This issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP was another book that came out of a 3-Bag, those plastic sealed wonders that were sold in department stores and toy stores. And in fact, this issue was likely the reason I bought that particular bag in the first place. You see, ever since first becoming aware of him in the FANTASTIC FOUR INDEX, I had been fascinated with the Super-Skrull. I had seen characters like him before, of course–one of the earliest JLA stories I had read featured Amazo, the power-stealing android. But somehow, a foe who possessed all of the abilities of the Fantastic Four was intriguing to me. I had read an earlier appearance with the character in an issue of MARVEL’S GREATEST COMICS, but him showing up in the present day on the cover of this issue, battling Spider-Man and Ms Marvel made this book a must-have for me. I was a little bit confused as to how/why the Super-Skrull’s arm would turn blue when it stretched–that still doesn’t make all that much sense to me. But I was willing to let it pass.
The issue was produced by one of the strongest creative teams working on comics at that time: Chris Claremont and John Byrne. They were only just about to begin their run together on X-MEN when this story was released, but they had been working together both on MARVEL TEAM-UP and IRON FIST earlier, and they developed a symbiosis that was very effective (for all that it wound up driving Byrne a bit crazy after a time. ) Claremont in particular was coming into his own, focusing heavily on his female characters, including the featured player this month, Ms Marvel. He took over Carol’s series early on, and shaped what had been a relatively thin title based around capitalizing on the interest in the women’s lib movement into a series with some substance to it. (I’d guess that the opening caption on this page was added at the urging of Associate Editor Jim Shooter, who had been tasked by Editor Archie Goodwin to look over the books going through the Bullpen and to help make them understandable. The addition of the name Spider-Man to the end of the Super-Skrull’s final balloon seems like Shooter’s work as well.)
Typically, the way Claremont and Byrne would operate is that they’d first talk out a given story, then claremont would write up a synopsis of events (this was eventually done away with as unnecessary–Byrne would simply take notes as they talked), then Byrne would draw out the story and Claremont would script it. In this way, Bryne had a ton of input into the plotting of any given issue, and over time his own confidence as a writer increased, to the point where he eventually separated from Claremont and began to write and illustrate his own projects. Much of Byrne’s frustration came from the fact that Claremont would often wildly deviate from the plot that they had agreed upon while scripting the pages, often reinterpreting scenes that Byrne had plotted in a particular manner. In essence, this gave the books Byrne’s sense of story structure and pacing, and used his strengths at depicting both action and characterization, but it also allowed Claremont to bring his flavor of insight into the characters and their internal lives and conflicts into play at the same time. The pairing really worked, at least for a while, and I don’t know that either man produced work that was consistently as good without it. (On this page, in that last panel, the balloon addressing the Super-Skrull’s sudden power loss and the rewritten first Spidey balloon also show Shooter’s hand, making sure that each element of the plot was clear as it was happening. Claremont likely made these adjustments himself–he famously didn’t want anybody else putting down words in one of his issues.)
So last time out, Spider-Man and the Human Torch took on the Super-Skrull, who was on the hunt for a crystal necessary for the construction of a starship to get him off Earth and back to his Skrull people. The two heroes mixed it up for him for an issue, but at the end, the Torch flamed out–leaving Spider-Man to battle the much more powerful super-skrull on his lonesome until back-up could arrive. As this story opens, he attempts to do that–aided by a fortuitous happenstance wherein some high-tension power lines block a portion of the interstellar power beam that gives the Super-Skrull his FF-like abilities. But this proves to be only a momentary respite for the wall-crawler, and the Super-Skrull blows up the power station providing Spidey with cover with the web-slinger in it. Spidey survives, of course, but he’s told by police captain Jean DeWolff (who had been introduced earlier by Bill Mantlo and who became something of a supporting player in TEAM-UP) that the Super-Skrull had headed out to sea, and arranges to give him a lift on a nearby police helicopter.
The Super-Skrull, meanwhile, has tracked the crystal that he’s in pursuit of to the Queen Elizabeth II, a cruise ship that was very much in the news in 1977 when this story was commissioned. As things turn out, Carol Danvers is aboard the ship, taking a vacation from her duties as the editor of “Woman” magazine. so when the Super-Skrull crashes in and locates the crystal, he’s also confronted by Ms Marvel. Recognizing her garb as being representative of the Kree, the hated enemies of the Skrulls, the Super-Skrull moves to the attack, and Ms Marvel holds her own in the sort of slugfest usually reserved for the Thing or other characters of that ilk. But as she moves to retrieve the crystal, Ms Marvel gets sucker-punched by the Super-Skrull and sent hurtling towards the Statue of Liberty. It’s only some fast work from Spidey that saves her–and he’s amazed when the two meet, as he thought he was rescuing Captain Marvel given the uniform. It was Byrne’s idea, apparently, to transform the Super-Skrull’s hands into replicas of the Thing’s every time he would use Ben Grimm’s strength, and this idea is no doubt why colorist Dave Hunt chose to make the Super-Skrull’s body turn blue (like Mr. Fantastic’s costume) whenever he would stretch. I don’t think this latter bit really works, but the Thing hands certainly made the Super-Skrull appear more formidable, and so that was a change that stuck with the character.
With the Super-Skrull still on the rampage in pursuit of the crystal, the two super heroes team up. While Spider-Man leads the Super-Skrull on a merry-but-deadly chase through the bowels of the ship, Ms Marvel meanwhile attempts to re-create the situation that blocked out a portion of the villain’s powers earlier, by weaving a high tension network across the whole of the ship. There’s a bunch of fighting and hitting and derring-do, and Ms Marvel’s plan reaches its final point. You see, she’s studied a similar crystal that NASA was attempting to develop while she worked as their security chief, and she thinks she’s got a way to get the Super-Skrull off their backs once and for all. Turns out that the crystal is absorbing the energy from the makeshift grid, building up to a critical mass where it will create a space-fold and warp its immediate surroundings.
At the appropriate moment of maximum power build-up, Ms Marvel hurls the crystal directly into the Super-Skrull, while at the same time instructing Spider-Man to shut down the dampening field. The sudden surge in energy activates the crystal, and it warps the Super-Skrull into space, away from everyone. The danger is passed–and the last beat of the story intimates that the crystal is going to be of some importance to Ms Marvel’s world going forward. I don’t know that it ever was–I certainly never saw the thing come back. But this was very much Claremont’s way, to drop bread crumbs for himself that might lead to future stories. The fact that he was often haphazard about picking up on those bread crumbs would become a recurring complaint in the years to come. But in the late 1970s, this was seen as a positive thing, giving a sense of a far larger master plan at work (even if most of it was simply flailing improvisation.)