First Published: July 2009
Contents: Marvel Two-In-One #53 (July 1979) to #76 (June 1981); and Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 (1979) and #5 (1980)
Key Creator Credits: Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio, John Byrne, George Perez, Ron Wilson, Jerry Bingham, and others
Key First Appearances: Grapplers (Letha, Poundcakes, Screaming Mimi, Titania), Serpent Society (Anaconda, Black Mamba, Death Adder, Sidewinder), Deathurge, Maelstrom,
Story Continues From: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 2
Story Continues In: Essential Marvel Two-In-One Vol. 4
Overview: Let’s be honest as we start this review. This should not be called a Marvel Two-in-One book. Rather, it should be called Marvel Thing-and-Everyone, as most everyone in the Marvel Universe seems to cross paths with Ben Grimm in the pages of this Essential. With team-ups featuring the Avengers, the Inhumans, the Guardians of the Galaxy and more, you are getting way more than two heroes per book in this series.
This book is notable for the two main story arcs that developed under the leadership of co-writers Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio. The first story arc became known as the Project: Pegasus Saga. The government facility was introduced in the prior Essential (in issues written by Macchio) as an energy research center. The Thing is brought in to help with security, as one of the items in the facility is the Cosmic Cube. (For those of you only familiar with Marvel from the cinematic universe, the Cosmic Cube would be the Tesseract!) As you can imagine, a plethora of foes come through with the intent of claiming the Cosmic Cube, and it is up to the Thing, Quasar, Giant-Man, Thundra and others to keep the facility safe and the cube in place. This story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Grapplers. Two of the members would become quite prominent later on, as Titania became a feature foe in Secret Wars, and Screaming Mimi would change her name to Songbird and become part of the Thunderbolts and Avengers Forever.
The other story arc that developed was the Serpent Crown Affair. The Serpent Crown has long been floating around between the pages of The Avengers and The Defenders. Worlds have been destroyed over this crazy piece of headwear. This should come as no surprise to anyone at this point, but Ben Grimm finds himself caught up in the middle of it all. Thankfully, this is a team-up book, so he gets help from some of his friends along the way, such as Stingray, Triton, Hyperion, and the Scarlet Witch. And once again, this story arc introduced a new set of villains known as the Serpent Society. Gruenwald would bring back these characters quite often during his legendary run on Captain America.
In addition to these longer story arcs, there are still the traditional one-and-done stories scattered throughout the book. Two of my favorites came towards the end of this book. Issue #75 featured the Thing and the Avengers traveling to the Negative Zone to battle Annihilus and Blastaar. The outcome of this story set up the Negative Zone storyline from John Byrne in the pages of Fantastic Four two years later. The next issue, #76, featured the Thing and Iceman meeting up to stop the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. This was a back-issue purchase for me when I first started collecting. I’m showing my age here, but I was a big fan of the Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends Saturday morning show. When 12-year-old me saw this issue, I just had to have it because Iceman was featured in the book. I was a little disappointed when I realized later that neither Spider-Man nor, more importantly, Firestar would be making an appearance.
What makes this Essential?: This is a unique collection. First, as a team-up book, yes it should be essential to own. All of the team-up books from the 1970s and 1980s should be must own. Second, the approach to the comics in this collection is totally turned around. Generally, the team-up book is a one-and-done story, and the creative team may vary from issue to issue. Sometimes, an inventory story is used just to go ahead and clear the files. But with issue #53, Gruenwald and Macchio take over the book as co-writers. They developed an ongoing storyline that stayed within this book, creating multi-issue storylines that would continue to be referenced after the story arc had finished. Their first arc, the Project: Pegasus Saga, was so popular, it was reissued as a trade paperback in 1988. Mind you, at that time, trades were not the standard. They were few and far between back then. Give this collection a look!
Marvel Two-In-One #53 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #54 – The Thing & Deathlok
Marvel Two-In-One #55 – The Thing & Giant-Man
Marvel Two-In-One #56 – The Thing & Thundra
Marvel Two-In-One #57 – The Thing & Wundarr
Marvel Two-In-One #58 – The Thing & Aquarian
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #4 – The Thing & Black Bolt
Marvel Two-In-One #59 – The Thing & Human Torch
Marvel Two-In-One #60 – The Thing & Impossible Man
Marvel Two-In-One #61 – The Thing & Starhawk
Marvel Two-In-One #62 – The Thing & Moondragon
Marvel Two-In-One #63 – The Thing & Warlock
Marvel Two-In-One #64 – The Thing & Stingray
Marvel Two-In-One #65 – The Thing & Triton
Marvel Two-In-One #66 – The Thing & Scarlet Witch
Marvel Two-In-One #67 – The Thing & Hyperion
Marvel Two-In-One #68 – The Thing & the Angel
Marvel Two-In-One #69 – The Thing & the Guardians of the Galaxy
Marvel Two-In-One #70 – The Thing & the Yancy Street Gang
Marvel Two-In-One #71 – The Thing & Mr. Fantastic
Marvel Two-In-One #72 – The Thing & the Inhumans
Marvel Two-In-One #73 – The Thing & Quasar
Marvel Two-In-One #74 – The Thing & the Puppet Master
Marvel Two-In-One Annual #5 – The Thing & the Hulk
Marvel Two-In-One #75 – The Thing & the Avengers
Marvel Two-In-One #76 – The Thing & Iceman
Marvel Two-In-One #77 – The Thing & Man-Thing
If you like this volume, try: the Squadron Supreme mini-series from 1985. The 12-issue series was written by Mark Gruenwald, with art by Bob Hall and Paul Ryan. The Squadron Supreme was first introduced in the early 1960s as a Justice League analog to fight the Avengers, then known as the Squadron Sinister. Later, a new Squadron Supreme was introduced as living on a parallel earth to the traditional Marvel Universe. Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, the Squadron was brought in anytime a writer needed a JLA-type group for a story. In 1985, Gruenwald pitched a concept that would become his most famous work. The Squadron Supreme mini-series had the team of heroes decide that they needed to take over the world in order to rebuild their war-ravaged planet (yes, they had issues with the Serpent Crown here). The majority of the heroes vote to create the perfect Utopia, even if it means that some citizens must sacrifice their personal liberties. However, even the best of intentions can fall short. The Batman analog, Nighthawk, opposed the Utopia plan, and left the team, eventually building his own team (of former villains) to oppose the Squadron. The Green Arrow analog, Golden Archer, abused the power available to him to get a teammate to love him. The series finishes with the two sides in an all-out war to decide the future of Earth. Overall, this is an intriguing look at what could happen if the superheroes were real. This came out in the same era as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, helping to change how superhero stories could be told. Squadron Supreme has remained in print over the years, in various trade paperback, hardcover, and omnibus collections. This should be a must-read for any comic fan.