This second of three team-ups of Captain America and the Thing in the pages of Marvel Two-in-One is no less wild than their first (in 1974’s issues #4-5), but it does have more meaningful content relevant to Cap’s ethics (if somewhat dodgy at times, as we shall see).
We’ll skip the opening one-page splash of issue #42 and go right to the double-page splash that follows, the subtle motion lines trailing Cap assuring us that he has not acquired the power to hover.
We’ll find out where they are and why they’re fighting soon, but for the time being, let’s just watch Cap hold his own against the blue-eyed idol o’ millions while trying in vain to calm him down, before deciding to try to rattle him instead.
Cap finally traps Ben without hurting him—also saving himself a world of pain—and then begins to learn what Ben’s upset about: protecting Wundarr, the child-like alien we saw him protecting in issues #4-5.
Sure, superheroes trample private property all the time, but let them trample government property for once… and you’ve gone too far, pal! (This is also our first sign that Cap is written as more of an authoritarian in this story than usual.)
And just to show they’re ready for vaudeville…
I’m sure that knocked ’em dead in Poughkeepsie!
Couched in his trademark humility and generosity, Cap introduces Ben (and the reader) to Project Pegasus, soon to become an ongoing setting in Marvel Two-in-One.
Ben rightly mocks the “unofficially” part, but gives Cap credit for his cultural awareness.
“Of course not, Ben… I loved her in The Happy Ending!”
When Ben learns why Wundarr is being held in Project Pegasus, he’s none too happy, and Cap’s reasoning doesn’t make it any better, even if we assume that by “alien” he means “extraterrestrial.” I realize the Marvel Universe has already had some bad experiences with visitors from other planets by this point in time, but I wouldn’t imagine they would have adopted a policy of seizing and exploiting them—for their “help”—or that Cap would endorse such a policy if they did.
When Cap does express sympathy for Wundarr’s situation, it’s as much for the loneliness they share as for, you know, the captivity.
Wundarr’s pleas below emphasize that fact that, mentally, he is a child, and Cap simply sounds naive when he assures Ben that everyone in this secret government facility experimenting on him is concerned first and foremost with his safety. (Is this the same Cap that saw the president of the United States lead the traitorous Secret Empire just a few years ago?)
And what do you know (although, to be fair, it was a saboteur and not a member of Project Pegasus)…
But apparently Cap had just checked the inspection logs himself, so of course he realizes the truth… and he’s forced to reveal his presence (so carefully hidden until now).
Let me explain: The saboteur is actually Victor Conrad, who goes by the name Victorious (inspiring the Nickelodeon TV show of the same name, I’m sure). As explained in the next issue, Conrad was originally a foe of the Savage Land’s Ka-Zar who worked for AIM to reproduce the super-soldier serum (which explains Conrad’s implication of a connection between him and Cap). Conrad later came upon the Cult of Entropy (from Giant-Size Man-Thing #1), who aspired to speed up the eventual decay of the universe, and became their leader—especially after stealing the Cosmic Cube from Project Pegasus.
Back in issue #42, Cap tries to use some existentialist insight—albeit inappropriately—to make Ben feel better, and luckily Ben didn’t think about it too much. (Seriously, Cap? “There’s no rhyme or reason to life and death, so don’t worry about what role you may played in either”? That’s more like nihilism, which has more in common with Victorious and the Cult of Entropy than the living symbol of American optimism!)
Cap wisely pivots to garden-variety sympathy, based on shared experience, to connect with Ben, and failing at even that, he offers practical help…
…in the form of a new Stark-designed plane with state-of-the-art tracking capabilities that can follow the Cube. Of course, Ben is more than familiar with “borrowing” government flying machines, and Cap sticks up for his friend’s expertise.
Once they discover where they’re headed, Ben makes an odd reference to a beauty queen in the late 1950s who become a popular singer in the 1960s, and became famous (or infamous) again as both the spokesperson for the Florida Citrus Commission throughout the 1970s and a prominent opponent of gay rights beginning in 1977. (See more about her here.)
(I assume Ben’s joke is more orange-based—which would be fitting—although I like to think Cap’s reaction is more topical!)
In issue #43, after Cap and the Thing find him, Victorious gives them his life story (summarized above). Then, as he does with the Red Skull repeatedly, Cap taunts his foe holding the Cosmic Cube into a physical confrontation instead of simply wishing Cap out of existence. (The Cube is infinitely powerful but apparently also makes whoever holds it infinitely stupid.)
Ha ha… Cap just beat you, son, and you don’t even know it yet. So sad.
And Vic even tries to teach the teacher a lesson.
During the battle, Cap makes reference to his epiphanies of late, presumably meeting his racist 1950s analogue (starting in Captain America #153) and then having his name and mission dragged through the mud by the Secret Empire (starting in Captain America #169), but Victorious completely misses the point, seeing only Cap’s power and not his principles.
He could do much worse than Cap for a philosophical mentor! And I assume that by “nationalism” Vic means “patriotism,” but Cap’s patriotism has been neither “petty” nor simplistic, as we shall see more in later posts (and which I discuss in chapter 6 of my book as well as this Psychology Today post).
I include the panel below just because it encapsulates this storyline perfectly, as if Ben were reading the story with us instead of being part of it.
By the way, the wispy figure in black is the Cult of Entropy’s leader, the Entropic Man (naturally), whom Victorious restored from the dead using the Cosmic Cube, which the Man-Thing is about to snatch while no one is apparently watching. (Except Ben.)
As Cap and Vic continue to fight, Cap delivers a typical inspirational Cap line, this time aimed at the the cult’s worship of entropy and nihilism (as well as his earlier comment to Ben).
(That’s Ben, in human form, at the bottom of the last panel, who was inadvertently transformed by the Entropic Man in an attempt to continue his decay, implying that his rocky form may be a sort of evolution instead.)
Cap’s words reach the Entropic Man more than Victorious; the former decides that humankind is not ready for his message, and he leaves after freezing Vic and the Man-Thing, who were locked in struggle for the Cosmic Cube, in crystal during his cataclysmic exit. When our heroes recover from the final blast, Cap issues a lament more commonly heard from a certain webhead, while Ben looks more like his original lumpy self, until he emerges as his old rocky self (but no longer human).
After Cap and Ben collect themselves and consider the low battery level of the Cosmic Cube—no one had a USB charger in 1978—they make the only reasonable decision left to two mighty heroes.
Marvel Two-in-One (vol. 1) #42, August 1978: Ralph Macchio (writer), Sal Buscema (pencils), Alfredo Alcala and Sam Grainger (inks), Nel Yomtov (colors), Joe Rosen (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
Marvel Two-in-One (vol. 1) #43, September 1978: Ralph Macchio (writer), John Byrne “and friends” (pencils and inks), Phil Rachelson (colors), Bruce Patterson (letters). (More details at Marvel Database.)
PREVIOUS ISSUES: Marvel Two-in-One #4-5 (July and September 1974)
ALSO THESE MONTHS: Captain America #224 and Marvel Team-Up #71 (August 1978), Invaders #31 (August 1978), Avengers #174-175 and Iron Man #114 (August-September 1978), Captain America #225 (September 1978), and Invaders #32 (September 1978)
NEXT ISSUES: Marvel Two-in-One #82 (December 1981)