Maddeningly, I lost the first draft of this post at 5am this morning so this is the second attempt.
The third Marvel Treasury Edition of the Bronze Age was not one I bought until recent months. I don’t recall seeing it on sale but maybe I had somehow found out the contents had been reprinted in Spider-Man Comics Weekly. The cover is a brash, gaudy Romita confection with a monolithic new logo.
I am still surprised that Thor received this treatment so early in the series; I would have thought that Dracula or the Avengers would have been more popular. Nonetheless, the God of Thunder is a childhood favourite and the collection opens with one of my most vivid memories of the UK Power Comic Fantastic.
When Meet the Immortals! The saga opens with Thor’s Asian conflict against the witch doctor who calls himself the Demon. Although the story is understandably coy about being set in Viet Nam. the Demon’s design has Polynesian and African elements. Meanwhile, Hercules is visiting Earth and has been befriended by a Hollywood publicist.
Whom the Gods Would Destroy! The rambunctious Hercules shows an interest in Jane Foster; Thor has already undergone the Ritual of Steel having revealed his Don Blake identity to her ( and this was cleverly counterpointed with Hercules’ hedonistic journey). So the rivals enter into city-wide combat using construction machinery as weapons. This is one part of the story I find a bit tedious but Kirby will revisit the explosive potential of Gods walking amongst men many times in the future.
The Hammer and the Holocaust! Thor is humiliated in battle and the public jeer him. However, this is because the All-Wise Odin has given a fraction of his power to a councillor called Seidring the Merciless. Seidring, perhaps unsurprisingly, attempts to usurp Odin and Thor, returning home to renounce his godhood, finds himself in a cosmic battle. Seidring uses planetoids and a vortex of liquefied Wolfbane as weapons but he’s a poor stand-in for Loki and is ultimately defeated.
The Power of Pluto!: Seidring receives an ironic punishement: kingship in exile of the savage Rock Trolls. Thor recuperates by hunting armoured beast-fish in the frozen sea of Marmora. Hercules is tricked into signing a Hollywood contract by Pluto, a squat powerful figure with a jazz tonsure like Dr. Bedlam. Despite the Disney connotations of his name, Pluto is no film director but a plotting god who, with the aid of the spurned Amazon Queen, has revenged himself against Hercules and Zeus. Kirby delivers a surreal vision of an infinite staircase to hell.
Special Pin-Up Poster: Big John Buscema’s Asgard is less technological than Kirby’s but it has a savage, nay Hyborian splendour. Aside from Odin, Loki, Sif, Balder and the Warriors Three (with a glowering Hogun), this full-cast pin-up also features Nurse Foster, Kirby’s lovelorn sorceress, Karnilla and the regal Hela. Conway’s Brunhilda, an earnest, strapping young Valkyrie was a popular character who seemed to be overshadowed by the Defenders’ woman warrior.
The Verdict of Zeus: Thor returns to Earth and has a philosophical conversation with a cabbie war veteran. This delightful and absurdist vignette is juxtaposed cleverly with Hercules’ futile attempt to find a champion to free him from his contract. Kirby’s Greek Gods are an effete, pleasure-loving lot aside from ugly, hostile Ares (who will go on to join the Mighty Avengers many, many years hence.)
Map of Mighty Asgard: I think I first saw this double-page spread as a b/w reprint in the legendary Eagle comic which reprinted Tales of Asgard episodes in the Sixties. Kenneth Branagh’s Thor movie was very faithful to this “panoramic picto-map”. I would love to see inside the prosaically-named Shopping Center.
Thunder in the Netherworld!: as the title implies, Thor ventures into the Netherworld to restore Hercules in the saga’s greatest irony. In this sci-fi retelling of the Orpheus myth, Thor has to face Cosmic Cannon Shells, Pluto’s Turbulence Trap and Cerebrus’ Ray of Destruction. The story ends with a new accord between the godlings.
There’s plenty to enjoy in this saga: widescreen Marvel-style brawling; the cosmic warfare and weapons that Kirby would return to in New Gods; affectionate satire of Steve Reeves movies counterpointed by allusions to Classical myths.
The only note of regret is the excised material about Tana Nile, Jane Foster’s imperious new roommate. This subplot introduced the next story-arc- the Colonizers of Rigel- and wasn’t relevant to Herc’s story. However, the character design ( a reworking of the Ovoids from “The Return of Dr. Doom”?) was so striking and this collection is robbed of some of its sci-fi flavour.
Kirby in Seventy-Five
Hercules is a great foil for Thor: their relationship is echoed by that of Batman and Aquaman in the tv version of Brave and the Bold. Attempts to spin Herc off as a superhero in The Champions and in his own one-off adventure seemed to miss the comic pomposity of the hero. These 100 pages prove Thor rivalled the Fantastic Four in the mid-Sixties as a cosmic soap opera vibrant with invention and humour.
Next: Barbarism in Blackpool
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