Shortly after yesterday’s entry, I had occasion to be back in the drugstore with my family again and I came across and bought this prior issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP, the penultimate installment in the saga of the Wraith. So, yes, I read this story backwards. This cover is still crowded (as were many of the covers on the Marvel books in this period) but it’s better than the one on #51. A nice composition by Gil Kane with only Spidey’s strangely flat head as an ill note. Also, it’s another cover with the heroes fighting giant stone monsters. Somebody at Marvel must’ve thought this was sales gold in the 1970s.

A peek at the splash page indicated that Iron Man was going to be a part of this issue’s story as well. Writer Bill Mantlo had been trying to stretch the boundaries of what could be done with a seemingly-limited series such as TEAM-UP. He’d just come off of a weird multi-part saga which brought such disparate characters as Spidey, the Scarlet Witch, the Vision, Doctor Doom and Moondragon back to the era of the Salem witch trials, followed that up with Spidey trying to get home and instead encountering Killraven and Deathlok, and then did a crossover with MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE once Spidey was back in his own time. In creating these longer stories, Mantlo was attempting to tap into the larger sense of continuity which was one of the defining features of Marvel, and as weird as they were, they were also kind of interesting, too.

The issue opens with Spider-Man paying a visit to Doctor Strange’s sanctum headquarters. He’s come to ask the sorcerer to use his magics to reveal what happened on a particular day two years ago–the day that Brian DeWolff was shot and seemingly killed. At the same time that Spidey is filling in Strange as tot eh events of the past two issues, Jean DeWolff and Iron man part company, and Jean fills in the rest for teh readers: that her father had come forward with a note claiming that Brian was the Wraith who had fought Spidey and Iron Man, but she didn’t believe it–and suspected her father of being the true culprit.

Doctor Strange uses his amulet to recreate events were Brian DeWolff was gunned down, and they seem his body carried away by his father, Phillip DeWolff. Tony Stark, meanwhile, has been able to get a fingerprint from the note given to Jean,–the fingerprint of Phillip DeWolff. This makes him sure Phillip is the Wraith–I’m not sure how that works, given that Phillip was the one who gave the note to Jean so of course his prints would be on it, but anyway. Jean, meanwhile, has gone to investigate the family crypt, where the Wraith has just returned. But he’s not Phillip DeWolff, as Phillip is already in attendance. When her father bids the Wraith to unmask, Jean shrieks in horror, as he is, in fact, her supposedly-dead brother.

Spidey and Strange show up at this moment and charge inside in response to Jean’s shriek–only to get clobbered by the Wraith and his mental powers. The Wraith makes the walls and floor seemingly come to life, grabbing at our heroes with stony hands and thus justifying the cover scene. The two heroes are ultimately overcome–and once they’re imprisoned in the crypt’s main lab area (what, your family crypt doesn’t have a lab area? For shame!) Phillip monologues the rest of the Wraith’s origin to them and his daughter.

Phillip DeWolff wanted to save his son’s life. But even more, he wanted revenge on the criminals who had shot him. So, using his connections, he had a Revitalizer Ray built so as to reanimate Brian’s comatose body. A fluke accident connected Phillip’s mind with that of his son, allowing Phillip to control him remotely, as well as granting Brian crazy psychic powers. So Phillip turned Brian into the Wraith and sent him out on a mission of vengeance, controlling his actions from afar. While all this is being recounted, Spidey and Strange combine their abilities in order to make their escape from captivity, and so they’re ready for action once the exposition has concluded.

It’s a big ol’ fight, as the nutty-as-a-fruitcake Phillip directs Brian to turn the Wraith’s powers on all present, accusing his daughter of having betrayed them and convinced that anything he does is in the service of justice. This goes on for a while, until Spidey and Strange can put down the Wraith, and then Iron man shows up with a blocker helmet he’d bodged together which will prevent Phillip from controlling the Wraith from afar any longer. It’s a fairly typical TEAM-UP outing–Spidey is more of an action figure than a character, never even referencing his life as Peter Parker. And in any other TEAM-UP story, this is where things would have ended, once the battle was over. But as we’ve already seen, Mantlo had one more chapter planned, for the following issue.

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