Monday, November 1, 2010

Making Marvel Mine: Essential Thor Vol. 1 (Journey Into Mystery #83-112)

With the Fantastic Four, Marvel had created a family of scientists that had turned into monsters, only to embrace their new destiny and become super awesome superheroes and win the hearts and minds of the world. Then came the Hulk, a Jeckel and Hyde-esque story of a brilliant scientist who would transform into a grotesque, violent, but ultimately misunderstood monster. So where was Marvel to go from there? Well, in what might be seen as an obvious move when creating a new mythology, they decided to go with an actual, literal god. Enter the Mighty Thor.

The story begins with Dr. Donald Blake, a physician with a bum leg, who also is a keen Norwegian enthusiast. While on vacation taking a hike through the mountains of Norway (despite his handicap it would seem), Dr. Blake stumbles upon an alien invasion by the Stone Men of Saturn! Don’t… don’t stop and think about it, just go with it okay? They’re yellow rock monsters from space. And they’re here to take all our… whatever we import from Norway.

Anyway! Naturally, the Stone Men hear Dr. Blake step on a twig while spying on them- because he’s a clumsy and has bum leg, remember- and start chasing after him. Dr. Blake tries to avoid them by ducking into an ancient cave, where he finds an old walking stick. Upon striking the stick into the ground, Blake is transformed into Thor, the literal God of Thunder, and proceeds to smack some space alien ass. The Stone Men run away, assuming that since this one human is so powerful, all humans must be, because alien invaders are dumb as hell. This a reacurring theme in Silver Age Marvel comics, I’m noticing.

The Stone Men are all well and good, sure, but the obvious villain to talk about here is Loki, God of Mischief. Loki, as in mythology, was born the child of giants, but raised by Odin as his own son and brother to Thor. However, Loki was always a bit of a scheming, jealous asshole who had it out for Thor, so he grew up to be all evil and stuff. Other evil gods in Asgard include the Enchantress, who’s pretty much the epitome of “femme fatale” as a concept, and the Executioner, who’s a big guy who likes to kill things. In more Earthly battles, Thor faces some cool foes like the Radioactive Man- who’s pretty sweet even if his “radioactive hypnotism” powers make absolutely zero sense- and some less than astonishing enemies, like the Cobra. Trust me, Cobra is lame as hell. You’d think being bitten by a radioactive cobra would be like being bitten by a radioactive spider. Spoiler: Not really.

There’s also some internal conflict between Thor and his dad, Odin. You know, the omnipotent, all seeing head of the Norse pantheon. Odin is convinced that Thor shouldn’t be falling in love with Jane Foster, the nurse who works for him back in the guise of his secret identity, and that pisses Thor off. Now normally thinking that an omniscient father figure is wrong would seem foolish, however, I’ve got a back up Thor here. First off, this isn’t the first time where an omniscient father figure has royally screwed over his son (sorry about the whole crucifixion thing, J-man). And second of all, this is the same omniscient father who has no idea how crazy evil and powerful his adopted son Loki is. More on that in a minute.

The problem I have with this book, I’m afraid, is Thor’s very nature leads to the real problems story wise. Stories with Loki or the Enchantress are great fun, but when you start dealing with guys like Mr. Hyde? Friggin’ Power Pack could take down Mr. Hyde. I don’t care that he has “the strength of 12 men”, Thor’s the GOD OF THUNDER. Thor getting captured by Soviet spies? Yeah, I’m just not sure about the threat level here. And while the Grey Gargoyle is an awesome and highly underappreciated villain, again, Thor really shouldn’t have any problems beating him. The very nature of the character leads to stories fluctuating between being really, really good, or just mediocre.

But enough complaining. When it comes to stories that are really good, I have to say, Journey # 94 is freakin’ awesome. And by that, I of course mean it’s hilarious and completely insane, and thus I love it. The story starts off with a nuclear missile going off course, threatening to start World War III. The Pentagon naturally decides to summon Thor, by making a mass radio announcement complete with a secret extension for him to telephone- all, once again, on a mass radio alert heard around the world. The military wasn’t too bright in the 60’s folks. Luckily, this being comics, it works, and Thor is off to save the day.

It’s at this point we learn how the missile got off course, and naturally it’s all Loki’s fault. Even though he’s chained up in a dungeon in Asgard, not one of the gods thought to put a magical power dampener on him or something. Turns out, it was Loki arranged the missile to fly off course. Now, you’re probably thinking that it’s hard to get much more hardcore than causing mass global conflict and inciting world war. But the reason you’re thinking that is because you are a mere mortal, and not the God of Mischief. Oh no, his plan is waaaaay bigger than that. You see, Loki knows Thor will stop the missile, and he’ll do it by tossing his giant magic hammer (giggle). That’s just how Thor rolls, after all. But Loki uses the hammer’s return to Thor to his advantage, and just as the hammer returns, Loki makes an illusion of a giant dragon appear behind Thor, distracting him, so that Thor’s own hammer knocks him in the back of the head. And because, once again, this is comics, the blow to the head INSTANTLY TURNS THOR EVIL. And all this so far? We’re only on page 4 here, people.

So, first thing, Thor rushes off to Asgard to break Loki out of prison, because again, no one in Asgard is smart enough to realize that putting Loki in a jail cell doesn’t work for shit. Now free, Loki and his new sidekick Thor get all pissed off at Odin for a couple pages, before returning to Earth and destroying every landmark on the planet that would later be blown up in a Michael Bay film. Oh, and Loki makes some sea serpents and dinosaurs and stuff. Which is awesome too. After bringing the property value of the entire planet down to nothing, Loki and Thor demand to be made the overlords of the entire Earth. The United Nations is all about to accept their demands- but wait! What’s this? It’s not really the UN! It’s the Asgardians, posing as UN members, who then clock Thor in the brain again, turning him NOT EVIL, so they can capture Loki, rebuild the destroyed cities and erase the minds of the entire world to never remember that Thor was evil- all on the last page! And if that’s not awesome, I don’t know what is.

Also, the “Tales of Asgard” back-up features are all great. Jack Kirby at his finest, and if you’ve ever read his New Gods work, you can really see the foundation of that stuff in these stories. It’s Jack Kirby draws mythology- worth the price of admission alone. So if you like space god stuff, go buy this book!

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