Essential Thor 5
Martin Skidmore — 03-May-11
Reprinting Thor 196-220.
My first article in my first fanzine, almost 30 years ago in Worlds Collide 1, was called ‘Why Is Thor Boring?’ It covered the last decade of the character, i.e. since Kirby left him, and this collection covers a couple of years at the start of that period. I pointed out then a few things that still strike me as true, reading this and that article so long after.
Gerry Conway does nothing with the characters as people. Admittedly this is more difficult with Thor than most, since his secret identity is an entirely separate person, but there is the Asgardian supporting cast to work with. Sadly they never rise above cliche and stereotype – I called the Warriors Three ‘Grim, Dashing and Fatcoward’ in that article, and there really is nothing more to them than that. Odin is his usual petulant, childish self, and his giant cosmic plan in one sequence is astonishingly lame, and was largely forgotten about afterwards. Sif is hopelessly underwritten, and Heimdal, Balder and others stay entirely one-dimensional.
Conway actually otherwise scripts the stories with some skill – his cod-Shakespearean dialogue is no more embarrassing than is unavoidable, given that absurd mode. However, there doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of attention to plotting most of the way. One story pits Thor against Loki and the Absorbing Man, a team that would be a giant threat to anyone, but it’s all so sloppy. Loki pulls the Absorbing Man from a winning position against Thor, to bring him to him in Vermont (it’s another of those terrible insertions of Marvel writers into a Halloween Rutland story). Loki’s plan is to have him attack Thor – which he was already doing, and was on top. There is no reason at all for any of them to be in Rutland, and no use is made of the real people. Loki waits until Thor defeats the Absorbing Man (the water thing, again), and then springs his attack. What cunning magical plan does he have? Um, none. He just attacks him physically (apparently drawing strength from some ordinary people around), and beats him, until Thor is saved by Karnilla, for a completely lame reason – she wants Sif to help her find Balder, even though her own magic is plainly the best way to accomplish that (and this quest and Sif’s vow is ignored afterwards). Hang on, Loki can beat Thor in a straight fight? Really? What was the point of all his tricks, then? This is just careless, thoughtless writing. And there is worse: one story is mostly a long fight with some mighty being, and it ends with it turning out that he was only defending himself while peacefully trying to go home – except actually he plainly wasn’t, having attacked Thor without any provocation, while announcing that he was the Demon Druid. This is beyond careless: when it’s in one issue by one writer, it’s contemptuous, and there are several equally terrible examples.
It’s also critically low on good new ideas, Marvel’s hugest problem after the supernaturally fertile idea factor that was Kirby left: most of his titles suffer on this level, and we see writers recycling his ideas. Obviously we expect to see Loki pretty regularly (though he needs an actual plan), but I was already tired by this point of the periodic falling out with dad (which we are currently getting for about the hundredth time in Fear Itself), and the endless parade of enemies with Thor-level strength and not much else (yes, Ulik is dragged up again) is very tedious.
The art is rather better – this volume is all John Buscema (layouts only for the dreary Perlin to pencil on a short run), as good a person to follow Kirby as just about anyone at Marvel, providing consistently solid, reasonably exciting art, except it’s weakened badly on most of these by Vince Colletta’s lazy, sloppy inking. I guess Vinnie was retained for continuity reasons, but while Kirby’s power was diminished by him from its colossal peak, Buscema needs someone with more strength and skill – obviously a Tom Palmer is always preferable, but if we can’t have that, at least someone with some boldness would help. I like Jim Mooney, who inks several issues here, but his rather sweet and friendly style doesn’t really fit here.
I may be being a little too negative here. Most of this is perfectly readable and reasonably diverting, decent looking run of the mill post-Kirby Marvel, but there really isn’t as much grandeur or excitement as you would want from the title. I’d certainly recommend buying all the volumes with Kirby in, but I’d suggest stopping before this one.