There are certain comic titles that I frequently discuss here on Marvel Madness, which almost guarantee to provide us with the insane types of stories that I love so much. Some characters lend themselves to these silly stories, like Doctor Doom, but every now and then I come across a specific book from the history of Marvel Comics which seems custom made to generate wonderfully insane stories. Such as Marvel Two-in-One. I’ve discussed that book several times on the site before, but if you’re unfamiliar it was a comic that starred one of Marvel’s greatest heroes, the idol of millions, Benjamin J Grimm, the Thing. And, ever issue he would team up with a random other Marvel character, often one whose own book was struggling, and they would go on a ridiculous adventure, taking full advantage of weird Marvel continuity and creating some of the goofiest stories you’ll ever read. And, while I’ve been sharing some random adventures from Two-in-One with you all over the years, there has been one story that I’ve been waiting to get to. A famously ridiculous story, beloved by many, that kind of sums up everything that’s great with the title, with Marvel in general, and with the Thing specifically. And, because things have been a tad hectic here and I kind of ran out of time to talk about a more lengthy story, I’ve decided it’s time to share the story of Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 with you, without a doubt one of the weirdest comics you’ll ever hear about.
The issue begins with the Thing hanging out with the love of his life, Alicia Masters, as she prepares to do some new sculpting. Ben is standing around, posing for her so that she can feel his body and properly get the basic shape of the various heroes and villains that she’ll be immortalizing into stone, all while Ben is complaining about having to stand around and look pretty. And, while Ben is describing the shape and design of Ultron to Alicia so she can take a stab at making a sculpture of him, something very strange happens. A blinding light suddenly appears in the room, and a peculiar alien steps out of that light. He’s a thin, bug-like being wearing a bowler hat, and he has come specifically to talk to the Thing. He introduces himself as Proja, the Promoter Supreme, and he’s come with an offer for Ben. Proja represents a mighty warrior known as the Champion, a universe-trotting fighter who travels from planet to planet, challenging the strongest beings to feats of strength. And he has selected Ben as a citizen of Earth powerful enough to compete against the Champion.
Unfortunately, Ben doesn’t really see the upside to this whole thing. Proja attempts to ply him with promises of fame and power if he can take down the Champion, but none of it’s really sounding that great to Ben. So, he respectfully declines, and while Proja is certainly saddened, he seems to take the refusal in stride. He then offers Ben a consolatory shake of the hand. Which, was a trap, because as soon as Ben shakes the little alien’s hand, the two are instantly transported off of Earth, and to a special holding facility that Proja and the Champion have cooked up, kidnapping Ben against his will, and leaving poor Alicia left behind, baffled at what just happened.
And, it turns out that Ben is not the only combatant, as you can tell from the cover up top. No, Proja has been really active, and we see him blip in and out of existence all around Earth, North America specifically, to assemble a whole litany of potential warrior. He ends up nabbing Thor as he flies around the skies of Chicago, gets Doc Samson in the middle of a therapy session, then rapid-fire picks up the Hulk, Namor, Wonder Man, Sasquatch and Colossus. We also see him briefly reach out to the Vision, before realizing that he’s a robot, which is apparently against the rules, causing him to immediately leave, while also alerting the Avengers to what’s going on. And while Vision is left to ponder this strange interaction, we see where our strong men have been kidnapped to.
Our heroes have found themselves instantly teleported to what appears to be a massive futuristic gymnasium, full of training gear specially designed for superhumans. None of them have any real idea what’s going on, and they’re pretty put off by this whole thing, especially considering a lot of them don’t even know each other. They begin wandering around the gym, gawking at all of the equipment like the punching bag that could withstand a punch hard enough to sink a battleship and a robot skilled in all manner of fighting. But, while everyone else is busying themselves with investigation, Namor gets bored and decides to just punch his way through the wall, trying to figure out where they are.
And, it turns out that they’re in some sort of pocket dimension, away from the rest of the the universe. So, Namor quickly sweeps back into the gym, so that he doesn’t die of exposure in this strange place, and had to accept where they are. They mock Namor a bit, but do accept the fact that they are unable to get back to Earth on their own, as demonstrated by Thor being unable to open up a pathway to the Rainbow Bridge. They’re all very testy, wondering what’s going on and who has kidnapped them, when that same glow that brought them all to Proja appears, summoning this Champion they’ve all heard so much about. And boy does he have a good look.
