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.
#184: The issue leading off MMW Thor Volume 10 is a good jumping on point. It begins with Thor walking the streets of Asgard having been summoned by Odin. Odin warns him of the mysterious "World Beyond" which is moving ever closer to Asgard. He has already dispatched the Warriors three to investigate, but they have failed to report. Also, the great Odin Sword seems to be trying to un-sheath itself; Odin has re-sheath it every day. In addition, a stranger known as "The Silent One" has appeared in Asgard, and Odin is plagued by the word "Infinity."
Odin plans to go to the World Beyond himself, leaving thor in charge of Asgard. Odin departs, the Silent One follows, and Loki, from exile, chooses this moment to attack Asgard with a horde of trolls and giants. Balder has been taken hostage. Thor saves Sif, then an image of Odin appears warning of "Infinity!"
My intention is to keep these synopses short, but that's a lotta story to pack into one issue! Or maybe it just seems like a lot because modern "decompressed" comics have ruined me.
#185: Like Fantastic Four #113 (which I posted about yesterday), the cover blurbs themselves provide a pretty decent plot synopsis: "SEE: The power of the Silent One!"; SEE: Worlds without end in the grip of--Infinity!"; SEE: the God of Thunder, alone and unarmed, Trapped on the World Beyond!" Specifically, thor departs Asgard for the World Beyond in search of Infinity, but first he must face the Guardian, who he handily defeats. A disembodied voice sounds and thor witnesses a planet being destroyed. the Silent One then shows him images of another world being absorbed. The Warriors three appear, entranced. Rather than fight his friend, Thor uses his hammer to transport them back to Asgard, where the Odinsword has again beun to slowly unsheath seemingly of its own volition. The Odinsword fully drawn signals Ragnarok, but no one other than Odin has the power to re-sheath it. A trio of astronomers on Earth spot danger far off in space. Meanwhile, back on the World Beyond, Thor has reverted to Don Blake as a revived Guardian moves in for the kill.
Another densely plotted issue.
#186: SUMMARY: Odin intervenes allowing Don Blake time to retrieve the hammer thus resolving the cliffhanger. Infinity revives the guardian and thor defeats him again. He starts to attack the silent One, but Odin forbids him. Back on Earth, the three astronomers observe how the stellar phenomenon is afftecting the planet. On Asgard, thw Warriors Three, still in a trance, attempt to unsheath the Odinsword. Meanwhile, the Silent One leads Thor to Hela, who causes him to age. She leaves and the Silent One expends his lifeforce to revive Thor. Odin, now possessed by Infinity, attacks Thor.
COMMENTARY: "Perhaps the greatest saga in this, The Marvel Age!" proclaims the splash page. that may not be true, but it's a good, solid, and most of all fun comic book story of the old school. If Kirby can't do the art, John Buscema is the next best choice.
#186: SUMMARY: Thor flees the entranced Odin; on Earth, chaos reigns; in Asgard, a giant C-clamp has been constructed to keep the Odinsword sheathed. Baldar and Sif solicit help from Karnilla and Loki; the Warriors Three are freed from their trance; Thor returns. Almost immediately, Loki betrays his fellows as Thor consults with the Vizier. Just before Odin became entranced, he saw the face of Infinity; now Thor has seen it and is seemingly ready to concede.
COMMENTARY: The plot progresses, builds toward a climax.
#187: SUMMARY: The cover blurb proclaims this issue to be "The most eagerly awaited issue in magazine history." I don't know about that, but it's certainly action-packed. All of the Asgardians (except Loki) defend against Infinity, each in his or her own way. On Earth, natural disasters and looting rule the land. Thor reveals that, in #177 while Odin underwent the Odinsleep in the Dimension of Death, Hela split part of him away from his slumbering body and that became Infinity. Her intention was for Infinity to destroy all existence. As Infinity seeks to merge with Odin's still entranced body, Karnilla and Loki try once again to halt the merger. they delay it, but ultimately fail. Thjor then uses the power of Mjolnir to combine the powers of the Asgardians, then hurls the hammer at Odin/Infinity. Odin wakes up and safely absorbs the Infinity entity, restoring himself.
COMMENTARY: Lest you think that's the end, Odin reveals the whole "Infinity" thing to be a Hitchcockian McGuffin. Now thwarted, Hela will be satisfied with nothing less than Thor's death.
