Or – “From The Major Spoilers Request Line!”
Of all the writers at 70’s era Marvel, Bill Mantlo’s work has more meaning for me than any save the late Steve Gerber. Mantlo’s greatest triumphs were in turning some of Marvel’s earliest toy tie-in books (Rom: Spaceknight and The Micronauts) into three-dimensional heroes in their own right, and it’s a downright shame that those series likely won’t see reprints because of their licensed nature. Bill had a hand in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fu, Howard the Duck, The Defenders and more of my favorite vintage books, and brought in the unlikeliest antagonist of all for Spider-Man in the arc leading up to this issue: 16th Century Puritan Minister Cotton Mather, key figure in the Salem Witch Trials!
MARVEL TEAM-UP #44
Scripter: Bill Mantlo
Penciler: Sal Buscema
Inker(s): Mike Esposito; Dave Hunt (backgrounds)
Cover Artist(s): Gil Kane & Dan Adkins (signed)
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino (page 1); Karen Mantlo
Editor: Marv Wolfman
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 25/30 Cents (Current NM Price: $20-$75)
Previously, on Marvel Team-Up: So, Cotton Mather has a problem. He’s been decrying the practice of witchcraft in his various pamphlets, but his actual aim has been to shake a REAL witch out of the trees to empower his evil patron, a creature called the Dark Rider. (It’s kind of a blah name, but bear with me, he’s kind of the MacGuffin, anyway.) By 1691, things were going badly, causing Mather to travel forward in time to the present (circa 1976, anyway) to capture Wanda Maximoff, the Scarlet Witch. In a desperate bid of self-protection, Wanda summoned Spider-Man to Latveria where he used Doctor Doom’s time machine to travel back to trial-era Salem in search of the Scarlet Witch. The Vision soon followed them, then Doctor Doom himself, all of whom fell before the mighty of the Dark Rider. (For somebody who needed a new power source, this guy seems to have a LOT of energy, defeating four superheroes in battle and dispatching his lackey through the timestream at will.) The two Avengers, Doom and Spidey found themselves in the clutches of evil, their doom upon them. Fortunately, in their native future era, another Avenger finds herself summoned by a strange energy force…
Teleported back in time, Moondragon (not yet the arrogant sack of whump that she would eventually become) finds Doom and the Scarlet Witch being drained of their arcane powers. Moondragon keeps the villain at bay, while Spider-Man, the Vision and the Witch awaken. Wanda reveals that she summoned her teammate to the past (a power level that pretty much wouldn’t recur until the “Avengers: Deconstructed” era.)
Moondragon, The Vision and Scarlet Witch each try to fight the creature alone, while Doom’s power is slowly drained away. Spider-Man realizes that the monster has sufficient juice to take down any one of them, but perhaps not enough to face them ALL, and sets forth to release Doom from his prison…
It’s a little bit weird to see Doctor Doom and the Web-Head workin side-by-side like this, but it was the 70’s. Things were different. Mantlo’s use of the trademark Bronze Age “Wall O’ Dialogue” (TM Rodrigo) is loose and entertaining, but he knows how to put words in the mouth of Spider-Man AND Doctor Doom, something that can’t be said for some of today’s best-known Marvel scribes. (coughbendiscough) A five-pronged assault pushes the Dark Rider back through the timestream using his own powers against him, leaving the heroes and villain triumphant. Before returning to the present, though, Spider-Man swings back to Salem to find John Proctor, a man beside whom he was imprisoned in a previous issue… Sadly, Spidey arrives too late.
During the 70’s, a number of factors (including a paper shortage) caused Marvel to cut the number of pages in their books, some of them pretty drastically. This story really shows the strain this puts on the plotting, as the 16 pages of story just can’t convey the drama that this last panel needs to carry. Still, though, when you read this issue with the previous three as an arc, it becomes clear that Mantlo had something on his hands. (There are some issues with historical accuracy, given that John Proctor WAS hanged on 19 August, but his wife Elizabeth was spared since she was pregnant, and their children survived.) Artwise, we’re in the hands of Sal Buscema, who gave us the Captain America tale a few Retro Reviews ago, and who does a pretty slick web-slinger and a downright awesome Doctor Doom. When this book was recommended in the Retro Review Forum thread (feel free to drop in and suggest your favorite issues of days gone by) I couldn’t remember anything but Cotton Mather, but it’s good to revisit Mantlo’s Marvel U., a place of heroism, a place of danger, and a place that has more emotional depth than many of the contemporary takes on Peter Parker’s world. Marvel Team-Up #44 takes a relatively silly premise (Spider-Man vs. The Salem Witch Trials!) and twists and reworks it into something different and mostly effective, earning a strong 3.5 out of 5 stars overall. Team-Up and it’s sister book Marvel Two-In-One were always like digging for hidden treasure: Sometimes you’d get a gem, and sometimes just a coprolith, but it was always fun digging around to see what came up.
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Should superheroes and real-life history be mutually exclusive?