We complete our review of the two-part story arc "Beware the Basilisk My Son!" as begun in Marvel Team-Up #16.
|Inker:||Frank Giacoia, Mike Esposito, Sal Trapani|
|Cover Art:||Gil Kane|
"What can I do about anything?" pondered Spider-Man at the end of Marvel Team-Up #16. Well, here's one thing he can do. He can web-sling to the Baxter Building and hope that Mister Fantastic is home.
Spidey arrives at the building and finds a window on the 34th floor left open. He thinks this is just carelessness so he leaps into the room. But the Fantastic Four are never careless. An electric eye senses his entrance and triggers the release of steel cables that come out of the wall and, drawn to his body heat, wrap themselves around him. Spidey starts freeing himself by ripping the cables out of the wall but stops when a voice tells him, "That's enough! Keep it up and you'll tear the whole place down!" Spidey turns and sees that the speaker is Mr. Fantastic. He tells the wall-crawler to stay still while he flips a switch that will retract the steel cables.
Everyone knows the story of the Fantastic Four, right? Flew into space, got pelted by cosmic rays, turned into something more than human. The leader, Reed Richards was already a brilliant scientist and inventor. He received the power to stretch and shape his body into any form he wishes. (Which is why, the old joke goes, Susan Storm Richards is the happiest wife in Marvel Comics.) Modestly called himself "Mr. Fantastic". Wears a blue costume made of unstable molecules that stretches when he stretches and has a big bold "4" on the chest. Now back to the story.
Spidey starts into his usual snappy patter but Reed tells him he's not in the mood. "If you're looking for the Human Torch", he says, "you've wasted your time". The Torch is gone, the Thing is gone, the Invisible Girl is gone. The Fantastic Four have split up! (This has nothing to do with our story but it all stems from Reed's decision to turn his son Franklin into a vegetable in Fantastic Four #141, December 1973. He does this in order to shut down Franklin's escalating mutant powers, which have the potential to "kill every living creature in the solar system". None of the rest of the FF understands.) Spidey is sorry to hear that but he didn't come to visit the Torch anyway. He tells Reed Richards, "I came to see you!" Then he tells Mr. Fantastic the story of Captain Marvel and the Basilisk and the Alpha and Omega-Stones. He asks Reed for help in tracking down Captain Marvel. But Reed turns him down.
Spidey realizes he must fight through Richards's overriding self-pity. He tells him that "sitting on your bright blue bottom for the rest of your life isn't gonna make you feel one iota better". He tells him "a good man has vanished, maybe died, trying to protect this planet, trying to protect people like you". He tells him, if he's not willing to help, "then maybe you ought to pack it in, dig yourself a nice deep hole, and pull the dirt in after you". With that, Reed gives in. He leads Spidey to a room that houses a huge, ornate machine. It looks like a fancy cannon but Reed explains that he built it to trace the Kree. He hopes that it will pick up the emanations of the Omega-Stone. It looks like he fires it out into space but he comes up with a surprising result. "The trail of the Omega-Stone leads to... the center of the earth!"
The duo climbs into the Fantasti-car and fly to upstate New York. Spidey wonders how they are going to get to the center of the earth since there aren't "any subway routes". But Reed tells him he's wrong. There is one subway route. It is an escape tunnel designed and used by the Mole Man and originally built into an upstate "dream house" he put together to entice the Fantastic Four. (FF #88-90, July-September 1969) In a later battle with Moley, Tyrannus, and Kala, the FF used the tunnel themselves (FF #127, October 1972) only to later see it destroyed (FF #128, November 1972). But not so fast! Turns out it was only "almost destroyed" and is still "passable enough for us to travel thru now" with the assist of a "laser-torch mounted into the Fantasti-car's prow".
