Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Discount Bin Finds: Marvel Two-In-One #21

Anyone who has looked through my (now, admittedly sparsely updated) blog has probably seen that when I go discount bin diving, I tend to come up with a lot of team-up comics  Team-ups are, in a lot of ways, the perfect sort of comic book for a discoubt bin.  For one thing, most of them are self-contained, so you don't need to get lucky in order to get the whole story.  Secondly, the combination of two characters is often more interesting than either character on their own.  By this I mean that while I may not buy a comic starring, say, the Black Knight, but one starring the Black Knight teaming up Spider-Man I'd consider.

None of this is rocket science; Rick has been espousing these same virtues over at Mail It To Team-Up for years.

We can take this one step further when we consider that team-up books were used not-infrequently as showcases for less popular or new characters in order to give them a boost.  Which leads me to the topic of this post, Marvel Two-In-One #21, guest starring none other than the Man of Bronze, Doc Savage!  Marvel had scored the license to publish Doc's comic book adventures, and gave him a guest spot in MTIO to give his title a rub.  Of course, since Marvel no longer has that license, this issue is not found in the Essential Marvel Two-In-One v.1 collection, meaning the only way to read it is in it's original form.  See, "waiting for the trade" is not perfect!

Our story is a time-bender, as The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Thing and the Man of Bronze each deal with a similar threat four decades apart from one another.  In the present (that is, 1976), the Thing's workout in the Baxter Building is interrupted by the arrival of a Mrs. Lightner, who promptly faints.  "Meanwhile," back in 1936, Doc and his crew are also paid a visit by a Mrs. Lightner, who also faints upon entering.   The "modern" Mrs. Lightner, Janice, says she is Raymond Lightner's daughter, and having trouble with her twin brother Tom, while the "classic" one, Lucinda, says that Raymond is her husband, and that he has begun to fall off the deep end, including beating her, after she told him she was pregnant.  Seems that both father and son have become obsessed with a device Raymond built called the Sky Cannon, which would allow the user to draw power from the stars and transmit it into a human host!  This is punctuated when all of the lights in New York City go out in both eras -- even the stars.  

Ben and Johnny Storm head head out to investigate in the 70s, while Doc and his crew do the same in the 30s, but both find themselves blasted with the Sky Cannon -- and end up being pulled together in time to the Disco era!  But that's not all, as Raymond and Tom are both struck with the reflected Sky Cannon's beam, and end up merged together as a being named Black Sun.  After some quick introductions, the two groups face down Black Sun, with the Thing amazed that he is fighting beside the legendary Doc Savage.  But there is no time for that, as Black Sun's super-dense body deflects bullets, and his darkness blasts are able to knock out the Human Torch.  Thing gets himself clobbered, but Doc is able to figure out that Black Sun's powers weaken when the stars are not visible.  The two heroes are still outmatched, though, and Black Sun tries to absorb the entire cosmos... only to burn himself out and collapse.  The anomoly defeated, the temporal rift closes, and Doc Savage and his crew return to their time -- unfortunately too quickly for Ben to get an autograph.  

I've never really gotten into Doc Savage all that much, and I think that contributes some to this issue not totally working for me.  I can't help but think that this story would have been better served in a Giant-Size or Annual, where the seperate timelines could have been presented as seperate chapters, and then the actual team-up as the climax.  The last bit, with Thing and Doc together, is exciting and a lot of fun, but the setup is less successful at holding interest.  The art, by Ron Wilson and embellished by Pablo Marcos, is typical mid-70s Marvel fare, which is say nice but nothing superlative.  The first half of the book is split vertically (which is slightly distracting but nothing we haven't seen before), but then takes on a more cohesive look in the end, which helps out the composition a lot.  I think that Bill Mantlo did the best he could with this pairing, but ultimately it doesn't work out as well as it could due to the space and time restrictions.  

Of course, Doc Savage fans will probably want to seek it out just for the novelty, while Thing fans can safely pass on it if they are happy with their Essential collections.  Still, as an oddity, and a relatively rare team-up, it's worth checking out if you can find a copy.  

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