My Misspent Youth: Marvel Team-Up #48 by Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema

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.

Though I didn’t benefit from the sort of bonanza some comics-fixated kids enjoyed, with a older sibling or some other relative assembling an impressive collection that could be passed down to me, there were times when I’d encounter a strange, unexplained stray issue around my home. In a few of these instances, I would almost fixate on the comic I’d found, poring through it over and over again. Surprisingly, given that I think of the younger version of myself as a fairly squeamish kid, the comics that fascinated me the most were the ones that unsettled me a bit. Confounding reputation, two of those that spooked me the most featured DC’s square, stalwart hero Superman. Another, perhaps just as surprising, was an issue of Marvel Team-Up.

The title featured a different pairing of Marvel heroes every month, usually Spider-Man thrown together with some fellow super-powered denizen of the sprawling fictional universe. Often these were one-off (and highly unlikely) adventures, with only the most tangential connection to vaunted Marvel continuity, one of the aspects of the publisher that set them proudly apart from their competitors at DC Comics. Unbeknownst to me, there’d been a slight shift of strategy at the time of the Marvel Team-Up issue I found casually cluttering my boyhood home. There was a newfound commitment to telling the sort of multi-issue story arcs that characterized most of the line. Marvel Team-Up #48, written by Bill Mantlo with pencils by Sal Buscema, was part of that strategy, as it turns out. Having limited critical and contextual faculties at the time (I was only six years old when it was originally released, after all), all I knew it that it had super-cool parts, like the two page splash at the start of the story.

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A motorized model plane has just plopped a bomb onto a Stark Industries facility in New York City. Our witty web-slinger is thrown for a loop by the blast, but luckily also propelled away from the resulting inferno. This issue handily provided me with my first exposure to “the ol’ Parker luck,” as Spider-Man discovers the his usual means to rescuing himself from the resulting plummet is failing him.

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“Thit,” for the uninitiated, is the sound of malfunctioning web-shooters (“Thwip” is the sound of web-shooters in proper working order). With no webs to sling, Spider-Man’s demise would seem imminent, but when trouble is afoot at Stark Industries, Tony Stark’s armor-clad alter ego, Iron Man, is sure to be nearby. Iron Man saves Spider-Man, and the team-up portion of the story locks into place. After the requisite conflict between the heroes (Iron Man accuses Spider-Man of being the one who dropped the bomb), which doesn’t escalate into full-scale fisticuffs as is the norm, the pair of them meet Captain Jean DeWolff, a tough dame NYPD officer who is investigating the crime, helped along by the sort of cut-and-paste notes that Spider-Man correctly identifies as being the hoary stuff of old Perry Mason episodes. Though Jean points out the difficulty of being a lady cop in the mid-seventies, Spider-Man proves his forward-mindedness by noting that she seems to be doing just fine (especially if a key component of the job is accuracy in long-distance beret tossing).

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Thus far, there’s not all that much that’s creepy about the story, although the sort of urban grimness to the depiction of Marvel’s New York was enough to give this sheltered little Midwestern boy pause. The story really ramped up its power to disturb towards the closing pages, when the villainous figure that’s been terrorizing the city starts to move out of the shadows. There was something about this three panel sequence that always left me unnerved.

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I’m not sure if it was the different steps of motion that gave the brief sequence and almost animated or cinematic feel, or if it was simply the threat that something terrible could come crashing through the window when one’s back is turned (even someone like Spider-Man!). That silhouette heaving a toy that’s been repurposed into a literal killing machine was strangely haunting to me. But it was still nothing like the final panel (with an inset kicker panel).

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Every bit of that was frightening to me. There’s the evident agony that Spider-Man is in, conveyed by the dialogue but also by the rigid contortion that’s clear in Buscema’s rendering of the scene. The shouted dialogue, the intensity of Jean’s face, the shocking yellow glow where the Wraith holds Spider-Man’s wrists, the slate grey mystery of the Wraith’s costume, even all the word balloons gone jagged left me almost dizzy when I looked at it. And they compelled me to look at it more.

This was the first of a four-part story, absolutely epic by team-up title standards. It’s also significant for the introduction of Jean DeWolff, a character that would have a somewhat significant presence in the Spider titles over the years, although she didn’t actually appear all that often. Still, the storyline in which she meets her demise was considered one of the creative high points of Spider-Man’s secondary series. As I noted above, I didn’t know any of that stuff at the time. I was sure that the comic had an effect on me. Back then, that’s all I needed to know.

Previously…
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
The Amazing Spider-Man #25 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Marvel Two-in-One #7 by Steve Gerber and Sal Buscema
The New Mutants by Chris Claremont and Bob McLeod
Dark Horse Presents
Bizarre Adventures #27