So, Reed flies the Fantasti-car right down the tunnel and it is only "minutes later" that they come out in Subterrania... a series of huge caves that form a (somehow lighted) land at the center of the earth. Reed lands the car and the two heroes get out... only to be immediately attacked by "the inhabitants of this inner world". The Subterraneans are small and pale with eyes that look like they are covered in goggles. They do the bidding of one man "who is almost certainly responsible for whatever has happened to Captain Marvel", according to Reed. The Subterraneans charge. Mr. Fantastic stretches his right arm to create a long-distance punch. Spidey swings in on a web and crashes into the Subs. The battle is on.
Mr. F. curls himself up into a ball and bowls through dozens of the pale little men but he is overwhelmed by sheer numbers. The Subs manage to stretch him out and hold him, with his arms stretched back around stalactites and his legs pinned under their bodies. Spidey, too, is engulfed. Even as the two heroes wonder what will be done with them, Reed spies a Subterranean approaching with a gas gun. He tells Spidey to "take a deep breath and hold it!" Then the gun is fired at them and "their powerful bodies stiffen, then grow limp, and unbearably still".
Soon after, the Subterraneans carry the still bodies of Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic on pallets through corridors and pathways until they cross under "the ornately-carved arch of a great granite portal". Within is a large throne room and the man who rules the Subbies sits upon the throne. The Mole Man!
The Mole Man orders his subjects to bring the two heroes to him so he can gloat over them up close. "It is only fitting that they gaze upon the Mole Man's greatest triumph", he says, "before they are put to death!" So, Moley leads his men into an immense chamber (so big it needs a full-page spread!) which Len tells us is "vast enough to contain Washington's mighty Pentagon building, yet still leave room for Manhattan's sprawling Grand Central Station". And within this huge room is the fanciest-looking machine this side of Jack Kirby. It is almost as big as the chamber itself and is powered by the molten lava that washes up against it on the floor. The Mole Man calls it "the Laser Cannon". Perched on a platform, dwarfed by the machine, is the big glowing Omega-Stone with Captain Marvel inside.
The Mole Man explains: He actually built this machine a long time ago (How? Lots of Subterranean labor, I suppose.) but did not have the means to activate it. The idea is to shoot an unstoppable laser beam up to the surface where it will cut "a burning path of devastation thru cities, monuments, everything those upper air worms who mocked me hold dear!" But, unfortunately, for whatever reason, Moley designed the thing to be activated by a giant jewel. What was he thinking?! Fortunately, just the giant gem he needed, showed up in a construction site on the surface. His Subbies detected the jewel and somehow teleported it to Subterrania. Of course, they didn't count on Captain Marvel being trapped inside the gem, but that's okay. Once "the cannon is fired, the energies focused thru the gem will disintegrate the good Captain completely" and that problem takes care of itself. The Mole Man has bothered to explain all this because he assumes the paralyzed bodies of Spide! y and Reed can hear him even if they can't move. But now that's he's told them all this, he has no further use for them. (After all, if you're all finished gloating at your enemies, what further good are they?) He orders his men to "toss those paralyzed fools into the magma pits".
The Subbies tilt the pallets on end and the two heroes tumble toward the fiery lava. But they are much less paralyzed than the Mole Man has expected. First, Spidey shoots his webbing just below him, creating a trampoline off of which he can bounce to safety. Then Mister Fantastic stretches his arms out, grabs the side of the machine and pulls himself up. As they do so, they reveal that they both held their breath when sprayed with the gas and have been playing possum ever since. (Reed tells us that he is able to expand his lungs as much as he wants in order to "outlast" the gas but he is impressed with Spidey's lung capacity. "A choice between holding my breath or dying is no choice at all", Spidey replies.)
The duo has made it back to safety but is immediately set upon by millions of Subterraneans. They are so thoroughly outnumbered that they don't stand a chance, even with their great powers. Except, another faction enters the fray to upset the odds. A red ray blast strikes the Subs and turns them all to glass. Then a second ray blasts out and shatters the glass into "a million gleaming shards". The Mole Man congratulates Reed on having a third ally as an ace-in-the-hole. But Reed is as confused as Moley. Not Spidey, though. He recognizes the ray blasts. Sure enough, the two heroes look behind them and come face-to-face with the Basilisk!
