous issue’s story, as Ben and Brother Voodoo travel to Uganda to punch it out with Idi Amin’s zuvembis (!). Bonus points for degree of difficulty in handling Brother Voodoo in a team up at all, and here he’s handled pretty well.

“perhaps I shall destroy them for sport”

#4 Captain America in “Doomsday 3014” by Steve Gerber, Sal Buscema, and Frank Giacoia. Ben and Wundarr go to the zoo, animals get loose, and Cap springs into action. Sets up the Guardians of the Galaxy story in the following issue. Gerber nicely writes Sharon Carter, who reminds everyone she’s a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent and goes along on Cap’s half-cocked recon mission to the future.

#9 Thor in “When a God Goes Mad,” by Chris Claremont & Steve Gerber, Herb Trimpe, and Joe Giella. Some nice characterization for Ben, but Thor spends most of the story as a zombie in thrall to the Puppetmaster, and boy, this art is not easy on the eyes.

#60 Impossible Man in “Happiness is a Warm Alien” by Gruenwald/Macchio, George Perez, and Gene Day. A disposable but nicely-drawn episode where the shape-changing Impossible Man accompanies Ben to a society event — some nice sight gags as the Impossible Man masquerades as an ever-changing hat and we get to see Ben in a tuxedo, too!

#20 Liberty Legion in “Showdown At Sea” by Roy Thomas, Sal Buscema, and Sam Grainger. A borderline incomprehensible WWII-era story continued from previous annuals and staring the eternally limp Liberty Legion. Rises to “average” thanks to a disembodied Nazi brain for a villain, who buzzes about Manhattan in a flying Swastika. For reals!

#75 The Avengers in “By Blastaar — Betrayed!” by Tom DeFalco, Alan Kupperberg and Chick Stone. Double-sized issue. A war in the negative zone disrupts Ben Grimm’s card game. Ben and the Avengers slug it out with Annihilus, Blastaar, and the Super- Adaptoid. A serviceable tale but we’ve seen these big superhero-in-space epics done before and better. Despite the expanded page count there are too many characters and too many subplots to give Ben and his guest stars needed spotlight time.

#26 Nick Fury in “The Fixer and Mentallo Are Back” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. Wilson is only as good as his inker, and Marcos does his best here, in a story elevated just a little by the requisite S.H.I.E.L.D. gadgetry, and a nice bit of continuity for fans remembering the bad guys from Nick Fury’s Strange Tales run. Nice camaraderie between veterans Fury and Grimm.

#77 Man-Thing in “Only The Swamp Survives,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. A minor gem of a story from Tom DeFalco’s otherwise dire run on Two-In-One. Not a lot of Man-Thing in this tale, but we do get Ben being a test pilot, and a prolonged flashback of a pre-Thing Ben Grimm fighting in World War II with Nick Fury and the Howling Commandos (which has surely be ret-conned out of existence by now?)

#22 Thor in “Touch Not The Hand of Seth!” by Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. A convoluted bit of hooey about Egyptian death-gods and personal vendettas that Mantlo somehow makes work, with bonus points for Doctor Donald Blake handled in an (almost) interesting fashion.

#69 Guardians of the Galaxy in “Homecoming,” by Gruenwald & Macchio, art by Ron Wilson and Gene Day. Vance Astro meets his younger self and sets off all kinds of chaos in the time stream. Decent, but a bit on the expository side and Ben is as much a witness to events as a participant.

#19 Tigra in “Claws of the Cougar!” by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Don Heck. Frankly it’s a crappy story but Tigra extends my patience and at least there’s a Jack Kirby cover, swarming with cosmic dots.

#61 Starhawk in “The Coming of Her,” by Mark Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham, and Gene Day. A female version of Adam Warlock is awakened and all heck breaks loose. A wobbly tale but it tenuously ties into the Thanos cycle, has a cameo from Moondragon, and features decent art from Jerry Bingham, who drew the cover of one of the first comics I ever authored.

#47 The Yancy Street Gang in “Happy Deathday, Mister Grimm,” by Bill Mantlo and Chic Stone. Bill Mantlo could write anything Marvel threw at him, and make it interesting, including this lesser tale of Ben returning to his old neighborhood and getting ambushed by robots. Builds to an extraordinarily anti-climatic villain reveal in the final panel.

#21 Doc Savage in “Black Sun Lives” by Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. I loved Doc Savage as a kid, but he was never really suited to comic-books. Still, this force-fit crossover with the Marvel Universe works better than you’d expect, with parallel narratives between separate stories merging at the end for a brief and unlikely team-up. Once again, Bill Mantlo rises to the challenge of an impossible premise and makes it work.

#62 Moondragon in “The Taking of Counter-Earth,” by Mark Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham, and Gene Day. Continues the lesser “Her” cosmic storyline from the preceding issue, most memorable for a politically incorrect panel where Ben takes Moondragon across his knee. Sure, she’s a pain in the neck … sure, every Marvel fan of the 1970s wanted to see this happen, but, well … Oh, all right!

