Once again, we have here an issue of Marvel Team-Up that goes without the services of the amazing Spider-Man. This will happen less and less frequently as the months go by, until this eventually becomes a de facto third Spidey title. For now, let's see how Johnny Storm and a certain Thunder God fare against the menace of the Lava Men!
Thor has had many alter egos over the years since his creation, but this story takes place before the character's life got quite so complicated. At this point in time Thor assumes the identity of the lame physician Dr. Donald Blake when he's off duty.
Johnny Storm, better known as the high-flying Human Torch, is minding his own business when something catches his eye... a set of flaming footprints leading from a sewer manhole down the middle of the street. Thinking this somewhat unusual he decides to set down and have a look.
Using his hand as a flare to get a closer look into the alley, the Torch catches a shadowy figure by surprise. The mystery man jumps to the conclusion that "They've sent an assassin to destroy me!", and sprays the Torch with some ashen cinders that flow from his bare hand. The cinders adhere to the Torch and solidify into a cocoon, which renders him completely immobile.
It is now that our mysterious assailant steps from the shadows, revealing himself to be a Lava Man. The Torch calmly asks to be released, but the Lava Man is convinced his very life is in danger and will not listen to reason. Fortunately the Torch can take care of himself, and after flaming back on he simply burns his way out of his bounds.
Hopping to his feet the Torch lays a beauty of a left cross on the Lava Man, who responds in kind. While they fight the Lava Man insists he will not be beaten, as the fate of the entire world depends on his mission. When the Torch clearly has no idea what he's talking about, the Lava Man finally realizes that the this is not an agent sent to kill him. Collapsing to the pavement, the Lava Man claims to be dying, and urges the Torch to aid him in his task of contacting the Mighty Thor.
Switching our scene across town, we join Dr. Don Blake in the back seat of a cab. He's listening to the rantings of a stereotypically loudmouthed New York City cabbie when his attention is drawn skyward. Written across the sky in huge flaming letters is the message "Thor urgent you meet me atop Lady Liberty, Torch".
Hopping out of the cab and striking his cane upon the ground, Dr. Blake becomes the Mighty Thor and takes off in a flash to see what the Torch needs so urgently. Thor barely lands upon the Statue of Liberty before he surprises the Torch by calling the Lava Man by name (Molto) and greets him as a friend.
Molto now tells us of his mission here on the surface. Many months ago (Avengers # 5 to be precise, which is a little before even my time) Thor and his fellow Avengers drove back an invasion of Lava Men led by their maniacal witch doctor, Jinku. Ever since then they've all lived in peace, until recently Jinku began having prophetic dreams of conquest. Jinku described his dreams to the Lava Man chief, and though Molto hotly disputed their validity Jinku claimed he could prove they were true. Jinku led them through a series of dark, unused tunnels, until they came into a huge cavern occupied by a huge machine.
Anyone who's read Marvel Team-Up 17 (or my review of it) will recognize this machine as belonging to the Mole Man. It's been repaired and maintained by his Moloids, who await his return. Unfortunately for them, the lava men want it too, and being a good deal stronger and smarter than the Moloids they're able to sweep them aside and claim it.
Jinku explains how the machine could be used to simultaneously activate every volcano in the world, releasing a torrent of molten rock that will destroy civilization and at the same time make the surface more hospitable to the lava men.
Molto had heard enough, and snuck away in an attempt to warn the Avengers. But Jinku noticed him, and blasted him with a radioactive burst from his staff. Mortally wounded, Molto struggled his way to the surface, where he has now found the Thunder God and used his last breath to tell the tale. With that, Molto passes away into dust.
Determined not to let Molto die in vain (to say nothing of saving mankind) Thor uses his incredible hammer to open a space warp which leads the heroes to Hawaii, above the volcano Mauna Loa. The eruption of the volcano signals that testing of the infernal machine has already begun.
The two heroes act quickly to save the city below the volcano from ruin. Using his hammer Thor pounds a trough into the mountainside to redirect the flow of the lava, while the Torch uses his power of heat absorption to cool it off, making it thicken and flow more slowly. Finally Thor whips up a terrific thunderstorm, the rain from which douses the lava and quenches the eruption.
Now that they've treated the symptom, our heroes go after the disease. Tunneling down through the mountain they come across Jinku, who with a crew of lava men is operating the machine that's causing all the trouble. Thor and the Torch spend a page whooping lava man butt, but they are then felled by a burst from Jinku's staff.
Jinku takes this opportunity to let us all in on the Machiavellian genius of his master plan. He intended all along for Thor to show up, indeed he allowed Molto to escape specifically to lure the Thunder God here. He intends to use Mjolnir to power the machine, making it strong enough to carry out his mad scheme.
The Torch is dead weight in this plan, and so the lava men just toss him into a magma pit. Then Jinku runs up against a little snag when it turns out that none of the lava men can lift Thor's hammer. Remembering that "no living being" can heft Mjolnir he summons up a giant hand of animated rock, which takes the hammer and plugs it into the machine. (This is a cheat, by the way. Never before, or since, to my knowledge have they made an exemption for non-living things to be able to lift Thor's hammer).
With the awesome might of Mjolnir acting as a battery the machine begins to rev up to full power... and then suddenly stops dead. Where Thor's hammer once sat is now a plain wooden cane, and even more astounding is that Thor has vanished, replaced by a skinny guy in a suit. Astounding, that is, to anyone who doesn't know that Thor reverts back into Don Blake if he's separated from his hammer for longer than 60 seconds!
Taking advantage of the surprise this development has caused, Blake jumps up to the machine and retrieves his cane, transforming once again into Thor! With the might of the Thunder God again his, Thor smashes the machine to bits, completely destroying it.
Even with the machine out of commission, it looks like Thor is going to have his hands full with a mob of seriously angry lava men. But then the cavalry arrives to save the day, in the form of the Human Torch leading an army of Moloids! (What, you thought being dropped into a magma pit could kill Johnny Storm? As if!)
The struggle continues but briefly before the lava man chief has his people relent. After a brief negotiation he agrees to return to his domain and live in peace, and with that the heroes return to the surface and bring our story to a close.
Next issue : Spidey's back, and he brought the Hulk with him!
I thought this was a pretty solid story. I like the way they way they used the earlier Mole Man story as a springboard, as well as their use of characters from as far back as Avengers # 5. If I have any problem with the story it's that I think they let the lava men off a little too easy in the end. I mean, these guys were trying to wipe out all of humanity, I think that calls for a little more than "glad you've learned your lesson, don't do it again."
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: In GS Spidey #2 our hero teams up with Bruce Le..., um, I mean Shang-Chi, while in ASM 137 Harry Osborn is strapping bombs on people's heads. Those Osborns, nothing but laughs, huh?
And meanwhile, in the real world: "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" opens in theaters, ushering in a new genre of filmmaking. Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fight the legendary 'Rumble in the Jungle'. In sadder news, entertainment great Ed Sullivan passes away at the age of 72.
Although it clearly suffers from the Web-Spinners absence, it's a good story with a nice respect for continuity. I'd normally give it three webs (or is that hammers?), but I'm going to dock it half a web for that "lifting Thor's hammer" thing.