Thursday, June 20, 2013

1980: Marvel's Two Writing One part V: Toadies, Tiaras and Thundras... Oh my!

By Jef Willemsen (

In the fifth part of Marvel's Two Writing One, the writing duo of Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio decide to shake things up by doing several oneshots that wrapped up a number of long running threads. This resulted in stories featuring Thundra, the Angel, Hyperion and the Toad... Y'know, certified sales boosters.

"My name is Thundra, Sandman... not "crazy dame!"

Full disclosure: I love Thundra.

Don't ask me why, but I've been fascinated by this 23rd century alternate Earth uberfeminist ever since I first saw her in the pages of 
Fantastic Four # 148. For a character that hasn't appeared in more than 50 comics ever since her introduction back in 1972, Thundra's appeal has proven remarkably lasting. Heck, I cheered when she of all possible characters got introduced in the free Avengers Alliance game on Facebook.

But wait a minute... A tiara wearing, super powered princess from a world where women rule... using her durable, metal chain as her weapon of choice... That certainly has a familiar ring to it, now doesn't it?

Remind you of anyone?

Gruenwald and Macchio seemed to share this affection for Thundra and gave her a meaty role in their Marvel Two In One run. Their take on the character was a tragic one: she felt alone and adrift in this world, longing for the Thing's love but getting spurned by Ben at every turn. She lacked a purpose in life, and that's when she was contacted by the mysterious Nth Command. This shadowy cabal of business men promised Thundra a gift that would mean the world to her, if she helped destroy Project Pegasus during the appropriately titled Project Pegasus saga

In the end, Thundra sided with Ben and the others in defeating the Nth Man, but there was still the matter of the Nth Command and just what they promised Thundra. That was resolved in # 67.

Why, yes, that is Hyperion next to Thundra. Or, rather, *a* Hyperion. The history of this alternate reality Superman analogue is complicated at best. Suffice to say, he was recruited by the Nth Command to bring Thundra back so she could get her reward.

"I have been informed that you have a device which can return me to the alternate Earth that is my home."

Ah, so thát's what they meant with 'a gift that means the world'. Using the Nth projector, Thundra would be able to return to her home dimension. One has to wonder if the projector can also transport people through time, considering Thundra hails from three centuries in the future. 

But let's not get too nitpicky, it's commendable enough that Gruenwald and Macchio went through the effort to pick established characters. It would have been far easier to just come up with new ones, but they choose bespectacled business man Albert DeVoor, a Fantastic Four character involved with travelling to alternate realities... And the tiny scienitist is Abner Doolittle, better known as Brother Wonderful of the Night People, from Jack Kirby's seminal Captain America run.

Still, the story is a little odd. The Nth Command offers Thundra a trip home, free of charge. They're not making any demands or 'one final mission and you can go...' cliches. They even prove to her the process is safe when Doolittle uses the projector to pop into her dimension.

Yet, she grabs the device and attempts to take off with it, shooting everyone who stands in her way to lord knows where... Doesn't work on Hyperion, though.

"I'm faster than a speeding bullet!"

Careful there Hypes, you're dangerously close to committing a... super... case of copyright violation. 

The fight between Hyperion and Thundra eventually moves to the streets of New York, where... wouldn't ya know it... Ben Grimm just happened to walk by. But the Thing was in no mood for a fight. Back in issue # 64 he had broken up with his longtime girlfriend Alicia Masters because he feared for her safety. Realising what a fool he was, Ben went to her appartment to make up, just in time to see this:

"It's Alicia... But who's that guy with her? They're doin' a lotta laughing' an' lookin' at one another, real friendly"

Lookin' at one another? ... Erm, Ben, she's blind, remember? Still, let's get back to the fighting. While Ben does his best to hold off the vastly more powerful Hyperion, the Nth Command has sent some flunkies with high tech weapons to stop Thundra from escaping with the Nth Projector. It's an invaluable piece of equipment that should not be damaged in any way.

That's why they do this...

"Instantly, thousands of volts course through the grav-mesh, forcing the struggling Thundra helplessly to the pavement"

Yeah... thousands of volts usually tend to fry my equipment, though. Not to mention the amount of artificial gravity generated necessary to hold a super powered Femizonian down would be enough to crush any device. 

Ignoring that pesky bit of logic, the issue ends with Hyperion admitting he has feelings for Thundra, who is a little too busy setting up the Nth Projector to return her home... But not before saying goodbye to her unrequieted love.

"She's gone! I had my chance an' I passed it up. She slipped away, an' I just stood here and watched."

Sheesh, Ben... way to make it all about you. So you've lost two women in one day. Plenty of fish in the sea, right? That's why issue # 68 started with the Human Torch dragging Ben to a disco. After all, what better way to enjoy your newfound single status. Heck, Ben even showed up wearing a John Travolta Saturday Night Fever inspired outfit...

Only to feel sorry for himself once again and leave the dancefloor to get a drink at the bar. There, he ran into Warren Worthingon, better known as this issue's guest star: the high flying Angel.

"Mission has gone as programmed, master"

Warren and Ben get gassed and wake up in, as the cover blurb claimed, the dungeon of doom. Actually, that's not entirely inaccurate: the heroes were taken to the replica of Doctor Doom's Latverian castle the villain had built in the Adirondacks a few years ago. 

"You two have been brought here to play a game for the master's amusement. The game is somple: all you have to do is escape from this castle alive!"

But it wasn't Doom they were facing in this story that seems to have inspired slasher movie franchises like Hostel and Saw. Or even Arcade, who was already well known for toying with his victims before their inevitable termination. No, after smashing through weird traps, Thing and Angel finally came face to face with the big bad... Toad?

"The terrible Toad-King!"

After leaving the original Brotherhood of Evil Mutants where Magneto treated him like a joke, the Toad had been trying to prove himself as a man ánd a supervillain. He used the powers of the Stranger a while back in Avengers # 137, rechristening himself 'the Toad King' (that never stuck) and now was ready to make it big in the assassination business.

He had purchased all this equipment from a certain 'Mr. A' (for Arcade, obviously) who also helped him install everything... like those iron toadstools and the robot Scarlet Witch he had for a companion. Nah, that's not creepy at all.

Toad tried to kill Angel and Thing with all the gadgets he had equipped his mechanical swamp with... and he almost succeeded too, if not for one little telephone call.

"Uh, yes? But... you can't. I need time! You promised...! Hello...?"

Poor Mortimer, his financial backer Mister A wanted to get paid for services rendered... But Toad didn't have a proverbial pot to piss in, that's why he did the one thing a supervillain is never supposed to do... Cry. A lot.

"I've never been able to kill anyone, not even those who deserved it. I'm just a failure..."

Releasing his superhero captives, Toad is ready to give up... But the ever clever Angel had a great idea: you have a medieval style castle loaded with tons of robots and other animatronic figures, surrounded by pristine real estate... Why not make like Disney and open an amusement park?

No sooner said than done...

However, Toadland didn't exactly last very long. In May of 1981, the X-men fought Doctor Doom and Arcade there in Uncanny X-men # 145, while in November of that same year John Byrne had the FF taken there for their classic Liddleville simulation in Fantastic Four # 234's Terror In A Tiny Town.

From amusement park to existential death trap... Guess Walt Disney was right: "It's a small world after all..."

In part VI of Marvel's Two Writing One: The Guardians of the Galaxy, Mr. Fantastic and those other two...

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