#89 Human Torch in “The Last Word,” by David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, and Chic Stone. Ben and Johnny take on a goofy but intriguing cult leader. Reads like a lesser Steve Gerber tale but has its moments.

#73 Quasar in “Pipeline Through Infinity,” by Ralph Macchio, Ron Wilson and Chic Stone. A sorta-sequel to Project Pegasus, where Ben and Quasar discover that the Roxxon oil company is enslaving the denizens of alternate earths in their insatiable quest for oil. Features cavemen and dinosaurs and should have been more stupid fun than it was, diminished by lackluster pencils.

#86 The Sandman in “Time Runs Like Sand!” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Rather than go all fist city, Ben and the Sandman settle their differences over a beer. A potentially rich concept but the creators didn’t seem to know what to do with it — the story gasses out after fifteen pages, and half of those were filler telling Sandman’s origin. Backup story with Mr. Impossible is appropriately disposable.

#92 Jocasta in “This Evil Returning!” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and “A. Sorted” on inks. Ben returns from Egypt and begins a two-part adventure resolving the fate of Jocasta — the Bride of Ultron — after she was booted from the Avengers. Some nice gags as Ben navigates the Cairo airport, and this otherwise-slight tale kinda-sorta gets to the soul of poor lost Jocasta.

#42 Captain America in “Entropy, Entropy!” by Ralph Macchio, Sal Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, and Sam Grainger. Ben and Cap make a good team — they have the mutual-respect-of-veterans-and-living-legends thing going on. Sets up the tale in the superior issue #43, where John Byrne comes aboard.

#68 Angel in “Discos and Dungeons,” by Gruenwald/Macchio, Ron Wilson, and Gene Day. Silly fun, as Ben and the Angel are kidnapped and thrown into a dungeon of doom, lorded over by The Toad (who just wants some respect), and financed (off-stage) by Arcade, a lesser X-Men villain that I always enjoyed. Ben wears a John Travolta disco suit on the splash page.

#100 Ben Grimm in “Aftermath,” by John Byrne, Ron Wilson, Frank Giacioa, and Kevin Dzuban. A sequel to Byrne’s much-better story in issue #50, and there might as well have not been fifty issues between the two for all the impact those issues have on this story. The Thing visits his alternate-earth self and sees what became of the world after Ben was cured of his superpowers — it’s kind of It’s A Wonderful Life by way of The Omega Man with the Red Skull standing in for Mr. Potter (and not as fun as it sounds). A double-sized issue for the last number in this run, but doesn’t provide any closure for the series.

#63 Warlock (sort of) in “Suffer Not A Warlock To Live!” by Mark Gruenwald, Jerry Bingham, and Gene Day. Wraps up the lesser cosmic trilogy of “Her,” which suffers a bit for being a big fake-out. A virtue of this run is the insight offered into the High Evolutionary, who proves an intriguing character, even if Ben does bring him down a peg by calling him “Handle Head” in this or the preceding issue.

#34 Nighthawk in “A Monster Walks Among Us!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. A decent twist on the misunderstood monster trope. Again we are let down by Wilson pencils that Pablo Marcos can do little to rescue — the monster would be more effective if he weren’t so ridiculous-looking (or purple).

#93 Machine Man in “And One Shall Die!” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and “D. Hands” handling the inks. The conclusion of the Jocasta story from #92. Ultron chews the scenery and Jocasta comes to a bad end. She probably deserved better.

#96 A whole pile of superheroes in “Visiting Hours!” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Mike Esposito. Comical episode where Ben is confined to a hospital bed and seemingly every superhero in New York turns out to protect him from his low-rent Two-In-One rogue’s gallery. Nice appearance by Sandman, who continues his bromance with Ben begun in issue #86.

#88 She-Hulk in “Disaster at Diablo Reactor” by David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, and Chic Stone. The plot about a threat to a California nuclear reactor is forgettable, but the issue is worth reading to watch She-Hulk go coo-coo for Coca-Puffs, sexually harassing Ben and driving her pink convertable like a crazy person. Concludes with She-Hulk savoring a potential jailhouse assault on Ben

Below Average

#52 Moon Knight in “A Little Knight Music” by Steven Grant, Jim Craig, and Pablo Marcos. Nice banter between Ben and Moon Knight — Ben wants nothing to do with him, but Moon Knight patiently wins him over. By this point we can practically guarantee that if Ben shows up in a tuxedo, he’s going to burst out of it in a panel or two, and this tale does not disappoint.

#94 Power Man & Iron Fist in “The Power Trap” by David Anthony Kraft, Ron Wilson, and Ricardo Villamonte. Luke and Danny play a video game and apply it to life lessons, or something like that. Ben and Luke slug it out, but it falls well short of their meeting back in issue #13.

#48 Jack of Hearts in “My Master … Machinesmith!” by Bill Mantlo, Chic Stone, and T. Blaisdell. Chic Stone drops his brush in favor of a pencil with middling results. I remember Jack of Hearts being kind of a big deal back in the day but now I just can’t see it. His friends do him no favors letting him out of the house in that costume.

