Thursday, April 27, 2017

I was looking for a specific comic, didn't find it, came up with this instead. Approximately 70% of the posts on this blog could start this way, but this is a good one: from 1981, Marvel Two-In-One #82, "The Fatal Effects of Virus X!" Written by Tom Defalco, pencils by Ron Wilson, inks by Chic Stone.

I just read the issue prior, #81, recently; featuring the Sub-Mariner. While a depressed Ben walks the streets of New York, feeling dejected since Alicia was moving out of the Baxter Building; Namor is taking a break in the city to remember the peaceful, relaxing time he spent there as an amnesiac, homeless drunk. Ah, good times. (Seriously. The pressures of ruling have got him down, but he still acts here like his time in the Bowery was a lark.) Their plotlines intersect when they discover A.I.M. is sending giant synthoids to kidnap homeless people, for use in germ warfare experiments. While Namor rallies the homeless in an attempt to rescue an old friend; Ben is captured while saving a bum, and exposed to MODOK's Virus X. MODOK then flees with said virus, the homeless people turn on the "freak" Namor, who leaves in a depressed huff, while Ben staggers, the effects of the virus already taking hold...(Actually, Namor may have just split since it wasn't his name on the cover next issue; he had fulfilled his obligation there!)

Dazed, Ben trudges towards the Baxter Building--to be fair, Virus X did take his mind of his depression, it may have legit treatment uses. A multicultural street gang of three thugs see the Thing as an opportunity to make their reps, and attack; doing so ineffectually that Ben may not even realize they were there. Fortunately, he's "saved" (if he was in any danger) by the passing Captain America; and Cap goes easy on the thugs because they're young and frankly sad. At the Baxter Building, Reed begins work to diagnose Ben's condition, with the assistance of biochemist Bill Foster, better known as Giant-Man. Bill was dying of radiation poisoning, which may have been an open secret at that point: Reed and Ben probably knew, and Cap knows, although that may just be for purposes of exposition. A cranky Ben wakes up on the examination table, in a lot of pain, since he was mutating: as the cover puts it "It can't be! I'm ch-ch-changin'--becomin' UGLIER!" Ben rages for a moment, perhaps justifiably, before Cap and Reed calm him down. Cap actually plays the "Dead sidekick" card there: rough, but not really the time for that. (Not sure if it's intentional, but DeFalco seems to write Cap as really square.)

Needing some air, Ben takes off on his jet-cycle, joined by Giant-Man, who wanted to return the help Ben had given him. While Cap hits the streets, and numerous thugs, looking for a lead on A.I.M; Ben has returned to the launch site where he and the rest of the Fantastic Four stole a rocket and went into space, for a bit of flashback. (The launch site "spaceport" is abandoned, which is both depressing and probably accurate; but was the launch site in New York state? They couldn't have gone much further...) Bill gets a rare glimpse behind Ben's cheerful facade: he puts up a good front, but hates being the Thing. (Usually. That can vary somewhat.) When Cap finds an A.I.M. hideout, the three heroes take it down, then take a transporter to MODOK's secret iceberg base, where they are confronted by stacks of A.I.M. "beekeeper" thugs (in blue this issue, as opposed to their traditional yellow) and MODOK's new Thing-inspired synthoid. The latter gives Ben a hard time, since the Virus was taking its toll, but he rallies and punches it out of the base, causing the ocean to come flooding in.

Giant-Man fights to a research lab for the cure, which an A.I.M. tech explains works by making the body temporarily immune to radiation. Bill's ears perk up a bit at that, since something like that might be able to cure him as well. While he's able to get it back, while the heroes use the teleporter to escape, a falling chunk of debris damages the "hypo-gun," leaving only enough for one dose. Ben had lost consciousness, but it's to Bill's credit that he barely hesitates to give Ben the dose, saving him and returning him to his usual Thing look. Giant-Man knows the world needs the Thing, "not second-rate losers...like Giant-Man!" He does a very sad, very end of an Incredible Hulk episode walk away; and the issue ends without the traditional "Fin" or next issue blurb or anything. (Flipping through Essential Marvel Two-in-One #4; that cold-ending was done at least sometimes: it was for the Ghost Rider story in #80, where Johnny Blaze does something similar except on a motorcycle; but still affecting.)

We've had the tag "Another one in the loss column for Giant-Man" for years here, partly because of this plotline: he would be cured, but lose his powers, in MTIO #85. Bill would get his powers back years later, in 1988's West Coast Avengers Annual #3, but didn't stay in that title long at all. Then Mark Millar would try to make him, as Goliath, seem like a big name, as to make killing him off in Civil War #4 a big deal: it doesn't work, the other reason for the tag here. This issue makes you feel more for Giant-Man; he deserved, if not obscurity, at least better than a plot-point death.

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

That reminds me of that issue of What If? Where the virus runs its course and cures Ben all by itself, the fallout radiation curing Bill Foster and turning Ben back into his regular human self forever....or at least in that world for forever.

But yeah, poor Bill Foster.