Marvel Madness

That Time the Thing and Black Panther Hunted a Vampire

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A couple weeks ago I shared a ridiculous story with you all that featured Luke Cage dealing with what appeared to be a vampire. That story didn’t actually end up featuring any Nosferatu, but, it was still a fun little story. And, in the ensuing time, I set out to select the next crazy Marvel story for me to share with you. And, almost entirely by coincidence, I discovered an accidental little theme. That’s right, we have another of Marvel’s premiere black superheroes fighting vampires! I’ve talked about Marvel Two-In-One once before here on Marvel Madness, and felt like it was time to revisit that gloriously weird comic. In case you’re unfamiliar, it was a team-up book that Marvel ran in the late seventies that basically revolved around one of my favorite superheroes of all time, Ben Grimm the ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing, teaming up with a random assortment of other Marvel heroes, often to boost their appeal by riding his orange coat-tails. And, every single issue I’ve ever read of that comic is utterly insane. Seriously, I could easily transition this Marvel Madness series to be an issue by issue retelling of Marvel Two-In-One, and other than a lack of Doctor Doom there wouldn’t be much difference. So, I’ll have to ration these wonderful little nuggets of insanity. But, when I realized that there was a story where the Thing and Black Panther fought vampires I knew I had to share it. And, when I realized that there was another superhero that joins the fray along with an absolutely insane cameo, I knew I was going to have to share it immediately. So, buckle up. It may not be pretty, but it’s a wild ride.

This story picks up where the last couple issues had left off, which of course means that the Thing is hosting Daredevil, Yellowjacket, Vision, and a little black boy named Eugene Everett at his apartment while he makes them a giant pizza. They all just got back from a crazy adventure involving the Mad Thinker and a plan for an army of Vision-esque androids. But, all of that’s taken care of now, and everyone gets to just relax and eat some pizza, which absolutely thrills Eugene, getting to hang out with a cadre of superheroes. And, Ben’s enjoying it too, because this issue takes place during a time when the Fantastic Four had briefly broken up, so he’s feeling a little lonely. Eventually though they finish eating their pizza, and after Matt Murdock gets bored using his powers to cheat at dice with the boy, they all decide it’s time for him to be brought back to school. And, apparently drawing the short straw, Ben gets the honor. So, the two pile into an old Fantastic Four rocket and blast off to the public school that Eugene attends where a crowd of children arrive to watch them land. And, among these students is a popular teacher named Luke Charles. And, just who is Luke Charles?

 

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Marvel Two-In-One #40

 

So, this maybe isn’t exactly common knowledge, and has probably become just a bit of trivia along the lines of Thor actually becoming Dr. Donald Blake occasionally, but for a while Black Panther had an alter ego. He became an American teacher named Luke Charles who taught at an underprivileged school. The why of that concept is a little shaky, and “Luke Charles” never really became a huge part of the character, but occasionally you’ll come across stories from the seventies with T’Challa trying to get the American experience like this. Anyway, Ben and T’Challa go way back, so the Thing obviously recognizes the Black Panther, but agrees to play it cool. And, he’s going to have to keep playing along, because “Charles” asks the Thing to stay with him for the rest of the school day, because there’s something that he wants his help with after.

So, Ben Grimm has to attend a day of school, and quickly learns that Luke Charles is a very beloved, but very strict teacher, demanding a certain amount of decorum from his students. But, as has been demonstrated time and time again by the Yancy Street Gang, it’s apparently incredibly satisfying to prank Ben Grimm. So, whenever Luke is not paying attention the kids take their shot, and mess with Ben, culminating on them supergluing his pants to his chair. But, eventually the day thankfully ends, all of the children go home, and Ben is ready to find out what T’Challa’s request is. And, on its face it’s pretty simple. Apparently there’s been a series of kidnappings around New York, all of whom have been prominent members of the black community, which has led to general uninterest from the NYPD. And, T’Challa would like Ben to help him investigate. But, as we check in one the latest kidnapping we see that things may not be as they seem.