Jack of Hearts … not a good look, pal

#38 Daredevil in “Thing Behind Prison Bars” by Roger Slifer, Ron Wilson, and Jim Mooney. Continues the tale of Ben framed for running amok from issue #37, but the clever change-of-pace of Marv Wolfman’s original story gives way to the usual superhero fist opera.

#99 ROM in “Sshsss,” by Bill Mantlo, Bob Hall, and Kevin Dzuban. Yes, the title of this story is a sound effect! Bill Mantlo was the original ROM scribe so I assume this tale is on target for that character, but never being much of a ROM fan I really can’t judge. Interesting bit at the end where Ben firmly declares he prefers being a monster to his human form.

#74 The Puppet Master in “Christmas Peril!” by Marc Gruenwald, Frank Springer, and Chic Stone. A reformed Puppetmaster crashes the Fantastic Four’s Christmas party, bums a flight to east Europe, and then everyone gets chased around by giant toys. Yeah, it’s not so great, but it has Bova in it and I like freaky cow-headed women. Too much information?

#12 Iron Man in “The Stalker in the Sands!” by Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and Vinnie Colleta. Potentially interesting pairing of Ben and Iron Man is undermined by a poor villain in Prester John, plus this issue is from the unfortunate “Iron Man has a nose” period, which is distracting.

all-out ACTION as you’ve never seen it before … because Iron Man has a NOSE!

#59 The Human Torch in “Trial and Error,” by Wolfman/Macchio, Chic Stone, and Al Gordon. Ben and Johnny have a couple nice scenes together, but the plot — about a guy who wants to scratch silly things off his bucket list before he get married, like being a cowboy or a fireman — is as weak as it sounds. New York’s Twin Towers are a prominent location.

#30 Spider-Woman in “Battle Atop Big Ben!” by Marv Wolfman, John Buscema, and Pablo Marcos. Was delighted to see John B’s name on the mast-head, but this was one of John’s lesser efforts, and the tale afforded little opportunity for Ben to interact with Spider-Woman, who is a mind-controlled pawn of HYDRA in this story.

#95 The Living Mummy in “The Power To Live … The Power To Die …” by David Anthony Kraft, Alan Kupperberg, and Jon D’Agostino. Alicia is possessed by an Egyptian hat and it’s off to Egypt to battle a maniac and watch the Living Mummy shuffle through the story. A typically screwed-up later Two-In-One story, but memorable because DAK writes a couple crisp lines for Ben, and Alicia spends most of the issue swooping around in an Egyptian slave girl outfit, and she looks kind of hot.

whoa, Alicia … hubba-hubba!

#67 Hyperion in “Passport to Oblivion” by Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, Ron Wilson & Dave Friends. The Thing misunderstands Alicia, feels sorry for himself, and kind of walks through a story that is more about a frustrated romance between Hyperion and Thundra than a Ben Grimm team-up.

#33 Modred the Mystic in “From Stonehenge … With Death!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. A murky story that wraps up the storyline that saw Ben and Alicia visiting England, concluding with their memories of the last several issues being wiped from their minds (it would be a cheap shot to suggest the reader might be afforded the same dignity). The tale is rescued a bit by decent characterization for Modred, who pulls off a scene or two in battling a group of elementals entering our world through Stonehenge.

#71-72 Mr. Fantastic and The Inhumans in “The Cure” and “Might of the Maelstrom” by Gruenwald/Macchio, Ron Wilson, and Gene Day/Chic Stone. A leaden and confusing two-part tale with Reed Richards curing the captives of Hydro Base with a Terragen-mist derivative that ropes in a dull Inhumans villain for some forgettable action. Heavy continuity employed to answer questions no one asked in the first place.

#24 Black Goliath in “Does Anyone Remember … The Hijacker?” by Bill Mantlo, Jim Shooter, Sal Buscema, and Pablo Marcus. A thoroughly by-the-numbers superhero effort, answering it’s own question with a forgettable villain.

#31 No real guest-star, though Spider-Woman continues her appearance from the previous issue in “My Sweetheart — My Killer!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Sam Grainger. Alicia is turned into a giant spider creature by HYDRA, and Ben must reluctantly fight her. Ehh.

#23 Thor in “Death on The Bridge to Heaven,” by Bill Mantlo & Jim Shooter, Ron Wilson, Marie Severin, and Pablo Marcos. Continues the Thor tale from the previous issue, overstaying its welcome. Marie Severin is credited with an “assist” on this issue which I think is limited to spot help on certain panels — I couldn’t identify a page that seemed especially her style.

#32 Invisible Girl in “And Only The Invisible Girl Can Save Us Now,” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. As Wolfman continues his run the book has become a team-up series in name only. The Invisible Girl appears briefly at the end of this tale to subdue Alicia, who has become a giant spider-creature. I’m sure this continuity seemed like a good idea at the time, but it works against the novelty value of seeing Ben teamed with a fresh new character each month.

