Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Back to 1942--AGAIN (Part 1)

cover art by Jack Kirby
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 (1976) follows up on the story from that year's Fantastic Four Annual, in which the FF had to travel back to 1942 and recover some Vibranium to keep the Nazis from winning the war. But they only managed to recover half of the rare and powerful element.

I have a pet peeve about stories crossing over between titles, which I talked about when I reviewed the FF Annual a couple of weeks ago. I was giving these titles a pass, because--though both involve traveling back to 1942 to recover missing Vibranium--they are independent enough of each other to read and enjoy seperately. 

I still feel that is true, but its connection to the FF Annual does get this issue off to a really slow start. A number of pages are needed to recap the events of the earlier book, which is followed by Ben Grimm playing 20 Questions with the Watcher, who wants to help Ben preserve history but won't overtly violate his non-interference oath by actually speaking. All he can do is smile or frown slightly when Ben asks questions.

Even in the context of a Comic Book Universe, this is a little silly. The Watcher is still interfering--he's still violating his oath--he's just doing it without talking. Maybe according to Watcher Law this gives him a legal loophole, but it's still a goofy way of getting in exposition and setting up the plot.

Anyway, Ben eventually realizes that the Vibranium was split in half when it fell back in time, so the other half still needs to be found. And it needs to be found quickly, because New York City (starting with the most recently constructed buildings) starts to vanish. Ben hasn't seen Back to the Future, which won't be made for another ten years, but he still realizes that history is being altered and he needs to do something about it fast.

Sal Buscema's art is fun to look at, though, and writer Roy Thomas does use the exposition to remind us that Ben is a really smart guy, not just a bruiser who likes to clobber stuff.

Anyway, Ben eventually uses the time machine to travel back to 1942 and the story rapidly gets more interesting. A nice touch here is having Ben meet a young John Romita and befriend him. 

But his new friend will have to wait. A flight of Nazi dive bombers attack New York, which confuses Ben since he knows that the Germans don't have any aircraft carriers. How did the planes get to the United States?

A couple of recent issues of Marvel Premiere (which did cross over directly with the Invaders--GRRRRRR!!!) had introduced the Liberty Legion to the Marvel Universe. This is a group of obscure Golden Age characters who band together to protect the home front while the Invaders are taking the war to occupied Europe. They show up again to take care of the Nazi planes, though the Nazi leader--a brutal pilot named Sky Shark who made a name for himself by strafing civilians--gets away.

Ben doesn't get to do much here, since he's stuck on the ground while the fighting is going on in the air. Also, the Liberty Legion is understandable suspicious of his story that he's from the future. In fact, Ben gets left behind again while the Legion divides into sub teams to fight superpowered Nazi sabateurs.

This bad guys are all villains who had been introduced in recent issues of The Invaders. So Roy Thomas is once again being a Triple Threat: he's indulging in his love of Golden Age characters, using this story to promote characters from other books, and telling a fun story.

That last one is the important part. Using one book to promote another is perfectly legitimate, as long as the story being told is still entertaining.

This one isn't quite as good as the FF Annual, because Ben (one of the Marvel U's best characters) gets left on the sidelines for pretty much the entire tale. But he gets his chance to join in on the last page, when a giant flying swastika attacks the city. He uses a flagpole as a makeshift catapult to fling himself up towards the strange craft and into the next regular issue of Marvel Two-in-One. We'll look at that issue next week.

1 comment:

  1. "I have a pet peeve about stories crossing over between titles". Oh man! To this day, I hate Roy Thomas (who wrote this story) because he seemed to go out of his way to crossover his stories over multiple comics, sometimes even in magazines (he did at least one Conan story that was spread over the regular CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic book series, the SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN magazine, and either a Conan Annual or Giant-Size IIRC.


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