#188: Odin orders Thor to Midgard. Loki tells Hela where Thor hides. Balder pleads for Karnilla's help, pledging his loyalty to her in return. Karnilla sends him to Hel where he fights Loki. Hela sends them back to Asgard. Odin forgives Balder's "betrayal." Ofin sends Volstagg to Earth to warn thor to remain hidden as Dr. Blake. Hela follows Thor to Earth but is distracted by Odin's illusions. Eventually, Hela draws out Thor using illustions of her own.
CLIFFHANGER: Thor and Hela, face-to-face at last!
#190: SUMMARY: Hela threatens the bystanders if Thor does not surrender himself to her. He complies, but when the crowd disappears anyway, Thor flees. Hela pursues and returns Thor to New York City. Odin intercedes (it was he who caused the civilians to disappear in an effort to buy Thor some time) and kills Hela. the effects are her death are felt almost immediately: insects run rampant, vegetation grows out of control, hospitals overflow. Odin relents, brings Hela back to life and allows her to take Thor's. While Thor lay dying, Odin summons Sif to be at his side. So touched is Hela by sif's show of love, that she relents and allows Thor to live after all. Thor suspects that that was Odin's plan all along, and when he questions the All-Father about it, Odin replies. "I am the way! I am the light! and none may share mine Odin-thoughts!" (Yeah, right.)
But that's not the end! No, for the three return to Asgard only to discover that Loki has taken over. when Odin left to aid Thor he left the Odin-ring behind and Loki found it, signifying power absolute. Apparently not even Odin can challenge it. Sounds like a kind of stupid system of government to me, but who am I tyo say? Loki's first decision is to invade Midgard!
COMMENTARY: I often don't have anything new to say about individual chapters within a storyline, but the first issues of Gerry Conway's four-year tenure are coming up and I'll have more to say then.
NOTE: I just noticed my numbering is off. The second #186 through #188 should be #187-189.
#191: SUMMARY: The issue opens with Loki sending Odin to his room to take a nap (actually his "chambers" to undergo the "Odinsleep"); Odin complies. Thor fights Loki but is no match for the Odinring. Balder is unable to help due to his pledge to Karnilla back in #189 (the real #189) because Karnilla has now allied herself with Loki, but Sif joins the battle at Thor's side. In his confidence, Loki recalls the Warriors Three from their excile so that he can have the pleasure of defeating them as well. Karnilla creates a being she calls Durok the Demolisher. Loki embues it with the Odinpower and sends it to attack Midgard. Thor follows.
#192: Thor's fight against Durok starts in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. Growing bored, Loki moves Durok first to "a small South America nation" then to the United Nations building in New York city forcing Thor to follow. Meanwhile, Balder has convinced Karnilla to let him travel to Midgard vowing not to raise his own sword in battle. Intrigued, Karnilla agrees to accompany him to Earth. From the top of Mt. Everest, Balder summons... THE SILVER SURFER!
#193-194: In 1971, Gerry Conway became, if not not the first other than Stan Lee to script Thor, then the first in a while. He was 16 years old and still in high school when he sold his first scripts to DC; he was still only 17 when he began working for Marvel; when he took over Thor he was almost 19. (He became editor-in-chief when he was 23, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.) In #123 he did become the first person other than Stan Lee to script the Silver Surfer, the Surfer's first appearance since the silvery one's own mag was cancelled the year before. It was also, obviously, the first time John Buscema had drawn the character since that time. (As big of a Kirby booster I am, I'm a Buscema man when it comes to the Surfer.)
BRIEF ASIDE: The one time I made a pitch to Marvel it was for a Silver Surfer mini-series. I was informed by the submissions editor (either Carl Potts or Elliot R. Brown, I forget which) that the Surfer was considered "hands off" to all but Stan Lee, a rule that remained in place, virtually unbroken, until 1987.
When I was young, long before I started following creators in the credits, I was not a fan of Gerry Conway, although I did read many comics he had written. Years later, when I looked back at the credits of some of the comics I hadn't liked as well as others, they were invariably the ones written by Conway. Maybe, because he was so young, his stories were not as polished as those of his peers (although they weren't much older themselves). I would not likely knowingly read anything written by a twenty-something today (nor listen to any of their music), unless said writer was something of a prodigy (such as Amanda Gorman. Yay!). What can a twenty-something tell me about life of the human condition? But Conway's stories were, in a sense, "grandfathered" in; he was older than I was in 1970, and he's older than i am today. the same thing holds true for, say, the Beach Boys or the Beatles (but the "prodigy" thing applies in those cases as well). I didn't become a fan of Gerry Conway until fairly recently. (I say "recently," but it was really in 2009 when he wrote the Last Days of Animal Man.) Now I appreciate his accomplishments at such a young age.