#27 Deathlok (and Nick Fury) in “Day of the Demolisher!” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. Pretty much everything touched by Deathlok’s troubled continuity turns to mush, and this story is no exception, as Deathlok is brought into our time and forced by the Fixer and Mentallo to attack Jimmy Carter at his Inauguration. Ben and the Fantastic Four put a stop to it, but there’s scant opportunity for Ben to interact with Deathlok save by pounding on him a time or two. Cameo appearance by the Impossible Man …

this explains a lot about Carter’s presidency

#98 Franklin Richards in “Vid Wars,” by David Michelinie, Ron Wilson, and Frank Giacoia. A plot-heavy contrivance where Ben and Franklin after transported to a world that mimics a popular video game, and Franklin’s game-playing savvy proves critical to the resolution. The video game stuff has not aged well.

#81 Sub-Mariner in “No Home For Heroes!” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Tom DeFalco writes crappy expository superhero dialogue, but it kind of works for Subby and MODOK, who is here working on some kind of biological weapon.

#78 Wonder Man in “Monster Man!” by Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. One of those sure-to-be-lame stories where the supervillain dupes our hero into an ambush on a movie set with a promise of fame and riches. You know … even Doctor Doom couldn’t pull that one off, and this issue’s villain is just a narcissistic movie producer (aren’t they all?). Decent characterization for Wonder Man.

#44 Hercules in “The Incredible World of Brother Benjamin J. Grimm,” by Marv Wolfman, Bob Hall, and Frank Giacoia. A forgettable team-up with the Thing and Hercules against gods and monsters is enlivened by a framing device where Ben narrates his tale to a pack of restless kids.

#87 Ant Man in “Menace of the Microverse,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. The less-interesting Scott Lang Ant Man pursues a shrinking Ben into a microverse where he is just fine, thank you, hanging out with the leggy queen of the microscopic realm. Our hero wears armor and fights in an arena but it’s all very by-the-numbers and Wilson’s pencils are especially perfunctory here.

#25 Iron Fist in “A Tale of Two Countries” by Marv Wolfman, Ron Wilson, and Sam Grainger. Marv Wolfman starts a not-terribly-distinguished run on Marvel Two-In-One with a tale of Ben and Iron Fist battling an island full of martial arts maniacs (that isn’t nearly as exciting as it sounds). Awkward art from Ron Wilson doesn’t help. At least we learn that Ben is a N.Y. Jets fan.

#35 Skull the Slayer in “Enter: Skull The Slayer And Exit: The Thing” by Marv Wolfman and Ernie Chan. Guest artist Chan is a good fit for the barbarians and dinosaurs on offer here, but Skull the Slayer is a hopeless character, with a tedious supporting cast that I wanted to see fed to the thunder lizards. To be fair, this was one of those cases where Two-In-One was used to wrap up the story from a cancelled book, which is never ideal — and for a compelling case why Skull deserves our respect, read this excellent post from Diversions of the Groovy Kind. And you can read the whole issue over at Mars Will Send No More!

#82 Captain America in “The Fatal Effects of Virus X,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Despite the title, MODOK’s Virus-X isn’t fatal so much as it gives Ben a temporary case of the uglies, which gives him an excuse to go all woe-is-me-I’m-an-orange-monster again. DeFalco is especially expository here — there’s actually a panel where MODOK’s chamber is being flooded by seawater, and MODOK says, “Aayyeee! The frigid waters of Antarctica — flooding the chamber!” Thanks for clearing that up for us. Cap kicks some butt and don’t-call-me-Black-Goliath (Giant Man) acts like a loser.

#76 Iceman in “The Big Top Bandits,” by Tom DeFalco, David Michelinie, Jerry Bingham, and Chic Stone. Has a Marvel Universe trip to the Big Top ever NOT resulted in an encounter with the Circus of Crime? Worst … supervillains … ever!

#14 Son of Satan in “Ghost Town” by Bill Mantlo, Herb Trimpe, and John Tartag. Another suicide mission by author Bill Mantlo, as he tries to make sense of Ben Grimm and Daimon Hellstrom in a ghost town adventure. Mantlo deserves a lifetime achievement award for making the best of a bad hand with these Two-In-One assignments.

#83-84 Sasquatch and Alpha Flight in a two part story by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Without John Byrne at the helm, Alpha Flight is kind of … boring. And not just in a relentlessly decent, good-hearted Canadian way, either.

#85 Spider-Woman in “The Final Fate of Giant-Man,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. The Bill Foster Giant-Man nearly dies of audience indifference; doesn’t. Features giant robot gorillas and Spider-Woman is kind of foxy but still a hopeless issue.

#18 The Scarecrow in “Dark, Dark Demon-Knight” by Bill Mantlo & Scott Edelman, Ron Wilson, and Mooney-Adkins. A continuity-heavy story featuring The Scarecrow (later known as Straw Man), who previously appeared in Dead of Night #11 and Marvel Spotlight #26. Ben was always a poor fit for these supernatural stories and this issue is no exception.

wanna bet, Bozo?

