Comics : Marvel Team-Up #44

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This story is part of an Arc: "Time Travel"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4 / Part 5 / Part 6

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1998.

Background...

We continue our looking back review of the MTU Time Travel story which began back in Marvel Team-Up #41.

In Detail...

"Death in the Year Before Yesterday!"
Marvel Team-Up #44
Apr 1976 : SMURF 162.625 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man & Moondragon (vs. Dark-Rider)
Arc: Part 4 of "Time Travel"
Editor:  Marv Wolfman
Writer:  Bill Mantlo
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Dan Adkins, Gil Kane
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 Reprinted In: Essential Marvel Team-Up #2
Articles: Doctor Doom

Back in the present, a dark and powerful storm engulfs the island of Manhattan. On the roof of Avengers' Mansion, the priestess from Titan called Moondragon stands mesmerized amidst the lightning. Iron Man comes out to see if she is all right. Moondragon admits to being preoccupied but volunteers no information so Iron Man leaves her to her musings. Once alone again, Moondragon soliloquizes about dreams she is having... "dreams which have haunted me since Wanda and the Vision vanished". (How long has that been in the present? Bill doesn't say.) The dreams call out to her for help and cause her pain, as they "strike at me through the very source of my power... my mind!"

A brief history of Moondragon: She is a human woman named Heather Douglas who was raised on Titan, the moon of Saturn, with the expectation that she might be the "Celestial Madonna". (Don't ask.) This upbringing gave her great powers of the mind and also made her more than a little haughty. At various times, because of her disdain for those less powerful than her, Moondragon has been a formidable villain but at the time of this story, she was a member of the Avengers. She is completely bald (long before the days of Persis Khambatta or Sinead O'Conner), with thin, arching eyebrows. She wears white earrings that look like cueballs, a skimpy green outfit that looks like a swimsuit, along with green boots, green gloves, and a green cape. (No comment here but notice how the two women guest-stars are wearing what amounts to bathing gear while the men are completely covered up. Spidey and Doom even have full face masks while the Vision's red face gives all the appearance of a mask. Just thought I'd mention it.) And, oh yeah, the Celestial Madonna turned out to be the Avenger named Mantis. (Don't ask.)

Moondragon notes that her suffering eases if she allows herself to "follow the voices that call within me". Doing so, she walks through Avengers' Mansion until she comes to a room half-filled by a huge "sphere of light". Sensing that the light is "a call for help, like a note in a bottle", Moondragon allows the sphere to engulf her. In a instant, she is transported to the past. She finds herself hidden in the foliage near a certain clearing. Before her, she sees, the Vision, Scarlet Witch, and Spider-Man lying unbound but unconscious on a large white marble slab/altar with pipes hanging off of it. At their heads, three cables lead to a floating transparent ball. Dr. Doom is inside the ball, also unconscious. Three more cords stretch from the ball to the Rider, where they are connected to the knuckles on his left hand. The whole set-up, from the cables at the heroes' heads to the Rider's knuckles, crackle with energy. Cotton Mather stands by the Rider observing the whole affair. (Hey! Cotton's back, everybody!)

The Rider unsheathes a dagger from who-knows-where. It, too, crackles with energy and it has a skull carved on its hilt. The Rider calls it the "soul-blade" and he gives it to Cotton Mather. "It is only fitting that, as it was you who preached my coming, you who unleashed the witch-riots in my name..." Mather should be the one to plunge the blade into our unconscious heroes. The soul-blade moans with hunger. Cotton is frightened and disgusted but he takes the blade anyway. With a cry of "Forgive me!", he raises it over the Scarlet Witch's head.

But, before Mather can strike, Moondragon steps out from the bushes and staggers the Dark Rider with a searing mind-blast. "Never have I felt such force, tearing at the very fabric of my thoughts", the Rider says. But this doesn't deviate him from his course. It only makes him want to add Moondragon's power to his arsenal.

At this moment, Spider-Man recovers consciousness. He doesn't recognize Moondragon but the recovering Scarlet Witch does. In fact, she realizes she somehow summoned her fellow Avenger "with my last hex before I collapsed".

