Marvel Madness

That Time the Thing and Ghost Rider Witnessed the Birth of a Messiah

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Well folks, it’s Christmastime, which means it’s time to plunge deep into the depth of Marvel Comics to find some merry and insane stories to share with you. I already regaled you with the story of Fin Fang Foom and Wong saving New York from a Hydra Santa robot this year, but as luck would have it, I’ve come across an even sillier story this year, and just knew I had to share it as well. Because you’re about to learn that in March of 1975, perfect time for a Christmas story, Marvel released a comic about the Thing and Ghost Rider finding a second Nativity. And, if you can trust me, it gets crazier from there. Which you should probably expect if you’re at all familiar with the fascinating slice of Marvel history that is Marvel Two-in-One. This was a comic that ran through the seventies that was a team-up book. Each story was about Aunt Petunia’s Favorite Nephew, the Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Thing and a random guest start ever issue. The Thing would join forces with all sorts of heroes in the Marvel Universe, some of whom were A-Listers, and others less so. Often it seemed like the Marvel staff used this book as a spring-board for some of their newer or less successful characters, hoping that a guest-spot with the Thing would get people interested enough to pick up the guest star’s ongoing. So, logically, at one point they had Steve Gerber, the genius behind Howard the Duck, craft a story where the Thing meets up with the Spirit of Vengeance himself in order to follow a new Star of Bethlehem to a second Nativity. Buckle up folks, this story is going to get crazy, and test my very limited understanding of Christian mythology.

The story begins with the Ghost Rider driving his motorcycle through the deserts of the Southwest on Christmas Eve, basically having an extended internal monologue that catches readers up on what his whole deal is in case this is the first time ever encountering the character. And, as the Rider is driving around, thinking about Satan, he suddenly runs into something very odd. The men in vaguely Middle-Eastern garb ridding camels and bearing gifts. It’s a sight that’s strange enough that Ghost Rider ends up crashing his bike, but the three men come to his aid, even though they’re kind of sure that he’s a demon whose been sent to mess with them. Ghost Rider manages to convince them that he’s on the level, and in exchange they tell him what their deal is. And he’s pretty incredulous. They tell him that they’re three wise men bearing Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh and they’re following a bright new star that’s hanging in the sky in order to give these gifts to a prophesied child. They then invite Ghost Rider to come with them and meet the child, but he’s pretty weirded out by the whole thing and just peaces out, leaving them to their trek.

 

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Meanwhile, we see that even though it’s Christmas Eve Mr. Fantastic and the Thing are hard at work in the laboratories of the Baxter Building, setting up some sort of scientific experiment that Reed claims is massively important. Ben is mocking him the whole time, reminding him that it’s Christmas Eve and there’s a party waiting for him downstairs with all his friends and family. But Reed doesn’t care, because he’s far more interested in the mysterious star that has suddenly appeared in the sky, worried that it’s some sort of harbinger of doom, as most things are in the Marvel Universe.

Nothing seems to be getting through to Reed though, so Ben ends up stomping off and heading down to the waiting party. He’s met by Alicia Masters and the two have a nice moment together before they walk into a large room full of his family. Sue, Johnny, and Franklin are all in there, as well as some guests like Medusa, Namorita, Wundarr, who the issue explains as “the 22-year old orphan from outer space with the mind of an infant,” which delighted me. Ben mingles for a bit, and lets them know that Reed isn’t coming downstairs anytime soon. So, sick of waiting for him, they decide to light up a special Christmas-tree that he invented. Which doesn’t really go well. Reed clearly went overboard and devised some insane tree that’s covered with so many lights it practically blind the whole party, much to the delight of Ben, who is always game for mocking his best friend.

 

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And, while Ben is busy destroying furniture with his laughter, we see that Ghost Rider has been following the star, even though he blew off the three wise men. His curiosity has been piqued, and now he needs to find what this mysterious star is leading to. And, what he finds isn’t exactly what he was expecting. Because smack dab in the middle of the desert he comes across what appears to be an ancient Middle Eastern city, exactly like you would expect ancient Jerusalem to look like. Ghost Rider isn’t quite sure what to make of all this, the wise men, the city, and the star, and other than his idea that he “drove through a patch of loco-weed,” he doesn’t have any answers.

