Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Silent Night--Deadly Night!

You'd think that the Ghost Rider would be one of the last characters to appear in a Christmas-themed story, yet here he was (co-starring with the Thing) in a tale with the "three wise men" whose journey coincided with a new star in the heavens. It's just the kind of twist that writer Steve Gerber would (and does) indulge in--and it's actually not a half-bad tale, given the constraints it faces in tying things up neatly by its end (just as its sister publication, Marvel Team-Up, often did).  Sometimes it's easy to forget with these titles that not every team-up story has to be weighed down with deep meaning and give us a profound sense of realization.  If the story can stay true to its characters while avoiding having their adventures in what amounts to a spin-off mag descend to the level of fluff, chances are good that its readers are going to be pleased.

Basically, we have a new star on Christmas Eve which Reed Richards has discovered is pointing to a specific area in Arizona--specifically, Wyatt Wingfoot's tribal reservation. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let's check in with the Ghost Rider, who unexpectedly comes across three travelers who look like they've stepped out of a time machine, and who just happen to also have an interest in that same star:

Blaze is the one struck speechless?
Apparently, men with flaming skulls were no big deal to kings back in the day.

But while the Ghost Rider is intrigued enough to investigate further, Ben Grimm is leaving Reed in his observatory and makes his way to Sue Richards's Christmas gathering. Though Ben, frustrated with Reed's seeming inability to tear himself away from his work, is about to discover that his best friend has his humorous side, after all:

It's some very nice characterization by Gerber, who demonstrates a decent feel for the Fantastic Four, and for the Thing in particular.

Meanwhile, the Ghost Rider has discovered more time divergences concerning the mystery he faces:

What the Rider doesn't realize is that this ancient city is really the Konohoti reservation of Wyatt's people; but, upon entering the city, he does note that the populace is made up entirely of American Indians. And when he investigates further, he comes across other surprising things with this setting and its purported time period, including a stable with a newborn child. Which is where our villain for the issue arrives on the scene:

While the Rider has been unceremoniously dealt with, the Thing has convinced Reed to stay behind and be with his family, while he volunteers to investigate the star and its strange connection with Wyatt's reservation. And when he arrives in the area, he meets the Rider and gets a briefing on what's been happening:

The two then decide to infiltrate the town as the robed travelers already headed there. And this time, the villain unveils himself for us, as well:

Yes, the Miracle Man, whose bid for power was brought to an end by the FF and who was subsequently removed from our plane of reality by the dead Cheemuzwa tribe in order to tutor him in accepting his mortality. But, in his madness, the Miracle Man interpreted their teachings in a different way:

I'm sure you're wondering the same thing I am here: dead spirits need to sleep?? At any rate, the Miracle Man goes about creating his own biblical history, with his logic seeing the end result as affirmation of his own godhood. And he's not at all happy about intruders whose very presence disrupts his careful planning:

Convinced that his plan is ruined, the Miracle Man goes on a rampage, setting fire to the city and ensuring that no one leaves alive. But while the Rider sees to the evacuation of the tribespeople, the Thing goes after the Miracle Man, remembering a handy tactic that helped to defeat him before:

At that point, the Cheemuzwa return to again take charge of the Miracle Man (let's get it right this time, huh, fellas?), with their fourth spirit remaining as the child from the manger scene. As for the Rider--well, with only nine issues of his own series under his belt, you can't begrudge Gerber (along with editor Len Wein) giving him a parting plug:

Despite the accolades I'm doling out for this story, I did have something of a problem with it going the easy route and having the Miracle Man descend into near-total madness before the dust had even settled on his earlier defeat--as well as recycling things we've seen before. For instance, the Cheemuzwas make the same error in judgment with the Miracle Man that they did before, and he turns on them just as he did then. And at the end, they again remove him, with no apparent guarantee that they'll handle him any better than last time. Though if nothing else, what do you want to bet that they'll all sleep with one eye open from now on?

Marvel Two-In-One #8

Script: Steve Gerber
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Charlotte Jetter

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