Monday, June 17, 2013

1980: Marvel's Two Writing One part IV: Heavy Is The Snake Head That Wears The Crown

By Jef Willemsen (

One of Marvel's biggest 80s events has to be 1989's company wide crossover Atlantis Attacks, in which the elder god Set tried to take over the Earth. As we'll discover in today's entry, a  big part of the foundation for that massive storyline was laid by Ralph Macchio and Mark Gruenwald in the pages of Marvel Two In One. 

"Thus begins The Serpent Crown Affair"

And it sure proved an affair worth to remember... Mostly because Gruenwald and Macchio stuffed the three part Serpent Crown Affair with about as many references to old comics this side of Sligguth and Damballah. Which, to be fair, was Business as usual to them, really.

The saga started with a distraught Ben Grimm in the opening pages of # 64. He just couldn't understand why longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters had angrily slammed the door in his face when he lovingly told her it might be better if they split up, cos life without him would be a lot safer for her.

Ben wandered back to the Baxter building, eager to analyse his latest romantic misadventure with Mr. Fantastic. But before the two old friends could sit down to discuss womenfolk, they were interrupted by the arrival of doctor Walter Newell, oceanographer and parttime superhero.

And he brought company...

"He appears to be amphibian! But how?"

A fair question, but one that warrants a long backstory: doctor Croft was one of the folks unlucky enough to fall prey to the schemes of mad scientist Lemuel Dorcas. He had mutated Croft and several others into his 'Hydro-Men', an amphibian army designed to do his bidding. Namor and Stingray put a stop to this particular scheme, but Dorcas died before he was able to reveal the way to turn the Hydro-Men back to normal.

That's why Croft partnered with Walter 'Stingray' Newell, in hopes of finding a way of counteracting the effects of Dorcas' genetic handiwork. During their research, they made a startling discovery...

Yeahhh... guess Croft and the other Hydro-Men actually do look a lot like the aquatic Inhuman Triton. But just how is this possible? Triton's mutation is caused by the Inhuman's closely guarded Terrigen crystals, something Dorcas couldn't have had access to.

Figuring out the best way to resolve this mystery was to actually call the Inhumans, Mr. Fantastic arranged for a meeting between Triton, Stingray and Croft somewhere off the coast of California. Ben was sent along to pilot the FF's plane. 

But once they reached the coast, Stingray spotted an offshore Roxxon oil rig on a location known to be without any exploitable fossil fuel deposits. Curious and early for the meeting with Triton, the heroes decide to check the rig out, just as it got rocked by an explosion.

While Ben boarded the rig and was assaulted by some very unfriendly Roxxon Oil employees, Stingray checked out the damage and ran headlong into the folks responsible for the attack.

"Well, I'm in no mood to try undersea sign language... So I'll give them a message they're sure to understand... courtesy of my electro-blasts!"

You gotta love that classic Silver Age exposition... Having Stingray talk to himself, explaining what everyone can obviously figure out just by looking at Perez's pictures. They sure don't write em like this anymore.

But while Stingray was able to deal with the scuba diving henchmen, he proved no match for the real villains of the piece... Who knocked him out of the water, and straight back on to the rig before revealing themselves:

"Surrender... or face the full, unfettered fury of the deadly new Serpent Squad!"

Ahh, the Serpent Squad! Here's where Mark Gruenwald's affection for Sidewinder and his rabble of reptile based villains really started. They'd later feature heavily in his Captain America run, eventually even evolving into the Serpent Society, Marvel's first supervillain union of sorts. 

But, as the story in Marvel Two In One # 65 pointed out, they were here to retrieve something. And they were more than willing to tear through Ben and Stingray to get it.

"Either I do what you say... or else".

Sidewinder was already the shrewd business type. He simply forced Ben to surrender, tied him to the rapidly sinking oil rig and left him there to drown along with the still unconscious Stingray. Luckily, they had help.

"As a scientist, I should be able to master these controls and send forth the proper distress signal".

Three cheers for doctor Henry Croft, the (Hydro)-man who had to remind himself that he's a scientist before using the radio to signal for help. Help indeed was on the way, but since the Thing'ss still the star of the book, he was able to free himself and Stingray just in the nick of time. Resurfacing near Croft and the Pogo plane, they were met by the (Inhu)man they came out to see.

"Serpent crown! My old friend the Sub-Mariner once spoke of it!
According to Namor, it's one of the most powerful objects on Earth.

Thanks to Triton's timely and not at all unnatural sounding comments, everyone was now aware of what the Serpent Squad was after. Speaking of which... the villains were already hard at work at the bottom of the sea, digging up the artifact.

