Monday, July 29, 2019

Cry Monster!

For its brief, bi-monthly run, Marvel Feature gave the company its money's worth, with its first "feature"--the Defenders--spinning off to a successful series after a trial run of just three stories. By contrast, its next series, starring the astonishing Ant-Man, extended to a seven-issue story arc but was the only feature that failed to segue to its own title; though when Red Sonja was featured with an equal number of stories (following MF's return from a three-year hiatus), the character went on to her own mag, albeit briefly (15 issues in 1977, and relaunched in '83 with 13 issues). We needn't bemoan Sonja's handling fate at Marvel; she's done quite well since being picked up by Dynamic Entertainment, with her 2005 series lasting 81 issues followed by more limited runs still published to this day.

But what truly surprised me was the success that Marvel Feature brought to the Thing, who was green-lit for his own team-up mag after appearing in two stories that paired him with another Marvel character--a decision which we can presume was expedited after the sales figures for those two issues landed on the right desk(s). The Thing's debut story in MF, co-starring the incredible Hulk--their first meeting since their knock-down drag-out in Fantastic Four--still reads well even forty+ years later, its story featuring a near-ideal array of creative talent combined with a diverting story that offers not one but two villains: the Leader, rendered a cripple when the Rhino turned on him following an attack on the Hulk, and Kurrgo, the former Master of Planet X, whose lust for power had apparently doomed him to die with his world.

But in a story titled "Cry: Monster!", we can take a good guess as to who the Thing will have to deal with first!

For anyone who mainly picked up this issue for the Hulk but also happened to be that rare animal who may have read only the occasional issue of Fantastic Four, the opening segment by writer Len Wein and artist Jim Starlin serves to illustrate the difference between the Hulk and the Thing aside from their appearance--specifically the fact that, unlike the Hulk, Ben Grimm spends each day and night of his life as a monster, without respite or (as seems to be the case here) hope. Yet to the one who observes the scene, Ben's anguished frustration makes little difference to what he has planned for the Thing.

For those who are regular FF readers, however, Kurrgo's reappearance is certainly a surprise, considering he'd been stranded on a world facing its imminent destruction. To that end, Wein and Starlin bring us up to speed on the circumstances of his survival, why he's travelled to Earth, and the villain whom he must deal with in order to proceed with his vengeance.

It's a head-scratcher (which is saying something, considering the size of the heads we're dealing with here) why these men have agreed to settle their differences by pitting against each other the very men they need to make use of for their own ends. The fact that either or both of the contestants might end up seriously injured or even killed doesn't seem to have factored at all into their reasoning here, other than the winner being able to still make use of one and discard the other if necessary. In addition, if Kurrgo believes that the Thing's battle savvy and intelligence make him as great a threat as the Hulk, why not just depart with the Thing--a "sure Thing," as it were?

As for Kurrgo's partner in this endeavor, doesn't it surprise you that a ruthless bastard like the Leader would bargain with Kurrgo, instead of just taking mental control of him? Regardless, one thing we can depend on with the Leader is that his incredible mind had long ago devised a means to teleport someone great distances--and while he stands ready to bring the Hulk to their chosen site, Kurrgo proceeds to use his technology to transport the Thing to a deserted town in the southwest, where the Leader uses an astral projection to ensure their reluctant captive's cooperation by providing him with the stakes of the coming conflict.

And lest you think that the Leader is the type to dally:

Starlin gives a good accounting of the Thing during this battle, but his fighting style is not shown nearly as dynamically as that of the Hulk--perhaps intentionally, since the Hulk is often portrayed as a foe who is relentless and always on the offensive. But in addition, Ben is on the clock (or, rather, a ticking timer), preoccupied with the bomb that he must locate and deal with, making it necessary for him to somehow avoid a protracted battle with the Hulk. Given their differences in strength, there's little possibility of that--unless the Thing is unknowingly given an edge, thanks to a little behind-the-scenes "cheating" from Kurrgo.

But as for the Thing having the option of reasoning with the Hulk... well....

Yet the story takes an unexpected turn when the "Ultrex bomb" proves to be a sham--its destruction by the Thing apparently a signal to Kurrgo and the Leader to declare the fight over, with Kurrgo being the winner of their contest. Join the club if you thought it was supposed to be the battle that decided the victor; in fact, that being the case, why go to the trouble of creating a fake bomb and placing it somewhere in the town? Why bother with the charade of a bomb facsimile, unless the Leader and Kurrgo changed their terms while the fight was in progress?

At any rate, Ben provides an unexpected development of his own, when he deduces and reveals Kurrgo's duplicity and thereby instigates a chain of events that will bring an end to this scheme--as well as possibly the very men who conspired to carry it out.

Perhaps one of the reasons I still enjoy this story is its "one-shot" aspect at the time. Despite having collected both Marvel Two-In-One and Marvel Team-Up, the quality of the bulk of their issues left me thinking that this sort of format might have worked best for the reader in small doses, rather than such stories cranked out on an assembly line month after month. As for our villains, we can assume the Leader, as usual, had a contingency plan to teleport himself to safety if necessary--though with Kurrgo's "inter-spatial teleportational mechanism" being shipboard technology, and the fact that Kurrgo hasn't been seen since, it looks like the destruction of his ship likely meant that it was also curtains for Kurrgo.

Marvel Feature #11

Script: Len Wein
Pencils: Jim Starlin
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Artie Simek


Big Murr said...

With this blog post fresh in mind, I felt a sharp deja vu this week. The brandest-newest iteration of the Fantastic Four (#12) features the Thing and the Hulk throwing down.

A rather interesting "ticking clock" cliffhanger element to the "to be continued" ending.

Comicsfan said...

It's amazing how much mileage that matchup still receives, Murray. The question of which one is strongest has long since been settled--yet every time they climb into the ring they still draw crowds.

Fred W. Hill said...

For me, this was the first time I saw the Hulk & the Thing clash, but what I really enjoyed about this story was the humorous interchanges between Ben & the Hulk -- "Hulk does not like this 'Clobberin' Time", Thing!" Also the typically great Starlin art. To my recall it was several years before the Leader showed up again anywhere, aside from reprint mags and apparently no other Marvel scribe thought Kurrgo was worth resurrecting again. Bit of a silly premise by which the Leader & Kurrgo brought on this fight, but maybe they were really just bored and wanted a little excitement in getting big bruisers they didn't like to fight one another and just pretended to have a larger purpose.
I missed MF #12, but did get the first issue of Marvel Two-In-One, or Two-On-One as it was misprinted in the top corner, a classic run-in of Thing meets Man-Thing by Gerber & Kane.