Thor #193 was one of those 25 cent issues with a higher page count. (I'll have more to say about the Silver Surfer in the "Post-Kirby Fantastic Four" discussion when we get to that point.) In #194, the power of wielding the Odinring overcomes Loki, which is apparently what Odin had in mind all along. (Yeah, right.) Except for some foreshadowing of the next plot on the last page, #194 basically brings to an end the arc begun in #184, and is the end of MMW v10., a good time to pause.
MMW v11 is almost entirely Gerry Conway and John Buscema (with Vince Coletta). Stan Lee wrote #200 (except for the framing sequence), and Jim Mooney inked #201 and #204. My hobby, the way I run it, consists of two separate and distinct phases: "accumulation" and "reading." Ideally these phases overlap, but often they do not. Consequently, whereas I own most of the issues through #128, I actually stopped reading somewhere within this volume (which collects 3194-205), probably with #203 because #204 is my first hole. From this point on, until #270 or so, unless the issue guest-stars Hercules, I'll be reading #204-269 for the first time.
These issues can be broken down into two main plots: Mangog and Ego-Prime. #195-198 is patterned on The Odyssey and is a standard "quest" story divided further into parallel quest-lines, ending with the "death" of Odin. #199 leads into the Ego-Prime story, with the focus of #199 and #201 being the clash between Hela and Pluto over which gets to take Odin to his or her respective underworld. #200 has an in-continuity framing sequence by Conway, but the main story, by Stan Lee and inked by John Verpoorten, concerns (not for the first or last time) the story of Ragnarok (set in the future). The threat of Ego-Prime is ended in #203, and in #204-205 thor tangles with Mephisto.
In #203, Sif and Balder, both future rulers of Asgard, cannot lift Mjolnir together. At this point, the enchantment seems to be not so much anyone "worthy" can lift it, but rather only Thor. The so-called "Young Gods" were introduced in #203 and, given the timing, I can't help but think they were a reaction to Kirby's "New Gods" over at Marvel's Distinguished Competition. That's what I thought the first time I ever read a "Young gods" story (in Marvel Comics Presents, I think), and that's what I think now. Conway doesn't mention them at all in his introduction, though, and I wonder if the idea was his or if it came from higher up...? They appear in only two panels, however, and don't even speak. If the idea was forced on Conway by someone else (Stan Lee?), I would think they would have been more prominently featured on the cover (instead of silhouettes); if they were conway's own idea, I would think they would have been more prominently featured in the story itself.
In #204, Odin exiles thor to Midgard "for all eternity!" It will be interesting to see how long "all eternity" lasts. These stories are straightforward and well-structured, but I can't help but think that Buscema's art outshines Gonway's stories. Admittedly, I may have an unconscious bias against them in 2021, knowing that they were written by a 19 year old; if I had read these for the first time as a child, I would probably feel differently. I still prefer them to today's fare, however, what I have read of it.
Re. #190, the treatment of the consequences of the end of death recalls "The Man Who Captured Death!" in Amazing Adult Fantasy #9, by Lee and Steve Ditko. I think it's a recurring uncanny stories theme. The film The Asphyx (1972) is similar.
In an interview conducted by Roy Thomas Lee stressed how creative John Buscema was: "it's not the popular idea that he was the most creative guy, storywise. And yet, he was as creative as anybody else—probably as creative as Jack... He only needed a few words. He didn't even want a big synopsis; he wanted the skimpiest outline, because he wanted to do it his way."
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 spoke about his work for Marvel in this era in this interview: "I wrote instinctively and from the gut; when those instincts were appropriate to the material I was writing -- for example, when I was writing Spider-Man -- the results were something I was quite proud of, then and now. When my instincts were off, I didn't have the experience to either recognize it, or to compensate for it, with results that were more uneven." Link via Wikipedia.
Jeff of Earth-J said:
Conway doesn't mention them at all in his introduction, though, and I wonder if the idea was his or if it came from higher up...?
Perhaps Lee supplied the Young Gods name and left it to Conway to figure out what it meant. It's my guess Lee's co-creations often started as names.