#17 Spider-Man in “This City — Afire!” by Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema, and Mike Esposito. Gets off to a confusing start, continuing Spider-Man’s story from previous issues of Marvel Team-Up, while itself being a continuation of a forgettable issue of Two-In-One. Sal Buscema dutifully reproduces Ron Wilson’s terrible Allosaurus in a flashback scene. Kind of fun watching Spidey try to deal with a volcano emerging from the Hudson River.

#49 Dr. Strange in “Curse of Crawlingswood,” by Mary Jo Duffy, Alan Kupperberg, and Gene Day. Ben is cast in a gothic mystery — with a creepy town, a shadowy mansion, and a woman with a haunted past — but it just doesn’t work. Dr. Strange is at best a remote presence.

#80 Ghost Rider in “Call Him … Monster” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Ghost Rider appears to have fully surrendered to his Satanic side and really cuts loose by violating the vehicle code, and laughing “Ha Ha Ha” (no, really, he goes “Ha Ha Ha”) just to prove he means it. Is there no bottom to his fiendish depravity?

#39 The Vision (with as much page time given to Daredevil and Yellowjacket) in “The Vision Gambit” by Roger Slifer, Ron Wilson, and Pablo Marcos. A wordy and convoluted story where the Mad Thinker uses a hypnotized Ben Grimm to battle the Vision.

#16 Ka-Zar in “Into The Savage Land” by Bill Mantlo, Ron Wilson, and Dan Adkins. The usual Savage Land dinosaur hi jinx, featuring the most poorly-drawn Allosaurus of all time.

#97 Iron Man in “Yesterdaze!” by David Michelinie, Ron Wilson, and Jon D’Agostino. Film Producer Ted Silverberg wasn’t boring enough the first time around back in issue #78, so he’s back — and this time he’s menacing Ben and Iron Man with holographic dinosaurs. Tony Stark is off his game by failing to score with Bo Derek in her makeup trailer.

#46 Hulk in “Battle In Burbank,” by Alan Kupperberg, and Chic Stone. Kupperberg both writes and pencils here, and somehow manages to make a dull Thing/Hulk issue. It would be enough to let the two pound each other for twenty pages but instead there’s a tired plot revolving around Ben’s jealousy over the success of the Hulk television show, and by the time the (entirely inadequate) action begins, we just want it to be over. Decent cover, though.

#36 Mr. Fantastic in “A Stretch In Time,” by Marv Wolfman and Ernie Chan. Continues the tale from issue #35 with more dinosaurs, and more Skull the Slayer, but now the action shifts to the present day and Mr. Fantastic gets to wrestle the stray Pterodactyls that pursued Ben and company back from the prehistoric past. Giving Skull the Slayer a single issue of Two-In-One was a dubious decision, and spinning him out into a second issue was a capital crime. Read it at Mars Will Send No More!

#91 No guest star in “In The Shadow of the Sphinx,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Jon D’Agostino. The Sphinx is supposed to be silent and enigmatic but this version bores us with his origin story, wrestles with Ben, then flies away in a pyramid. Whee.

#90 Spider-Man in “Eyes of the Sorcerer” by Jan Strnad, Alan Kupperberg, and Jim Mooney. A Renaissance Faire wizard is possessed by evil spirits and runs amok. Even before the guy in the bad beard starts flying around, Peter Parker keeps forgetting he’s on a date with the forgettable Debra Whitman.

#79 Blue Diamond in “Shanga, The Star-Dancer,” by Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, and Chic Stone. Tom DeFalco turns in the worst story of his execrable run, pitting Ben against an outer space ballerina who twirls around and reminds everyone how superior she is. Senior citizen Blue Diamond throws one punch and has a heart attack. Worst-Guest Star-EVAR! Blue Diamond is changed into a diamond creature (IRONY!) and then leaves Earth with Shanga, hopefully plunging directly into the sun.

straight into the heart of the sun, please!

#70 No guest star at all in “A Moving Experience,” by Gruenwald & Macchio, with art by Mike Nasser and Gene Day. No one for Ben to team with, crappy bad guys, and inferior art make for the poorest issue of Two-In-One … and believe me, if it’s worse than a Tom DeFalco issue, it must be one for the ages!

Phew! There you have it … and thanks for sticking with me through the longest Longbox Graveyard to date! Do you agree with my assessments, or have I been too tough on the bashful, blue-eyed Thing? Have I unjustly excoriated your favorite issue of Two-In-One? Sound off in comments, below … where every missive receives an answer, and it’s always Clobberin’ Time!

NEXT WEDNESDAY: #64 Guide To Comics Bargains On eBay

Super-Diva Team-Up

Longbox Graveyard #48

Super-villains should rule the world.

It’s simple math. There are more super-villains than there are superheroes. A lot more.

Every superhero has an arch-nemesis. Some — like Spider-Man and Batman — have dozens of them. And every hero has a host of lesser villains that pop up, time and again, to give them grief. Even when heroes band together, all they get are more villains! When the Avengers Assemble they don’t catch a break — they have to contend with the likes of Count Nefaria, Ultron, Kang the Conquerer, and Korvac in addition to the villain-of-the-week in their normal books!

