Many years before Brian Michael Bendis would induct Spider-Man and, later, Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm into the New Avengers, writer/artist Jim Starlin had Spidey and the Thing team up with the Avengers for a star-spanning battle with the brutal titan Thanos – in space!
This epic team-up went down in Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2, from April 1977. The issue is billed as a Spider-Man + The Thing issue, but it’s much more than that – it spins out of Avengers Annual #7, and is a major chapter in Jim Starlin’s long-running Thanos saga. Starlin wrote and drew the issue, with Joe Rubinstein credited for “finished art” – I’m thinking that covers inks, maybe backgrounds, and some pencil assists, maybe? Petra Goldberg is on colors with Annette Kawecki on letters. The art team takes Starlin’s cerebral and startlingly emotional space-opera and turns it into a action-packed, stunningly rendered superhero free-for-all centered around Thanos.
Now, there’s been a lot of attention on Thanos recently, as the entire slate of Marvel films has been leading toward a conflict between the Avengers and Thanos. This is going down in Marvel Studio’s upcoming two-part Avengers: Infinity War film, which is suspected to be heavily inspired by Jim Starlin’s series of the same name, as well as the entirety of his Avengers vs. Thanos stories. I bring this up because, as we look back at those stories, wondering which of the classics Marvel might pull from, this title – which might otherwise get overlooked – is rife with scenes that would look stunning on film. I mean, obviously the Thing isn’t going to be part of Marvel Studios anytime soon, but I can’t help but muse over how the scene where he and Thor beat the crap out of Thanos would look on the big screen.
The trick of this issue – which I’m seeing is pretty common with superhero comics – is that the team-up aspect of it is kind of a lie. It’s not at all a Spider-Man + The Thing buddy book, but rather Spider-Man + the Avengers with a decent little bit of the Thing. The set-up is that the Avengers, in a previous installment, have been incapacitated by Thanos, and Adam Warlock has been killed – some cosmic forces send a vision to Spidey, whose spider-senses pick up on what he has to do. He needs to get to space but, being a street level hero, he approaches the Fantastic Four. The Thing agrees to take him to the stars, while razzing him a bit of course, and then the two get their asses kicked by Thanos, until Spidey honestly gets kind of lucky and frees the Avengers and Adam Warlock’s trapped spirit.
It’s all super intricate and cosmic, and the story is enthralling – but hell, when the Avengers are freed and go to town on Thanos, I kind of stopped caring that we weren’t seeing a Spidey/Grimm buddy cop book. It turns into a full-blown, non-stop, Marvel heroes fighting alien dragons and Thanos in space, and that is just a hell of a time. I’d love to read it in context of Jim Starlin’s whole Thanos run someday, because there are nuances in the writing that led me to believe he felt for Thanos even more than the heroes, but as is, this is a hell of a superhero book… and again, if the folks at Marvel Studios are looking for some inspiration for Infinity War, they could sure as hell do worse!
PAT SHAND writes comics (Charmed: Season 10, Robyn Hood, Family Pets) and pop culture journalism (Sad Girls Guide, Blastoff Comics). His childhood dream was to take over writing Goosebumps when R. L. Stine died – morbid little creep, that Shand.