Time has moved on and the wheel has turned for the character a little bit, but it can’t be overstated just how popular the Thing was during the 1970s. He was just behind Spider-Man in terms of his draw power, the Wolverine of his era. And unlike Wolverine over the past few decades, if you wanted to read a story with the Thing in it, you generally needed to be buying FANTASTIC FOUR. There’d be an occasional guest-appearance in another title here and there, but nothing like the world tour that Wolverine has been on since the 1980s. To tap into this popularity, Marvel launched MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, a sister title to the steady-selling MARVEL TEAM-UP, with the big difference being that, rather than Spider-Man (or the Human Torch for a bunch of its earliest issues) MTIO would feature other characters from across the Marvel Universe paired up with Ben Grimm. This wound up making him one of the most connected super heroes in the Marvel stable in terms of how many weird characters he got to meet. (In the 1970s, nobody shied away from using the monster characters in team-up books, nor even some licensed characters such as Doc Savage.)
This particular issue is another book that I got out of a 3-Bag in a local department store, Two Guys. And it’s an interesting outing in that it is situated both in the middle of an extended storyline (Deathlok had been brainwashed to kill then-President Jimmy Carter at his inauguration, but the Thing stopped him–and he’d been looking for a way to deprogram the renegade cyborg ever since) and represented the opening chapter of its own four-part epic. Writer Marv Wolfman eschewed the self-contained style so prevalent in MARVEL TEAM-UP for much of its tenure to lean into the strength of the serial narrative that was Marvel’s bread and butter. And in this particular four-parter, he had a secondary mission that he was trying to accomplish as well.
That secondary mission involved reimagining the character of Spider-Woman. See, a number of months earlier, animation studio Filmation began work on a cartoon series that would eventually hit the airwaves as TARZAN AND THE SUPER 7. The eponymous seven other characters were all home-grown super heroes, each of whom would star in their own segments of the program, with Tarzan as the ever-present lead. One of these characters was going to be called Spider Woman. Whether this was an attempt to snake some popularity from the male web-slinger or not depends on who you ask (but it sure seems like a foregone conclusion.) In order to block this once folks at Marvel became aware of the production, EIC Archie Goodwin and artist Sal Buscema hastily jammed out their own Spider-Woman concept, which was rushed into print in an issue of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT. Their Spider-Woman was intended to be only a one-off character, simply created to secure the right, and in that they succeeded–when the cartoon hit the airwaves, Filmation’s Spider Woman had been rechristened Web Woman
Because she was intended to be only a throw-away concept, Goodwin and Buscema didn’t put a whole lot of thought into Marvel’s Spider-Woman. She was a HYDRA assassin who learned by the end of her singular adventure that she wasn’t human at all–rather, she had been born an actual spider that was evolved into human form by the super-geneticist the High Evolutionary. But she served her purpose and all’s well that ends well, right? Well, as it turns out, no good deed goes unpunished. In part because it was the debut of a new character with a recognizable name, the issue of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT featuring Spider-Woman sold incredibly well–it was a bit of a small phenomenon. And of course, this led to the immediate thought that Marvel would be crazy not to roll out an ongoing Spider-Woman series to capitalize on this. The problem being that pretty much everything that had already been established about Spider-Woman was not conducive to her being an ongoing character. So some back-thinking needed to be done.
The person who took up this challenge (or was handed it–I’m not certain which) was writer Marv Wolfman, who was then also writing MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE. Given Spider-Woman’s popularity in her debut, and as a way of both broadening her as a character as well as capitalizing on the interest in the character to sell some issues, Marv brought her into the series in this multi-part saga, and began the complicated process of unwinding aspects of her origin and backstory and replacing them with material better suited to an ongoing heroic character. So when this issue opens, Ben and Alicia are in London. They’ve brought Deathlok to a specialist whom Reed Richards thought would be able to deprogram him. But as they sightsee, they’re in attendance when a pair of criminal treasure hunters set off a bomb at Westminster Abbey in pursuit of a strange silver plate, the portion of a map. The Thing reacts to the explosion, getting involved in the situation, but he in turn is attacked by Spider-Woman, who is still working for HYDRA.
HYDRA gets away clean–though Spider-Woman suffers from some ambivalence. Her memories about the revelation of her true origins as a mutated spider have been erased from her memory by HYDRA’s technicians, making her once more a malleable pawn. They’re also attempting to figure out how to duplicate her powers–and for some reason, somebody in the HYDRA high command figures that Alicia Masters might be a good person to test their serum out on. So Spider-Woman is sent out on a mission once more, to snatch up Alicia from right under the Thing’s nose. Ben, of course, isn’t at all happy about his girlfriend being stolen away, and so a running battle/chase takes place across London, with the dogged Thing in pursuit of the retreating Spider-Woman and her blind cargo.
The fight, of course, involved the Thing scaling Big Ben–because how could he not?–and a confrontation above London Bridge. But before any resolution can be reached, both Spider-Woman and the Thing are felled by a detonation set off by the two treasure hunters, and limply, they fall into the Thames below. And that’s where this issue is To Be Continued: with the Thing and Spider-Woman possibly drowning, and with Alicia the captive of HYDRA, soon to be the subject of their experiments. Things would only get crazier from here–but I didn’t wind up reading the next two issues until several years later, so you’re going to have to take my word for that, I’m afraid.