Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Avoiding Death Traps and Curing Blindness

At the end of Marvel Team-Up #5, Spider Man is guarding an unconscious Puppet Master inside the Baxter Building. MTU #6 (Janurary 1973) picks up right from there, with Ben Grimm and his blind girlfriend Alicia Masters coming home and asking Spidey what the heck is going on?

As with the last issue, this one is written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Gil Kane, with the two producing yet another fun issue. Remember that Puppet Master is Alicia's step-father. Well, we find out here that he had actually murdered Alicia's actual dad AND was responsible for her blindness. We also get hints that he is a craven moral coward, which is a theme running through his character arc in this issue.

All that is fine, but some actual important plot points are laid out a sloppy fashion. Puppet Master and Alicia's dad were partners experimenting with radioactive clay, but the purpose of the experiments is never defined. It was the clay that rendered Alicia blind and, though P.M. tries to figure out how to use it to restore her eyesight, he ends up figuring out how to make mind-controlling puppets instead. Such are the vagaries of Comic Book Science.

Ben has an.. um... "discussion" with P.M. and its decided to return to the ruins of his original lab and make another attempt to restore Alicia's sight. I'm pretty sure this is wishful thinking on Ben's part, but it can be said to be well within his established character.

Puppet Master is leading them into a trap anyways. He has sort of sublet the land to the Mad Thinker, who has built a standard issue Underground Lair complete with Death Traps. Ben and Spidey decide to split up while exploring the lair--kind of a dumb thing for two experienced superheroes to do--and soon both have indeed fallen into Death Traps.

But both are able to figure out ways out of the trap. When Alicia is threatened by one of the Thinker's androids, Puppet Master has an attack of conscience, but can't bring himself to knock out the Thinker with a wrench until Spidey shows up to help. Ben, in the meantime, takes care of the android.

The story ends when the lair blows up. How did that happen? Alicia thinks that Puppet Master might have finally been overcome with guilt and done the deed himself. Of course, in a comic book universe, villains pretty much always turn out to be alive, but for the moment the bad guys seem to be dead.

The last panel implies that we are supposed to feel a little sympathy for Puppet Master, though Conway does such a great job of making him cowardly and loathsome, there's not a lot of room for sympathy. It is well within Alicia's established character to feel badly for him, though, so it is a nice way to bring the tale to a close.

Next week, back to Colonial America as Ben Bowie and his comrades trek through a really bad snow storm.

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