Comics : Marvel Team-Up #46

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

In Detail...

"...Am I Now or Have I Ever Been?"
Marvel Team-Up #46
Jun 1976 : SMURF 162.675 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Man & Deathlok (Future-Shock part 2)
Arc: Part 6 of "Time Travel"
Editor:  Marv Wolfman
Writer:  Bill Mantlo
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Rich Buckler
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 Reprinted In: Essential Marvel Team-Up #2

Another strange time-stop begins for Spidey when he realizes that he's in Times Square as seen through a warzone. He hides around a corner as a strange figure stalks past carrying a gun that looks like a blow-dryer. The figure has a bionic right arm, a metal mold covering the left side of his head, and an outfit of red and blue. (At one time, he had a US flag stiched into his suit above his right breast but, by the time of this story, that has disappeared.) The only part of his flesh that shows is the right side of his head and it doesn't look very good. In fact, it looks (and is) dead. He is talking to an unseen companion he refers to as "'puter" and, by his speech, seems to be stalking "muties and cannibals". Spidey doesn't know where in time he is yet so, playing it safe, he leaps and clings high up on a wall to avoid detection. Then he follows the strange creature who talks to the air.

Within the creature's head, his computer locates their target. "Modulation of chanting establishes target-count at seventeen.", it says and the figure, in response, aims his blow-dryer gun. Spidey peers out into Times Square to see what the target is. To his shock, he sees "kids! He's gonna wipe out a bunch of kids!" (What Spidey doesn't notice is that these teenage "kids" are all wide-eyed, staring zombies carrying glowing cubes in their hands.)

"I don't care where I am or what year this is, gunning down kids just doesn't make it", Spidey thinks, as he leaps down on the assailant. The gunman's "'puter" tries to warn him of the danger from above but Spidey strikes too quickly. He knocks the figure to the ground and the ray gun goes off, harmlessly, into the air. But this commotion is noticed by the zombie-kids who, chanting as one, seek its source.

Deathlok (For, of course, it is he.) knocks Spider-Man away and manages to pick up his laser. But Spidey grabs his arm and prevents him from using it. "Do you get your jollies killing defenseless kids?", he asks. Deathlok can't believe Spidey's ignorance. He is forced to explain to the wall-crawler that these are "Muties... their blood is irradiated. They're totally mindless except when the group is threatened. They they link some kind'a group instinct, poolin' their energies through the cubes converting it to pure power and sendin' it right at us." And, with the cubes glowing, their young faces changing from a blank stare to a grimace of hate, that is exactly what the Muties do. The radioactive assault forces both Spidey and Deathlok to leap away. Realizing that he started this battle off on the wrong foot, the wall-crawler attempts to rectify that by doing a somersault in mid-air and coming down in the midst of the Muties. He knocks them flying but they don't seem to feel any pain.

Deathlok, too, has recovered. His 'puter recommends a "wide-focus blast" on his laser gun but Deathlok knows that this would "wipe out the guy who jumped me, too" so he rejects the advice and opts for gunning down one zombie. When one is hit, the entire group screams. They all turn and flee through the ruins.

Deathlok's target is dead but Spidey has been pounding on one who is still living. Deathlok knows that the Muties will be back to reclaim their companion but in the meantime, he decides to get acquainted with Spider-Man by asking "why you jumped me?". Spidey replies that "you looked a lot more dangerous than the group you were sneaking up on" and besides he's from 1975, so what the heck does he know? Deathlock introduces himself and tells him, "I ain't so old that I don't remember us puttin' a man on the moon, gettin' involved in global war, an' lettin' Ryker get strong enough with all his blasted computers to run the whole show!" Then he blows Spidey away by saying, "Welcome to 1990!"