 

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Well, that’s suspicious! But, Ben and T’Challa are completely unaware of any supernatural angle to this case. T’Challa thinks that this is a purely race-motivated rash of kidnappings, and he has no idea what could be the reasoning. But, lucky for him, Ben reads trashy tabloids. Apparently the Daily Bugle has been writing about the kidnappings, and has become convinced that the men who have been taken are from a list of prominent black citizens that they themselves published in the weeks before the kidnappings began. T’Challa apparently was unaware of such a list, so they call up the Bugle and are put in contact with the microfiche department, asking for a copy of the list. The man running the microfiche doesn’t really have time to find the exact list, but he rattles off a few names from memory and promises to telegram T’Challa the rest when he has time.

And, sure enough, all the names the man remembers are names of people who have been kidnapped. Plus, as luck would have it, there are two names on the list who haven’t been kidnapped yet. So, assuming that their kidnappings are imminent, Ben and T’Challa decide to split up and try to save the two men. And, they’re right! Ben heads to the home of an industrialist named Edward Nelson, and finds that his door has already been broken down. Ben races in, only to find the place wrecked, and Nelson’s wife on the ground, raving about a monster who stole her husband. And, while Ben is taking care of her, T’Challa is at Carnegie Hall, trying to help a gifted violinist named Calvin Wadsworth, who is preforming a benefit concert. T’Challa watches it from the wings, keeping an eye out of any suspicious characters. And, he certainly finds one!

 

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So, yeah. Wadsworth ends his show, takes his bow, and a goddamn vampire shows up, ready to abduct him. And, unlike that Luke Cage story from earlier this month, this is a for real vampire. Black Panther then springs into action, leaping onto the stage in order to battle the vampire away from Wadsworth, attempting to save the man from abduction. But, it quickly becomes evident that this vampire is no joke, despite Black Panther’s more than human strength, he doesn’t seem to be any match for the vampire. And, Ben’s across town waiting for a subway, so T’Challa is on his own. Which means T’Challa is going to have to try and outsmart the beast.

He begins outmaneuvering the vampire, leaping around the stage, dropping sandbags and curtains of the monster, hoping to throw it off its guard, while Wadsworth runs around, panicking and yelling that they need to kill it like a vampire. Luckily, Black Panther is able to stall long enough that Ben has finally arrived, ready to lend a hand. The Thing is a little caught off by a goddamn vampire, but he starts ripping seats out of the ground and hucking them at the monster pretty quick. When you’re a member of the Fantastic Four I guess you’re used to seeing some weird stuff. Ben leaps onto the stage, and begins fighting the vampire, and quickly realizes that his strength can rival even his own. The vampire starts beating the crap out of Ben, and it actually seems to be gaining the upper hand, when they get a surprising bit of help. Wadsworth, remembering his vampire lore, has taken his violin’s bow and driven it straight through the vampire’s chest, causing it to collapse on the ground. So, adventure over!

Well, not quite.

 

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In case that’s not clear, after the Thing, Wadsworth, and the Black Panther leave Carnegie Hall, apparently just leaving the vampire’s corpse for someone else to deal with, the vampire comes back to life. Because he’s not just a vampire. He’s a Zuvembie! And, what is a Zuvembie? Well, during the 1970’s Marvel was still abiding by the Comics Code Authority, an informal ruling body that determined what comics could and could not do, similar to the Production Code in Hollywood. And, they had some insane rules, such as the fact that it was against the rules to say the word zombie. So, Marvel just found some other word that basically meant the same thing, and used Zuvembie instead. So, we have a zombie vampire on our hands. And he’s far from done with his task.

Because later that night, as Black Panther has returned to his apartment, and Ben Grimm has said his goodbyes, the king of Wakanda gets an unpleasant visitor. The vampire gets into his home, by taking the form of a vapor, and strangles T’Challa, knocking him unconscious and taking him back to his master. Which is when we enter the second issue of Marvel Two-In-One to feature this story, meaning we’re getting a second superhero for Ben to team up with. And, who might that be? Well, when Ben arrives at T’Challa’s apartment the next day, hoping to continue looking for the missing men, he finds that the apartment has been wrecked, and that there’s a strange man he doesn’t know inside. And, when he reacts with hostility to the man, he’s quickly enveloped in a magical darkness, under which the man identifies himself.

