"Name That Doom!"
Steve Gerber-Sal Buscema/Mike Esposito
Just last week I reviewed a color Hulk story from the Rampaging Hulk magazine, but reprinted in Marvel's Essentials line. The results were not pretty. Nope - not pleasing to the eye aesthetically nor in terms of ease of reading. Today I'll rectify that situation with the good things the Essentials line could do.
Marvel Two-In-One #7 was among the first comics I can recall buying myself. I know I'd had comics since the time I was 5, and this one would have been for sale before I hit 8 1/2. So for the sake of argument, we can just assume this was probably in that first dozen or so books that I bought myself. When this was on the spinner rack, we lived in Milwaukee. There was a drug store in a shopping plaza about a four block bike ride from where we lived. I was allowed to pedal over there alone and search for comics. Think about that in today's society - when my own sons were 8 (and that would have been roughly around 2000), there is no way I'd have let them go to a shopping center alone. Times change. Anyway, what a great cover! At the time I knew the Thing from some Fantastic Four comics I owned, but I'm almost certain I'd not had any experience with the Executioner and the Enchantress. My Thor reading hadn't really taken off, and it would be almost a year until Giant-Size Avengers #5 landed (which I loved!). But the Valkyrie. She... I knew. Between a buddy and I, we had Defenders #s 13-19, #19 of which would have been on sale near the same time as this MtiO. So I was fully aware of her weird history and behavior (at times). What, then, was to keep me from purchasing this book? Nothing!
NOTE: Because of the thickness of the Essentials, I'll be using photographs from the story pages, rather than scans. Please excuse the distortions, due to the lack of flatness of the pages when attempting to take pictures. I know - 1st-World problems...
What do you get when you toss two Defenders, two renegade Asgardians, a celestial harmonica, a down-on-his-luck attorney, and the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing together in a comic? You get this stew of Steve Gerber weirdness! Landing smack in the middle of events taking place in MtiO #6 as well as the Defenders, we find a distraught Valkyrie, her biological father, Dr. Strange and the Thing working to secure a cosmic harmonica while the Enchantress and Executioner seek to steal it, and some Sal Buscema punches. It’s offbeat, full of wonderful characterization, and just good enough to leave the reader with a smile. Twenty-five cents well spent!The Good: Gerber writes these characters as we'd expect them to be written, and for me that's fulfilling an obligation. I've long advocated creators thinking of themselves as caretakers. Feel the need for life-changing plot points? I can roll with that. But make the characters recognizable through whatever illusion of change is crafted. Gerber's done that here. I have to say, on my recent re-read of this comic I was taken right back to when I was a 3rd grader and reading this for the first time. There was such a sense of scope to the story, and a real sense that I was happy to have been following Val's struggles with her identity in the pages of her regular Defenders mag. Because really, to have been dropped into the middle of this would not have been good. Granted, I didn't acquire and read MtiO #6 until years later, but there was enough of a recap in this issue that I could handle what had gone before with a little additional inferencing. But I loved that about the Marvel Comics of the Bronze Age, how neatly they were often woven together - there truly was a sense that you were missing out if you weren't up to speed on the happenings across the line.
How could anyone not count the Thing in their top 2-3 favorite characters? His larger-than-life personality, his craggy countenance, and his big heart are endearing. All of that's on display in this story, from his patience in working with Dr. Strange to his dedication first to Alvin Denton and then later to Denton's daughter, Barbara Norris - the Valkyrie. Ben didn't know the half of what had been going on for Val, but there he was in the thick of it all, trying to do the right thing. Ben Grimm's a man of principle and loyalty, and Gerber nails that here.
Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito turn in their usual above-average performance on the pictures. The one-page recap of previous events is nice, but the scene when the ol' cosmic harmonica comes into play is just a bit underwhelming. However, that scene is followed shortly by a nifty little slugfest between the Executioner and our hero, followed again a couple of pages later by that signature Buscema-blast (complete with a robust "It's Clobberin' Time!!"). Love it! I did like that, contributing to the comments I'd made above concerning Gerber's characterizations, Val and Dr. Strange looked just as a reader would have seen them in the Defenders of this vintage (also drawn by Sal but inked by Dan Green or Klaus Janson).
The Bad: So all praise being heaped, I have to admit I'm not the biggest Steve Gerber fan. He certainly was one of Marvel's top scribes of the 1970s, and I've enjoyed some of his work across multiple titles (MtiO, Man-Thing, etc.), but overall I find his writing on the cusp of my tolerance for the strange. I did not care for his Man-Thing stories that centered around the Nexus of Reality, and you can basically have the Marvel Presents Guardians of the Galaxy series. Despite my nostalgia on the re-read, I did have a bit of concern for that person who might have come to this as a single issue. It was confusing! There were quite a few plot points that were based on prerequisites in other comic books, and characters from three different pantheons (Defenders, FF, and Thor) all tossed together. Did Gerber make it work? Yes. Are my reservations perhaps misplaced? Everyone's mileage varies. I'll say again - I was glad that I'd been privy to the plotlines in the Defenders back in 1974, or I might have gone no further.
The Ugly: Nothing really to say here, other than to rip on last week's presentation of a color magazine in black and white, but shot from a color source. Yuck! Today's fare, apparently produced from original art or stats of that art, is fabulous. It's nice and clean, no muddiness anywhere. The Essentials is a perfectly acceptable way to read this material, when presented in this clean format.
BONUS: Here are three pages of original art from today's story, courtesy of the collectors at Comic Art Fans.