“Project PEGASUS.” It’s one of those names, like “Roxxon,” that you see in Marvel comics, TV shows and movies from time to time, but probably don’t give too much thought to. Could you tell me what Project PEGASUS is? I sure couldn’t. So when I learned Marvel was releasing The Thing: Project Pegasus trade paperback, I jumped at the chance to finally learn what exactly this project was all about.
Turns out it’s about energy–who knew? You see, PEGASUS is actually an acronym for Potential Energy Group Alternate Sources United States (Marvel sure does love its acronyms). The scientists working at the New York-based facility are dedicated to researching alternative forms of energy, so, of course, you’ll find several energy-wielding supervillains imprisoned there for, uh, scientific reasons.
It’s an interesting concept, made even more interesting by this collection’s introduction, written by co-writer Ralph Macchio. You see, Project PEGASUS was created in the 1970s, when energy consumption was becoming a greater part of the national conversation. Macchio thought he could tap into that and, in the process, provide an entertaining Marvel story. And it’s that desire on Macchio’s part that made me excited to dig into this trade. After all, some of Marvel’s most memorable stories, like Civil War, have held a funhouse mirror to the real world.
Unfortunately, the stories contained in this collection are no Civil War. It’s definitely a bummer, but most of this is just old-school Marvel storytelling that hasn’t aged very well.
Project PEGASUS is introduced (briefly) in Marvel Two-In-One #42 and #43, which start off with the Thing busting into the facility and facing off with Captain America so he can get to Wundarr. If you aren’t familiar with this character, he’s a young alien who apparently shares Superman’s origin and got close to Ben Grimm (he later tells the Thing he loves him “as deeply as any man could ever love another”). And, he’s essential to an experiment at Project PEGASUS involving the Cosmic Cube. It’s not long before things go awry and our heroes are in the Everglades battling the evil Victorius, who looks like a cross between He-Man and Larry David.
Did I mention Man-Thing’s in the mix? Because, why else would you end up in the Everglades in a team-up comic?
It’s not a very good two-parter, and neither is the six-parter that follows (Marvel Two-In-One #53-58). In this story arc, Grimm returns to Project PEGASUS, this time to assist security chief Quasar (but all he really wants to do is play poker). As this story unfolded in a team-up book, Macchio and co-writer Mark Gruenwald throw a different hero readers’ way every issue. In total, the Thing teams up with Quasar, Giant-Man, Thundra, Wundarr and Aquarian (he’s groovy, man). Yes, it’s all your favorite Marvel Legends peg warmers. The Thing also faces off against Deathlok, box-office superstar Klaw and other villains.
There’s an ongoing mystery running throughout the arc, but not much that kept me wanting to read on. There is a random subplot featuring female wrestlers known as the Grapplers, who are clearly meant to resemble DC’s Female Furies. This part, surprisingly, actually held my attention, as Screaming Mimi, the character that would go on to become Songbird, was among them (though she has no real personality). Who knew Melissa started out as a parody of Mad Harriet?
But that right there highlights both the problem and appeal of these collections. Marvel completists will get the most joy out of picking them up, as it’s a chance to see where beloved characters (or in the case of Project PEGASUS, locations) came from. But the stories themselves are unlikely to hold the attention of today’s readers, who are used to modern comic book storytelling.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a classic comic book without a few cringe-worthy moments. For instance, Bill Foster was originally known as Black Goliath before Thing convinced him to change his name to Giant-Man in this arc. Grimm actually tells Foster it’s obvious he’s black, so he should consider a new identity. Thank you, Thing for your candor, but don’t stop there–there are still heroes out there in need of new names!
Also, in the early ’80s, Spider-Man decided he wanted to be an Avenger (just wait for Bendis to come to town, Spidey), and ends up tagging along with the team on a trip to Project PEGASUS in Avengers #236 and #237. So, these comics are also included in this collection and, boy, these are not Avengers stories for the #MeToo era. We’ve got new Avenger Starfox hitting on Wasp (dude, she’s your leader), She-Hulk running around in a towel and Captain Marvel (Monica Rambeau) taking out a loan while the random man working with her gets his very own thought bubble so we can see what he thinks of her.
“My, my! Now why weren’t there more young women like her around when I was younger?” the random bank employee thinks to himself as Captain Marvel walks away. Thank you for the peek inside this random dude’s mind, Roger Stern. Who knows, maybe this set up a future story in which he asked Rambeau out on a date. But probably not.
It should be noted that while the stories in this collection are nothing special, you will be treated to some early art from two of comics’ most legendary pencilers: John Byrne and George Perez. So at least a bulk of this trade paperback is pretty to look at.
But ultimately, I can only recommend The Thing: Project Pegasus to die-hard Marvel Zombies who want to beef up their comics library. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe who are familiar with the Cosmic Cube will want to skip this one, however. Though, fun fact: Thanos is mentioned in one word bubble!
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