Comics : Marvel Team-Up #1

Staff Only
Edit Review
Edit Title

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Totalistic Team-Ups

This review was first published on: 1997.

Background...

This summer brings us a new Marvel Team-Up #1. After trying seven issues of the uninspired, quarterly, double-sized, "rotating creative teams" concept of Spider-Man Team-Up, the folks at 387 Park Avenue South have gone back to basics; a regular-size, monthly book with a "permanent" creative team. (And it looks like a pretty good team at that. Tom Peyer has done wonderful things with the Legion at DC and scripted an enjoyable Spidey for the Marvel Valentine Special. Pat Oliffe proved, in his Untold Tales of Spider-Man run, that he is one of the best Spider-Man pencillers currently working. And Al Williamson is Al Williamson; one of the finest artists in the business for over forty years.)

So, the big question is...is it any good? Well, I haven't read it yet. (Actually, at the time I'm writing this, it hasn't even come out.) But I HAVE read the original Marvel Team-Up #1. It came out in early 1972, at the same time as Amazing Spider-Man #106. It featured Roy Thomas as scripter, fresh off his four issue "Morbius-Lizard-Gog-Kraven" run, and Ross Andru getting his feet wet as penciller prior to his eventual 50 issue stint on Amazing Spider-Man.

The guest-star was the perfect Spidey foil, the Human Torch. (There is no clearer indicator of the change in super-hero comics in 25 years than that the guest-stars in the new MTU #1 are Generation X.) The villain was the Sandman who had, at this time, graduated from being a Spidey opponent to a Fantastic Four adversary. An appropriate choice for our two young heroes.

Marvel Team-Up was the first book, not counting the aborted two-issue run of the magazine-sized Spectacular Spider-Man, to attempt to capitalize on Spider-Man's popularity beyond his flagship title. Suddenly, fans got a double dose of their favorite Wall-Crawler every month, a seemingly paltry amount in these days of once or twice weekly appearances, but a nice balance between the interminable once-monthly wait and the overkill of modern comics. Stop me before I editorialize again. Here's Marvel Team-Up #1, old style.

In Detail...

"Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!"
Marvel Team-Up #1
Mar 1972 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man & Human Torch (vs. Sandman)
Editor:  Stan Lee
Writer:  Roy Thomas
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Gil Kane
Staff Only
Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Essential Marvel Team-Up #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Holiday Special 2004 (TPB)
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Family (Vol. 2) #6 (Story 4)
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Megazine #1
Articles: Human Torch, Sandman

It's the day before Christmas and Peter Parker, all bundled up, is at the beach covering the frigid water swim of the Polar Bear club for the Daily Bugle. As the hearty swimmers jump in, one feels something alive brush by her leg. "It's some sort of smake or a tentacle," she declares, "but it's made out of sand!" The tendril creeps out of the water, grows to look like a cylindrical tower, then takes on definition to become the Sandman. Suddenly, all of the Polar Bears can think of something safer to do. ("Scuze me, I just remembered a dental appointment in the Bronx.")

Two cops spring into action but when one tries to restrain the Sandman, the cuffs go right through the villain's sandy wrists. The duo then tries to jump him, one taking him high, one low, but both go right through the Sandman's sandy body. Spidey knows that Sandy "could have made himself a virtual brick wall instead of a sand castle" if he'd wanted to, and, hoping to spare the cops any injury, he rushes off to change into his crime-fighting duds.

By the time Spidey gets back, the Sandman is tossing the cops around, having formed his arms into long, sandy tendrils. The super-powered antagonists get it on. Spidey kicks the Sandman aside and Sandy retaliates by sending a blast of sand into Spidey's face. It looks like this battle might take a while but when Spidey says, "you're way down the list of people I dig spending Christmas Eve with", a stunned Sandman wants only to get away. Spidey covers him with webbing but Sandy just merges with the beach, making his escape.

So our hero faces a dilemma. He has a hot date for the night. ("It's gorgeous Gwendolyn I'll be squiring tonight.") She is expecting him soon. But he just can't completely forget about the Sandman. So, he comes upon a compromise. Thinking, "After all, Sandman isn't my enemy. I just tackled him once and that was a looonnnng time ago" (Well, Spidey is, I suppose, technically right here. The Sandman did appear in Amazing #4, 18, and 19 up to this point, but our hero spent most of those last two issues avoiding the villain rather than tackling him. Of course, Untold Tales of Spider-Man has now made the Web-Slinger a liar. Regardless, this is still a long way from the time where the Sandman started making frequent appearances.), the Wall-Crawler arrives at the building where "your actual Sandman experts" live and just as he is about to climb in a window, rings of fire come flying out right at his face. This so surprises Spidey that he falls but he manages to adhere to the (Baxter) building and climb back up where he berates the blonde-haired man who is leaning out the window. "Johnny Storm! You flaming freak-out! What's the big idea of shooting fire-rings at me?"