Hell yeah, folks. It’s Tryco Slatterus, the Champion of the Universe. If you’re not familiar with this character, he’s the goddamn best. He’s a member of the Elders of the Universe, the group of vaguely defined cosmic beings who have existed for eons, and who have weirdly specific obsessions. The Collector collects things, the Grand Master forces being to play games with him, and the Champion travels around the universe challenging people to boxing and wrestling matches, as demonstrated by his WWF belt.
The Champion is one of the strongest beings in the universe, and as such he has made it his mission to traverse the stars, finding planets that contain beings who could possibly provide him with the one thing he craves. Challenge. No one can best the Champion, let alone survive three rounds in the ring with him. So, he tracks down the strongest of the strong, giving them the chance to fight him and earn eternal glory. And, if they don’t participate, he’ll punish their world. This causes the heroes to realize that things are getting pretty extreme, and they all decide to bum-rush the Champion, attempting to attack and defeat him all at once. But, that’s against the rules, and he’s able to use his abilities to blast all of the heroes away, informing them that they need to prepare for mortal combat. And, to do that he’s going to give them a bunch of dumpy alien coaches. Just a bunch of intergalactic Mickeys.
And, while these little trolls are teaching the Earth heroes to eat lightning and crap thunder, we see that the people they left behind on Earth are all pretty confused. Alicia has reached out to the Fantastic Four, who are eagerly trying to figure out where Ben went. And, the answer isn’t great, because Reed’s devices pick up an energy signature even stronger than that of Galactus, which isn’t exactly a good sign. We also see that the X-Men have been searching for Colossus, realizing that he’s far out of the sight of Professor Xavier’s mental reach, even with Cerebro.
And while all of that’s going on, we see how the heroes are going about their training. Which isn’t exactly going swimmingly. The Hulk manages to impress his trainer by shattering the powerful punching bag, proving that he has a tremendous amount of strength, but not a lot of self-control, even with his Banner personality in control. Thor gets chastised for wielding a hammer, since it’s not exactly sporting, but they’re able to ascertain that he literally needs it to have his strength, due to the Donald Blake of it all, so they allow it. But things really take a turn when Doc Samson starts looking at the boxing robot. He assures his trainer that he’ll be able to out-think it. And the robot promptly punching him in the balls and then knocking him out.
It turns out that this is not actually something that a potential challenger to the Champion of the Universe should be doing, and thus Doc Samson is eliminated before the match even begins, getting blipped back to Earth. And, it doesn’t stop there, because it turns out that Namor is absolutely refusing to participate in training, throwing a hissy fit that ends up resulting in his trainer also eliminating him, shooting Namor right back to the ocean. So, that’s two down and they haven’t even put on their trunks and gloves yet. Going great, heroes of Earth!
This causes the rest of the heroes to realize they need to keep their heads in the game, in case the Champion decides to destroy their planet. So, they begin training in earnest, trying to get ready for the fight of their lives. Colossus masters a powerful speed-bag, Sasquatch shows up by doing an impossible amount of weight lifting, and Wonder Man rides a stationary bike. And, while that’s going on, the Thing is sparring with robots, quickly impressing the other trainers and making himself the front-runner. Which is when Porja returns to Earth in order to set up the big show. He travels around the planet, telling people about the Champion and the match, spreading rumors and getting everyone in the world interested in the upcoming bout.
After the entire world becomes fascinated in this big match, we see that the Champion’s aliens are hard at work getting things set up. Because the Champion doesn’t just want to fight these heroes, he wants to fight them on their own turf, where everyone can see. Which is why the Champion’s aliens are able to book Madison Square Garden to host the battle. And, pretty quickly they’re able to set up the biggest event in the world, where people pay through the nose in order to see it live, while theaters all around the world book broadcasts of the fight.