The bad guys must outnumber the good by 25:1 — maybe more! If the villains ever get on the same page, the world is doomed. So why hasn’t it ever happened?

Super-Villain Team-Up tells us why: super-villains are divas.

Super-villains argue over everything! Whether they should team-up in the first place, what their goals should be, who should be the boss.

They’re touchy, too. Very prideful, these super-villains. The headlining alliance of Super-Villain Team-Up between Dr. Doom and the Sub-Mariner falls apart on every other page in this book, largely because neither man can accept that they need the other.

And they’re mistrustful. It’s a staple of the Marvel Universe that heroes go brain dead when they run into each other, and slug it out for a few pages before they remember they’re on the same side. The bad guys have that same dynamic in spades.

Add to this their poor PR instincts — self-identifying in groups like The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and The Masters of Evil — and I guess we can conclude that super-villains are their own worst enemies.

So, too, was Super-Villain Team-Up its own worst enemy.

There’s a kernel of a cool concept in this book — late 1970s Marvel super-villains chewing the scenery and battling the world (and each other) for global domination. At it’s best, Super-Villain Team-Up is full of Grand Guignol and low-stakes action, like an all-villain WWE wrestling match where you can’t predict the outcome. For the most part, though, Super-Villain Team-Up is an incoherent mess.

Many of Marvel’s books had rotating creators through the seventies but Super-Villain Team-Up must set some kind of record. In seventeen regular issues — and two Giant Size editions — this book had an astonishing sixteen different creative teams! That’s right, almost more creative teams than there were issues published! That’s quite a trick. Take a deep breath and try to read them out all at once …

Roy Thomas/John Buscema, Thomas/Larry Lieber, Thomas/Mike Sekowsky, Tony Isabella/George Tuska, Isabella/George Evans, Isabella/Sal Buscema, Jim Shooter/Evans, Bill Mantlo/Herb Trimpe, Steve Englehart/Trimpe (for three whole issues — stability!), Englehart/Keith Giffen (so much for stability), Mantlo/Shooter (now on pencils!), Mantlo/Bob Hall (another streak of three!), Mantlo/Giffin, Mantlo/Hall (they’re back … But now the book is cancelled!), then Mantlo/Hall again as they finish off the series in Champions #16, but wait the book is back from the dead a full year later with a reprint of Astonishing Tales #4-5 by Lieber/Wally Wood, then finished out with a two-part Red Skull story by Peter Gillis/Carmine Infantino and Gillis/Arvell Jones!

Phew! They should have called this book Super-Bullpen Team-Up for all the guys that pitched in on the series. And don’t even ask about the inkers on this book!

With the revolving door of creators spinning off its hinges it’s no wonder the book jumps the rails almost from the outset.

In a confusing start to what would always be a confusing series, Super-Villain Team-Up launched with a pair of Giant Size issues that stitched together new material and reprints to explain how Doctor Doom survived some death trap in the pages of Fantastic Four, then was rescued by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who was bitter over cancellation of his own book and the nerve gas that has rendered his dull, fishy Atlantean subjects unconscious.

After arguing for a couple books about who should be the boss and if they even need to be a team (pausing for multiple flashbacks and a revolt of Doom’s androids), the two kinda-sorta agree that it might be cool to conquer the world together.

But first, the most villainous menace of them all — backstory!

Marvel was pretty good about finishing out stories from cancelled books, but Super-Villain Team-Up went overboard trying to wrap up the loose ends from Sub-Mariner’s book, which bit the dust after issue #72. Were you clamoring for more Hydrobase Amphibians, Octo-Meks, Attuma, Dr. Dorcas, Men-Fish, and Ikthon? Neither was anyone else — but that’s what we get, as Namor is fish-slapped around by his C-level rogue’s gallery for most of the (non-Giant Sized) first issue of the run, giving Dr. Doom the opportunity to intervene and seal his alliance with Sub-Mariner. But nothing lasts forever — or even for an issue or two in this book — and no sooner have Doom and Subby put paid to Namor’s dull opponents than Doom and Namor are at each others throats again. Doom disables Namor’s pimp suit and robs him of his ability to live outside of water, then bombards Atlantis for good measure, winning a vow from Namor to serve him.

As the writers come and go, the story makes less and less sense. Doom is captured, somehow, by the Atlanteans, while Namor is smuggled out of Latveria by the Circus of Crime (!). A cross-over with the Avengers makes things even more confusing. And don’t even ask about the inexplicable guest appearance from Deathlok’s Simon Ryker in issue #4, or the most shocking guest-star of all … Henry Kissinger!

The book gets its feet back under itself around issue #10, when the Red Skull joins the cast. A sure way to make Dr. Doom seem like a swell guy is to match him against someone more evil, and there’s no one more evil than the Red Skull. The series peaks in issue #12. Forget the details and the backstory — here’s the setup. The Red Skull has taken advantage of Doctor Doom’s apparent death to fill the power vacuum in Latveria, building an orbital death ray using Doom’s technology and occupying Doom’s throne himself! After a preliminary battle, the two move to the moon … and here, we see the promise of Super-Villain Team-Up fulfilled at last, as Doctor Doom and the Red Skull engage in hand-to-hand battle on the surface of the moon!

