Three kings travel across the desert, following a star, in search of a prophesized child.
…An Arizona desert.
On Christmas Eve.
‘Tis the season!
Marvel Two-in-One #8 (March 1975) is another example of Bronze Age fun & madness from the House of Ideas. Written by Steve Gerber with art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito, it’s a classic team of creators from my childhood, so how could it be anything less than a joy to read?
Even by Gerber standards though, I’ll concede this was a wild one. I mean, just look at the pairing here: the Thing and Ghost Rider? In a Christmas story?
We open with the three kings riding camels on their way to their destination when they cross paths with Ghost Rider. Stunned at the sight of them, GR literally runs himself off the road. When the kings explain that they’re following the star, GR decides to ride ahead and check things out. This eventually leads him to a Native American enclave, where we get a cameo appearance from former Fantastic Four supporting character, Wyatt Wingfoot. Then the mysterious villain of our tale whips up a whirlwind to carry our favorite biker out of town.
Meanwhile, back at the Baxter Building, a Christmas Eve Party is underway.
Can you tell it’s 1974? Johnny Storm (in his red costume) is present, as well as Sue, Franklin, Ben, and Alicia, of course; along with Medusa, Namorita, Annie Christopher (Nita’s friend and college roomie), and Wundarr (still with the personality of a child at this point). This scene makes my heart ache for the 70s—a time when you could still pick up great, fun stories at your local newsstand for two bits. Shouldn’t someone have invented a time machine by now? I swear this decade would be the first place I’d go.
Back to the story: With workaholic Reed neglecting the party (and his family), Ben finally boots him from the lab, orders him to go enjoy the Christmas Eve festivities with his wife and son, and promises that the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing will jet off to investigate the strange star over Arizona that he’s been obsessing over.
Upon the Thing’s arrival in the Grand Canyon State, just outside the aforementioned Native American enclave, he crosses paths with the Ghost Rider and, shockingly, our two heroes avoid the standard fight that almost always occurs when superheroes meet for the first time. Instead they compare notes in a civil fashion, like grown-ups, and decide upon a course of action together.
Disguising themselves (rather hilariously) as two of our strange kings on their way to see the “miracle child” that appears to have been “born” within this native tribe, they penetrate the town without incident. Once they’re on the inside, the malefactor reveals himself to them (and us) at last.
The Thing’s “wiseguy” remark is a classic line.
And I’m not even going to speculate how GR got his head to stop burning so he could safely wear that headpiece—let’s just roll with it, okay?
The Bad Guy
So next up is the obligatory villain’s speech wherein he/she explains how they managed to survive/escape after a previous encounter. In this case, Miracle Man had been captured by the spirits of the Cheemuzwa in FantasticFour #139 (Oct. 1973). After being taken as their prisoner, MM waylaid the spirits while they slept and made them part of this bizarre theater, which MM believes will make him God, since the child being “born” on this night is his own creation (making him the “father”).
Why would the Miracle Man think that artificially recreating the nativity would make him the new supreme being? Let’s just call him crazy and leave it at that.
Finally, we’re left with the equally obligatory, required-by-law, classic fight scene to wrap things up. Miracle Man’s powers falter at an inopportune moment (a Christmas miracle!), which leads to a joyously predictable outcome.
The newborn babe, created by Miracle Man via harvesting one of the Cheemuzwa spirits, is the only part of his spectacle left after he’s vanquished. The infant is adopted as a ward of the tribe by the tale’s conclusion. It’s a happy ending for all parties concerned, with plenty of Christmas magic sprinkled in for the holidays.
In many ways (as outlined above), this is a fun, sweet, simple,by-the-numbers, superhero story. Except that it’s a teaming of the Thing and the Ghost Rider, one of the oddest of odd couples, and the premise is a bit bonkers. Some of you might not be able to get past that premise. But if you take it in the spirit it’s intended, you should enjoy it.
You’ll also be treated to some solid character work here, particularly with Ben and his fellow members of the FF. The group is a true family, something that makes them rather unique and special in the superhero genre, and they seem to work best in family situations like celebrating a holiday together, as they do here.
Fun fact(s): Gerber received a plotting credit for the following issue (#9),which would be his final one on the series after kicking things off with the very first issue—a Thing vs. Man-Thing tale. Gerber did a wonderful job getting the series off to a strong start and giving it a flavor of its own apart from the Thing’s other book, Fantastic Four. Gerber maintained a seamless cross-continuity with some of the other titles he was writing at the time (or had written previously, or would write in the future): Man-Thing, Daredevil, Sub-Mariner, Defenders, and the Guardians of the Galaxy (who would get their run started in Marvel Presents a short time later). Gerber favorites Namorita, Annie Christopher, and Wundarr also served as supporting regulars in the strip during his tenure.
It’s a one-off, no nonsense (or all nonsense, I guess, depending on your perspective) story—no need to read any other issues in order to follow along. For me, it was a fun ride, but even if you do happen to find some of the silliness a bit too much to swallow, again, it’s just one issue. And it does capture the Christmas spirit.
So along these lines, let me just say to all: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and all that good stuff, folks. And a happy, healthy 2019 as well. See you again on the other side of the calendar.