Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Project Pegasus Saga

Last summer, as I sat through the interminably long and overdone Spider-Man 3, I couldn't help but think that these Marvel blockbusters had gone horribly far afield from what made Marvel Comics great. I'm primarily a DC guy, but I did read quite a few Marvel titles in the late 70s and early 80s, and I read plenty of back issues to familiarize myself with the Marvel Universe. I couldn't understand why the movies placed so much emphasis on the name brand of a single character rather than delving into the mythology of old Marvel story arcs. After all, the second Fantastic Four movie based its story line on the original Silver Surfer story arc, leading to what I thought was a fun, action-packed film in keeping with the Fantastic Four style.

As my wife and I were driving home from the theater after Spider-Man 3, I related my feelings to her. "These sequels all fall flat because, after they've told the origin in the first movie, they don't seem to have anywhere to go. Why don't they use some of the old stories like Project Pegasus?"

Since my wife read a lot of Marvel comics in her youth, I assumed I could speak in such short-hand and she would immediately know what I was talking about. I forgot she didn't get int
o comics until the 80s and missed The Project Pegasus Saga by a couple of years. When she questioned me about it, I had to admit I didn't remember too much about it myself. I only recalled that it took place in Marvel Two-In-One, which was The Thing's version of Batman's The Brave and the Bold, and that it had to do with a top secret, underground project to investigate alternative fuel sources. The premise alone could be timely once again.

Fast forward one year and I suddenly find myself giddy over the terrific Iron Man movie and the big plans Marvel Studios have to get their movie projects on track again. With the tantalizing prospects of having Iron Man and the Hulk come together in an Avengers movie, I started thinking about the old Project Pegasus story again and sought to find the old comics on eBay (Marvel Two-In-One issues #53-58). As luck would have it, Marvel put out the whole story in a trade paperback about 20 years ago and I found a slightly beat up copy on eBay for cheap, so I snagged it.

In a nutshell, Pegasus stands for Potential Energy
Group/Alternate Sources/United States. It was a "mammoth research facility of the U.S. Department of Energy located in Mount Athena in upstate New York." The Thing is called in to help with security in the facility, which is headed by an eager young superhero named Quasar. Turns out, Pegasus is investigating every possible new source of energy including the energy produced by strange supervillains and aliens. One of the beings under study is Thing's old friend, Wundarr. Wundarr has some kind of energy-absorbing abilities, but a recent experiment has put him into a coma. Meanwhile, one of the scientists on staff, Dr. Lightner, is up to no good, and the cyborg villain Deathlok shows up to do some sabotage.

More super people show up, including Thundarr and Giant Man, and the radioactive villain Nuklo is unleashed from his cage to wreak havoc. In usual Marvel fashion, there's lots of fighting and destruction over the six-issue story line, but it basically comes down to Dr. Lightner getting hold of a device called the Nth Projector which turns him into a human black hole, sucking in everything around him. Along the way, Wundarr comes out of his coma as a much stronger being known as Aquarian. Fortunately, he arrives just in time to help confront the mutated Dr. Lightner, who is now calling himself the Nth Man. Giant Man is the first to confront the human black hole and gets sucked into another dimension. Aquarian decides he's the only one powerful enough to take on the creature, so he allows himself to be sucked in. Once he finds Giant Man, Aquarian expands his entropy enducing field, causing Nth Man to collapse in on himself like a dying star. Once destroyed, Aquarian and Giant Man are returned to reality.

Of course, I'm condensing this story a great deal. There's a whole lot more that goes on, but I wanted to give you a sense of the action. When I read this series in 1978, I was completely overwhelmed by the suspense and excitement this story generated. I became a regular reader of Marvel Two-In-One after that, but none of the stories lived up to the scope of Project Pegasus.

I think Marvel Studios should seriously consider doing an updated, live action version of this story. Get Michael Chiklis back as The Thing and bring in an ensemble cast of not-so-well-known actors to play the various third-string superheroes and villains. What you lack in big name superhero recognition you make up for in number and variety. Also, the focus should be on the story rather than the character. As the Batman movies from the 90s proved, having a recognizable superhero in the film doesn't mean much if you don't have anything meaningful for him to do. With Project Pegasus, there's enough action for a team of superheroes, and the mystery of Dr. Lightner's mission is pretty intriguing.

Using memorable stories from Marvel's mythology is the only way I can see Marvel Studios succeeding with a new generation who love the characters but aren't much into reading comic books. I mean, we're already down to the second-stringers with Iron Man and Captain America, and there were even plans to do a movie based on Ant-Man, for God's sake! Stick with what you do best, Marvel, and go with team ups!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for mourning the death of Estelle Getty, an 84-year-old actress who co-starred opposite Beatrice Arthur in "The Golden
Girls" and "The Golden Palace" on
NBC and CBS, and veteran baseball
writer Jason Holtzman.

Anonymous said...

The Project Pegasus storyline was one of the things that hooked me on comic books (along with Steve Ditko's run on Machine Man). Yep, they don't make them like that anymore and that storyline, even with other characters, would make for a cool movie.