Sunday, May 16, 2010

"Still I am Mightiest of Them All!" Part 1: Mighty Thor #'s 144-168 (1967-69)

Recently, while scrolling through my Google Reader feeds, I came across a site which features pics of a lot of original artwork from various publishers and years of comics. This particular post had several examples of original Jack Kirby art, specifically pages from his run on The Mighty Thor. This made me realize that it has been ages since I read any of this stuff (and to be honest, I didn't always buy Thor on a regular basis back then, when I was a preteen), and I didn't recall what happened in a great deal of it. So, I decided to go track some down and see what I thought about it now. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I found a run of mid-late '60s Thors from 1967-1969, the waning days of what we've all come to understand as the Classic Period of Marvel- and after having read them, I thought it might be interesting to recap them. So, shall we begin?

#144: As it turned out, #144 was the conclusion (of sorts, more on that later) of a multi-issue account of Thor and Odin's battle (aided by Lady Sif and Balder) with a trio of typically weird-ass Kirby godlike badguys called the Enchanters, one of which was in the possession of something called the Living Talisman.

Recap: As we join Thor, Balder, and Sif on Earth, apparently the lady and her escort have found Thor (or perhaps Don Blake, he was still changing back and forth at this time) in what I assume is Blake's apartment, and have informed him of the threat. As they converse in flowery Stan Lee pseudo-biblical godspeak, they're startled to see a green blotch of Kirby Krackle in the window, in which a face soon appears, Wizard of Oz-like- it's the Living Talisman! Basically, the Talisman just wants to tell them that they can't hide, and throws in a few pithy "thou art stupid fools"-type remarks before he's done, as you can see below. We meet Brona and Magnir for the first time this ish, the Larry and Curly of the trio. Dig those Kirby-designed masks:

And yea verily, this battle is joined! Thor, noble as ever, chooses to fight the pair alone, and Balder and Sif are left behind as the fighters ascend on a hunk of rock into the air, and do battle- the Enchanters' science tricks against Thor's hammer and his godlike strength, bragging and boasting about how powerful each of them are the whole while. Pay attention, kids, this is a reoccurring thing for the whole of this run. Meanwhile, Odin's up in Asgard, hosting/judging some sort of Great Outdoor Fight-type event, when the festivities are interrupted by the Moe of the trio, Forsung. After more bragging and declarations, they decide to have a fight to the death, a la Cole Younger and Belle Starr's would-be lover in The Long Riders, except instead of Bowie knives and a sash tying their wrists together, they both grasp a phallic symbol, I mean a scepter, and zoom off into space in a big fireball.

Unbeknownst to Thor and Co., still battling on Earth, Odin agrees to take away the powers of the other Asgardians (I guess to prevent unwanted interventions), and Forsung promises not to avail himself of the Talisman- and that makes things a wee bit more difficult. But feareth not, Thor prevails due to his righteous might or something like that, applying a royal butt kicking to Brona and Magnir, and the trio are left on Earth, unable to return to Asgard, and must anxiously await the outcome of the "All-Father"'s conflict.

There's a back feature in this issue, more of the "Tales of Asgard" feature that ran in the book and allowed Kirby to stretch his imagination a bit more. This one seems to be an Arabian Nights inspired arc, in which Thor and the Warriors Three strive to defeat a wizard named "Mogul", who is able to summon demon riders in the service of Satan, no less (and exactly why again did they have to call the obviously Satan-like character in Silver Surfer "Mephisto"?) on a flying carpet, with the help of a "Prince Alibar". At the end, we are rewarded by this sight:


Comments: One of the biggest hurdles I've had to overcome, reading not just this but any of the classic 1963-1970 Marvel output is just how awfully florid and stilted much of the dialogue is- not like DC's from the period, mind you, which was often even worse in its own way. I notice this more when it's Lee writing comic/magic characters like Doc Strange and Thor; his FF and Spider-Man had a more naturalistic "sound", and the humor and wit he could bring stood out because of it. Of course, the bad guys postured and pontificated just like here, but when the good guys are doing it too it gets tiresome- I can only take so much "I can't believe you dare challenge me because I am all-powerful and mighty and so on".

There's also a little soap-opera subplot going on in which Thor's bud Balder is secretly crushing on the Lady Sif, who of course has eyes only for ol' Blondie. I suppose Lee and Kirby were going for a Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot thing, and I'm not far enough along in my rereading to know if it was explored any further.

The Kirby art is, of course, full of action and energy, and it shines through despite the typically grubby-looking Vince Colletta inks. I don't intend to let this series of posts turn into a Vinnie-bashing exercise, but one can't help but wish he'd done romance comics or something else all his career and never got to touch a single Kirby page, not only here but on New Gods and other projects. He was a skilled craftsman, and was great with deadlines, I understand that...but his scratchy line and penchant for omitting background (and often foreground) details are just hard to take. I don't think the Enchanters' costumes will go down in the annals of Great Kirby Costume Design...they're a slapdash, mix-and-match set of togs, with a half a dozen different things going on with each part of the body. Brona's helmet has a weird-ass looking expression, with the eye slits so far apart. The manifestation of the Living Talisman on the chest plate of their armor is interesting- reminds of the little holograms that were placed on some of the toys from my kids' childhoods- Transformers or M.A.S.K., perhaps?

In a lot of ways, the "Tales" feature gave us more of the high myth-based adventure that you'd think you'd get with a Thor-based property- at this time, the main stories were full of the cosmic epics that readers had come to expect from Stan and jack since the Galactus trilogy. I think those are collected now; I think they might be fun to read someday.

Coming eventually (you know how I am...I won't make promises I can't keep): #145, and the fate of Odin!

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