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BRONZE-AGE FLASHBACK: Marvel Two-in-One 46 (December 1978)

April 12, 2002

Typically, when two of Marvel’s heroes fight, who wins? The comic book-reading public, natch! Early in the Silver Age of comics, Marvel heroes would often enter into scrapes with one another, typically over a misunderstanding of some sort. One of the more popular pairings of heroes has been that of the Fantastic Four’s (FF) Thing versus the Incredible Hulk. These orange and green titans battled many times in the Silver and Bronze age, beginning in issue 12 of the FF’s own magazine. Many of their confrontations are now classics (e.g., FF 25-26, 112, 166-167; Incredible Hulk 122).

And then there’s Marvel Two-in-One (MTIO) 46.

For those unfamiliar with MTIO (and shame on you if you are) you should know that it was, like its companion book Marvel Team-Up (MTU), part of Marvel’s line expansion of the early 1970s. While MTU typically paired Spider-Man with a guest hero (or occasionally a villain), MTIO generally starred the ever lovin’ blue-eyed Thing (with whom was likewise teamed a different hero or villain each month). Many of the stories in both MTU and MTIO were stand-alone tales and, as such, were easy to enjoy with little commitment on the reader’s behalf. There were, of course, many cool exceptions—“Project Pegasus” and “The Serpent Crown Affair” being but two of the multi-chapter story arcs published in MTIO that spring to mind at present. (Incidently, both MTU and MTIO were profitable series for Marvel for many years with 150 issues of MTU and 100 issues of MTIO [plus annuals] being published before their eventual cancellation.) As noted, many of the tales were one-issue stories such as issue 46 which, as previously noted, stars the Thing and the Incredible Hulk.

The cover of this mini-extravaganza is chock full of excitement as we see the Thing and the Hulk locked in hand-to-hand combat on a Hollywood set as various film crew staffers try to evade the carnage. Alan Kupperberg is credited as the writer/artist and is aided by Chic Stone (inks) and Roger Stern (editor). The “Battle in Burbank” as it’s called opens with the Thing at home watching television. Specifically, he’s watching an episode of The Incredible Hulk tv show which, during the time of this story’s publication (cover date December 1978) was one of the higher-rated shows on the CBS network—airing Friday evenings along with The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas if my aging mind recalls correctly). The Thing is quite upset that the Hulk is the subject of a tv series and he proceeds to destroy his brand new 25-inch color tv (getting it stuck on his “size 40 tootsie” in the process). Alarmed by the sound of Ben’s ruckus, the other members of the FF rush in, prepared for action. Ben quickly explains the situation and Reed proposes that Ben contact the show’s producer and petition for his own tv series. Ben rushes to take a midnight flight (he apparently knows the departing flight times for the major airlines at JFK and other nearby airports).

Meanwhile, in an apartment in Los Angeles, three men who were fired from the Hulk tv show for “try[ing] to sell show concepts back to the same studio we stole them from” (you figure it out) decide to kidnap actress Karen Page (a supporting cast member in the pages of Daredevil before she was killed off a few years later) who’s been offered $1 million to co-star on the Hulk tv show. These unemployed men (named Steve, Don, and Greg [as if it matters]) decide to kidnap Ms. Page, believing the studio will pay “a few hundred grand” for her release.

Elsewhere, a semi-naked Bruce Banner is running thru the streets of a small Nevada town (is there any other kind?) when he sees in the window of an appliance store the Hulk tv show (which is airing at that moment). Outraged that his life has been turned into a “soap opera” he transforms into his green-skinned alter ego (I wonder how Banner would have reacted had he seen the Saturday Night Live super-hero party sketch from that era in which the Hulk was played by the late John Belushi). The Hulk watches the show in disgust and asks “Who is making fun of the Hulk this way?” to which the tv replies “…Filmed at Miracle studios in Hollywood!” The Hulk smashes the window of the appliance store and the tvs within before leaping away toward—you guessed it—Hollywood, California.

The next day the Thing arrives at Miracle Studios. After destroying a guard station, he runs into a talking duck who may or may not be Marvel’s Howard the Duck (he is using the name “Uncle Waddles,” though I’m guessing it must be Howard unless Hollywood is overrun with English-speaking water fowl). Eventually the Thing meets Mr. Joe Jusko, a balding, tv producer wearing a white suit (which I assume was at one time gray or blue and has become stained top to bottom with cocaine [remember, it’s 1978]), pink shirt with wide lapels (again, 1978), John Lennonesque eyeglasses (tinted blue, no less), a gold necklace, and is smoking a cigar. At that precise moment Karen Page arrives to sign her contracts (this seemingly unimportant detail will become drastically important in moments ahead—no, seriously).

Outside, the trounced guard is recovering, but as he does so he fails to notice the three stooges who sneak past him. Seconds later, the Hulk arrives. He has, amazingly, found not only Hollywood, but Miracle Studios. He smashes through a soundstage, disrupting the filming of a M*A*S*H* episode, to which Alan Alda replies, “He’s for real!” The ruckus is heard by Jusko and Grimm, while just outside Jusko’s office, Ms. Page is abducted by the three brainless wonders who have cleverly disguised themselves as phone-repair personnel. Back in Jusko’s office, two giant, emerald hands smash through the wall and as the Hulk sees Jusko and the Thing, he reasons that Ben is responsible for “…making the Hulk look dumb!” A four-page slugfest ensues, during which time the kidnappers abscond with both Page and Jusko. The Thing fights the Hulk while trying to catch up with the crew of kidnappers and kidnappees. Finally, all story participants end up on a Roman-like sound stage and as the Hulk smashes several of the giant faux pillars, they topple onto (say it with me) the kidnappers (well, they would have, had the Thing not held up most of the toppling prop). The kidnappers are presumably abducted as the security officers arrive. Jusko makes an impassioned speech to the Hulk that is priceless and must, therefore, be reproduced herewith verbatim:

“Hulk, Baby! I see what I’ve been doing wrong! When I’m through with the show, you’ll be bigger than Cheryl Tiegs!” (We see where her career went following Charlie’s Angels [though her posters do command big bucks on e-bay].)

The Hulk warns Jusko not to make him look stupid and promises he’ll be back otherwise (we assume the Hulk later watched the series and found it more to his liking since there are, to the best of my knowledge, no other stories featuring the Hulk and a guy named Joe Jusko at Miracle Studios (artist Joe Jusko did, however, paint at least one cover of the 1970s Hulk magazine…coincidence? You decide.)

To sum up: The Thing and Jusko decide to do business together. Jusko promises to send Ben a concept and does so the following week. I’ve spoiled enough of this story so I won’t tell you the exact ending. I will say Jusko’s concept involves a man named Bunker who refers to his co-star as an “orange meathead” (I swear to God I am not making this up).

This story held many lessons for its readers (both of us). We learned that kidnapping is wrong and that Hollywood is staffed by pretentious producers who wear loud clothes and use the word “baby” too often. We learned that even gamma-irradiated monsters are sensitive with regard to how they are portrayed on the idiot box called television. Mostly, we learned that not all Thing/Hulk team-ups are destined to be classics.

‘Nuff said!

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