I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.
For a small stretch of time–not when I was an actual kid, but I suppose a kid at heart–I was regularly purchasing old comic book back issues off of eBay, with a particular fondness for those issues that seemed a little odder. As the world of superhero comics was beginning another of its regular descents into grim seriousness, it was a blessed relief to spend a couple bucks and get something that was wild, imaginative and just plain fun. Though there was a commitment to continuity, especially in those titles bearing the Marvel Comics banner, the stories were deliberately disposable, intended to entertain, not split the internet in half with their universe-shaking developments. One of the issues I got represented a certain weakness of mine, old team-up comics. Specifically, I bought a copy of Marvel Two-in-One #7.
Written by Steve Gerber and penciled by Sal Buscema, the issue promised a pairing of the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing and Valkyrie, the latter a relatively recent addition to the Marvel Universe who was in the midst of a anguished storyline over in The Defenders, also written by Gerber, as she tried to plumb her unknown history. What was roughly known was that she was a powerful Asgardian warrior woman who occasionally took the place of Midgardian (or, you know, Earthling) Barbara Norris, which seems fairly kooky until one considers that a mainstay of the Marvel Universe was a gimpy doctor who transformed himself into the Norse god of thunder by hitting his wooden walking stick on the ground just right. This being a nineteen-seventies Marvel comic written by Gerber, the twisty identity of Valkyrie isn’t even close to the nuttiest thing about the comic. Luckily, all-purpose mystical exposition provider Dr. Strange is around to fill Benjamin J. Grimm in on the particulars.
The whole plot hinges on a magical harmonica that has the power to bend reality itself. The situation is not treated as a joke, but nor is it given the sort of self-serious weight that infests current superhero sagas (and the latter certainly could be the case considering it involves a device that can unmake the universe if someone exhales into it). It is simply a normal part of their reality, no odder than a powerhouse with a hide made entirely of orange rocks. It’s that plainspoken acceptance of the absurd that makes the story irresistible.
There story also offers an important contribution to ongoing storyline involving Valkrie’s true identity, as she learns that a drunken bum who’s been in possession of the enchanted harmonica is the long-lost father of her alter ego, Barbara Norris.
How many stunning revelations, indeed! There naturally needs to be supervillains in the mix, hence the appearance of Thor foes the Enchantress and the Executioner, eager to get their hands (and lips) onto the harmonica. Just as the Enchantress seems to have victory within her reach, our disheveled mortal intervenes.
With a puff on the harmonica, Alvin sends the group spiraling into one of the whacked out dimensions of bending light and shimmering, visible energy that sprung from the pencil of Steve Ditko was amazing alacrity, but often made other Marvel artists look like they were scribbling blindly on the paper. Sal Buscema was a strudy draftsman for Marvel, but he was never going to dazzle anyone with bizarre mindscapes, so I’ll feel free to skip past those pedestrian images to the moment when the Thing inevitably saves the day, of course by taking his own turn playing the harmonica.
What I wouldn’t give for a harmonica with the word “CELESTIA” emblazoned across the top in big letters.
Just like that, everyone is back in the proper reality, although Alvin didn’t survive the experience, leaving Valkyrie left to weep over the lost key to her missing past. All this drama, intrigue and action, for just two bits.
Fantastic Four by Stan Lee and John Buscema
Contest of Champions by Bill Mantlo and John Romita, Jr.
Daredevil by Frank Miller
Marvel Fanfare by Chris Claremont, Dave Cockrum and Paul Smith
Marvel Two-in-One by Tom DeFalco and Ron Wilson
Fantaco’s “Chronicles” series
Fantastic Four #200 by Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard
The Incredible Hulk #142 by Roy Thomas and Herb Trimpe
Uncanny X-Men by Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum
Godzilla by Doug Moench and Herb Trimpe
Giant-Size Avengers #3 by Steve Englehart, Roy Thomas and Dave Cockrum
Alpha Flight by John Byrne
Hawkeye by Mark Gruenwald
Avengers by David Michelinie and George Perez
Justice League by Keith Giffen, J.M. DeMatteis and Kevin Maguire
The Thing by Dan Slott and Andrea DiVito
Nexus by Mike Baron and Steve Rude
Marvel Premiere by David Kraft and George Perez
Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars by Jim Shooter and Mike Zeck
Micronauts by Bill Mantlo and Butch Guice
Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland
What If? by Mike W. Barr, Herb Trimpe and Mike Esposito
Thor by Walt Simonson
Eightball by Dan Clowes
Cerebus: Jaka’s Story by Dave Sim and Gerhard
Iron Man #150 by by David Michelinie, John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton
Bone by Jeff Smith
The Man of Steel by John Byrne
Fantastic Four by Doug Moench and Bill Sienkiewicz
“Allien and How to Watch It” by John Severin
Fantastic Four Roast by Fred Hembeck and friends