Monday, January 21, 2019

The Coming Of... Her!

While there unfortunately aren't a lot of the team-up stories from the '70s and '80s that I could point to and say that they were well worth the dimes and quarters you and I shelled out for them, there is one story from early 1980 in the Thing's team-up mag that may surprise you as being both compelling and entertaining, with a well-conceived plot and an engaging cast of characters moving it along. It also serves as an intriguing and informal sequel to a two-part story from three years earlier, when Marvel Two-In-One again came into play to provide a now-classic moment in Marvel history.

Given what we now understand to be the potential of what eventually came to be known as the Infinity Gems, it probably seems a little careless for these heroes to abandon the soul gem and simply leave it out in the open for anyone to come along and claim for their own. But at the time, Thanos had only thought to use the gem and other "soul gems" (not yet upgraded to Infinity Gems) as a power source for a weapon--and since Thanos had been slain by a manifestation of Warlock, perhaps Mar-vell and the others felt the danger of someone else using the gem in the same manner had passed. Admittedly very short-sighted of them, just to leave a symbol of tribute at Warlock's grave site--but no doubt helpful to other writers who might want to someday take advantage of the fact that the scene leaves the door open for Warlock's return.

And that time indeed arrives, when a powerful being interrupts a pleasant evening between Ben Grimm and his lady love, Alicia Masters--one who, like her golden-skinned predecessor, has emerged from a cocoon and is intent on following a trail that has over a decade of dust covering it. And in some way, Alicia is the key to her plans.

The Thing doesn't make any headway against this powerful woman who the story has no choice but to refer to as a pronoun lettered with emphasis. Unlike Him, Her hasn't yet begun announcing herself as such; but thanks to a helpful origin page laid out by artist Jerry Bingham, writer Mark Gruenwald makes it clear that she once had another identity (and gender), courtesy of the Enclave--the same scientists who created Him.

So we've learned both what this woman's purpose is and why she's altered her form, though her reason for abducting Alicia--as a lead to the whereabouts of Him, given that Alicia was the last to encounter Him on Earth--seems futile, since she has no knowledge of what's happened to him since that time.

Meanwhile, frantic with worry, the Thing returns to the Baxter Building and begins to use the equipment there to search for Alicia, though he receives some unexpected help in that regard.

Nor is Ben alone in receiving assistance, as Alicia and Her discover while continuing their conversation--in a scene that serves to introduce the final cast member who will join the others in seeing this story through.

It's a startling claim that Her makes, to be sure--and while in hindsight it's possible to predict the outcome, given that this sort of thing has been attempted before, we know so little about Her's ability at this point that it's still shaping up to be a tantalizing quest these people are undertaking.

As for the Thing coming along for the ride, Her is adamant that "such an imperfect being" can't be permitted to do so--and when the Thing and Starhawk locate the group just in time to see them boarding Moondragon's ship, hostilities erupt and render the subject of additional passengers moot.

But there's little doubt that the Thing is going to do whatever it takes to ensure Alicia's safety, while Starhawk clearly wishes to investigate Her further--and so we're all set to embark on this cosmic quest, with the goal being no less than to restore a life. But despite the assurances of Her, how will it all really end??

It's too soon to answer that question, of course--but we can begin by rejoining the Thing and Starhawk, as they regroup and make their way back to the Baxter Building to secure transportation that will allow them to follow the strange duo who appear to have abducted Alicia. To that end, they enter the area where the Fantastic Four house their aircraft--and one vessel in particular which seems tailor made for the journey they mean to take.

As for the status of Her and those who have pledged to accompany her (that is, Her), Moondragon is proving to be a font of information for the golden female who is searching for Him--providing Her with a rundown on not only Adam Warlock's fate, but where they may locate him (er, Him). (Curse these pronouns!) Curiously, Her seems somewhat obsessed with her mission, almost as if time were of the essence--which isn't the case, but is consistent with the seemingly out-of-nowhere development that she has fallen in love with Him. Aside from Her's intent to mate with Him in order to create "the perfect race," there's been no foundation laid for her strong feelings toward Him; perhaps as we go along, we'll receive more context in that regard.

For now, Moondragon has set her course for Counter-Earth, the replica of the true Earth which the High Evolutionary created and placed in orbit on the far side of the sun, and the world where Adam Warlock has been buried. But on their approach, there is a complication which may stop the group's mission in its tracks.

If it seems that Gruenwald's story is reading so far as somewhat detached and even unexciting in places, it's a fair observation. While he has scripted a decent story here overall, his style of writing can come across as too impassive and matter of fact, which are terms you likely wouldn't want to apply to material you want to sell to comic book readers. A meticulous follower of Marvel's universe and its characters, Gruenwald covers all the bases well enough... his plot proceeds logically... and he capably takes us from Point A to Point B to Point C and so on, while keeping his players in character; but like his work on Captain America, he tends to virtually sap the life out of all involved here. Much of the situation could be improved if the letterer (in this case, Joe Rosen) was given free rein to spice up the dialogue--but one gets the sense that Gruenwald is in the habit of keeping his letterer on a tight leash, perhaps in an attempt to have his cast be seen as interacting in conversation just as you and I would instead of as "comic book characters." Whatever the reason, it tends to leave the reader feeling that, as good as the story might be, something is missing.

