Marvel Team-Up #53-55 (1976-1977): Hulk and Warlock.  First Byrne X-Men, 1st Gardener

John Byrne starts his MTU run, and the results are visually wonderful.  This is his early work, but you can already see why he will be one of Marvel’s top artists of the 1980s (alongside Frank Miller and Mike Zeck).  Also, this is the first time we get to see Byrne’s X-Men!  They happen to be flying by a stranded Spider-Man, so they give him a ride home.

The X-Men stay in the story for over half of #53, but Hulk gets the cover billing as the team-up character for both #53 and #54. The gang fights Woodgod, who is supposed to be launched into space by the real villains.  Instead, Spider-Man ends up on the rocket.

Issue #56 concludes the Spidey-on-a-rocket cliffhanger by sending him to the moon.  It starts with him getting a little loopy during the ride, which serves as an excuse for John Byrne to draw a whole bunch of characters.  What a terrific splash page!

Anyway, Spider-Man luckily lands in the Blue Area of the Moon, where there are plants and oxygen and whatnot, as well as…Adam Warlock!

The two of them then team up against The Stranger.

Stranger stories are never all that great, but this one introduces another Marvel cosmic character: The Gardener.  He’s also got a soul gem, and he’s using it to cultivate the Blue Area.  Gardener doesn’t interfere with the Warlock-Spidey-Stranger fight until Stranger accidentally blows up a plant, and then G is full on—he combines his soul gem with Warlock’s, and they beat Stranger.

The ending is confusing.  Gardener removes his soul gem from his forehead and says that it has now been corrupted into a weapon, but it’s not clear what he does with it after that.  Does he keep it?  Throw it on the ground?  Give it to Adam Warlock?

I can’t tell.  And it seems like that might be important, later.

Warlock also leaves a metallic egg on the moon, which will be next seen in Champions #12.

There’s also a letter in #54 from Fred Hembeck, a cartoonist known for humorous takes on Marvel and DC characters.

Creators: Bill Mantlo and John Byrne
Grade: B+

For the complete history of the MU, year by year, go here.
And see my Ratings of Runs on comics here.

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