 

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Oh, boy! As soon as Zuvembie’s showed up in this story it was only a matter of time before Jericho Drumm showed up. Now, Drumm has been making appearances in comics pretty frequently as of late, but if you’re unfamiliar with him, he goes by the named Brother Voodoo, or more recently Doctor Voodoo. He’s a magic user, specializing in the art of voodoo, and who possesses the spirit of his dead brother, and a great knowledge of the spirit world. He came about at a time when Marvel was rapidly creating new character to chase any sort of pop culture fad they could capitalize off of, and he kind of floundered after the seventies, before coming back in recent decades, even becoming the Sorcerer Supreme for a while. And, sensing some magical malfeasance, Drumm has brought himself to the apartment of “Luke Charles,” and the Vampire Zuvembie’s trail.

Drumm is pretty quickly able to gain Ben’s confidence, and Ben fills Drumm in on everything they’ve been experiencing, including the missing people. Ben wants to go out and find T’Challa as quickly as possible, but Drumm shows him that the microfiche guy from the Bugle finally telegraphed them the rest of the list, and Drumm realizes that there’s one name that hasn’t been kidnapped yet, and they decide to go there first. But, this raises the question, why is this vampire kidnapping prominent black people in the city? And what is it doing with them? Well, to answer that we travel to a small air-field in Long Island where all of the kidnapped people, including T’Challa, are currently being held by the vampire and his master, a man named Dr. Obatu.

 

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I had been unfamiliar with Obatu, but after doing some research I realized that I’ve actually talked about a story featuring him before. See, Dr. Kinji Obatu as apparently a powerful man in the government of Uganda, before being approached by the Grandmaster with an offer to become a ripoff of Green Lantern called Doctor Spectrum to fight against the Avengers. I talked about this story, and the insane war between the Avengers and knock-off Justice League, but I had no idea that Doctor Spectrum apparently stuck around. He served as an occasional foe of Iron Man, before losing his Power Prism, and his abilities. Which is what has brought him here, kidnapping some people in order to gain favor with a powerful man. But, we’ll get to that a little later.

For now we have to hop back to Manhattan where Jericho Drumm and Ben Grimm have arrived at the home of the last person on the list, an ambassador whose plane is kept at that airfield. They arrive to find that she’s already been kidnapped, and the police are interviewing her son, who witnessed it. He’s not a whole lot of help, but he does point Drumm and Ben in the direction of the airfield, so after casting a brief spell Drumm is able to teleport he and Ben straight there, just in time to see the plane taking off. Ben briefly considers throwing the ruined gate at the plan to cause it to crash, but Drumm wisely suggests that that may kill the kidnapped people. They’re going to have to find their own way to wherever the plane is going.

And where is that? Well, this is where the story goes off the deep end. Because it turns out that Dr. Obatu isn’t really the master of the vampire. He’s working with a man named W’Sulli, a powerful voodoo practitioner who lives in a small unnamed country next to Uganda. He and Obatu have come up with this plan to kidnap prominent black people from America in order to gain favor with a ruler who has a death warrant on Obatu’s head. And, who is that ruler? Why, Idi Amin, the genocidal dictator of Uganda!

 

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Yep! Idi Amin, the real-life monster who ran Uganda throughout the seventies has just shown up in an issue of Marvel Two-In-One, ready to accept a bunch of talented Americans as slaves brought to him by a supervillain, a witch doctor, and a zombie vampire. Folks, comics are insane. And, it gets crazier. Because the plan isn’t to just give Amin these prominent people and hope that they’ll work for him. W’Sulli is going to use his voodoo skills to place their consciousnesses into the same magical urn that contains the vampire’s soul, thus making them loyal zombies who can be used for whatever purpose Amin has. And, the only thing Amin has to do is accept W’Sulli and Obatu into his good graces. Which is a hell of a deal for him.

