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.
One of the first comics I wrote about for the “My Misspent Youth” series was Marvel Fanfare, a periodical exclusive to the direct market, which was still a rarity in the early nineteen-eighties. At the time I bought my first issue of the series, from the dinky upstairs office that was the original home of Stoughton, Wisconsin’s Midwest Books, I was still primarily feeding my superhero story addiction by ruthlessly patrolling the comic book sections of supermarkets and convenience stores. I rarely saw new issues of Marvel Fanfare, meaning I rarely had to endure the mental struggle over whether or not to luxuriously spend the extra money (a whole dollar-and-twenty-five-cents!) required to secure its glossy, ad-free pages. The flip of that is that I tended to impulsively snap it up whenever I did encounter it, enthralled by the novelty of the opportunity.
One of the few issues I managed to add to my collection was Marvel Fanfare #7, led by the story “With Friends Like These…” written by Steven Grant and penciled by Joe Barney. The incredible Hulk was the featured hero of the titanic tale, but it was the presence of a couple of Evil Mutants that intrigued me most. The Blob and Unus the Untouchable dated back to the earliest days of the X-Men series, but they didn’t formally join Magneto’s band of villainous freedom fighters until around a decade later, in the pages of Amazing Adventures. Largely due to that chronology, Marvel’s creators locked onto the idea that the Blob and Unus were best of buds, a situation that feed this particular story.
Unus’s powers essentially create a forcefield around him that he uses to repel foes. Since he can no longer control this superhuman ability, the Blob is the only one with the strength and fortitude to push through the barrier. He’s settled into a willing caretaker role, arduously trudging toward Unus to make sure he stays nourished, pledging all the while that they’ll somehow figure out how to save him from this tragic fate.
Into their dire circumstance comes the ever-agitated Hulk. Besides the run-in with military planes depicted above, the Hulk has his own tough time securing sustenance, though he does finally snag himself a satisfying snack of a hot dogs. When the green goliath stumbles upon the traveling circus where the Blob and Unus are hiding out, a brawl naturally ensues. Because comics. When the Hulk lays out the Blob, that’s finally the catalyst Unus the Untouchable needs to stop sulking in his tent.
From there, it’s fighting, fighting, fighting, with both Unus and the Blob taking their turns against the Hulk. The culmination arrives when Hulk reaches the end of the his patience for the forcefield around Unus that he can feel but can’t see. If there’s one thing Hulk knows, it’s that if he can feel a thing, he can smash it.
The seismic jolt delivered by that emerald fist has a strange effect on Unus’s out-of-control powers. It shuts them down, freeing him from his miserable confinement. After the Hulk bounds away (he gets bored quickly when the smashing is done), Unus finds that his cohort has suffered a far less agreeable fate. Being on the receiving of one too many Hulk blows has left him an empty shell.
Oh, the sad tragedy of it all! At the time, this struck me as pretty heady stuff. Most of what I was reading didn’t spare precious panel space for considerations of the strength of friendship among the bad guys, and portentous endings weren’t exactly the norm, either. Of course, it’s possible I was dazzled by the packaging, the upscale trappings having the desired result of conferring a sense of added prestige, at least to this one young reader. Still, the story has stuck with me all this time. I couldn’t have just been the glossy paper.
Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.