We get this …

… and this …

… and this …

… and THIS!

(And you can see a lot more of Super-Villain Team-Up #12 over at this entry from the highly-recommended Diversions of the Groovy Kind).

After the moon story we got a pretty good wrap-up to the book’s long-running Doom/Subby story (which you can read in it’s entirety in my guest post over at Mars Will Send No More) and then a Twilight-Zone style tale where Doctor Doom had conquered the world with an invisible gas, but the victory rung hollow because no one was aware of his triumph. It was a gimmicky story, but still entertaining, and was further evidence this book had finally found its way.

But by then of course it was long past too late for this crazy concept of a book. An orphan, bi-monthly book in an era where Marvel would cancel a comic without a second thought, the odds were always against Super-Villain Team-Up, and the rotating creative teams, changing focus, and erratic publication schedule were too much for the poor book to bear. The series was cancelled, only to inexplicably reappear a year later with a Red Skull story that was frankly a bit too grim, with Herr Skull and Hate Monger (nee Hitler) lording it over their own private concentration camp.

And then the book was done for good. It’s a shame, as I still like the concept and it fit the late-1970s Marvel editorial approach well. The premise is too goofy to work under the current grim-and-gritty Marvel editorial style (and a 2007 attempt to resurrect the series under Modok was scuttled after a half-dozen issues). I suppose the miracle isn’t that the book was ever any good, but that it existed at all.

At least we got some groovy covers, like …

… and …

… and this timeless image of Doom über alles.

To generalize, and putting on my Goldilocks wig (DON’T try to imagine that!), I can say that the Giant Size books and issues #1-11 were too silly, issues #16-17 were too serious, and issues #12-14 were just right. It was with issues #12-14 (all scripted by Marvel’s jack-of-all-books, Bill Mantlo) that the series dialed it in right for me — these issues were all about melodramatic villains chewing the scenery and beating the crap out of each other. It’s a bumper crop of awesome, highlighted by Doctor Doom stomping around, talking about himself in the third person, showing off a never-ending supply of gadgets and acting all noble and Bond-villain smooth. If the earlier issues had adopted a similar tone, and treated my old favorite Namor with the same aplomb … ah, what might have been!

In a previous column I said it was rare to find a genuinely dreadful 1970s Marvel book … and Super-Villain Team-Up might be the exception that proves that rule. I love those late Mantlo issues enough that I won’t “Fail” the book like I did John Carter, or demolish it with a “D” as I did Deathlok. Super-Villain Team-Up earns a passing grade — but just barely, and only because Doom is giving me a hard stare!

(And no one wants to disappoint a super-diva!)

The Micronauts

A long time ago and in a galaxy far, far away, there was a space opera adventure full of thrilling daring-do, with larger-than life villains and swashbuckling heroes battling across the cosmos to determine the fate of a stellar empire. In the bad old days of 1979, I went mad tracking down every film, book, and comic I could find about that fantastic new universe.

Micronauts … was not that universe, but it did help feed the hungry wolf of my under-served Star Wars obsession. Now, decades later, Star Wars is thoroughly over-served, and it is Micronauts that intrigues me. Micronauts was the Little Space Opera That Could, a licensed book that punched far above its weight and was a much better read that it had any reason to be.

Micronauts is the kind of book that’s right in my wheelhouse for Longbox Graveyard. I have fond memories of the book, I own a pile of issues, and they’re of no particular worth to anyone but me. But unlike many books in my Accumulation, something about this series fired my imagination — when I found them in the Longbox Graveyard, it was, “Oh, cool!” and not, “Oh, no!”

That nostalgia was amply rewarded, for the first dozen issues or so.

I admire Bill Mantlo and Michael Golden for bringing their A-game to what could have been a desultory, marketing-driven comic adaptation of an obscure Japanese toy series. The book had no shortage of enthusiasm, and while Micronauts wasn’t quite the minor space opera classic I remembered, it was still a fun read.

Micronauts followed the adventures of a rag-tag group of rebels fighting to free their homeworld from the villainous Baron Karza, who ruled through terror and evil science. The series had robots, aliens, spaceships, mysticism, a little romance, and a surprising amount of violence. The big reveal was when these heroes escaped to our world from the “microverse” and turned out to be the size of toys …

… and that’s where the series struggled. When Micronauts was two-fisted sci-fi pulp with Body Banks and Dog Soldiers, I was all in. But when our heroes were menaced, Land of the Giants-style, by giant puppies, well …

In 1979, though, I thought the book was awesome, dude! I was seventeen and buying comics with my own money. I had a job and would soon be dropping out of school. (Yeah, comics taught me well.) My mind was open and hungry for adventure. Star Wars was still cool and I was young enough to embrace space opera tropes.

I fell in love with Micronauts from the very first page.

I still love that page.