W’Sulli begins the same ceremony that netted him the soul of the vampire on T’Challa and the other captives. And, as their minds begin to leave their bodies, and their souls float into a magical urn, a distraction arrives. Because Jericho Drumm has used his skills to track down the magical emanations of the zombie, and that has led him and Ben straight to Uganda. Unfortunately, when Amin  gets word that an American plane is approaching their ceremony, he orders that it be shot down. A missile is sent directly into the plane, causing an explosion. Drumm is knocked out in the process, and Ben is forced to pilot the plane, attempting to land it safely. It doesn’t go well.

 

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Oh, whoops! Heroes are dead! I guess Idi Amin’s going to take over the world with an army of zombies.

Oh, wait, no. Ben Grimm is the goddamn best. He survived the explosion, and even managed to protect Drumm from the explosion. He then begins lumbering toward the vaguely defined outpost where all of this zombie stuff is going on, freaking out Amin and the rest of the people. The people of Uganda don’t seem familiar with Ben, and assume that he’s some sort of monster, so they race into a fortified building, hoping to keep themselves safe from him. Unfortunately, in their haste they left behind the magical urn that contains everyone’s souls. And, as Ben come lumbering up to the area, Drumm wakes up from his brief unconsciousness, and tells Ben to destroy the urn.

Ben does as he’s told, and the souls of everyone W’Sulli has captured are free, racing towards their homes. But, trying to get ahead of the situation, Dr. Obatu tosses T’Challa’s still lifeless body from a balcony, hoping to kill him before his soul gets back. He fails. Black Panther’s soul returns to his body just in time for him to save himself from the fall, rejoining Ben and Drumm. And, it’s bad news for everyone in the balcony, because the vampire also regains his soul, and he is not too pleased with being used as a pawn. He kills W’Sulli with his bare hands, and then transforms into a bat to escape the Ugandan military members protecting Amin. But, before he leaves he flies right into Dr. Obatu’s face, causing the man to panic and fall from the balcony, dying. So, with the villains dispatched, and Idi Amin hiding in fear, our heroes rescue the kidnapped Americans and return home, triumphant!

 

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I wasn’t kidding when I said that damn near every story of Marvel Two-In-One was insane. I love the idea that Marvel had a book featuring the Thing, one of their greatest characters, going on adventures with less popular characters in order to get them some new readers. It’s a very solid idea, and one that also worked well with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up. But, for whatever reason, things just go so insane in Two-In-One. I mean, we’ve talked about two stories from that book so far on this site. One of them had the Thing and Ghost Rider witnessing the birth of a messiah in the American Southwest, and the other involved a zombie vampire and Idi Amin. And those are pretty par for the course of that entire book! Just having a story about Black Panther and the Thing dealing with a rash of kidnappings that are the responsibility of a vampire would have been weird enough to be featured here. But, to then throw in the concept that said vampire is also a zombie being puppeted by the original Doctor Spectrum, who is trying to gain the favor of Idi Amin, and you’re guaranteed to be talked about on this site. I didn’t know much at all about this story going into it, but as soon as a real-life war criminal showed up I could barely believe what I was reading. I once said that I probably wouldn’t feature too many stories with Black Panther on the site, because they don’t often tend to be weird enough, but it’s been a joy finding that these team books gave the character some insane tales, and I love seeing T’Challa in detective mode here. Jericho Drumm doesn’t get to do a whole lot in this story, but he’s a character I’ve grown to like in recent comics, and it was nice seeing him here, even though it felt a tad problematic to have two prominent black superheroes dealing with a plot involving voodoo, written by white guys. But, that was the times, and it made for a fun story, albeit a not exactly woke one. And, I’m just a huge sucker for Ben Grimm, a character I could talk about endlessly on this site. So, if you’re in the mood to get into the trashier side of Marvel comics, I highly recommend checking out this little oddity.

 

Marvel Two-In-One #40-41 were written by Tom DeFalco, Roger Slifer, and David Kraft, penciled by Ron Wilson, inked by Pablo Marcos, colored by Phil Rachelson and Francoise Mouly, lettered by Irving Watanabe and Joe Rosen, and edited by Jim Shooter, 1978.

 

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