The Fantastic Four, Avengers, and other assorted heroes who weren’t kidnapped come to the show, ready to try and save their colleagues. Which, is going to be harder than they expected, because the Champion has placed an impenetrable shield around the ring, trapping the heroes inside so that the Champion can teleport them in and out by his own whims. And, while the heroes are sitting around in their smelly cosmic gymnasium, they’re informed that the fight is about to begin. And Thor is chosen as the first competitor, instantly teleported into the ring, and placed into some trunks and gloves, complete with Mjolnir.
Thor still has the biggest chip on this shoulder about this whole thing, and is pretty furious about the trunks, making him ready to just get this over with. And, as he waits for the Champion to show up, he gets to see Cyclops and Wolverine attempt to shatter the shield and save their friends, only to prove that it truly is indestructible. So, without a way out of this whole thing, Thor accepts the fact that he’s going to have to battle the Champion himself. At which point the Champion teleports into the ring, and the two begin fighting. Thor was allowed to use Mjolnir, as was previously established, but it really doesn’t seem to help him out too much. Which causes Thor to lose his cool and throw the hammer at him as hard as he can.
Which turns out to be a big no-no. They allowed Thor to use the hammer to bludgeon the Champion, but as soon as he threw it he broke a rule, causing the Champion to freeze the hammer in mid-air and then declare him a failure, teleporting Thor out of the ring and back to Chicago. Which sends the next combatant to the ring, which just so happens to be the Hulk. The whole time that this training has been going on Hulk has been trying to keep his cool, and make the Banner personality remain dominate. But, as soon as he sees the Champion all of his rage slips out, and he becomes the thrashing Hulk that we all know. Which is a problem, because the Champion apparently doesn’t want to fight mindless animals, causing him to disqualify the Hulk and blip him away, bringing up Sasquatch.
Sasquatch actually decides to give this his best shot, as opposed to Thor and Hulk, and ends up doing decently. He dodges a few hits an even lands a punch, before the Champion absolutely wrecks him with a hook to the face, sending the massive Canadian soaring through the ring until he slams in to the force field, setting up another powerful punch that completely knocks him out. And, as he drops to the mat the alien ref declares him a loser, and he’s teleported back to Alpha Flight. At which point the humans in attendance really start to worry about this thing, and the odds against Earth surviving this ordeal become pretty bleak at the intergalatic bookies.
Colossus is next up, and while he gives it his all he’s eventually thrust up against the turnbuckle, where the Champion just starts to tenderize his abdomen, pummeling the mutant until he passes out. Which means that it’s all down to Wonder Man and the Thing. And, Wonder Man is up first, giving the Thing and his trainer one last moment of preparation. Because as soon as Wonder Man ends up in the ring he announces he’s sick of this whole thing, and attempts to rip the ring apart, trying to throw the Elder off his game and get this fight in a weirder place, which turns out to be against the rules, earning him a disqualification. Which means that the fate of the world rests in the rocky hands of one man. Aunt Petunia’s favorite nephew. The idol of millions. The ever-lovin’ blue-eyed Thing.
The Thing is then teleported into the ring, and the crowd goes absolutely insane. He’s probably the most popular hero involved in this thing, and people really seem to believe that he has a fighting chance against the Champion. The Champion then arrives, and begins complimenting Ben while also gloating. He notes that he always thought Ben would be the greatest challenge, but also insists that he’s going to utterly destroy him. But, the Thing isn’t here for trash talk. He’s here to clobber.
The two then begin to fight, and immediately the Champion nails Ben with a devastating punch, sending the Thing rocketing into the force field, and seemingly knocking him out. But, as the ref begins to count down, Ben pulls himself off the ground, and starts mocking the Champion, telling him that this is his last chance to give up, before getting the beating of a lifetime. And, thrilled to see a combatant with this much zeal, the Champion begins his attacks, but a little too cocky this time. Because Ben is able to duck under a punch and get a solid hit onto the Champion’s head.
This delights the Champion, and he and the Thing begin a battle for the ages. They begin pummeling each other long enough to reach the end of the first round. And, after a quick breather, they get back to it, where the Champion promptly hits Ben with an upper-cut that would have sent him into orbit if the force field hadn’t kept him trapped. And this causes him to plummet back down to the ring hard enough to destroy the floor, causing them to call the round so they can repair it, meaning that the Thing has entered his third round with the Champion, something he said almost no being has ever done.