Basil orders the heroes to "stay back" or suffer the same fate as the Subterraneans. But Spidey's curiosity is aroused and he has to ask, "How'd you ever find us down here?" Basil explains, "I didn't find you, Spider-Man. I followed you." When he left the construction site, he actually hid until Spider-Man swung by. Basil figured that Spidey would never leave a fellow hero like CM to die, so he knew that the web-slinger would figure out a way to rescue him. Basil followed Spidey to the Baxter Building, then followed the Fantasti-car to the tunnel, then came down the tunnel "when I felt sufficient time had passed". None of which explains how he could follow someone as fast as Spidey or something as fast as the Fantasti-car when his only method of travel is this "eye-beams-to-the-ground" sort of thing. And how does that work when he's lowering himself down a tunnel that leads to the center of the earth?
Well, what matter, because he's here now. Spidey and Mr. F. are caught between Bas and Moley but when Mole Man asks Basil why he bothered to come to Subterrania and Bas replies that he came to claim the Omega-Stone, that changes the equation all over again. The stone is the key to the Mole Man's plan. It is the very last thing he is willing to give up. So, he orders some more of his endless supply of Subbies to attack and destroy the Basilisk! Basil strikes back, using his eye beams as a force ray this time, sending the Subterraneans sprawling. In typical villain fashion, Mole Man and Basilisk get so involved in their battle against each other that they forget about Spidey and Reed. The two heroes decide to take advantage of the situation by freeing Captain Marvel if they can, and heading back up to the surface "before anyone notices we're gone".
With the Subterraneans dispersed by his optic blasts, the Basilisk thinks the way is clear to the gem. But, suddenly, the Mole Man, armed with his powerstaff, jumps down into his way. Basil shoots eye beams but Moley leaps and avoids them. Basil can't understand how "that squat little man" can avoid his "lightning-swift" beams. Mole Man informs him that he possesses a radar sense. Then after imparting this little nugget of information, Mole Man whacks Basilisk in the face with his staff.
Up on the machine, Spider-Man and Mister Fantastic pound away on the Omega-Stone but can't put a dent in it. The "gem is harder than diamond" and the task is hopeless. But then Reed gets an idea. Spidey gives him permission to implement it.
Below, the two villains pause in their battle long enough to see what Spidey and Reed are up to. Forming a temporary truce, they strike at the heroes. The Basilisk's eye beams hit Spider-Man square in the back. The Mole Man fires a blast from his powerstaff that clobbers Reed Richards. The good guys fall and land at the bad guys' feet. It is time for the truce to end. But while the Mole Man is still busy gassing on about how "It's truly a shame that I must kill you, Basilisk, for I could almost respect a man with your" blah blah blah, the Basilisk attacks with his eye blasts and knocks good ol' Moley on his keester. Then he lifts himself up to the Omega-Stone, ready to revel in his "ultimate triumph!"
Basil reaches out. His hand is inches away from touching the stone. Inside the gem, Captain Marvel knows he must act... now! Even though "moving inside that jewel is like swimming thru frozen molasses", Mar-Vell manages to slam his nega-bands together. Instantly, he switches places with Rick Jones. And without Marv's Kree energies to power it, the Omega-Stone shrinks down to its original size. The Basilisk is really confused. One minute, he's facing Captain Marvel trapped in a giant gem. The next minute, he's looking at a teenager in a brown jacket and the stone smolders down at his feet.
