I can remember picking this issue up off of the spinner rack at my local 7-11. Despite having become a regular reader of FANTASTIC FOUR, I had up until this time ignored MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE over the past few months. I’m guessing now that this is because my interest in the FF stemmed at the time from my interest in the Human Torch–my allegiance in terms of favorite Marvel character hadn’t yet transferred over to the Thing. So a Thing team-up book was of only marginal interest to me. But this issue crossed that purchase threshold. Again, I’m guessing that the fact that Reed Richards was in it made the difference–it was almost like getting another half-issue of FANTASTIC FOUR.
The fact that the cover to this issue had been drawn by Ernie Chan who, as Ernie Chua, had been a regular fixture on the covers of the DC super hero titles that I had so loved in the mid-1970s. As things turned out, Chan also drew the interior art for the issue. He was a good fit for the land-that-time-forgot elements of guest-star Skull the Slayer and his Bermuda Triangle home. But for all that he had been DC’s steady super hero cover artist, Chan wasn’t that adept at drawing super heroes. His super heroes were always a little bit awkward and unnatural–as with many of the artists from the Philippines, the particular artistic distortions that created larger-than-life super hero figures weren’t a part of Chan’s natural repertoire, though he could draw regular people like a demon.
As mentioned earlier, writer/editor Marv Wolfman used this two-part story to wrap up the outstanding plot elements of one of the most unfortunate series Marvel had launched in this era, SKULL THE SLAYER. It was a quasi-barbarian/quasi-jungle adventurer sort of a series that in its eight issues had almost as many artists and half as many writers. The whole thing was a bit of a mess. But Marvel policy in this era was to try to find places to bring such stranded series to a close, and so here Wolfman took it upon himself to wrap up Jim Skully’s adventures by having the Thing pilot an experimental plane into the same Bermuda Triangle gateway that had first sent Skull and his friends to this lost land.
A quick stop here for this Superhero Merchandise ad, which would have been the first time I may have caught an inkling about the top-listed paperbacks reprinting the earliest Spider-Man and Fantastic Four adventures. I wouldn’t have cared about the Spidey one particularly yet, but that Fantastic Four book would be a seminal purchase in a couple short weeks–i was obsessed during this period in locating a copy of ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS so that I could read that first FANTASTIC FOUR issue, but none were to be found–and this would give me another, better way to get at it.
So, anyway, the story opened with the Thing and Skull and Skull’s friends making their way across the timeless land back to where the Thing had left the plane he had come in. Clearly, the Thing and Skull had shared an adventure in the previous issue, fighting against a Jaguar Priest. They spend a few pages outwitting dinosaurs and dealing with a raging river, but eventually they get back to Ben’s craft and endeavor to fly back through the gap that got them all here. But the Jaguar Priest has a swarm of pet Pterodactyls, one of which he has saddled, and so he pursues the plane into the skies.
The Thing is able to pilot the plane trough that rift once more, of course, and so everybody finds themselves back in the present. Unfortunately, the Jaguar Priest and his Pterodactyls are also close behind, and they now descend on Miami. Suddenly, Mister Fantastic shows up–and there’s an elaborate footnote valiantly trying to make the continuity here work with that of FANTASTIC FOUR, where Reed had lost his stretching powers months earlier. I’m guessing that this two-parter had been started earlier and got slotted in here, necessitating this semi-serious editorial note. It’s clear that Wolfman knows that none of this works, but by hanging a lampshade on the problem, he’s hoping that the audience will forgive it.
Marv really does give it a game try, having Reed constantly thinking about how his powers are failing and how much it hurts him to be acting the way he typically would, stretching and contorting all over the place. He makes this a plot point wherever he can, as on the above page where Reed can’t maintain his grip on one of the Pterodactyls. Otherwise, the rest of this issue is really nothing more than an extended fight scene in which the Thing, Skull and Reed battle it out with the flying dinosaurs and their time-displaced master.
And they win, of course! In the end, Jim Skully needs to go face the murder rap he was wanted for, and his supporting cast all falls in behind him to give him moral support. And tat was it for Skull the Slayer for around twenty years, until Mark Gruenwald brought him back in CAPTAIN AMERICA as the new Blazing Skull. But that’s another story for another time. Back in 1977, the MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE schedule was so mucked-up that Wolfman couldn’t even be sure what was going to be in the next issue–so he’s once again very honest about that fact. This was very much the sort of junky, inconsequential story that both of the Marvel team-up comics ran, just a few minutes’ entertainment without a whole lot of merit beyond that. But having made the plunge here, I would continue on as a regular reader of TWO-In-ONE for the foreseeable future.