Here was another somewhat older issue that I got out of a 3-Bag at a department store or a toy store, where such things were sold in the late 1970s. In fact, it was likely the reason that I bought the 3-Bag in question. As spoken about before, I had become a massive fan of the Fantastic Four, and so an opportunity to experience yet another comic book featuring The Thing (who was quickly growing to become my favorite Marvel character, eclipsing the Human Torch) was not to be missed. The Sub-Mariner I could take or leave, pretty much, but I did recognize his foe the Piranha from an earlier issue that I had read, so there was even a small bit of excitement about seeing this old enemy resurface again. (Piranhas, the flesh-eating fish, were a peculiar fascination of kids in the1970s.)
Marv Wolfman had taken over as the writer and editor of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE a couple issues earlier, and he was determined to make it more of a legitimate Marvel series. Whereas the stories in MTIO prior to Marv’s arrival had been largely stand-alone one-offs or multi-parters, Marv brought in running subplots that could connect one adventure to the next and the next, allowing for some progression within the title. He does so here by opening up with Reed and Ben examining the stricken Deathlok, who had been programmed to assassinate the President last issue. The pair had foiled the attack, but Reed indicates that he can’t undo whatever had been done to Deathlok in order to turn him into a mindless drone. I was intrigued by these developments–I only knew about Deathlok slightly, and I read most of the portions of this sequence in a random order, which made putting the pieces together far more satisfying than it might otherwise have been. (I didn’t read that story where Deathlok attempted to murder President Carter until many years later, for instance.)
The artist on this issue, and on many to come was Ron Wilson, a bit of an underappreciated craftsman. He was a solid storyteller, never flashy, but his work was always grounded and always looked good–in particular when he was finished by inkers who were sympathetic to his style. The inks here by John Tartaglione are not that wonderful, a bit stiff and labored. Wilson clearly had an affinity for the Thing, and as mentioned earlier, he would go on to illustrate a number of his adventures in MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE and then graduate to Ben Grimm’s solo series once MARVEL TWO-In-ONE had run its course. In a way, he was analogous to Herb Trimpe or Sal Buscema on INCREDIBLE HULK: an omnipresent figure who delivered the goods month after month but who didn’t outshine those around him.
Getting back to the story, Reed indicates that the one man who might be able to restore Deathlok to consciousness is a Professor Louis Kort, who lives in England. The Thing volunteers to ferry Deathlok to the Professor, bringing his girlfriend Alicia Masters along on the journey with the intention of turning it into a vacation in the United Kingdom at the same time. Meanwhile, we cut away to the Sub-Mariner, who is continuing to search for a way to restore his comatose people, who had been stricken at the end of his solo series. (Maybe Professor Kort could have helped with that as well?) Having liberated himself from Doctor Doom in then-recent SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP issues, Namor is enjoying a momentary respite from strife–when he is attacked by the Piranha, his old enemy. The pair battle, and Namor winds up killing the Piranha. Thinking the encounter over, the Sub-Mariner goes on his way–but we the readers become aware that there is more than a single Piranha hunting Namor.
Ben and Alicia are on their way across the ocean in one of the Fantastic Four’s long-distance flying craft when Namor spots them and swings over to say hello to the pair–the Sub-Mariner and the Fantastic Four were on relatively good terms at this point after a rocky history. Suddenly, Namor is attacked once again by the Piranha, who drags him back under the waves. At Alicia’s urging, Ben pops an underwater breathing pill and dives into the drink after him. But after he goes, another Piranha shows up to capture Alicia! Meanwhile, deep within the depths, the Sub-Mariner is piled upon by a swarm of Piranhas, and he realizes the scope of what he’s dealing with. The Thing comes to his assistance, but the odds are still too great, and the duo is overwhelmed by the attacking Piranhas.
Ben regains consciousness to discover that both he and Namor are within an undersea gladiatorial arena overseen by the Piranha, and that Alicia is also there, a hostage. The entirely-too-civilized Piranha demand that the pair fight to the death for their entertainment–these new Piranha were created when regular ordinary Piranha devoured the flesh of the Sub-Mariner’s old enemy at the end of their first encounter. So they don’t like him either. Namor pleads with the Thing to work together with him, but with Alicia’s life in jeopardy, Ben really doesn’t have a choice, and he lays into the Sub-Mariner, beginning an extended fight that pits he two title characters against one another in the Marvel style of the time. Seriously, it seemed like every other Marvel book contained a sequence in which two heroes went to town on one another, usually over the thinnest of contrivances. But that’s what the fans wanted, apparently.
As the issue begins to run out of pages, Namor throws the Thing to where a pair of load-bearing pillars are holding up the roof, and Ben demolishes them, bringing the coliseum crashing down atop all of them. He’s able to make his way to safety, as is Namor, whose speed underwater permitted him to snatch up Alicia and race with her to safety as well. The Piranha, apparently, all met a grisly end. Of course, Ben and Namor had contrived for things to play out this way–their fight was only a stall tactic (for the most part–Ben admits that at first he legitimately tried to pulverize Namor in order to secure Alicia’s safety.) With the danger over, Namor brings Alicia and Ben back to their flying craft, and the pair continues on their flight to England, which will be the locale for the next couple of issues. As was typical for MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE, it wasn’t a very deep story, and it leaned heavily on action, even relatively meaningless action, to carry its narrative weight. But it was a fun diversion, and solidly put together.