I bought this issue of MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE on one of my weekly Thursday afternoon jaunts to the 7-11, for that is when the new comic books arrived. That’s a nice cover by George Perez and Terry Austin, not that I needed to be convinced by any cover image to pick the book up. The Fantastic Four had become my favorite comic book series, and so I could be depended upon to follow any book associated with them, such as TWO-IN-ONE. Captain America, whose series I was also buying, being this issue’s guest-star was just a cherry on top, a bonus.
I had no way of knowing this at the time, but the departure of writer Marv Wolfman had thrown MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE into a bit of a scheduling dilemma, one that incoming editor Roger Stern pulled the book out of by both commissioning a lot of one-off stories from assorted writers and also moving ahead on the inventory jobs that were already in production when he signed on. But for a long while, MARVEL TWO-IN-ONE wasn’t going to have a regular writer at the helm, but rather rotate among creative teams on a per-story basis. And that’s how Ralph Macchio came to write this two-parter. Ralph was a relative newcomer on staff in 1978 when this issue was commissioned, but he’d go on to have a long stay in the editor’s chair. While never devoted to writing 100%, he was a key component to the well-remembered Mark Gruenwald/Ralph Macchio combo that would become the first regular creators on TWO-IN-ONE in about a year’s time. This two-parter, though, was the first actual comic book story that Ralph ever wrote, and to hear him tell it, he only did it at Roger Stern’s insistence.
Ralph was something of a continuity maven, and so he used this opportunity to bring back plotlines that had been dropped and characters he liked from other series while at the same time adding his own contribution to the Marvel Universe. This took the form of Project; P.E.G.A.S.U.S., a government-sponsored think-tank that was attempting to develop alternative energy source. This was a topic that was much in the news during the 1970s, and so Macchio pulled his inspiration from there. He also brought back Wundarr, a character Steve Gerber had introduced in the Man-Thing series and then picked up again in TWO-IN-ONE, whom Ben Grimm treated as a sort of unrelated-by-blood nephew. Wundarr hadn’t appeared in the book for several years at this point–he had been forgotten along the way as one writer’s time had given way to the next. So Ralph used him as the catalyst for his tale.
The issue opens with the Thing smashing his way into Project PEGASUS, having realized that like the writers themselves, he had lost sight of Wundarr in the intervening months, and having followed the kid’s trail to this location. But it so happens that Captain America is providing security for the facility that day, and so, using PEGASUS’ security devices as well as his own fighting prowess, he’s able to bring the fighting-mad Thing to a halt. Cap explains the project’s purpose to Ben (and to us), and escorts him to where Wundarr is being held. The team is using Wundarr’s abilities to help them hopefully unlock the secrets of the Cosmic Cube, which they have recovered. One of the project hears is Dr. Tom Lightner, who had fought the Thing and assorted guest-stars as Black Sun some twenty issues earlier. Ben and Wundarr get to have a tearful reunion, and then Cap prevails upon the Thing to convince Wundarr to help with the group’s experiments, which Ben does reluctantly.
And Ben’s misgivings are correct. because there is a mole within Project: PEGASUS–and it isn’t Dr. Lightner at all. ather, it’s another nameless techno who takes advantage of the opportunity to sabotage the Cosmic Cube experiment, causing Wundarr to howl in pain. The Thing races in to save his nephew while Captain America, having noticed the saboteur, moves to the attack. But the bad guy effortlessly bats Cap back, as though he were in possession of the same sort of super-soldier serum-enhanced physique as Cap possesses. Before anybody can stop him, the saboteur is able to make his way to where the Cosmic Cube is wired up and seize it. He then teleports himself and the Cube away, leaving the Project in complete chaos and disarray. There is no joy in Mudville on this day.
The man with the Cube reappears within a swamp in the Florida Everglades, and reveals himself to be Victor Conrad, a scientist who had attempted to recreate the super-soldier formula and use it on himself and whose villainous efforts as Victorius had been foiled by Ka-Zar. He’s joined by the chanting figures of the disciples of the Cult of Entropy, a group that Steve Gerber had introduced in an earlier Man-Thing story. There are a lot of disparate threads from all across the Marvel line coming together in this tale, a harbinger of some of the types of stories that would be done in the years ahead. Back at Project: PEGASUS, the comatose Wundarr is wheeled away for medical treatment, and the Thing can’t forgive himself for having talked the kid into being a part of this crazy nonsense. Captain America is all business, though, and he offers Ben the chance to ride shotgun as he takes a Stark airship and attempts to hunt down Victorius. Ben is only too happy to oblige.
The trail, of course, leads the pair down to Florida from upstate New York where the Project is situated. Making their way through the forest, Cap and the Thing find themselves confronted on the final page by both Victorius himself, his identity no longer being kept a secret, as well as a shadowed figure with a skull-like face that Victorius refers to as the Entropic Man. Clearly, a battle is about to break out here–but it’s a battle I wouldn’t get to experience for another thirty days, because that’s the point at which this issue is To Be Continued!