This was once my favorite story from Marvel Team-Up. Not because it is the best (it isn't) but because I was always a sucker for the continuing story that still managed to feature a different guest-star on the cover of each issue. Oh sure, the appearances were sometimes a little forced but with a lineup like the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Dr. Doom, Moondragon, Kilraven, and the original Deathlok, how could you possibly complain?
|Cover Art:||Dan Adkins, Gil Kane|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Marvel Team-Up #2|
Walking down a corridor of stone with flaming torches inserted into the walls (sounds like Baron Von Shtupf's place again, doesn't it?), the Scarlet Witch has followed a strange voice that cries to her, "Come ye, witch! Come ye! The hour of thy soul's judgment is nigh!" She thinks back to earlier in the evening when she was in Avengers Mansion with her husband, the android known as the Vision. It began with a strange force at work on her... "a force that twisted me from within". Agitated by this mysterious influence, Wanda (the Witch's true name) reacts harshly to the Avengers' butler Jarvis and his offer of tea. When the Vision rebukes his wife for her outburst, she snarls at him, "So why don't ye leave me be, ye crimson devil?" and then attacks, her hands curled into claws. The Vision grasps her wrists, which brings Wanda back to herself. "Don't let it take me again!", she tells him. "It. A cold and alien other" which has taken the Witch to a door in a corridor in a castle.
The door is held shut by a large plank of wood that will not budge despite Wanda's exertions. She opts for using her mutant hex power instead... a power that disrupts probabilities and resembles the magic of a witch. This successfully blows the door into splinters. Wanda shields herself with her cape. (Wanda wears a danskin with one piece bathing suit, gloves, cape, boots, and mitre... all scarlet, of course.) Then, bracing herself, crosses the threshold to find "nothing! Just another corridor!"
Another flashback ensues, showing Wanda, possessed by the "other", and snagging an Avengers Quinjet to take her to her destination. As she programs in her destination coordinates, the Vision runs onto the mansion roof to try to stop her. But with a snarling, "The witch is leaving, Red One! She'll never kiss thy blood-stained lips again!", Wanda blasts off, leaving her husband behind.
She flies across the Atlantic to "the mountains of Central Europe and Castle Latveria... the abandoned castle of Doctor Doom!" (Why is Doom's castle abandoned? What was he doing at this point in time? Let's see if we can figure this out... Well, according to the Marvel Chronology Project, this Team-Up tale takes place right after the story in Super-Villain Team-Up #3-4 (December 1975, February 1976) in which Doom teams up with the Sub-Mariner to battle Dr. Dorcas, Attuma and Tiger Shark at Hydrobase. (Issue #4 written by Bill Mantlo, by the way.) But then Wanda says that the "records of the Fantastic Four in the Avengers' library showed this castle to be long-abandoned". Now that I think about it, there was some nonsense about Doom having more than one Latverian castle, wasn't there? Let's quietly let this entire subject slide.)
She comes to a strange shimmering light at the end of a castle corridor and peeks into the room to find the source. What she sees seems to terrify her. The strange voice says, "Tis time now! Twas the devil himself that hath brought ye to this pass and tis the devil in ye that will pay." At the same time, a strange unseen force seems to stagger Wanda. With her last ounce of strength, she releases a hex which takes the form of a "mystic bolt" and leaves the castle, heading for New York. Wanda lies unconscious on the stone floor. A figure in buckle shoes stands over her, pronouncing himself the "Lord's accuser" and charging her "with that foulest of perversions... witchcraft!"
Back in New York, our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man web-slings along, enjoying a respite from recent battles. "No more Shocker", he says, "No more Big Man or Crime Master or Sandman!" (Referring to events from ASM #151-152 and MTU #39-40, just to get you oriented.) Of course, he wouldn't be so cavalier about things if he knew that he would soon be facing "a fire-ball! Coming at me from out of nowhere." It's the Scarlet Witch's last hex, of course, but Spider-Man doesn't know that. All he knows is that it's heading right for him and, even though it gives off no heat, he has no intention of letting it hit him. He dodges out of the way and the miniature comet soars by... then changes direction and comes right at the web-slinger again. No matter how often he dodges, it keeps coming back. Spidey tries covering it completely up with webbing but the strange ball glows "even brighter" and the webbing disintegrates.
Stymied by this stand-off and cornered against a wall, Spidey has no time to dodge when the ball attacks him again. It pulls him right off the wall, then seems to swallow his legs right up. In a panic, Spider-Man shoots a line of web, but this does him no good. The ball continues to devour him. Soon, all that is left is the arm that holds the strand of web and then that is gone as well, leaving only the webbing. Even the glowing ball is gone. With a loud Pop!, it disappears.
Back at Dr. Doom's castle, a man in a super-villainish version of Pilgrim garb, raises his arms before a levitating, glowing golden rectangle, which he proclaims to be "the Lord's chariot". (He has long grey hair and a blue cape to go with his all-blue outfit. You can tell he's a Pilgrim because of his string tie and large buckle at the waist.) The Scarlet Witch remains unconscious beside him. Then, a glowing fire-ball comes up through the floor and, with another loud Pop!, it evaporates, leaving Spider-Man behind.
Taking in the scene, Spidey recognizes the Witch but not the strange, grim-faced man who calls himself "Mather". Holding a simple cross made with a couple of two-by-fours nailed together, Mather tells Spidey he will "burn thee, intruder, with the flame of Holy Purification" and, sure enough, a force that looks like flames roars out of the cross and wallops the web-spinner.
Spidey leaps away, his "every nerve-ending screaming". He decides that the best defense is a good offense, so he ricochets off the wall and leaps at Mather. But the Puritan knocks him away with his cross.
