Friday, May 17, 2013

1980-ish: Marvel's Two Writing One part I: One Tough Duo Act To Follow

By Jef Willemsen (

How do you top yourself?

That question must have plagued Marvel Two In One writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio once they finished up the book's biggest, and arguably most popular story arc of the late 1970s:
The Project Pegasus Saga.

This six part storyline featuring Thing and a whole slew of guest stars and villains ranging from Thundra, Deathlok, Wundarr, the Grapplers, Quasar and the enigmatic Nth Man, reached its epic climax in December of 1979...

But just as they put this defining storyline to bed on the cusp of a new decade, the two writers were faced with a simple, yet daunting challenge... What to do for an encore?

The answer to that became apparent in Marvel Two In One issue 60, cover date February 1980 (which meant an actual release date of December 1979, but I'm sure Jason will let that slip).

After a Thing/Human Torch fill in story plotted by Marv Wolfman in # 59, the Gruenwald/Macchio team was back in the saddle to deliver a tale that would prove a quintessential example of how their remaining twelve issue run would unfold.

Both Mark and Ralph loved established Marvel continuity. This meant they jumped at the chance to build on past stories, using them as stable foundations for future stories. Incidentally, their heavy use of continuity didn't bog down the story at all, if anything it reaffirmed time and again that these characters and stories were actually part of a shared universe.

Which is exactly what happened in Marvel Two In One # 60, which saw the Thing, the book's regular star, team up with the Impossible Man of all people.

The issue starts off with Ben getting ready to attend the opening of Alicia Masters' art exhibit. He's a bit introspective about their relationship, thinking she only loves him because she's blind. Contemplating such serious, he drops his boxers and goes in for a shower...

"I only wish I had the nerve to propose to her..."

Well, if one has the proverbial balls to go nude in a Comics Code approved book, proposing to your  blind paramour shouldn't be too much of a problem, Ben... If anything, it's not too likely she'll see it coming. But before the jokes get too offensive, let's meet this issue's actual comic relief.

"Greetings, Earthman. I come in peace".

Having the Impossible Man show up in the Thing's shower might seem a little odd and random, but 'Impy' had been a semi-regular in the monthly FF title during the late 1970s, forming close relationships with the team and becoming ahouseguest along with Tigra and Thundra, of all people. So, his sudden appearance actually builds on established continuity... especially when one considers Impy's motivation for bugging Ben: he was lonely.

And even that makes sense, if you remember Fantastic Four # 175 in which the world eater Galactus got tricked into consuming the Impossible Man's homeworld of Popup, leaving Impy the apparent sole survivor of his race. No stranger to loneliness himself, Thing decided to cheer the imp up by allowing him to come to Alicia's art show... If the shapeshifting alien promised not to cause any mischief and stay disguised as his top hat... And Impy manages to do just that. Well, almost...

"Did you say something, Ben?"

The Impossible Man quietly foiled an assault by the Thing's perennial adversaries: the Yancy Street Gang. But this issue's threats would prove to be a bit more serious than a random brick... No, things were about to get rockier.

The second Ben arrived at Alicia's show, he was a little stunned at the sheer magnitude of her work. All the major villains were there. Blastaar, Ultron, Diablo, the (wingless) Wizard and even Doctor Doom... Yet, there was also a supervillain who made an appearance in the flesh: 

"I... I know I haven't been the best step-father in the world...
But I do care for you... very, very much."

Accompanied by the police, Alicia's stepdad the Puppet Master attended her show. They had been pretty much estranged after Masters first used her as a pawn against the FF wayyy back in 1962's Fantastic Four # 8... Now, finally, he tearfully reached out to his stepdaughter who still loved him, despite everything. All in all a nice and welcome character moment, right before the real villains revealed themselves...

"It was the Thing who put us in prison... thus shall he be the first to fall!"

Wait, wha? You don't recognise this renowned threesome? Why, it's 'Handsome' Harry Philips, Bull Brogin and criminal fakir Yogi Dakor... better known as the Terrible Threesome, first appearing in 1964's Fantastic Four # 23. The Invisible Woman foiled 'Handsome Harry', the Torch faked out Yogi Dakor... and Ben 'only' took care of their strongman Bull. Yet, he has to deal with all three? Talk about your regular revoltin' development...

But, hey, sure, let's go with that... It's about to get weirder anyway.

Dakor, whose only superhuman ability used to be an immunity to fire, spent his time in prison learning how to psychically transplant a human mind into unliving objects (no really). This led to the Terrible Trio taking up residence inside the giant, granite forms of Doctor Doom, Blastaar and Diablo.

Still, despite their size, they proved rather breakable...

"Talk about your pansies! This pretty-boy just fainted dead away!"

The three baddies were quickly routed, just as the cartoon versions of Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio and artist George Pérez made an appearance. Here's them earlier in the same issue, indulging in a bit of decidedly tongue-in-cheek fourth wall breaking...

"I mean... how could we ever top that six-part 'Project Pegasus' story?"

Good question... Possibly, just by keep on keeping on... Keep mixing established continuity with new revelations, leading to resolutions and fresh story opportunities. And in the closing pages of # 60, they did just that when they had the Impossible Man realise the solution to his own loneliness...

"If I'm not happy as one... Why, I'll just become two and form my own mate!"

So, no sooner said than done...

"You are... beautiful! You're everything I want to care for and protect. We are one! Oboy!"

The Impossible Man and Woman deeply fell in love, right off the bat... Floating away to provide other writers with inspiration, like many of the Gruenwald/Macchio issues would. In this case, Mr. and Mrs. Impossible popped up two years down the road in the Chris Claremont penned Spider-Woman #45...

In this follow up story, Impy's wife left him after a fight and the green guy needed Spider-Woman's detective skills to  help track her down. Which led to a pretty fun caper, one that wouldn't have been possible if Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio hadn't set it up in Marvel Two In One. During their reign, the title truly became both the backbone and the central corner of Marvel Universe. Not bad for a third rate title.

So, that's the formula for the Gruenwald/Macchio Marvel Two In One era: obscure characters, a ton of continuity, new status quos and the charm of the ever loving blue eyed Thing.

The chemistry Ben has with his co-stars really sets the tone for the story, as we'll see in part II of Marvel's Two Writing One: "Pow, Bang, Zoom... Straight to the Moon...Dragon*."

*... With sincere apologies to the late great Jackie Gleason

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article and a good occasion to rediscover the entire storyline.
    By the way according to several sources on the Web the difference between cover dates and publishing dates was 3 months between 1973 and 1989 therefore Marvel Two-In-One 60 was already released in November 1979.



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