(Okay, here's the lowdown on Deathlok. He was Colonel Luther Manning, killed in action, "half of his face and all of his right arm blown off by a 'cussion bomb", fighting a global war that has been raging since 1983. At the behest of Major Ryker, the man who is ultimately behind almost all of the nastiness in Deathlok's world, Manning is given a prosthetic arm and has a computer installed in his brain. Then he is resurrected as Deathlok, intended to be a soulless, cyborg killing machine. But Manning's heart and soul are not dead and Deathlok eventually becomes a free agent, fighting the creations of the very people who created him. Deathlok first appeared in Astonishing Tales #25 (August 1974), created, plotted, and drawn by Rich Buckler with a script by Doug Moench. He appeared each issue, save for #29 which featured the Guardians of the Galaxy, until the cancellation of the book with issue #36 (July 1976), which was right around the time of this appearance. Deathlok, the character, was brought back in a mini-series in, appropriately, 1990, then went on to have a short-lived series of his own. He even met Spider-Man, battling the Sinister Six. (Revenge of the Sinister Six, Spider-Man #18-23, January-June 1992.) But, as far as I know, that character was not Luther Manning. Spidey does remember the "alternate future" Deathlok when he encounters the new one... which he shouldn't because... well... I'm getting ahead of myself. Anyone who knows the details of the "new" Deathlok, feel free to write in and inform the rest of us.)

"No! It can't be!", the frantic wall-crawler thinks, "Only fifteen years and the whole city's in ruins! Uninhabited except for freaks and mutants! Everybody I know, gone! Not even a memory left! And what about me? Do I still exist in this time? Or did something happen in the past to make it so that I never existed?" He asks Deathlok if he's ever heard of Spider-Man but the cyborg explains that he "lay dead for five years in one of Ryker's body-banks". He doesn't remember Spidey but "some memories they let me keep, some they figured weren't important and they erased 'em. Even my internal computer draws a blank on you!" But Deathlok isn't interested in Spidey's existential angst right now. Holding up the glowing cube of their captive, he explains that the Muties have been hunting him just as he has been hunting them. Spidey asks how mindless beings can hunt and Deathlok replies "You don't need a mind to be hungry, chum! The muties are cannibals." They seek Luther out because "there's a decay-factor inherent in a cyborg-from! They smell me!" (Eeeeeuuuuu.)

So, Deathlok goes on the hunt again. He tells Spidey to bring the captive Mutie along. As they walk by a giant billboard for cigarettes, which once had a mechanism that allowed the figure in the advertisement to blow smoke rings, Spidey ponders the situation he's in. He decides to stay with Deathlok to "find out for sure whether everything's gone" and he consoles himself by conjecturing that "Maybe this isn't the same dimension! Maybe this future is just one of a million possible futures."

Up in the billboard, looking out of the huge mouth, two men (Grissom and Strake) are encamped. One has binoculars, the other has a rifle. They are members of the CIA and they are hunting Deathlok. They've been waiting all morning "since the omni-computer latched onto the signals comin' from that freak", but they didn't count on the cyborg having a companion. They don't recognize Spidey but they figure, if he's with Deathlok, "he must be a target". The one named Strake aims his rifle, the crosshairs lined up on Deathlok's skull. They'll kill Luther first, then take care of his companion.

But Pete's spider-sense starts buzzing like mad. He warns Deathlok and this warning allows the cyborg to move just enough to avoid the shot. A whole hail of bullets follows. Spidey tries to get off the street but, before he can, three bullets rip into the unconscious Mutie he is carrying, killing the youth. This is the last straw for Spider-Man. He attacks, webbing his way up to the billboard.

Deathlok has spotted the two men in the mouth and he fires his ray gun at them. But Strake isn't worried. "The cyborg can't hit us from the angle he's firin' at, an' he can't get back onto the street without us gettin' him." Instead, he focuses in on the approaching Spider-Man. At first, he "can't draw a bead" since Spidey is moving so fast. But, suddenly, the wall-crawler swings "right into the crosshairs". He squeezes the trigger, sure that he can't possibly miss. But, Strake is completely unprepared for Spider-Man's speed. Before he can take his shot, the webhead has smashed through the billboard and kicked Strake in the chops.

Spidey bashes Strake several times, all the while lecturing him on the general coldbloodedness of his entire era. In his passion, he forgets about Grissom, who shoots at him... and misses. Spidey turns his head to confront the second assassin and discovers that it is already unnecessary. Grissom has been blasted through the chest with a laser. Deathlok has made his way up the billboard and joined the show.

Spidey berates Deathlok, telling him, "I could've finished him a little less permanently". The cyborg starts to reply, then notices that the chanting has returned. The Muties are back, looking for their captured companion. "And having found his ventilated body, it's pretty obvious that they're out for blood!"