And, when they come back to it the Thing goes on the offensive, hitting the Champion with a barrage of punches that end up shattering the cosmic being’s ribs. Which utterly delights the Champion. He begins talking about the joy of combat, and what a wonderful feeling this is to actually be challenged, before hitting Ben so hard he flies into the turnbuckle, letting the Champion work his body over. But, he survives to the end of the round. Barely. The Champion begins gloating, telling Ben he’ll never make it through the fourth round. Which is true, because in between rounds Ben collapses onto the ring, unable to get back up. The Champion then received his belt, and begins gloating to the disappointed crowds of Earth. But, as he begins explaining how this is his destiny, and that he’s now going to destroy the planet for their failings, Ben Grimm does something amazing.
Benjamin J Grimm has just propped himself up, utterly destroyed, and crawled up to the Champion, informing him that the match isn’t over. He wasn’t defeating during the match, and thus he didn’t lose. He’s not going to let the Champion win, because he’s the goddamn Thing, and he never gets up. He’s going to keep getting up, again and again, getting punished beyond any comprehension, because that’s what he does. And he’ll never give the Champion the satisfaction of victory.
And, shockingly, the Champion realizes that this is true. He reaches for Ben, but not to hit him again. He reaches down and lifts the Thing up, acknowledging him as a real champion. He accepts that while he could literally pound him to dust, he’d never be able to beat the Thing, not in spirit. And thus, Earth has given him an opponent worthy of his talents. He announces that he won’t be destroying Earth, and actually suggests that someday the people of Earth may represent the final showdown with the Elders of the Universe, because if Earth could create a hero like the Thing, they could be capable of anything. And, with that, he and his flunkies leave Earth forever, promising to let it go about its life, while everyone in Madison Square Garden begins cheering on Ben. Who immediately slumps to the ground, beaten, but victorious.
So, here’s the thing about this story. It fucking rules. I had heard about this story for a long time, knowing it as a crazy story where the Thing and a bunch of the Marvel Universe’s absolute units go toe to toe with one of the Elder of the Universe, only for Ben Grimm to be triumphant. And, it certainly is all of that. But I just don’t think I fully appreciated what a perfect encapsulation this story was of everything I love about Marvel Comics, and more specifically, Ben Grimm. Because this comic is an absolute treasure. It has an utterly insane premise, where a space god arrives on Earth and challenges a bunch of heroes to box him in Madison Square Garden, otherwise he’s going to destroy the world. That’s insane, but it’s so very Marvel. It takes grand cosmic drama, and places it directly into the real world, lending it a context that manages to blend mythology with everyday life, the formula that really explains all of Marvel’s success over the years. But, it also shows us just what a wonderful character the Thing is. He has gotten the short end of the stick, time and time again, being the only member of the Fantastic Four to be given a physical deformity that he can’t turn off. By all reasoning, the Thing should wallow in misery and never lead a life. But, instead he takes everything that makes him a monster, and uses it to help innocent people. Because Ben Grimm is a hero. He has every right to become a villain, he’s a big scary monster with superpowers that the world tends to react to revulsion at. But he pushes that aside, and does the right thing, protecting others, at the expense of his happiness and safety. He literally gets pummeled into the ground, and still pulls himself back up, ready for more. Because if there’s one single iota of a possibility that Ben Grimm can save the day, he’s going to try. He’s going to stare down the face of an impossibly old and powerful being, and tell it that he’s not going to give up, and give it the satisfaction of defeating him. Because there’s no way to beat the Thing. He’s always going to come back for more. Fate already took its best shot at Ben Grimm, and it made him into a superhero. So what’s the best the Champion of the Universe if going to do? Ben Grimm is a fighter, and he’ll never stop fighting, even in the face of certain defeat.
And that’s how you become the idol of millions.
Marvel Two-in-One Annual #7 “And They Shall Call Him….Champion!” was written by Tom DeFalco, penciled by Ron Wilson, inked by Bob Camp, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacola, Dan Green, Armando Gil, and Chic Stone, colored by George Roussos, lettered by Jim Novak, and edited by Jim Salicrup, 1982.
Categories: Marvel Madness