Still, there's no reason why Basil can't zap Rick Jones and pick up the Omega-Stone. Before he has a chance, however, the whole cavern starts to shudder as if "the whole joint's coming apart!" Basil realizes that this is Mr. Fantastic's doing. "Somehow he altered the laser cannon's settings before he was defeated." (Which I guess was Reed's plan but it doesn't seem like it would have worked without Captain Marvel doing what he did.) This alteration has caused a feedback that results in the eruption of the magma. Rick Jones decides the smart thing to do is to run for it. He advises the Basilisk to do the same. But Basil can't bring himself to leave without the Omega-Stone. He stoops down to pick it up and is engulfed by a surging wave of lava instead.
Rick manages to join up with Spider-Man and Mr. Fantastic. Across the way, the Mole Man begs for help. A river of lava separates the three heroes from him. Spidey tries to help by creating a bridge of webbing over to the other side but he is too late. The cavern shakes and a massive explosion destroys the spot where the Mole Man stood. It appears that both villains have met their makers this time. (Yeah, right.)
Meanwhile, the good guys run for their lives through the cavern. (Well, technically, Spidey webslings and he carries Rick Jones over his shoulder.) With all hell breaking loose around them, they make it back to the Fantasti-car, board it, and fly up to the surface. Everything collapses right behind them.
Safe on the surface, Rick Jones slams the nega-bands together to bring back Captain Marvel. (Why didn't he do that in the caverns so Spidey wouldn't have to carry him?) After all, he was on his way to San Francisco when the whole affair started and that little problem hasn't gone away. (Whatever the heck it is.) (And over nine years later, I received an answer to this, courtesy of Ronald Byrd who writes, "Mar-Vell and Rick next appeared in Daredevil #107 (January 1974) where Daredevil and Black Widow, during their San Francisco period were fighting this fellow. Thanks, Ronald!) Spidey and Reed wave and tell him to take care of himself. They both seem remarkably relaxed, considering they barely escaped from the center of the earth with their lives (not to mention that they apparently witnessed a whole bunch of death and destruction). Just another day at the office. Ho-hum!
On the cover of a 1972 revamp of his title (#22, September 1972), Captain Marvel was billed as "the hero who wouldn't die!" In 1982, he did (in Marvel Graphic Novel #1: The Death of Captain Marvel), succumbing to a cancer he contracted as a result of a battle with Nitro in Captain Marvel #34 (September 1974). Mr. Fantastic, on the other hand (and the Mole Man for that matter) has died and come back a number of times. Moley next appears in The Incredible Hulk #189 (July 1975) in which he explains that the explosion that appeared to kill him actually hurled him into a crevasse, that was then cut off by a river of lava. Eventually his Subterraneans sacrifice themselves by creating a bridge out of their own bodies allowing Mole Man to walk to freedom.
The Basilisk, too, survives the lava flow. He re-appears in Marvel Two-in-One #17 (July 1976) featuring Spider-Man teamed up with the Thing. In part two of the story (in Marvel Team-Up #47, July 1976), Basil reveals that he managed to touch the Omega-Stone just as the lava engulfed him. His touch caused the stone to grow, trapping him inside, as it did with Captain Marvel. He floated down a lava stream until found by Subterraneans who had been cut off from the Mole Man. At first he is worshipped as a gift from the gods but eventually one of the Subbies touches the gem and releases him. He absorbs the Omega-Stone, giving him the dual power that he originally craved. Spidey and the Thing put the kibosh on him by punching him into a volcano (one simultaneous punch from each), and knocking him unconscious just as his eye beams are working up to full power. Without his consciousness to guide the power, the Basilisk implodes!
Ah, but just one moment. In Fantastic Four#289 (April 1986), Basil burrows up from the ground into the sub-basement of Four Freedoms Plaza, currently under construction. He climbs to one of the top floors, expecting to get his revenge on the Thing but instead is shot with a laser pistol, which sends him crashing out the window to his death. The laser-wielder looks like a construction worker but is really our old friend, the Scourge of the Underworld. See, Spidey, Marv, Reed, and Ben? Defeating the Basilisk wasn't so hard.