Pretty much everything I wanted was here. Ray guns, princesses, aliens, spaceships. And that juxtaposition of horses and science fiction! Micronauts promised a sword & planet adventure in the tradition of John Carter of Mars. Everything here had been done better by George Lucas (and Jack Kirby did it better than all of them), but starved as I was for space opera in those pre-home video days, this book didn’t have to be Mr. Right. It was enough to be Mr. Right Now.

And it got many things right.

That first issue, especially, was magic stuff, sweeping us up in a world of familiar surprises, peopled by unabashed Star Wars archetypes mixed up in a galactic rebellion tinged with undertones of eugenics and religious fundamentalism. The villains sneered, the heroes acted heroic, and everything moved at a breakneck pace. It was a breathless thrill ride that also marked the high point of the series.

(And you can read issue #1 in it’s entirety over at Mars Will Send No More!)

Marvel had a long tradition of mixing cosmic superheroes with mundane, earth-based adventure, but I thought Micronauts lost it’s mojo when hammered into the same world as the X-Men. It was the Microverse I wanted to explore — not Florida! But I gather “pure” science-fiction books were the kiss of death, sales-wise, in those pre-direct market days, and so Micronauts saw its sometimes-compelling space opera derailed, time and again, by weak “toys in peril” stories that only served to diminish the book.

Michael Golden’s career was just getting started with this book, but his unique style still set him apart from most everything else Marvel was publishing in 1979. His work was fresh, clean, and imaginative. Golden’s pencils could be primitive in places but were so full of joy and motion that they were impossible to resist, particularly when inked by pro’s pro Joe Rubinstein.

The writing was no better or worse than most Marvel comics of the era, and Bill Mantlo got extra points for godfathering the series — without him, we wouldn’t have Micronauts at all. But the series was very much a product of its age. Mantlo’s scripts were enthusiastic and his plots were imaginative, but his dialogue was expository and his grim-toned captions got tiresome. A few bravura flourishes stood out — like when our characters (and their word balloons) went tumbling and had to be be read upside-down — but for the most part, this was straight-forward Marvel-style storytelling.

The characters were a mixed bag. What at the time seemed inspired by Star Wars today reads as third-rate Star Wars (which by my math makes it twice as good as Phantom Menace).

Commander Rann was a stiff, make no mistake, a knock-off of Vance Astro from the original Guardians of the Galaxy (!), and Princess Mari and the robots were little better. All these years later I did still like Bug and Acroyear — they’re one-note characters, but it’s a good note. (Pretty much alone of this crew, Bug would escape the series to a continuing role in the Marvel Universe). Among the bad guys, Baron Karza was properly operatic, seeking to rule an entire universe (microverse!) through the promise of eternal life. Sure, Karza was a bargain basement Darth Vader … but it was weird and wonderful beyond measure when Karza changed shape and stomped around as black armored centaur. (Try to answer that, Anakin!)

In 1979, this book was my monthly ticket to a space opera world that excited my sensibilities. Reading Micronauts in 1979 felt like you were part of secret club. It was easy to imagine that regular comics readers were dismissive of Micronauts because of it’s toy license premise, and to feel like you had discovered some unique little jewel.

Maybe no one was watching closely. Maybe no one had any expectations at all. And maybe because of that, Micronauts felt like a book where anything could happen. That’s the paradox of Micronauts — with its stock characters and space opera cliches it managed to feel like one of the freshest books of its time. Imaginative, adventurous, and fun, it was the first book I took off my reading stack, and with every glimpse of the world and characters I wanted to know more, go there, be a part of this crazy thing (at least until those damn toys came to Earth). Micronauts may have been a joke … but no one told Micronauts. It pushed past parody, past pastiche. This book just went out and had fun each month and didn’t worry what might happen next.

Decades later, I can’t mount much defense for this book. From the imaginative explosion of that first issue, things spiraled down quickly. Our heroes came to Earth, discovered they were toy-sized, fought dogs and cats and Man-Thing (Man-Thing??). The series picked up a bit when it returned to the Microverse and the rebellion against Baron Karza got rolling, and the first year of the series did come to an appropriately apocalyptic conclusion, with space fleet battles, living planets, fratricide, and wholesale slaughter of prisoners. But really, this was a pretty ridiculous book, and if it wasn’t freighted with nostalgia I wouldn’t have made it through re-reading the first dozen issues.

It’s too bad I didn’t like these books more, but not every Longbox pulled from the Graveyard is filled with rubies. I doubt I’ll read Micronauts again, but I still rescued, bagged, and boarded the first dozen issues. That’s as far as Michael Golden went with the book, and that seemed a good place to step off.

Those issues are probably in their bags to stay.

But I’d regret selling off my Micronauts. So stay they will.

  • Title: The Micronauts
  • Published By: Marvel Comics, 1979-1986
  • Issues Rescued From The Longbox Graveyard: #1-12, January-December 1979
  • LBG Letter Grade For This Run: C

NEXT WEEK: #3 The Accumulation

Longbox Graveyard #2: The Micronauts

Originally Published June 29, 2011

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