Spidey is "reeling", trying to get up off the floor, when Mather points his cross again. But he is not aiming at the webhead this time. Instead, he blasts Wanda, saying, "Twill be the foul witch that doth dispose of thee! Evil 'gainst evil." Wanda stands and aims her hands at Spider-Man, ready to deliver her hex power. But there is a battle of will going on inside her. "I swear I hear two voices coming from her", Spidey thinks, and while one wishes to destroy him, the other tries to resist. Mather commands her to "Destroy!" and Wanda appears to obey, even as she cries out "yes!" and "no!" simultaneously. Spidey leaps and the hex bolt blasts a large hole in the floor at his feet. He ends up in the hole, hanging onto the edge. Screaming that "The accursed witch did spare thee! My hold over her is not yet complete!", Mather kicks at Spidey's hands, knocking the web-slinger into the hole.
"Ye shall learn, my pretty, that none may go 'gainst Cotton Mather, High Priest of the Lord... he who is called Witch-Slayer", says our loony villain. Wanda, sweating from the effort, tries to resist, but Mather smacks her across the room with his cross, then clutches her by the throat. "I've but to lay hands upon ye and thy will is mine once more!", he says, and apparently he is right for at his next command to slay the web-spinner, the Witch puts up very little resistance. She blasts the ceiling with another hex, sending large chunks of debris down on Spider-Man, filling in the hole.
With Wanda's protector buried, Mather declares it "time for us to go from this time!" Though the Witch is mesmerized, there is a part of her still free. "And when that part realizes that she's just killed Spider-Man, it defies Mather, and cries."
Mather and Wanda stand under the aforementioned glowing rectangle, which is, in actuality, the time machine of Dr. Doom. "The hour of the Lord is nigh!" proclaims Mather, setting the machine into operation and he and the Witch travel in time from 1975 (the present) to 1692 (which I think was always the past).
Some hours later, back in 1975, Spidey recoveres consciousness. He is buried under a ton of rubble but two fallen wooden beams crossed in such a way that they blocked more of the avalanche, saving Spidey's life. "I've got a hunch that, hypnotized or not, I owe the Scarlet Witch one heckuva lot for them.", he thinks.
Slowly, carefully, Spidey moves stones until he can see the opposite wall. (OK, at this point, Bill and Sal seem to have forgotten that Spidey is in a hole so the opposing wall would be about ten feet above him, but, let's roll with this anyway.) The rocks start to shift dangerously, but our hero manages to shoot a web that attaches to that opposite wall. Bracing his feet against one of the wooden beams, he kicks off, which causes the whole pile to collapse. But pulling for all he's worth on his webbing, Spidey manages to slip out sideways before he is crushed. When it is all over, we can see that the hole Wanda created actually only blasted through the floor revealing another level below with plenty of room. Of course, the first time we saw it, Sal had clearly drawn it as a hole blasted into the ground. And, by the way, if there was more room down there to begin with, I think our agile web-slinger could have found a way to easily dodge all of that falling debris. (Oh, I'm sorry. We were going to let all that roll, weren't we?)
Anyway, Spidey fires a web through the hole to the above chamber and swings back up. He finds it empty but he also notices that the glowing platform that was hovering overhead when he arrived is now sitting down on the floor. He finds a control panel. Its read-out says "1692". Spidey figures it out. The fellow in the weird clothes who called himself Cotton Mather must be the real Cotton Mather and Spidey is enough of a student of history to know about "the Salem Witch-Riots of 1692"! He steps on the platform and sends himself back "to madness".
It is 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts, and Spidey has arrived in time to see a crazed mob of Pilgrims, wielding torches and pitchforks, crying "Mather's found another one! Burn her! Burn the witch!" The webhead climbs to the roof of a nearby log cabin. He figures, with the full moon, that he can see whatever is going on. The light of the moon is hardly necessary. Up on a platform, surrounded by the torch-wielding mob, is Cotton Mather, flourishing his cross. Wanda is tied at her wrists and ankles to two poles which stretch her out over a pile of firewood. Mather grips the Witch's face in his hand as he gloats about his power over the mob. Horrified, Wanda responds by spitting in his face but this just inflames the mob. One throws a rock that strikes Wanda in the cheek... drawing blood. The nasty Mather raises his hand to strike her... but he is stopped by a strong grip around his wrist. It is the Vision, somehow back in time as well, but to Cotton Mather... "Tis the very devil himself!"
The Vision, angrily, tosses Mather off the platform and, using this as a cue, Spider-Man leaps down to join the two Avengers. But it isn't as easy as all that. The rage of the crowd is at a fever-pitch and Cotton Mather stands amidst them, yelling, "The witch has called on her lord and master to save her from the wrath of the Lord. Tis a battle twixt God and the devil! And tis our souls that will be lost if we fail!"
On the letters page, readers are in despair over the recent run of issues, including the Frankenstein Monster/Man-Wolf team-up profiled in last month's PPP. R. Hundertmark from Rockville, Maryland creates a little medical scenario... "You there! Are you a relative?" "No sir, I'm a subsciber." "Well, son, you have a sick friend." Bill Caley of Delta, British Columbia says, "Well, uh... not bad, but the plot seems to be always the same." And Kirk O'Brien of Charlottesville, Virginia says, "Let me say, here you have one schlep of a mag." To which the response is, "I think we get the HINT, gang."
But, let's not dwell on the negative. The Marvel Value Stamp in this issue features Spidey and if you turn to the back of the mag, there's an ad for your own Spidey Web Shooter! ("Only $2.19 plus 39 cents postage and handling.") I don't suppose that offer is still good, is it?