Hello Spider-philes. Over the next few months, I - Scott Knudsen - will be taking you through the entire run of Marvel Team-Up volume 1, although I may skip issue 28. Jonathan has already given that installment a well deserved hatchet job that I don't think I can top, and frankly I'm in no hurry to re-read that "gem" anyway!
Marvel Team-Up is a significant title for two big reasons in my eyes, one historical and one personal. Historically, in addition to having some great Spidey stories over the years, this was also the first series after Amazing Spider-Man that our hero got to regularly headline. Although we take for granted now that we get multiple doses of Spidey each month, this was the one that first proved he could carry a second title.
Now, Al Sjoerdsma has already covered Marvel Team-Up #1, which marks Ross Andru's first Spidey work. Mr. Andru has always been one of my very favorite Spidey artists, and I'll pick up from here with his second contribution. So let's get to it!
We open this issue with Johnny Storm (if you don't know he's the Human Torch, you need to read something besides Spider-Man once in a while!) wallowing in self-pity on a pier in Lower Manhattan. He's still pining for Crystal of the Inhumans, with whom he was having a somewhat rocky relationship at this time. Enter Nathaniel, who with his two-day stubble, watch-cap, pea coat and bottle of port wine is every inch the stereotype of a drunken sailor, the kind known to inhabit waterfronts the world over. Thinking Mr. Storm is contemplating suicide, he has a little heart-to-heart talk with him. "A friend ye can trust, that's what makes it count" he counsels. As long as you have a friend, nothing else is so bad.
Although I'm somewhat dubious about the merits of accepting unsolicited advice from degenerate alcoholics, Johnny seems to think the old man made some sense. He takes off and begins flying about the city, and Manhattan being as small as it is, he quickly happens across Spider-Man. Remembering their success in tackling the Sandman (Marvel Team-Up #1 "Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas") he asks if Spidey would like to hang around and talk a little. Spidey rebuffs him, with uncharacteristic rudeness, in my opinion, and continues on his way as a ticked-off Torch heads home.
Little do our heroes know, however, that they're being observed. As they part ways, we zoom to a nearby apartment where the Wizard, the Trapster and the Sandman are scheming. Medusa has recently left their little band of no-goodniks, leaving the Frightful Four short a member. The Wizard tells his companions that Spider-man will make the perfect replacement, and allow them to complete his master plan, to destroy the Fantastic Four!!
The next morning, Johnny Storm is alone in the Baxter Building, sipping his morning coffee and taking stock of his life. The rest of the FF are in Chicago, and being alone isn't helping him forget Crystal at all. The high tech doorbell rings at that point, and a quick check of the monitor shows it's none other than Spider-Man come to pay a visit. The Torch buzzes him in, and gets greeted with a left hook right in the jaw! The Torch is puzzled, even more so when he sees the Sandman standing right behind Spidey. He demands an explanation, and instead gets a nice backhand slap. Spidey then starts beating the Torch like a rented mule.
At this point I'm theorizing that the mind control Spidey is under (we never actually saw him put under, by the way) is less than complete. Outside of his flame abilities the Human Torch is a regular guy, and repeated blows from Spidey should have torn his head off. Since he's not even unconscious, I have to assume that Spidey was holding back. Finally realizing that his friend is not in control of himself, the Torch finally starts to fight back. He flames on, and we are treated to a six-panel exchange of webs and fireballs before Spidey lunges at the Torch. Not wanting to injure Spidey, the Torch kills his flames just before Spidey barrels into him, and the blow knocks him out.
The Torch awakes some time later to find himself securely bound in a straight-jacket and wrapped in the Trapster's paste (patent pending, I'm sure). What he sees is disturbing to say the least: Spider-Man stands comatose in the corner, the Trapster and Sandman are loafing about and the Wizard is messing around with the controls that open the Negative Zone. He intends to use the vast energies contained within to power the weapon he brought along to destroy the Fantastic Four, but he's severely miscalculated. We see, approaching fast, Annihilus, the master of the Negative Zone and a guy you do not want to mess with. Annihilus begins to siphon energy from the Wizard's device, and it won't take long before he's powerful enough to breach the span between dimensions and attack Earth once again. The Trapster and Sandman make an attempt to fight him off, and the Wizard very helpfully hurls some insults at his partners, but none of it fazes Annihilus much.
The Torch has been using this time to raise his temperature to the point that he's baked the Trapster's paste into a brittle state, and he cracks it off. Kicking a beaker off a nearby table and using a shard from it to cut the straps of his straight jacket, the Torch frees himself and goes to join the fray!
No sooner does the Torch get free, however, than he's confronted by the Sandman. The text isn't completely clear on this point, but it looks to me like Sandy was in the process of running away and leaving his partners to fend for themselves against Annihilus. The Torch hits him dead center with a fireball while he's in his sandy state, though, and it turns him into quartz. He doesn't get to bask in his triumph long, as the Trapster immediately douses him with paste and kills his flame. Tiring of these distractions, The Wizard instructs Spider-Man, who's been idle all this time, to kill the Torch once and for all. Spidey goes to follow out his orders, but again I think he's being awfully half-hearted about it. While the Torch is getting the crap kicked out of him, he keeps repeating to Spidey "You're a free man, we're friends!" and it finally sinks in. Spidey, though a little dazed and confused, is back on the side of the angels. His first order of business is to rip the Trapster's gadget-stocked vest right off him and, in a very satisfying panel, picks him up and clubs the Wizard with him, knocking them both out of the fight.
Spidey and the Torch have bigger problems at hand, as Annihilus is almost through the gate. His defeat is easily engineered though, as Spidey simply kills power to the Negative Zone gate, causing Annihilus to be dragged back over to his own side.
The Sandman now makes a brief reappearance, and takes a cheap shot at Spidey. He's still partially crystallized though, and with one blow Spidey blasts him into incoherent dust.
After our heroes congratulate themselves on a job well done, Spidey jumps out the window, leaving the Human Torch to clean up the mess by himself.
Next Issue - The Man Called Morbius!!
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: In the pages of Amazing Spider-Man 108 our hero is fighting to save Flash from some very angry Vietnamese monks, while at the same time not having Peter Parker appear to be a coward in front of Gwen.
And in the Greater Marvel Universe: Luke Cage is premiering in his very own book, as Hero for Hire # 1 hits the stands.
Meanwhile, in the real world: J. Edgar Hoover passes away on May 2, at age 77. On May 15, George Wallace is shot and paralyzed while campaigning for President. And on June 17, five men are arrested for burglarizing a little hotel called The Watergate, setting in motion the downfall of President Richard Nixon.
I think, honestly, they bit off more than they could chew with this one. With two heroes and a whopping five villains crowding up the pages, one of them a powerhouse like Annihilus, you get the feeling that a lot of stuff got left on the cutting room floor, so to speak. We never do learn when or how the Wizard was able to get control of Spidey's mind, nor is it explained why he didn't simply do the same to the Human Torch. Simply turning off the Negative Zone gate, though certainly expedient and preferable to a loose end, is kind of a cheap way to dispose of Annihilus at the end of the story.
On the plus side, it's a fair enough story with a classic cover, and solid art throughout. I consider this to be just slightly below average, and rate it at two out of five webs.