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Bottoms up (An Ever-Lovin’ October Continues) – Marvel Two-In-One #86

October 14, 2011

The month-long romp through the world of Ben Grimm chugs on with this split doubleheader issue. The cover promises a lot. The Thing downing a frosty beverage with *gasp* a villain. What could be behind this up is down, down is up chicanery? And will the Impossible Man be so insufferable we’ll have to suppress the urge to choke the life right out of him? We must have answers!

The first half (Tom DeFalco, Ron Wilson, Chic Stone) opens with Ben aiding relentless genius Reed Richards with some Baxter Building spring cleaning. I have some sympathy for the big guy here. Being the only six-footer in a family of short people, I was always being called on to get things off of top shelves (and was left wondering why my short relations didn’t just store things on lower ones). Ben has to stop and wonder on occasion why the hell Reed doesn’t either A) build smaller or B) build his own moving crap.

It looks like Jack Kirby left behind some of his gigunda machinery.

While Ben is playing pack-mule, Flint Marko and Hydro Man separate themselves after their muddy union in The Amazing Spider-Man #217-218 — and after the world’s dumbest scientists dump their radioactive sludge:

The two villains part (somewhat awkwardly, reminding me of when Steve Martin woke up next to John Candy, whose hand was “between two pillows”). Marko, still not fully up to snuff, heads to a nearby watering hole, where a nervous bartender makes a quick call to superhero 911:

In the early days of telephones you could place a call to the White House and there was a good chance the sitting Chief Executive would answer personally. Having the Thing pick up the receiver is, oh, I don’t know, about a bajillion times awesomer. Awesome enough to use “awesomer.”

Ben shows up expecting a fight (the plate glass shattering, chair smashed over a head, opponent dragged over the bar kind), but is stunned to find the poor Sandman and his ridged hair and green-striped shirt all down in the dumps. He’s certainly not spoiling for a tussle. Ben pulls up a (hopefully steel reinforced) stool as Marko regales him with his hard-scrabble life story, replete with a rough upbringing, assaults, larcenies and failed romances. When he gets to his athletic prowess on the football field, that’s when the sympatico bells start going off in our hero’s head:

After the sad, down-the-wrong-path recounting of the Sandman’s life is finished, including the nuclear accident that forever welded him to beach sand, these two guys almost sound like Norm Peterson and Cliff Clavin:

The Sandman says he’s done with crime. He’s crimed out, as it were. Does Ben run him in? Nope. He picks up the tab (with money presumably stashed in his crotch) and we’re left with a dash of hope for Marko’s future:

The second story is a decidedly more light-hearted affair. Franklin Richards, with his parents getting a much needed night on the town (seeing Annie), is left in the hands of one whom you’d imagine would be the greatest babysitter of all time:

Ben reading to a kid a (even Tales of Dr. Doom) conjures up images of Moe Syzlak reading Little Women at the children’s hospital. At least for me.

Their quiet night is ruined when Marvel’s green pointy-headed imp, their less malicious Mr. Mxyzptlk, shows up:

The Impossible Man, the guy that makes every hero pinch the bridge of their nose. Ugh. What’s worse, he’s sired children, a Kate Gosselinish litter. While the he uses Reed’s equipment to find them a new home planet to settle on/infuriate, Ben is beset by their miscreant monkeyshines. It’s a mercifully short ordeal, though, and before he goes with his scamps in tow, Impy can’t resist one final zap:

A joy buzzer. Classy.

Watching the Thing get all frazzled by the Impossible Man and his bratty brood is nice, but the more interesting part of this twin bill is the first half. Once again, as with the Ghost Rider and Morbius pairings, we see Ben confronted with someone whose plight touches him (a pattern?). In this case it’s an outright villain, a two-bit thug with a bizarre power that’s driven him even further from the world he was never a part of in the first place. Cue the violins.

The Sandman has always had lower ambitions, far from the world-threatening megalomania of Victor von Doom and the like. He’s more prone to crack a safe than rip a hole in the Earth’s crust. That small scale makes him more petty, but it also makes him more relatable to all us little people (incidentally, he was just about the only thing that I could stand in the cinematic gang bang called Spider-Man 3). Others might see his tale of sorrows as a load of crap, another manipulation from a career criminal. Maybe I’m gullible (and judging by his recidivism I am), but I want to believe the guy, and it’s not hard to buy the Thing doing so.

Marko’s crying in his beer highlights once again the fire and ice combo that made TIO so successful, a mixture of fun and pathos. Hokey? Yes. God, yes. In any other title all this woe is me malarkey would have everyone, including yours truly, rolling their eyes. But it’s the Thing.  Hokeyness is wound up in his rocky chunks. It works. A beer summit in the Mighty Marvel Manner!

There are few heroes, outside of Logan, who look so comfortable in the dim, neon sign-accented environs of a dive bar. And I think Ben, with those blue eyes, makes for more pleasant company. Who wouldn’t pour their heart out to the guy?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 8:07 pm

    I got a little tired of Marvel’s constant moral relativism. After awhile it seemed like every villain was turning into a good guy with a few bad breaks. Remember Doctor Doom weeping at the World Trade Center? Yechhh!

    Don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing wrong with an occasional villain reforming. But in the 1960s you had the Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Black Widow, Prowler, Hawkeye, Crimson Dynamo, and probably a dozen others I’m forgetting right now turning over a new leaf.

    I suspect this tale had its origins in the first issue of Marvel Team-Up, with Spidey and the Human Torch attempting to track down Sandman. It turned out that the reason he escaped prison was simply to spend Christmas day with his dear old mother.

    • October 23, 2011 11:29 pm

      Valid points all. It’s definitely a trope that needs some spacing out, or else a Saccharin overdose barf-fest is in the offing.

      • Strejda permalink
        July 26, 2014 7:39 am

        I would take that over modern day comics, where every villain could run a concentration camp.

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