Once again, the blank-eyed teenagers raise their glowing cubes in their hands, their faces contorting with hate... but this time, they have a leader with them. He stands in the center of the group, dressed in a costume. Purple cape, gold shirt and tights, green boots, trunks, gloves, and mask. The group aims their cubes at the billboard but their group-reactions are slow. This allows Spidey and Deathlok to leap away from the billboard before the power of the cubes destroys it. Only problem is, they "still gotta face 'em down on the street!"

The heroes drop down in different places and the Muties break into two groups and attack by hand. Spidey wonders why they would intentionally divide their group and lessen their strength but Deathlok knows. "Not only do they not think individually, but when they're hungry it kind of wipes out everything else!"

With the Muties so disorganized, it is an easy thing for Spidey and Deathlok to take them out. With "half their numbers either unconscious or slain", the other half flees, "mindlessly to wander, reform, and regroup again... endlessly."

Deathlok has no sympathy for them, but Spider-Man does. He unmasks the fallen leader. Under the mask is "a kid". "Younger than me", Spidey says. "Is he what you should be fighting? Or is it the system that made him and you what you're really up against? It's a wonderful life you've got here, fighting all the side issues while the real problems sit on top and laugh at all of you. I pray that this isn't our future, the future of my time! And if it is, I pray it's not too late to change it!"

Now, it's awful easy for Spidey to talk... he doesn't have to stay around and fix things. Nevertheless, before Deathlok can reply, the wall-crawler walks into a nearby alley, where Doc Doom's time machine awaits. In a flash, he is gone, leaving Deathlok to ponder, "I think it's about time I did what I been meanin' to do, 'puter, an' had that showdown between me an' Ryker once an' for all!" (Which he did in Astonishing Tales #36, the last issue in Deathlok's saga.)

In the letters section, veteran letter-hack Rook Jones of Allentown, Pennsylvania goes after Bill and Sal, saying "You just can't go around flagrantly distorting Spider-Man's powers to suit your stories. Spider-Man wasn't even dazed by shots from Luke Cage which knocked him clear across the rooftops in Spidey #123, he faked unconsciousness when fighting the Grizzly in #139, but wasn't in any way hurt by Grizzly's blows. He easily threw off crowds of people under the control of the Mindworm in #138; he took the best of Kingpin and Hammerhead. He fought Doc Ock to a standstill even when he was so sick he could hardly stand up. He was a little stunned by a square punch from the Hulk in #120, and he has overcome so many bands of small time hoods that I can't even keep count of them. And you think I'm going to believe that three pernicious puritans are able to knock Spider-Man unconscious in a few seconds? No way!" Rook goes on to ask, not for a no-prize, but an apology and he gets one... with the assurance that "never never will they allow such a thing to happen again."

A letter from Rebecca Farash of Brooklyn, New York asks if Bill Mantlo got his inspiration from Arthur Miller's The Crucible. She is told that "the events depicted were actually taken from historical accounts as compiled in Marion Starkey's The Devil in Massachusetts. So, now we know the answer to that!

Finally, what about getting Spidey back to the present? Well, that happens in the first two pages of Marvel Two-In-One #17, the Thing's team-up mag. In it, web-head and rock-head join forces to battle the Basilisk in a story that continues into Marvel Team-Up #47. It begins with a dazed Spidey holding himself up on a chimney of some Manhattan rooftop. The time platform shimmers right above him. He is sure he is home this time but "I feel so funny. Thoughts... vague! Can't seem to think straight!" He looks up and sees the platform and remembers the battle in the past with the Scarlet Witch, Vision, Doom, and Moondragon. "And then, what?" He remembers getting on the platform and "going somewhere... fighting! Like in a dream... where everything is recognizable but different at the same time!" He watches as the time platform disappears, returning to Latveria. "But I still feel like there was something else!", he says, "Something I should remember!" He stands for a moment, trying to remember, but the night is cold, so he web-swings away, saying, "Maybe I'll remember on my way downtown! Yeah. Maybe! And maybe not!" "And", Bill tells us, "across four decades, two men, one called Killraven, the other Deathlok, stop, shake their heads, and slowly lose touch with a dream." Which is why Spidey should never have remembered the "alternate future" Deathlok.