Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Reunion Of Evil!


At the same time that the scientists of "Them" were creating the first Cosmic Cube, they were also resurrecting one of the most evil men in history--the Red Skull, who formed an alliance with Them only so long as it took him to learn of and secure the use of the Cube for himself. The Skull's grab for ultimate power was eventually foiled by Captain America, yet the Skull himself would continue to scheme and plot his way into many more stories thereafter.

Meanwhile, Adolf Hitler, the man who created the concept of the Red Skull and who both chose and molded the man who would don the hideous mask and become his protégé, would live on as well, in stories that presented him as the villain known as the Hate Monger as well as a creation of Arnim Zola that presumably held Hitler's transplanted brain. Later, it was revealed that Zola, originally one of Hitler's scientists before his own bizarre transformation, had successfully made it possible for Hitler's "mind-essence" to be transferred to a cloned brain at the instant that the mad führer fell victim to the Human Torch at the end of World War II--the same brain that Zola, decades later, had transplanted into the creature known as "Nazi-X." Eventually, Zola perfected the process, so that Hitler could transfer his essence at will to any specially-prepared body that Zola had waiting.

Yet in a story from 1980, the circle would finally close for Hiter, the Skull, the Hate Monger, and the Cosmic Cube, as the Red Skull reunites with the man who created him, and both men are on the verge of attaining the power they crave. The tale follows the Skull's defeat on the moon by Dr. Doom, where the Skull had been left to die but was retrieved by hirelings of the Hate Monger and brought to the former isle of the Skull's compatriots, the Exiles--now a fortified base where the Skull and the Monger assembled their own Nazi army and conspired on a secret project designed to bring them nothing less than ultimate power. At the center of it all is the Cosmic Cube--but which of these fiends would wield it?




The alliance between the Skull and the Hate Monger would appear to be one of mutual benefit, with the story that takes place in the Super-Villain Team-Up series formally making it clear that the Hate Monger has always been the guise of another more infamous perpetrator of hatred--the man responsible for the creation of "the Red Skull" and whose identity the Skull is well aware of.



On their island base, Hitler and the Skull have culled a number of helpless prisoners who are kept chained in a pen (and easy to keep tabs on from the villains' gruesomely designed dining room, it seems), to be used for a specific purpose which we'll learn of shortly. There are also others who are being flown in to assist with certain technical aspects of their project, the secret of which is revealed to one such "guest"--Yousuf Tov, an Israeli commando whose team had covertly landed on the isle in an effort to gather intelligence. But the team was captured, while Tov is isolated and eventually escorted to the heart of the project to at last learn the information he came for, though unfortunately as a prisoner.




In a bold move, Tov manages to escape the isle, only to be recaptured and returned, the security clearances he holds forcibly extracted from his mind as originally intended. His partner, Rachel, later manages her own escape and returns to S.H.I.E.L.D. in order to alert the agency to the base, having no specifics on the plans of the Hate Monger and the Skull but hoping to spur SHIELD into launching an attack. But just as Tov's escape was manufactured, we'll discover that the same may hold true for Rachel--but if so, why was her escape allowed to succeed?

Behind the scenes, villainy is afoot, with both the Skull and Hitler well aware that only one person will be able to hold and use the power of the Cube. While Tov was being shown the facility, the Skull attempted to make a deal with him that would spare his life, if he would act for the Skull when the time was right.



The damage to Tov's from the extraction process would render that meeting moot; but meanwhile, Hitler has monitored Rachel's briefing to SHIELD through a telepathic link with one of her team. If and when SHIELD attacks, he will be ready--yet he's taken this step in secret, and it's not yet clear what his purpose is for this subterfuge.

Back in the lab, Zola is present to supervise the final steps of the project--the creation of the Cube's matrix, thanks to information drained from one of the A.I.M. scientists who worked on the creation of the first Cube. Success is near--but for whom?





Neither the Skull nor the Hate Monger are fools--each knows that the other is aware of the fact that their alliance will be sundered once the Cube is complete and is ready to be taken possession of. In a contemplative moment, the Skull displays rare thoughts of regret at having to take such steps against the one who literally made him what he is, a kindred spirit in oppression and conquest.




As expected by the Hate Monger, the SHIELD attack comes, with the Skull assuming command of the isle's defenses and coordinating his army accordingly. And we finally learn not only how Hitler planned to take control of the Cube, but also why he may have facilitated Rachel's escape to bring SHIELD into the picture.




And so while both the Skull and Hitler have made preparations to seize the Cube at the proper time, only one of them has planned sufficiently to accomplish it. Given how the Skull in the past so successfully bypassed the wishes of Hitler and amassed his own power base, while Hitler was mostly shown to be unable to keep a rein on the Skull's ambition, it seemed logical to expect that, when push came to shove, it would be the Skull who prevailed--but it looks like Hitler, no slouch in the ambition department himself, has covered all the bases. But the tension in this story continues to build.

Elsewhere, though SHIELD doesn't yet realize what this pair's ultimate plan is, its agents have been successful in their invasion--and as they evacuate, the incendiary bombs they've set take care of the installation as well as the island itself. It's only then when we learn of the fate of the Cosmic Cube--and the man who failed to possess it.



While what we've seen here unfortunately leaves the door open for Hitler to reappear in another story down the line in some capacity, writer Peter Gillis, whether intentionally or not, brings the long story of these two men full circle with this scene, as well as giving the Skull more depth than he rarely receives as a two-dimensional maniacal villain. It's perhaps best if things are left at that. I could be wrong, but I doubt that anyone wants to see Adolf Hitler officially joining the Marvel villain pantheon and become a recurring character. To retain the connection to villainous Nazi plots, the Red Skull adequately fills that slot--and it's easy enough for him to put this affair behind him and return to the hatred and cruelty that will forever drive his ambition.

(This post covers issues 16-17 of Super-Villain Team-Up.)



On a closing note, the story also nails the coffin lid shut on the Super-Villain Team-Up series, which remained a bi-monthly publication for the majority of its run and formally ceased publication with issue #14, though Gillis's story briefly returned it to the comics racks following an extensive hiatus. By that time, the Doom/Sub-Mariner "team-up" concept had unquestionably run its course, and the Skull/Hate Monger appearances were written to be limited, as we've seen. Writer Bill Mantlo raises an interesting point in the issue's letters page: Was this concept sustainable, as Roy Thomas seemed to think? Mantlo strikes an optimistic note on the subject, but of course feel free to draw your own conclusions.


2 comments:

Colin Jones said...

I'd definitely have bought 'Super-Villain Team-Up' but I never saw it on sale and no SVTU stories ever appeared in any Marvel UK comics. So the concept of Marvel villains teaming up in their own series is one aspect of Marvel that I never experienced. In the '70s there was a British TV show for children called 'The Tomorrow People' about a bunch of kids with special powers. In one story Hitler returns but the twist ending reveals that Hitler had been an alien all along. The alien's true face is seen in all its' gory detail with one eye slithering down - even as a kid it made no sense to me that the alien's eye was seemingly unattached and could slide down his face but full marks for yuckiness !

Comicsfan said...

Good grief--if that was Hitler, I'd hate to see what they would have done with the Red Skull!

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