These days, crossover between properties is a commonplace affair, with The Shadow meeting The Green Hornet, Captain Action being mentored by Operator Number 5, and the quintessential example of the Punisher’s visit to Riverdale. Back in the day, though, this kind of meeting was something much more rare, but no less interesting… Your Major Spoilers (retro) review awaits!
A neat conceit for the crossover.
Mantlo clearly loves Doc Savage.
The penciler and inker clash badly.
MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE #21
Writer: Bill Mantlo
Penciler: Ron Wilson
Inker: Pablo Marcos
Colorist: Janice Cohen
Letterer: Gaspar Saladino/Karen Mantlo
Editor: Archie Goodwin
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 30 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00
Previously in Marvel Two-In-One: Of all the heroes in the Marvel Universe, the most well-traveled is probably the Amazing Spider-Man, but a close second goes to Benjamin J. Grimm, the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing. Aside from his duties in the Fantastic Four, Ben was the star of Marvel Two-In-One, travelling the length and breadth of the Marvel Universe to fight off low-level villains and minor world-beaters alongside the undercard heroes of the Marvel Universe.
From an office is on the 86th floor of a New York City skyscraper, Clark Savage, Junior and his associates travel the world in search of adventure, crossing swords with some of the nastiest customers the 1930s have to offer. In 1976, Marvel Comics had the rights to produce Doc Savage comics, a move that probably had pulp fans thrilled, even if (as was the custom) his adventures were taking place in the Marvel Universe. Though separated by decades (4 at the time of this writing, closer to 9 now), it comes to pass that both Doc Savage and The Thing are surprised when a mysterious woman arrives at each of their skyscraper homes, each woman telling an incredible tale…
Mantlo does some interesting stuff with the parallel story here, as young Ms. Lightner tells the Thing and the Human Torch of her twin brother’s descent into obsession with his late father’s work, while, four decades earlier, Mrs. Lightner explains to Doc Savage and his retinue about her husband’s own prepossession with his work: a device known as the Sky Cannon.
The Lightner men share a strange theory, the theory that their cannon can transfer massive cosmic power, downloading stellar energy and transferring it into a human host. Things get worse, as both time-frames suddenly see a massive power outage, causing our heroes to set out in Fantasticar and Autogyro, headed for the Lightner’s country home. As they arrive, forty years apart, both Lightners fire their cannons skyward, causing a strange temporal anomaly…
The Sky Cannon’s power does more than just draw energy down from space, it seems, as the energy breaches time itself, drawing the 70s and the 30s together somehow. The effect on Thomas and Raymond Lightner is even more dramatic…
While it’s not exactly Lester Dent, Bill Mantlo’s script is pretty respectful to Doc and company, especially as the Man of Bronze crashes to Earth and is confronted with The Thing and the Torch. He quickly accepts that something odd has happened, figuring out the time dilation in seconds, and is the first to realize that the Lightners have merged into one being. The Thing’s strongest blow is useless against Blacksun’s strange powers, but Savage quickly figures out his weakness…
The Thing and Doc Savage quickly rally, attacking Blacksun together, when the villain is fells by the greatest villain of the entire Bronze Age…
…the lower page counts caused by the paper shortages of the 1970s. The story wraps up quickly, with Blacksun’s heart giving out and the villain collapsing. Interestingly, this story is later revisited in the legendary Project: Pegasus storyline, with Thomas Lightner returning and once again transforming into an inhuman form, the Nth Man. After again clashing with The Thing, he is sent into another dimension, later reappearing in the Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe Graphic novel 20 years after this story ended. The Marvel Doc Savage stories were short-lived, with 8 issues of his series coming out at the same time as this series. The biggest failing comes in the art team, as Ron Wilson’s blocky penciling style doesn’t mesh well with Pablo Marcos’ inks, creating a strangely elongated and misshapen series of pages. The layouts are interesting, especially the parallel tracks of the two time frames early in the issue, but things fall apart when faces are involved. All in all, Marvel Two-In-One #21 is a book more important for its setup of some interesting issues that came later, but it’s interesting to see Ben Grimm telling Doc Savage that he’s always been a fan, echoing the Batman/Shadow crossover that took place a few years earlier, earning 2 out of 5 stars overall. It might have been interesting to see what a longer tale (and some more refined art) could have done for these diametrically opposite, yet somehow well-paired heroes…