Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

01 June 2012

Essential Marvel Two-in-One, v. 4

Collects: Marvel Two-in-One # 78-98 and 100 and Marvel Two-in-One Annual #6-7 (1981-3)

Released: January 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 608 pages / black and white / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785162841

What is this?: The final collection of Marvel Two-in-One, where Ben Grimm does his Thing thing: moping, clobberin’, being a softie.

The culprits: Writers Tom DeFalco, David Kraft, and others and artists Ron Wilson and Alan Kupperberg

Books like Essential Marvel Two-in-One, v. 4, are essentially review proof. If you’ve read the first three volumes of this series collecting the Thing’s team-up book, you’re probably going to read v. 4. If you haven’t read the first three, there’s little reason to start with v. 4, which completes the Marvel Two-in-One run. You could start here, though; Marvel Two-in-One was not known for its heavy reliance on continuity.

So instead of a review, I was going to write a short note on every issue in this book. I actually did it, too. And you know what? That was boring. So very, very boring. It’s not because v. 4 is boring … well, that’s not true. It is sometimes. But it isn’t always. And it isn’t bad. But it’s always overshadowed by its contemporaries. It’s aimless, as team-up titles tend to be — it’s hard to maintain a storyline when a new co-star has to be introduced every issue. I think the book’s real difficulty, though, is that it tries to follow in the Stan Lee / Jack Kirby Fantastic Four mold without having the inventiveness of either creator.

Essential Marvel Two-in-One, v. 4 coverThis isn’t to denigrate Tom DeFalco, who wrote fifteen of the 24 issues, or Ron Wilson, who drew twenty issues. You can occasionally see Kirby’s influence on Wilson bleed through the page, something that’s more obvious in black and white than in the colored art. DeFalco has always been a throwback, but writing a 1981 story in which MODOK and AIM create “Virus X” underscores how far he’s always been from the bleeding edge of comics.

Unfortunately, neither the DeFalco / Wilson team nor the fill-in creators can come up with any concepts that are even a pale shadow of the Lee / Kirby. Despite appearances by MODOK, Ultron, and the Red Skull, Ben is forced to beat up on a succession of sadsacks and never-weres. Shanga the Star-Dancer (a modern dancer with the power cosmic), Gamal Hassan / Nephrus (an Egyptologist who wants to become a god), yet another sub-atomic world … I enjoyed the re-use of the obscure Xemnu the Titan in #78, and the Word (a villain who can make anyone believe what he says, even if he tells the paralyzed to walk) is an amusing villain from #89 by writer David Anthony Kraft and artist Alan Edward Kupperberg. But when the title page of Marvel Two-in-One Annual #6 proudly announces Wilson created American Eagle, an Native American stereotype — er, hero — it says something, and it isn’t “The House of Ideas is alive and well.”

That’s not to say there aren’t some excellent comics in here. Annual #7, which features the Elder of the Universe Champion challenging the Marvel Universe’s heavyweights in boxing matches, is very good. (It’s even better when you read Champion's dialogue in Randy “Macho Man” Savage’s voice; Savage voiced “Rasslor” in a loose-but-awesome adaptation of this story featured in a “Dial M for Monkey” segment on Dexter’s Laboratory.) The other two are linked issues with the Sandman; in #86, he and the Thing share a beer, and the Thing decides to give him a chance to get his life straight. In #96, with the Thing incapacitated after the beating Champion gave him, Sandman becomes the villain the Mad Thinker prophecies will break the cordon of heroes protecting the Thing — and instead of killing the hero, Sandman brings him beer and cigars.

Despite these standouts, the Marvel Two-in-One concept was beginning to show signs of running out of steam. After #100, it was relaunched as The Thing, a straight Thing solo title, which was for the best; in the last ten issues, there are two stories with Ben fighting in Egypt (#91 and #95), neither of which has anything to do with the other. Two video game stories understandably pop up in a similarly short time frame (#94 and #98), and Ben should know better than to appear in TV or movies when he gets suckered into two TV related traps (#78 and #97) in this issue — and that’s without remembering that Namor suckered the Fantastic Four with a death trap movie deal in Fantastic Four #9. Even #96 is an homage to Fantastic Four Annual #3, when heroes tried to prevent villains from ruining Reed and Sue’s wedding. The book ends with a dystopic sequel to Marvel Two-in-One #50 … so yeah, it was time to wrap up the series.

(Oh, if you’re wondering, the silhouette on the cover — which is the cover from #91 — is the Sphinx, a Nova / Fantastic Four / New Warriors villain. It isn’t Batman, no matter how much we might want it to be.)

So: if you’re going to read this anyway, there are worthwhile stories in here. If you aren’t planning on reading it, well, good on you — there’s nothing here to make you change your mind … unless Ben Grimm waltzing through a Renaissance Fair excites you.

Rating: Fantastic Four symbol Fantastic Four symbol (2 of 5)

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