So, the Rider drives down into the city, hoping to get some sort of revelation of what’s going on. And, when he gets down into the city, he finds that things are even stranger than he could have imagined. Because the city is in fact full of citizens, all wearing some stereotypically traditional garb. But they aren’t Middle Eastern. They’re American Indians! No one seems interested in speaking to the man with the flaming skull for a head, so Ghost Rider decides to follow along with the story in order to get some answers. He drives over to an inn, figuring that that’s where the next clue would be, and finds a familiar face. Well, not to him, but to us. It’s Wyatt Wingfoot! Wyatt was Johnny Storm’s college roommate, an ally to the Fantastic Four, and a member of the Keewazi tribe. But, Wyatt seems to be under a spell, and doesn’t say anything to Ghost Rider other than inform him that the Inn is full. So, seeing where this is going, Ghost Rider heads over to a nearby manger, and sees exactly what he was expecting to see.

 

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Yep! We all knew where this was going, and now it’s happened. The Ghost Rider has just stumbled on what appears to be the recent birth of Christ. Which is obviously raising some red flags for him. And, just on time, things get much weirder. Because as Ghost Rider begins to enter the manger he’s suddenly stopped by a floating shadowy figure. The man refers to himself as the Creator, and tells Ghost Rider that he’s not allowed in the city. Ghost Rider is pretty confused by this, but before he can do anything about it a whirlwind kicks up, and flings Ghost Rider through the air, catapulting him out of the town. He smashes into the hills outside the town, along with his bike. But, he’s now more curious than ever, and knows that he’s not going to be able to leave until he figure out what the hell is going on in that town.

And he’s not going to be the only one. Because we then cut back to the Baxter Building where Reed is still hard at work. Ben clamors up to tell Reed about the party that he’s missing. And it turns out that Reed has made a discovery. He’s found that this mysterious star is directly above the Konohoti Indian Reservation in Arizona, the land that the Keewazi tribe lives on. And, since they have a friend living there, Reed is even more worried. He’s planning to get into the FF’s powerful Pogo Jet to get there as fast as he can, but Ben can’t abide that. He tells Reed that it’s his duty to go so that Reed can be with his family. I feel like there’s a bit of that usual griping that Ben does where he acts like he’s not actually part of the family, but they let it pass by and Reed agrees to let Ben go in his stead. This is also before they made it canonical that Ben was Jewish, but maybe that was part. Regardless, Ben hops in the Pogo Jet and blasts off to Arizona, making the trip in a matter of minutes. He approaches the star, and ends up seeing the mysterious city. But, he also sees a strange light out in the hill near the city, and decides to land there.

 

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Yeah, that flare ends up being Ghost Rider’s head, so now our two heroes are finally working together. They introduce themselves to each other, and skirt around the fact that Ghost Rider is possessed by a demon of Vengeance, and they decide to work together to figure out what in the hell is going on in this town. And, just on time, those three wise men finally arrive, since their camels are considerably slower than Ghost Rider’s motorcycle. Ben’s pretty shocked by this development, since he still doesn’t know how insane things are down in the village, but Ghost Rider just gets an idea. He starts showing off his fiery powers, and convinces the wise men that he’s an angel here to test the wise men. And, in doing so, he’s going to need two of their clothes. That’s right, the Thing and Ghost Rider are going to be going undercover!

The two men toss on some Wise Men robes and head down into the village. They make their way back to the manger that Ghost Rider found earlier, and find the Nativity scene still going on. They meet with the Keewazi family who shave just had a child, and give them the gifts that they boosted off the wise men. And, as soon as they do that, a booming voice sounds from behind them, saying that the scenario is complete, and he’s successful. Ghost Rider confirms that this is the being who he encountered earlier, and the two men turn to confront the person behind this whole insane thing. And, it’s kind of a shock.

 

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Okay, backstory time. Because if you’re sitting there wondering who in the hell the Miracle Man is, you’re not alone. he’s not exactly a well-known villain, and even though it turns out I’d actually read a couple stories featuring him previously, I had absolutely no recognition of him. Miracle Man is actually Joshua Ayers,  very gifted magician and hypnotist who once fought the Fantastic Four in their early days because he thought he could use stage tricks to defeat them. He couldn’t, but he eventually does encounter a group of near-immortal and magical American Indians known as the Cheemuzwa. He ingratiated himself in his tribe, and eventually gained actual magical powers, basically gaining the ability to change reality.