With the Vision also recovering, the heroes are free to join the action. Spidey decides that, seeing as Moondragon is keeping the Rider busy, the rest of them should work on freeing Doom from the transparent bubble. The webhead suspects that the Rider is still syphoning power out of the Doctor, even though he's not plugged in to him anymore. That would explain why, in spite of Moondragon's most powerful mind-blasts, the Dark Rider still will not fall. In fact, the Rider turns Moondragon's power back on her, by firing it out of the knuckle device he had previously had hooked to the bubble. The "raw energy" of the returned blast causes the Titan priestess to scream.

Somehow, the return of her mind-power also allows Moondragon to look into the Dark Rider and she sees his origin. Back in antidiluvian days, there was a Wizard-race that ruled the earth. "They bound the demons of their time, but in so doing... they became like unto the demons themselves." They ruled from Black Towers with an iron fist until the early race of man fought back. "The wizards died, save for one, the strongest, the darkest, the lord of the time-stream into which he fled... the Dark Rider!"

Spidey, Wanda, and Vizh notice that Moondragon and the Rider are trapped in a mutual "mind-lock". They take advantage of their foe's paralysis and go to Dr. Doom's rescue. Spider-Man and Vision punch and tear at the floating globe, knocking chunks away as they go. But, at that moment, the mind-lock breaks, and Moony, reeling from "the awful weight of time", falls to her knees. Wanda, standing guard, quickly unleashes a hex bolt at the Rider but it doesn't effect him. Up above, the others have managed to free Von Doom but the unconscious Doctor drops "like a stone" to the ground. The Rider turns to Wanda, ready to blast her to oblivion but the Vision observes the confrontation and distracts their enemy by firing eye-blasts at him.

In the midst of all this crazy action, Spider-Man stops and thinks. He realizes that the Rider has defeated every combination they have thrown at him... except one. All five of them together. Spidey rouses Von Doom and the Latverian decides to switch tactics. Instead of attacking with his scientific arsenal, he uses the witchcraft he learned from his mother. The result? "For the first time in his millennia spanning existence, the Dark Rider screams, and knows the meaning of pain." While the Rider is reeling, the Vision gives him a diamond-hard sock in the jaw, Wanda strikes him with a hex, and Moondragon (borrowing some of Spider-Man's mind-force) unleashes her greatest mind-blast. With a savage cry of "Nnoooooooooo", the Dark Rider falls, his body erupts in flames and, in seconds, nothing is left of him but ash. Cotton Mather kneels, helplessly, at the site of his master's demise. The battle is over.

Spider-Man complains of a headache but Moondragon promises him it will pass. Doom has had enough of his companions. Using the "time-circuitry I have incorporated into my armor", he returns to the present, promising that the next time they all meet, it will be as foes. Referring back to ASM #5, Spidey says, "Y'know, a while back, Doom offered that me an' him should be partners and every time I think about how I joked my way out of it, I get the worst case of the shakes."

Suddenly, Doom's glowing rectangular time machine appears in the clearing. The Scarlet Witch, the Vision, and Moondragon take it back to the New York of their present but Spidey is not ready to leave yet. He tells them to send the platform back to him but, in the meantime, he must return to Salem to see if he can save John Proctor and the other accused witches.

He web-swings back to the village but it is deserted. He starts to head for the jail, only to be shocked by an unexpected sight. "Oh Lord", he says, burying his face in his hand, "the fight took too long. I'm too late. Blast you, Rider! Blast you!" He walks away from a large tree turned gallows. All of the people he hoped to save have been hung.

In a postscript, Bill Mantlo writes, "Salem hung its witches, at least some of them, on 19 August 1692. History makes no mention of a battle that was fought in a clearing a little ways outside of Salem, and public outrage at the excesses of the witch-riots cast Cotton Mather into disfavor, never to be taken seriously again, so he was not believed when he told of it. Indeed, because of his ravings, men thought him mad. History made this time to seem a nightmare and man soon forgets his dreams."

Think we're done? We're not done. Not till Spidey gets back to the present. In the meantime, here comes....