"I've found it!"

Gee, that didn't take long at all. In today's decompressed style comics, looking for the crown alone would have taken at least an issue. Not to mention the fight between the serpents and the sea faring heroes. In the end, Sidewinder teleported his squad and the crown to safety and dropped a depth charge to cover their escape.

Fortunately, it takes more than a little 'splosion to kill off the Thing and company.

"We blew it big this time, guys. And if that doodad he's carryin' has half the power Triton says... then I got a hunch the world's gonna pay fer this little disaster.

How's that for a dramatic cliffhanger?

Ben's ominous words led to issue # 66 and the resolution of the three part Serpent Crown Affair. After the Serpent Squad bolted, they had no idea how to track them or the crown. That's why Ben radioed the Baxter building, hoping Reed had any bright ideas. However, the help answered.

"The witch would be of much greater help to you than your comrades. I shall contact her for you."

Well, Agatha 'Bea Arthur' Harkness sure doesn't waste time, does she? But her idea was indeed a clever one. Y'see, the Scarlet Witch was actually in part responsible for how the Serpent Crown ended up on the ocean floor in the first place.

The crown isn't of this Earth. It's native to the Squadron Supreme's home dimension, where it corrupted the US president and the Squadron alike. After the Avengers travelled to their world to sort that mess out, Wanda brought the crown back with her.

But after the Living Laser got a hold of it, wounded her and nearly beat the team, the Vision decided in Avengers # 154, it would be for the best if just took the darn thing and tossed it into the Pacific. That way, no one could their hands on it ever again.

... That is, if you ignore the fact the bottom of the ocean is home to at least half a dozen war hungry waterbreathers... Like Attuma. Let alone the existence of submarines, like the one rapidly approaching Vision's position. Guess his android brain must have been on the fritz that day. 

Long story short... Agatha contacted Wanda, who used her mystical connection to the Serpent Crown to learn its current location: Washington DC. Ben and the others agreed to meet her there, right in time for the final showdown.

But just who ordered the Serpent Squad to attack the Roxxon oil rig and find the Serpent Crown?

"I am Hugh Jones, high apostle of the serpent lord Set... and chosen crown-bearer"

And also Hugh Jones, president of the Roxxon oil company. So for those of you keeping score: he paid mercenaries to blow up one of his multimillion dollar rigs that wasn't drilling for oil but actually looking for the crown too? Yeah... that makes a lotta sense.

At least his actual scheme was well thought out.

"I have permitted you to come this far so that I could make you my personal thralls."

And so he did. While Thing and Stingray were busy fighting the ghosts of crown bearers past, Wanda tried a clever ruse... By pretending to freely offer herself to Set and Jones, she hoped to wrest the crown from his head. But 'father Set' had already touched her mind and was privy to her plan. Jones forcibly tried to bend the Witch to his will, which led to a truly gorgeous two page spread by Jerry Bingham and Gene Day.

Despite her valiant effort, the Scarlet Witch was no match for the age old might of not one, but two Serpent Crowns. She was about to succumb, when Thing intervened and attacked Jones. Even being reverted to his human form didn't stop Ben from trying to yank off the crown... And effort is ultimately rewarded...

"Oh, for cryin' out loud! It's still alive! Attachin' itself ta my noggin'!"

A potentially disastrous scenario was about to unfold: how does one stop a Serpent Crown host who for all intents and purposes is pretty much invulnerable? Thank heavens Set had nothing on aunt Petunia's favorite nephew...

"The politicians are startin' ta wake up... and I don't even want 'em lookin' side-ways at the crown... 'specially during an election year.'

Smart thinking, Ben... We wouldn't want Ronald Reagan, winner of the 1980 presidential election, to fall under any... serpentine influences, now would we?

Mark Gruenwald has 'the Captain' fight 'Snake Reagan' in 1988's Captain America # 344

All kidding aside...After overcoming the Serpent Crown's influence, Thing handed the malignant artifact over to Project Pegasus. Where it would cause trouble again, as seen two years down the road in the Gruenwald penned Marvel Team Up Annual # 5. But that's a story for another day.

As is the question whatever happened to Henry 'Hydro-Man' Kroft. Triton made sure the good doctor did indeed reach the Inhumans, but we won't learn his final fate until # 71. Instead, part V of 
Marvel's Two Writing One will focus on several done-in-one issues, featuring such fan favorites as the Toad, Thundra and Angel...

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed this ATLANTIS ATTACK series as it played across several annuals that summer. Cool characters and especially STINGRAY who has one of the best costumes in comics.



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