(For those of you with very short memories, a reminder that Johnny Storm is the Human Torch, the youngest member of the Fantastic Four. He and Spider-Man have had a love/hate relationship filled with verbal barbs and mutual respect since Pete tried to join the FF because he thought they would pay him...way back in Amazing Spider-Man #1.)

Johnny pleads innocent to Spidey's harsh challenge but this only makes Pete suspicious. Why is ol' Matchhead being so civil? The plain truth is that Johnny is too melancholy to work up the verve to spar with Spidey. It is Christmas Eve, the rest of the FF are away, and he has girl troubles. (And no wonder! Look what he's wearing! A green shirt that looks like it has eyeballs painted on it, a flaming pink vest, and a very very wide blue tie.)

Pete tells Johnny that the Sandman is back in town, hoping to dump the problem in the Fantastic Four's lap. Johnny recalls that the first time he met Sandy (back in Strange Tales #115, December 1963), the super-criminal was crossing the George Washington bridge from Jersey into Manhattan. Spidey says he first met him by that bridge too. (Your crack Looking Back staff has investigated this and can tell you that Johnny absolutely speaks the truth. He does indeed first encounter Sandy on the George Washington bridge in that Strange Tales issue. Pete's assertion, however, can not be substantiated. No bridge makes an appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #4.) In any event, all this bridge talk gives Peter an idea. Acting on it, he and Johnny fly off in the Fantasti-car. As Spidey ridicules their transportation, Johnny explains, "Reed and Sue took the new, improved version with them. So I'm left with last decade's model." (Do you think this bit of useless information is included simply because Ross drew the wrong Fantasti-car? Our panel of experts took a look and found the Fantasti-car drawn by Big John Buscema in the concurrent issues of the FF to be quite different. So, the answer to the question is probably, "yes, that's just what Ross did".)

Their flight takes them over the big Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, but Johnny, moping about his women troubles, tells Pete, "If any of the Yuletide greenery below fills you with an unlikely urge to wish me Merry Christmas...stifle yourself." The glum duo reach the bridge with no sign of the Sandman but Spidey tells the Torch to "Try cruisin' to the Jersey side for a minute." The Web-Spinner reasons that if the Sandman had to cross the bridge to take on his enemies, it figures that the villain's hideout is on the other side.

Spidey and the Torch cruise Fort Lee and while they don't find the Sandman, they do stumble upon a young woman with Christmas packages about to be mugged by two thugs. Johnny lights up the night with a fireball. Peter tells the Torch to steer the Fantasti-car to a lower altitude. He uses his spider-ability to cling to the bottom of the car and shoots webbing at the hoods; now fleeing with the packages. After being ensnared, one mugger has the gall to tell Spidey, "Give us a break, man! We didn't hurt the broad or nothin'." The Webhead lets the victim, a young black woman with Afro and earrings that look like fishing line sinkers, decide and, seeing as it's Christmas Eve, she asks that the bad guys "be held for a little while" rather than being arrested. Spidey complies by webbing them to a nearby fence, then departs, with the woman wishing him "and your friend in the flying bathtub" a Merry Christmas. (Now, that was all there was to it as far as Roy was concerned but five and a half years later, in the pages of Marvel Team-Up #64, page 30 to be specific, Chris Claremont has Misty Knight of Daughters of the Dragon fame reveal to Spidey that they had met before. "A few Christmas Eves back, I got jumped by some muggers on my way to a party in Jersey. You an' some dude in a flying bathtub took care of 'em for me." Being one of the most subtle retcons in the Web-Slinger's history.)

Before the good guys get a chance to bask in a deed well done, another crisis appears. A large cement mixer truck is sliding out of control on the icy roads below. Johnny Storm flames on and jumps ship, leaving Spidey alone in the Fantasti-car. ("I don't know how to pilot this cockamamey crate!", Pete yells.) The Torch flies down and uses his flame to melt the ice. It is a close call but the driver is just able to stop before hitting a red corvette. The drivers of both vehicles try to thank Johnny and wish him a Merry Christmas but the sour-puss super-hero leaves before they can. "I've had it up to here with all this Merry Christmas crud", he tells Spidey, "I'm dumping you off at the first spider-web, man, and headin' for home." The Webhead agrees. It's even started to snow now. But just as the decision is made, Johnny Storm grouses with frustration. There right below them is the Sandman.

Spidey tells the Torch to drop him off. "You can go back and cry in your Uncola". (Hey, remember when Seven-Up advertised themselves as the Uncola? Remember those glasses you could buy that looked like Coca-Cola glasses, only upside-down? But I digress...) But Johnny will have none of it. After all he's been through, he wants in on the fight.

