Wednesday, August 5, 2015

But We Haven't Ended the Story Yet!---Part 1

It's gotta be annoying for any writer involved in serial storytelling--regardless of the medium--to have a story suddenly cancelled before you finish wrapping things up.  That's happened a number of times in comic books--a series will be cancelled with plot points and character arcs unresolved.

Fortunately, when you are working within the boundaries of an established comic book universe, there can be an opportunity to tie up the loose ends of your story in another book.

That happened a couple of times in the 1970s within the Marvel Universe. In 1975, Marv Wolfman came up with the really nifty idea of tossing people back in time to the Age of Dinosaurs--through a Bermuda Triangle time portal that has also sent people from other time periods on the same trip. So the heroes not only had dinosaurs to worry about, but cavemen, Aztecs, alien robot Egyptians (it makes sense in context) and other bizarre dangers. I really need to review that alien robot Egyptian story one day.

Actually, the book's cool premise is spoiled by having three different writers during its short run, making it very inconsistent in theme and character development. It's largely a missed opportunity and it apparently didn't sell well. It was cancelled after the 8th issue. That by itself was a pity--the cool setting meant there was room for the book to grow into something better.

But it was also cancelled at a rather tense moment in the story--with the main characters captured by pterodactyl-riding Aztecs, who planned on giving them starring roles in their next human sacrifice.

Fortunately, the Marvel universe is full of people who do things like falling through time portals pretty much all the time.

Marvel Two-in-One #35 (January 1978) was written by Marv Wolfman, who used Ben Grimm to finish up Skull's story arc. Ben is asked by the Air Force to test-pilot a new jet. Ben promptly flies into a time portal no one had previously known about and is snatched out of the air by a whopping-big pterodactyl.

Ben finds himself stranded in the distant past, but is surprised to discover any number of fellow human beings nearby--including some people who are about to be sacrificed by Aztecs. Well, Ben doesn't "have ta know where I am ta know the diff between the good guys and the bad guys." (I love that line.) He pretty much rips the Aztec temple apart and everyone makes a break for it.

They soon come up with a plan--the plane that inadvertently brought Skull and his friends to the past will never fly again, but it might have parts that can be used to repair Ben's plane. A few dinosaurs have to be avoided before the parts are salvaged, but by the time we get a few pages into Marvel Two-in-One #36, the heroes are airborne and flying back through the time portal to Cape Canaveral. Unfortunately, a flight of pterodactyls being ridden by blood-thirsty Aztecs have followed them home.

Reed is at the Cape to meet them--he had come down from New York to investigate Ben's disappearance. In a Fantastic Four story arc running concurrently with these issues, Reed was losing his stretching powers. That comes into play here--as he has to endure a lot of pain to make his powers work well-enough to fight off the attacking monsters and protect bystanders.  But Reed is not known for giving up when people need him. The pterodactyls are captured and sent off to the Savage Land. I don't know what the heck the authorities did with the Aztecs.

So Skull and his friends are home and safe. These two issues plus Skull's own series could now be brought together to form one mostly satisfying story.

MTIO #35 & #36 is pretty much one running fight scene, with the heroes jumping from the frying pan into the fire and then into a bigger fire. Except for an awkward but probably necessary flashback to explain who the heck Skull and his friends are, the two-parter is extremely fast-paced. And that's just fine, because it's a truly exciting and well-choreographed tale. Ernie Chan did the pencils and I especially like his dinosaurs--he gives them an otherworldly and dangerous vibe.

Fans of Skull the Slayer must have been pleased to see the eventually fate of their hero. The ending wraps up character arcs and plot points involving him and his friends in a few lines of dialogue--it can be argued this is a little too abrupt to be completely satisfying, but it's still an honorable conclusion to Skull's adventures.

Next week, we'll look at another case when a Marvel hero is borrowed to help end someone else's story arc, when a certain news photographer flies to Los Angeles to cover the dissolution of a short-lived superhero team.

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