Wednesday, August 11, 2010

January 1973

Another of my favorite MTUs this time, a story I first read in one of those great, over-sized Marvel Treasury editions of the 1970s. I remember digging the art but realizing that Gil Kane’s work looked…different, little realizing he was being inked by Mike Esposito. Makes for an interesting combo, eh? And speaking of interesting combos, how about that Batman/Wonder Woman team-up? As I say there below, this one signals the end of the “mod” WW era – fascinating time; too bad the story was fairly lukewarm.

MARVEL TEAM-UP #6 4 ½ whiskers

DATE: January, 1973

TITLE: “…As Those Who Will Not See!”

STARS: Spider-Man & The Thing
VILLAINS: The Puppet Master & The Mad Thinker

WRITER: Gerry Conway
EDITOR: Roy Thomas

INKER: Mike Esposito

STORY: At the Baxter Building Ben Grimm, the Thing, discovers Spider-Man crouched over the insensate form of the Puppet Master and demands an explanation. Ben’s blind girlfriend Alicia Masters explains to the wall-crawler that the villain is her step-father while the Thing interrogates him about her blindness. With a small hope that Alicia’s condition may not be permanent the two heroes, the girl and the Puppet Master fly to his old lab in Pennsylvania. En route, the story of the Puppet Master’s guilt in the accident that stole his step-daughter’s sight comes out. At the lab, Spider-Man and the Thing are taken off-guard by security defenses while their prisoner slips away. Following him into the underground lair, the Puppet Master’s partner-in-crime is revealed: the Mad Thinker.

COMMENTS: Picking up moments after the end of the previous issue, with this story Conway attempts to impart some humanity into an otherwise base villain. The particulars behind Alicia’s blindness and the Puppet Master’s treachery are revealed here for the first time.

Spider-Man and the Thing will go onto many team-ups after this initial one, and though their relationship is characterized as a bit strained it’s not nearly as tenuous as that between Spider-Man and the Thing’s teammate the Human Torch. The web-slinger’s presence in the story is a bit odd, with only a brief comment by him about how he’d like to trust Ben Grimm and using the adventure as a way to gauge such possible trust.

The Mad Thinker’s been an opponent of the Fantastic Four almost as long as the Puppet Master, having first fought them in 1963’s FANTASTIC FOUR #15. His android servants change throughout the years but are usually gigantic and mute, such as the one in this story. The Thinker’s background has yet to be fully explored by writers and he remains a villain of unspecific power and motivation.

The team-up herein between the super-villains is atypical in that they share a laugh together but also typical in that the one betrays the other – the Puppet Master truly does love his step-daughter and when he perceives that she is threatened, he lashes out at his partner the Mad Thinker and brings their brief alliance to a ruinous close.

Conway’s story is strangely open-ended, offering a presumed suicide by the Puppet Master and no real explanation as to the supposed cure for Alicia.

THE BRAVE & THE BOLD #105 three whiskers

DATE: Jan-Feb, 1973

TITLE: “Play Now…Die Later!”

STARS: Batman and Wonder Woman

WRITER: Bob Haney
EDITOR: Murray Boltinoff

ARTIST: Jim Aparo

STORY: Mod Diana Prince, the de-powered Wonder Woman, plays duenna to a beautiful girl caught in the middle of a Latino war transplanted to Gotham. Batman believes he’s being targeted with an old con called the “Spanish Prisoner Game” but the San Sebastian nationals he’s keeping a close eye on might just be on the up-and-up, desperately seeking a ransom for their father, the guardian of a treasure that may tip the scales of the war.

COMMENTS: This issue coincided with the end of the “mod” Diana Prince era of Wonder Woman, which lasted five years total. Diana has a strange “guardian angel” in this story, an Amazon warrior who helps her with advice and even saves her life. This issue is also a good example of the type of sophisticated story Haney had achieved by this time, eschewing super-villains and world-busting threats and concentrating on street-level drama. Keep a look-out for a semi-truck with the name HANEY emblazoned on its sides.