The last time I did a comprehensive Thor re-read I stopped with the last of the Kirby issues (or rather the last volume of MMW Thor which had Kirby stories in it). As I explained in my Doctor Strange discussion thread, in the days when i was still actively building my backissue collection, I collected in three direction: from the present forward, from the present back, and from the beginning forward (in this case, primarily Special Marvel Edition and Marvel Spectacular, but also early editions of Marvel Tales and Thor Annual). Also like Doctor Strange, Thor is another title for which I have significant gaps (mostly between #229 and #271). Although I have previously read through #228 (some 35 years ago), the last time I did a read-through I stopped with MMW volume nine. Because I recently started a "Post-Kirby Fantastic Four" discussion and the MMW volumes of the respective series are roughly analogous in terms of release date, I thought I'd jump back and forth for a little variety.
After Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC, Stan Lee wrote two issues illustrated by Neal Adams followed by two issues illustrated by John Buscema. That brings me up to MMW v10 and Thor #184. Volume 10 comprises eleven issues, #184-194, eight of which are written by Stan Lee, all of which are illustrated by John Buscema. The last two issues in the volume are written by Gerry Conway. The comics are inked by a bevy of great inkers including Joe sinnott, Bill Everett, Sam grainger, Jim Mooney and Sal Buscema.
We'll start with issue #184.
"Lee probably considered Buscema and John Romita his top artists at this point. That helps explain why he was willing to put Thor and Amazing Spider-Man in the hands of such a young writer."
Conway speaks at length in his MMW introductions of Buscema's contributions; I think you'll enjoy what he has to say: "Thank the (Norse) gods, then, that I had the good fortune to be teamed with one of the consummate professionals who ever worked in the field of comics: Big John Buscema. I have no idea what Big john thought about the enthusiastic kid he was partnered with to create the adventures of the God of thunder. We weren't close on a personal level--how could we be? We were from different generations, with different world-views and sets of experiences, holding different perspectives and living very different lives. I was on the beginning of my career in comics; John was well-established. I was a teenager; John was old enough, literally, to be my father. I had long hair and sideburns; he had a neat rrim and a beard. When I started talking I couldn't shut up; John was a man of very few words, most of tyhem mild and well-chosen...
"Working with John taught me a great deal. when I tried to set the pace for a story, either by writing a detailed page breakdown or, once or twice, a full script, it was almost never as well-paced as the stories John broke down from a more general plot. Wehre my dialog was sometimes (well, more than sometimes) excessively digressive and overly flowery, John's suggested dialog (on the outside margins of the art) was usually direct and to the point. And no matter how big I wanted to go in terms of scope or drama, John always managed to make things larger and more dramatic."
Thor in this period was probably the only title where the fate of the universe was recurringly at stake. The mystery of Infinity reminds me of the search for Eternity from "Dr Strange".
Without Lee, Kirby lost artistic discipline.
In one of the "King's" last effort SILVER STAR, there's a spelling error on the effing cover! (Begining)
Not the way to go out.
MMW v12 (#206-212) is, again, mostly Gerry Conway and John Buscema (working with a variety of inkers); Len Wein scripts #213 and Sal Buscema pencils #214. This volume includes what I long thought of as the "lost" Rutland, VT Hallowe'en story. (It's not really "lost"; it's just the one I acquired late and have read the least often.) Here is a complete list; if you click on it, you may discover there are more than you might think. they go from 1970 through 1997 (!). I have all of them through 1975, by I'm spotty after that. I have read Amazing Adventures #16 many times, initially as backstory for Hulk #172, but most often in conjunction with what I call the "Interrim X-Men." I have read the "Avengers/Defenders Clash" (which recaps the end of Thor #207) many times, sometimes from the POV of the Avengers, somytimes Defenders, sometimes Black Knight. Thor #206-207 occurs between Amazing Adventures #16 and the "Avengers/Defenders Clash."