So that’s who they’re going to be dealing with. Ben and Ghost Rider don’t really take much time to think about ti though, and dive right into the action. They start attacking Miracle Man, who immediately uses his powers to transform the animals hanging out in the manger into massive monsters to attack out heroes. These creatures are pretty easily able to take own the Thing and Ghost Rider, and hold them captive while he begins to explain just what the hell is going on. Apparently after his latest defeat at the hands of the Fantastic Four he went back to the Cheemuzwa, and they tried to teach him to be more humble with his powers, since he’s not actually a god. But, all that accomplished was making him desire to become a god. So, he concocted an insane plan. If he could recreate the events of the mythologized birth of Christ, including using his powers to create a virgin birth, he would create a whole new religion, and as the creator of the Messiah he’d be considered God.

 

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Sure. That makes perfect sense. Unfortunately for Miracle Man, these two superheroes have shown up, and he doesn’t have that great to luck when superheroes are involved. So, just to make sure things work out for him, he decides that he’s going to have to kill them. And, with his story finished he gets ready to use his vast powers to destroy them. Before he can do that though, something strange happens. Ghost Rider announces that he’s stolen Miracle Man’s ability to change reality, and he won’t be able to kill them. No one explains how Ghost Rider was able to do this, and how it worked, but it appears to be true.

Miracle Man does realize that he still has some of his powers though, just not the supped up ones that he used to create a Messiah, so he just decides to use these simpler powers to kill them. They begin battling the Miracle Man, but he pretty quickly realizes that Ghost Rider and the Thing may have the strength to stop him. So, calling the whole experiment a failure, he chooses to take his ball and go home. He flees from the heroes, and begins to escape the town, while catching everything he passes on fire on his way out. This whole experiment has apparently been deemed a failure, and hes planning on just starting over somewhere else.

 

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Back in the town though, things are still pretty dire. Now that Miracle Man has stopped caring about his experiment, things are starting to fade. The monsters vanish, the people start to remember who they are, and the buildings start to return to the way the should be. There’s just the minor problem of the raging fire destroying everything. Ghost Rider starts using his abilities to deal with the stranded people since the flames won’t hurt him, and guide people out of the town and into safety, while the Thing heads out to the foothills to take down the Miracle Man.

The Thing finds Miracle Man standing atop a cliff, laughing at the flaming town and coming up with a plan to try this whole experiment again in a year. But, that all comes to an end when the Thing barrels towards him, and starts fighting him. Miracle Man mocks the Thing, reminding him that even without his godlike powers, he still has enough abilities to destroy him. So, the Thing does the logical thing, and cheats. He throws sand into Miracle Man’s face, and while the man is momentarily blinded the Thing throws the mightiest punch he can, and knocks the Miracle Man out. And, just like that, everything goes back to normal. Oh, and the Cheemuzwa show up to take Miracle Man back to their ethereal plane, making sure he won’t get up to these shenanigans again. Unless he escapes, which he’s done several times. Oh, well. The Thing returns to the town to talk to Wyatt Wingfoot, and learns something baffling. The baby the Miracle Man created through his magic is still there. It’s an actual baby, and it wasn’t there before everything. So, Wyatt decides to make his mysterious baby a member of the tribe, and they promise to take care of the magical baby. And, with everything wrapped up, Ghost Rider and the Thing say their farewells, and go their separate ways.

 

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This is a real comic! This actually exists! Look it up! When I first heard this comic described by someone, they explained it as “The Thing and Ghost Rider see the birth of Jesus,” and I had to assume that there was something missing from that description, and that it had to make more sense than that. But, when you actually read it, it somehow makes even less sense! I absolutely adore Marvel Two-In-One, and I could probably do an article about every single one of them. But, this one has to take the cake as the absolute craziest of the bunch. I feel like just about any story featuring the Thing and Ghost Rider hanging out is going to be crazy, but to make it a Christmas story, released in March, that’s about the two heroes finding a barely remembered supervillain who is trying to attain godhood by faking a Messiah? That’s admirable in its insanity. Plus, they just kind of gloss over the fact that Miracle Man actually did succeed in making some sort of magical virgin birth baby! It didn’t fade away, and it wasn’t there before, so did he actually make a Messiah? I have no idea, and sadly it doesn’t seem like any writer has ever given that a thought. So, a potential Messiah is just hanging out in Arizona, waiting to be used. It’s just so crazy folks. So, this Christmas Eve, I guess gather around and remember that a supervillain may be out there crafting an elaborate con to become God? I don’t know, I’m bad at Christmas morals.

 

“Silent Night… Deadly Night!” was written by Steve Gerber, penciled by Sal Buscema, inked by Mike Esposito, colored by George Roussos, and lettered by Charlotte Jetter, 1975.

 

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