While within the hollowed-out asteroid which serves as the Evolutionary's base/laboratory, something is indeed missing, though not at first glance. The man himself is finally located by Moondragon's group, though he appears deceased--but before the matter can be investigated further, the ladies have a reckoning with the Thing and Starhawk, who have finally tracked them down and are insistent on obtaining answers. And it certainly doesn't help matters when it appears that Moondragon and Her have added to their crimes by attacking the Evolutionary.

During the battle, the female which shares Starhawk's body--Aleta--rises to the fore unbidden and continues the battle with Her, leaving the Thing to deal with Moondragon (or she with him, depending on who you ask). It's become clear during their voyage that Moondragon has felt eclipsed by Her and has lost a measure of self-confidence in the face of the golden one's impressive abilities--and so the Thing's arrival turns out to be opportune, as a way to raise her standing in the eyes of Her. Regrettably, however, the battle instead becomes a painful lesson in humiliation.

With a temporary truce in effect, thanks to Alicia's intervention, the group's attention turns to investigating the Evolutionary's death--or, rather, what appeared to be a state of death. With the answer comes a solution, and an eye-opening demonstration of the ability of Her to do what she claims in regard to returning life to the deceased.

The procedure successful, the Evolutionary reveals that it was Warlock who attacked him, angered by what he assumed was the Evolutionary's betrayal of his vow not to destroy Counter-Earth--though at the time, Counter-Earth was still present and whole, even though Warlock seemed to believe otherwise. Yet there was no appeasing Warlock's mood, and he exacted vengeance for what he considered to be the loss of four billion innocent lives, using his soul gem to slay the Evolutionary. To escape death, however, the Evolutionary returned to his noncorporeal form of disembodied intelligence, while an anguished Warlock departed.

Through Her, the Evolutionary learns of her mission to locate Warlock and raise him from the dead--but where is Counter-Earth? The Evolutionary is startled to see that the planet is truly gone, as Warlock claimed, though he deduces that the world was indeed still in orbit during Warlock's visit--and so he turns to his technology, which sheds light on the incredible.

As is evident, there's nothing wrong at all with Gruenwald's solid plot thus far, as this mystery begins to build to its climax. Who, or what, "stole" Counter-Earth? And why? Does it have anything to do with Warlock? And will Her succeed in actually bringing him back from the dead??


Mr. Grimm, I believe the word you're looking for is: "Yikes!"

Marvel Two-In-One #s 61-62

Script: Mark Gruenwald
Pencils: Jerry Bingham
Inks: Gene Day
Letterer: Joe Rosen


Big Murr said...

I have to offer a small defence for the chaps leaving the soul gem on the grave.

In the preceding plot that killed Warlock, it is explained how Thanos acquired five of the "Soul Gems" In that overview, Thanos found two of the five gems were just lying in the dirt: One abandoned in a cave on Deneb IV due to unknown circumstances. The other discarded on the Moon by the Gardener. If an Elder of the Universe tosses a Gem aside like a used up piece of chewing gum, who are the Avengers to do differently? At least they used the Soul Gem as a respectful memorial.

And maybe the Gardener knew what he was doing. In the future plots featuring the Infinity Gauntlet et al, trying to secure a Gem only raises blood pressure via anxiety and ultimately results in a lot of property damage and injury when whoever wants the Gem gets the Gem.

Comicsfan said...

I can't speak for the Deneb IV party, Murray, but I can at least add some context to the Gardener's actions. For the Gardener, whose passion was to create growth and life in the form of his (you guessed it) garden, his gem was forever corrupted in his eyes when he used its power in concert with Warlock's to deal with the Stranger when he attacked the two (as well as Spider-Man), an act which expended his gem's power to create life. As a result, the gem was now only a weapon, and therefore an object the Gardener wanted nothing to do with. (Or, put another way, "a used up piece of chewing gum" to be tossed aside.)

Like the Avengers, the Gardener could have been more responsible since, "corrupted" or not, we're still talking a weapon--after all, not everyone wants to create gardens with objects of great power. Abandoning his gem on the moon, he departed--but the gem was retrieved by Thanos and used with the other "soul gems" to create the synthetic gem which the Avengers later destroyed. Following Thanos's death at the hands of Warlock, and Warlock's subsequent burial, the Gardener sensed the soul gem's emanations at the site following the memorial service, and claimed it for himself, since this gem still bore the power to make worlds bloom--and since Warlock now resided in the world within the gem, he would essentially be in the Gardener's safekeeping.

The Gardener's next stop was the barren, sub-atomic world of K'ai--where he recreated his valley of growth, but later ran afoul of the Hulk, who was there to bury the dead Jarella and who confiscated the soul gem to use its power to make the world habitable again for Jarella's former subjects. The Gardener, in appreciation of the Hulk's selflessness, ceased hostilities and requested to remain on the new, lush world with Jarella's people.

(with thanks to Bill Mantlo for tying the whole series of events together)

Anonymous said...

And at the very end of that Hulk story they are all standing around Jarella's grave when a flower erupts from the earth covering the grave.

"It's a miracle" declares one of Jarella's subjects.

"No, not miracle" replies the Hulk, "Just Jarella saying goodbye to Hulk one last time".

Such a beautifully poignant moment that has stuck in my memory all these years.

Comicsfan said...

I quite agree, Colin, it was a very nice touch to the scene.