I bought this issue of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE as usual at my local 7-11 as MTIO was now on my regular buying list, thanks to the Thing being the headline character. But I can’t say that the series was all that wonderful during this period. More often than not, the stories were quick throw-away affairs that lacked any staying power. And in fact I didn’t recall much of anything about this issue until I read it again recently when it was collected in a MARVEL MASTERWORKS volume. The same could be said about much of the run from this period, at least up until the point where Gruenwald and Macchio too over the series as writers.
That event was still more than a year in the future. But one new arrival to Marvel in this issue was dialogue writer Tom DeFalco, who would one day become the company’s Editor in Chief. By this point, Tom had earned his bones over at Archie Comics for close to a decade, and had begun freelancing for DC as a writer. This would have been the first Marvel story of his that I encountered, and it looks to have been a last minute substitution for plotter Roger Slifer. The other change on this issue is that Jim Shooter is listed as the Editor. While Archie Goodwin is still considered the Editor in Chief on the Bullpen Bulletins page, the moment was soon approaching when Archie would be out and Shooter would be in.
The story opens by wrapping up plot threads from the previous adventure, with the Thing hanging out over at Matt Murdock’s apartment, making a pizza for them, Yellowjacket and Eugene Everett, the precognitive kid they met last month (and whom DeFalco has clearly named after two of the mainstays on the DAREDEVIL art scene, Bill Everett and Gene Colan.) After their meal–and a quick lesson from Murdock to keep Eugene from misusing his gifts–the other heroes shuttle the kid back to school. This turns out to be the same public school that the Black Panther teaches at in his cover identity as Luke Charles, and he asks the Thing to hang around until the class day is over so that they may converse. The idea of the king of a powerful nation such as Wakanda teaching disadvantaged children in Harlem feels like a very 1970s idea–somebody’s attempt to make the Panther more relatable and relevant to the times. But it’s all a bit tone-deaf from a 2020 vantage point.
After some classroom hijinks straight out of Welcome Back Kotter, Ben and T’Challa retire to Luke Charles’ apartment, where the Panther can get an update from Ben on the status of his friends the Fantastic Four (the team was broken up and all had gone their separate ways at this point) and to also get his help on a situation that he is pursuing. A number of prominent figures in the African-American community have disappeared on the last few weeks, and the Panther is looking to get to the bottom of it. Ben provides a crucial clue: all of the victims so far were on a list the Daily Bugle ran some time before of the ten most prominent black leaders in the city. A quick call to the Bugle morgue gets them a copy of this list–so now they have two potential targets to protect.
So naturally, the two heroes split up. The Thing heads to the Mansion owned by Millionaire Industrialist Edward B. Nelson, but arrives too late, finding the place trashed and Nelson gone. But Nelson’s battered wife is still there among the wreckage and she tells Ben that they were attacked by some sort of a creature. Meanwhile, the Panther goes to look in on musician C. L. Wadsworth, who is playing a small charity event at Carnegie Hall. As the impromptu concerto is concluded, a bat flies down from the wings, transforming in front of Wadsworth into a monstrous vampire.
The Panther, though, is also there, and springs to teh attack. But the vampire, prodded mentally by another master, is far stronger and more durable than T’Challa is, and all the King of the Wakandas can do is to fight a delaying action until the Thing finally arrives, being forced to wait for the A-Train to take him uptown rather than having the use of a Fantasti-Car. During the battle, the vampire’s mysterious master changes his target, compelling his minion to capture not Wadsworth, but rather the Panther himself. The Thing is equally matched by the creature, so it’s a bit of a stalemate–at least until Wadsworth takes action, plunging his wooden bow through the vampire’s chest and heart, killing him.
Or so it seems. For, after the heroes and the musician depart, the disembodied voice of the vampire’s master prods the creature into action once again, compelling it to pull the bow from its stricken body and rise up again. Later, as the case momentarily wraps up (though with the Panther still not knowing whether the other victims are alive or dead), the Thing takes off back to his hotel for the night. And behind him, unseen as he approaches in the form of mist, the vampire takes solid form suddenly and strikes down his prey, the Panther. To Be Continued!