Moments later, the duo trap the Sandman in an alleyway between two factories. As the Torch challenges him from the front, the Web-Slinger sneaks up from behind. But Johnny gets over-anxious and he throws a couple of fire balls instead of just distracting the villain. Spidey is forced to abort his swing in order to avoid getting a hotfoot. This gives Sandman the chance to grab Peter by the ankle and swing him forcefully into a nearby crate. The Webhead is dazed, temporarily out of the fight. The Human Torch's next trick is to melt the supports of a nearby billboard (what a billboard that says, "Florida Now" is doing in the midst of a bunch of factories, I don't know) so that it falls on the Sandman. But Sandy uses his fancy buttons that the Wizard rigged up for him, to change to a concrete block (which allows him to take the billboard on the head without feeling it), then to a sandstorm (which causes the Human Torch to black out).

A groggy Pete sees a flameless Johnny plunging to the ground below and just manages to whip up some webbing to halt the descent. Johnny regains his flame. Then he and Spidey decide to rush the Sandman while he's back in his normal state. Unfortunately, as the Sandman tells it, "It's too dark, and yer both too wiped-out to notice that I made the ol'bod paper-thin an' wuz standin' in front of a solid brick wall!" Johnny and Pete clunk themselves on the head.

They come to and discover that the Sandman has them tied up back to back in a water tower. He dumps them in the water, saying, "Just keep yer chin up, Torchy an' you'll be okay." Spidey quickly realizes that the Sandman has given them a clue. Testing it out, he discovers that they are tied in such a way so that only one can stick his face up out of the water at a time. He notices it is only one rope holding them but he is too weak to snap it. Pete realizes it is up to Johnny and hopes that the Torch can figure this out. To help him, Spidey intentionally leans down so that Johnny's face is the one out of water. The Torch soon understands that Spidey is risking drowning so that his partner's face will get dry enough to flame on. Once it does, Johnny spits a flame (I kid you not! He spits a flame!) at the rope, which shortly burns through, releasing the pair.

"And soon", Roy writes, "since the knotted rope was attached to a friendly drain" (don't even try to figure that one out), our heroes stand in an empty water tower as Johnny dries off enough to burn the rope off their wrists. Johnny thinks the Sandman is now long gone but Spidey wonders. He thinks that Sandy intended for them to escape. A quick look around the neighborhood reveals the Sandman climbing into the window of a nearby house.

Webhead and Matchhead follow. They catch the Sandman, apparently a quick change artist of great skill, already out of his outfit and into a red-checked jacket and orange tie with sea anemones on it. (And you thought the Torch's clothes sense was bad.) The super-criminal shushes them, tells them he'll come along peacefully in a minute, then tells a bed-ridden woman in the next room, "I'll be in in a second, mom." He reveals to Pete and Johnny that his mother is old and sick, that she doesn't know he is a criminal (as unlikely as that sounds) and that he always visits her on Christmas Eve, no matter what. (This is also the first time we learn Sandy's real name is William Baker and not Flint Marko as it had been revealed before.) He promises to allow his two opponents to take him in if they give him some time with his mom.

The twosome not only agrees but Pete pulls out a wrapped box, a present he had intended for Gwen, and tells the Sandman he can't see his mother without giving a gift. (Let's hope it doesn't say "Love Pete" in it anywhere.) Baker promises to be out in five minutes. Spidey stands guard outside the house just in case. Once there, however, he drifts into reverie, thinking about how the Sandman's mother reminded him of Aunt May. Inside, Johnny is woolgathering, too. He still misses Crytal terribly but now reflects on the blessings of having the love of the rest of the FF. More than five minutes passes before they know it and the Sandman has not come out. Johnny races upstairs, only to be stopped by a live-in nurse who shows him Mrs. Baker sleeping peacefully, a new gold flower broach pinned to her sweater, and definitely alone. The only unusual item is a collection of a few grains of sand, sitting in the bathroom sink.

The Torch joins Spidey outside and has to admit that Sandy gave them the slip. They should be angry about this but, at the moment, with the Christmas spirit inside of them, they feel too good. As Spidey swings away, the Torch leaves a flaming message in the air, "Peace on earth. Good will to men."

For the record, the Sandman, accompanied by his buddies the Trapster and the Wizard, takes on Spidey and the Torch again in the pages of Marvel Team-Up #2. But you won't find that story here.

Footnote...

One snippet of dialog dates this issue as well. Fed up with the Torch's sullen attitude, Spidey suggests he go home and "cry in his Uncola". This is a reference to a popular ad campaign 7-Up was using at the time, where they proclaimed their difference from Coke and Pepsi by billing themselves as "the UN-cola". And meanwhile, in the real world, As Marvelites read this issue, the U.S. Space Probe Pioneer 10 was sailing past Jupiter.