#208 introduces the "$-D Man," spelled "Mecurio" on the cover, "Mercurio" within. #209 features Demon druid, #210-211 Ulik [a lame (albeit Kirby) villain if ever there was one], and #212-213 Sssthgar and his lizard slavers. (If none of these villains are familiar to you, don't worry about it; I am in the process of discovering that the backissues I failed to accumulate in my "younger and more vulnerable years" are ones that aren't all that interesting in the first place.) #214-216 see the return of the 4-D man, consistently spelled "Mercurio" throughout one entire issue, "Mecurio" in the next. Also featured is Xorr, the God-Jewel, another lame character I wouldn't blame you if you're not familiar with.
MMW v13 (217-228): Again, this volume is mostly Gerry Conway and John Buscema, with Rich Buckler filling in with #227-228. In his introductions, Conway always admits the shortcomings of his own early work, but he is proud of the stories in this volume. It turns out that I have previously read more of this run than I thought I had. As Odin, thor and company return to Asgard in #217, they are thrown into conflict with Igron, Loki's former servant. #218-220 tells the story of the Five Black Stsars of rigel which have been threatening Thor's allies the Colonizers. Also, a sub-plot involving a young Asgardian named Krista, the sister of Sif's companion Hildegarde, is introduced.
One thing I found notable about #218 is that the title of the story is not on the splash page, but rather on a double-page spread on pp. 10-11. Such a thing is pretty common today, but was certainly not common in 1973. The reason behind it may be tied to Marvel's practice at the time of having their artists turn one page per issue on it's side and printing it as two. "The result, for most comics, was a bit of a mess--weak-looking spreads that didn't use the scope of two pages effectively." (I'm quoting from Conway's introduction there, but it's a sentiment I happen to agree with.) He goes on to say: "You'll find a couple of them in here. But you'll also find quite a few two-page spreads that raise the visual stakes in a story, and I know for a fact that in at least a few cases, trying to devise an effective use of a two-page spread actually inspired the entire story." I believe it.
Issues #221-228 comprise one long story featuring Hercules. These are the ones I have read before. Bob Layton's two Hercules limited series of the early '80s inspired me to seek out Hercules backissues I did not already own. #224-228 were doubly important to me as they also featured Galactus and Ego the Living Planet. i was probably also inspired by Nova (Frankie Raye, that is) and guided by the Handbook of the Marvel Universe in seeking out appearances of Galactus' many heralds. I may have acquired #221-223 and #224-228 out of order.
Oh, I almost forgot!
In his introduction, Gerry Conway again waxes effusive about John Buscema. I meant to transcribe some of his thoughts because Luke seems to appreciate that sort of thing.
"John, as you can see from the work here, was a brilliant draftsman, a marvelous storyteller, a master of page layout and design. He was also a long-time pro who'd Been There and Done that, and was no longer inspired by just the sheer fact or working in comics. He always tried to do his best work, but because he was so adept and drawing pretty much anything you tossed his way, he was given a lot to do that just helf very little interest for him. You can see it in his work. His draftsmanship is always impeccable, his storytelling is always clear, but there's a dramatic difference between the design of a page from Silver Surfer or Conan the Barbarian, and the design of a page from Fantastic Four. He loved drawing Silver Surfer; he loved drawing Conan; he did not love drawing Fantastic Four.
"Thor, for most of the time I worked with John prior to the year we're talking about here, was a mixed bag for him. Sometimes he loved drawing it. Sometimes he didn't. (I'm pretty sure he didn't love the stories set on Earth, or involving super fistfights between Thor and the Absorbing Man.) John was a consumate pro and always delivered the best work he could, but he was also a passionate artist, and when he wasn't passionate about a project, you could tell.
"He was passionate about the stories we told here."
There's more, but you get the gist.
One other thing I love about these Marvel Masterworks is that they included covers of reprints, etc. contemporary to the comics within. v13 the front, back and inside covers of Marvel Treasury Edition #3 (featuring Thor), plus a double-page pin-up from it. I was familiar with Thor from a few early appearances reprinted in a couple issues of Marvel Tales I had picked up as backissues, but MTE #3 was the first "new" (albeit reprint) "Thor" comic I ever bought. All things considered, it was not a bad place to start.
I read Lee/Kirby off the rack for 12 cents a book. Sorry, but wigthout Kirby, it was like a "real teacher" leaving and being replaced by a lesser substitute.
With that source material, how could anybody screw up THREE movies?