RETRO REVIEW: Marvel Team-Up #74 (October 1978)

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Or – “LIVE FROM THE 70′s!  IT’S COMIC-BOOK GOLD!”

Many a comic writer has tried to add verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and insipid narrative by chucking in a topical reference or two.  Witness Captain America’s battles against both Nixon AND Reagan, Alison Blaire’s original gimmick as Disco Dazzler, or the double-shot of concentrated 1990′s that is Doc Samson’s second uniform.  And then, there was this issue…

MARVEL TEAM-UP #74
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Bob Hall
Inker: Marie Severin
Colorist: Marie Severin
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino/Annette Kawecki
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 35 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $5.00

Previously, in Marvel Team-Up:  Spider-Man has always been a great character for team-ups.  He’s smart enough to play the brains, funny enough to contrast a stoic, tragic enough to give gravitas to a lightweight.  In short, he’s versatile and unique enough that he’ll play against nearly anyone, from the Angel to the Zombie, without losing the Spider-Man mystique, and the Marvel Team-Up title was created to exploit that fact.  But, not all of Pete Parker’s life is about fighty-fighty, and even the hard-luck kid occasionally gets a night off for a little girly action…

The first thought that popped into my head about this issue was how much Marvel has missed by underplaying Spider-Man as a boyfriend/husband.  The character just seems to scream out “LOVE ME!” and in a monogamous relationship, he’s adorable, as when he stammers an apology to Mary Jane about how long dinner took.  Moments later, a strangely familiar Japanese man (pay attention to him, he’s important later) pushes by, as Peter and MJ make their way to their seats for the big show.  At the same time, backstage at Studio 8H…

What’s probably funniest about this is that Bill Murray looks not even a little bit like Bill Murray here, instead vaguely resembling Johnny Yong Bosch.  The late John Belushi fares a bit better, if only because his more exaggerated features lend themselves to comic book caricaturing more.  Having recieved a mysterious parcel, the ever-curious Belushi opened it, put on the jeweled ring within, and has promptly gotten his finger stuck, a slapstick premise if there ever was one.  Sadly, Chris Claremont’s comedy is a lot like Gene Roddenberry’s: Inconsistent, at best.  The ring’s actual owner, the Silver Samurai (remember the rude Japanese man?) has assembled a group of criminals to regain his property, which leads to wacky hijinks…

…virtually none of which are really all that funny.  Jane Curtin also doesn’t look anything like herself under Bob Hall’s pen, now that I mention it, and there are a couple of cute moments to be wrung out of Garrett Morris playing Thor.  Bill Murray even gets a heroic turn, braining one of the bad guys and hiding amongst their number in the expected trench coat and fedora hat, as the criminals work their way through the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players to find which one has Silver Sam’s magic ring.  But if you know anything about Saturday Night Live in the ’70′s, you know that there’s only one way this is going down:  Samurai versus Samurai!

John Belushi’s samurai character is one of my favorite characters in SNL history (“Yo mamasan!” being a comedic highlight of epic proportions), and on the face of it, he’s no more ridiculous (or, for that matter, more historically inaccurate) than the mighty Silver Samurai himself, so seeing the bathrobe-clad madman in action was the main reason that I ever bought this book in the first place…

Sadly, Spidey’s strike freed the ring from Belushi’s finger, and the hidden teleportation circuitry (the main reason that the Samurai was so intent to find the thing) allows him to make a quick getaway.  I was a little surprised to have the issue wrap up so quickly, but paper shortages back in the day had lowered page counts to a place below even today’s 20 page stories, and things wrap quickly, with Belushi and Spider-Man ending up in the same bar (!!) to close things up…

This is a weird issue in a number of ways, not the least of which is in the real-world tie-in, but also in seeing Peter and Mary Jane having what might be a drinking establishment, having a discussion that carries a slight sexual connotation to it, a cameo from Statler and Waldorf, and Claremont attempting to be funny.  The last item doesn’t work as well as some of the others might have, which undermines things greatly, especially when we’re supposed to be seeing the actual SNL broadcast.  (If the whole aired show is of the quality of the on-air scenes we see, then it’s certainly the worst episode of the show ever, worse even than the 1980 season or anything that Chris Kattan ever did.)  The rule of funny states that an appropriately decent punchline can override story logic, but this issue gets by mostly on the rule of peculiar, but at least gives Bill Murray some kick-ass fight sequences.   Marvel Team-Up #74 is an anomaly even by Bronze Age standards, a story in which the topical references take over the entire issue, but one which oddly had minor ramifications in the Marvel U, giving Silver Samurai a new power, earning a mixed bag 2.5 out of 5 stars overall.  

Rating: ★★½☆☆