Archive for Thor

Adventures in Babysitting

Thor and the Warriors Four #3

Power Pack has journeyed to Asgard in an attempt to cure their dying grandmother, but have accidentally been used as pawns by Loki and the Enchantress. As a result, all of the Asgardians have been turned into babies. It’s insanely chaotic (but also insanely funny), and things aren’t made any better, when Loki returns in his old-man disguise and tricks the kids into going on a quest for the Golden Apples of Idunn. Alex doesn’t trust the situation and stays behind, but the other three kids (along with Baby Thor and Baby Beta Ray Bill) set off to try to defeat the challenges on the way to the apples — the Door of the Aesir, the Path of the Vanir, and the terrible Ratatosk, Squirrel of Mischief! Can the kids get past all three challenges? And if they succeed, what does Loki have in mind for them?

And in the backup story by Colleen Coover, Hercules and Power Pack clean up the kids’ home while Herc tells them stories about his Twelve Labors — and perhaps most awesomely, joins Katie for a tea party. What, you don’t think the Lion of Olympus sometimes craves a little pretend tea?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Absolutely fantastically cute. Probably worth buying solely for the brief cameo of Baby Hogun the Grim, Baby Thor saying “I can get dressed! I’m a big boy!” and Hercules’ tea party.

Hercules: Twilight of a God #1

Wait, isn’t Hercules dead? Well, this story is set in the distant future, after he’s presumably been resurrected. Heck, it doesn’t even take place on Earth — everything happens on the planet Wilamean in the Andromeda Galaxy. Due to an accident in which Herc was trying to save a city from a missile, got his tunic caught on the missile, and ended up getting bashed into a few buildings at several hundred miles an hour, he now has to take medication to keep from being addled, and he can’t drink without cancelling out the medication — and he runs the risk of being killed by any serious head injury. Herc’s best friends are a robot and an elderly but mischievous Skrull, and his children and grandchildren rule the city of Port Anteris, but Prime Minister Spincor hates them all and plots to get rid of them by publicly embarrassing them all during a festival honoring Hercules. Is there any way to save Hercules’ reputation?

Verdict: Thumbs up, I think. A story about Greek demigods set in the far future in another galaxy is a bit unexpected, but the story seems fine. My biggest complaint is that Herc is generally depicted as not much more than a buffoon — though he’s a buffoon with a long and respected history, even here, as a leader and hero.

Secret Avengers #1

Steve Rogers, the original Captain America, has decided to put together a covert team of Avengers to take care of shadow-ops missions that are out of the public eye. He recruits Valkyrie, Black Widow, Beast, Moon Knight, War Machine, Nova, and Ant-Man, and they embark on an extended mission to track down the Serpent Crown. But it’s not the usual Serpent Crown, and that leads to the suggestion that there may be more than one of them out there. They come into conflict with the always-villainous Roxxon Oil Company and another organization dedicated to finding the Crown for themselves.

Verdict: Thumbs up. A lot of our time is taken up with introducing our lead characters and recounting how Steve recruited them, but we get a good amount of plot and action besides, and I’m gonna declare that a very good thing.

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Thor and the Warriors Four #2

I’ve never really been into Power Pack. And I freely admit that the entire reason I started collecting this miniseries is because I saw a preview of this cover, which made me laugh like a hyena.

Oh, man, I’m gonna have to explain this for people who aren’t up on their Thor continuity, aren’t I? The big guy there is Beta Ray Bill, an alien who was the first non-Asgardian to be worthy enough of being able to pick up Mjolnir, Thor’s hammer. Odin gave him powers like Thor’s, and both of them consider each other great friends, if not outright brothers. And yes, he really does look like a horsey.

Aaaaaanyway, in this issue, the Power Pack kids make their way to the Rainbow Bridge that leads from our world in Midgard to the home of the Norse gods in Asgard. They meet a kindly peddler who offers them some more appropriate, Viking-esque clothing to help them disguise themselves, then march into Asgard and start their own superheroic careers as the Warriors Four. In time, this gets them a meeting with Thor himself, and the heroes swap stories — Thor’s being properly mythological and heroic, and the Power kids’ being a bit less so. The Powers tell Thor and Bill that their grandmother is dying, and they want to take some of the gods’ Golden Apples to her to make her well. Before Thor can tell them that it can’t be done, a frost giant attacks, and the kids help defeat it. But it’s all part of someone else’s evil plot — the kindly peddler was really Loki in disguise and he uses the kids’ Norse costumes to… Well, that would be telling.

And then there’s the backup story by Colleen Coover, as Hercules and the Power Pack beat the stuffing out of HYDRA, all while Herc tells the kids stories about his Twelve Labors. But can they complete the greatest labor of all — cleaning up the house?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very funny, very awesome, and much like Mjolnir, very much worthy of being picked up. Outstanding cartooning all around, and great funny lines and situations. Yes, Katie Power drives Bill half crazy by wanting him to be a big magical pony, which is hilarious and adorable… as are the dreadful fates visited upon Thor, Bill, and Odin…

Batman and Robin #12

Damian’s mother has secretly implanted control devices into his new artificial spine, allowing Deathstroke to take control of his body and attack Dick Grayson. The good news is that the neural interface isn’t perfect, and it lets Batman hurt Slade by punching Robin. It takes Deathstroke out of the fight and gives Robin control of his body back. Batman and Robin travel to Talia’s hideout and beat up her goons. Damian tells her that he’s perfectly happy being Robin, and Talia tells him she respects his decision — but she’s disowning him, because she’s growing his clone, who’s going to be her new son. Returning to Gotham City, Batman, Robin, and Alfred discover evidence that Bruce Wayne is lost in time, Dr. Hurt prepares the forces of the Black Glove for more attacks, and Dick Grayson discovers that Oberon Sexton is really… Well, that would be telling.

Verdict: Thumbs up. It’s good. It’s really just fantastically good, every step of the way through.

Madame Xanadu #22

As Nimue and mysteriously superhuman detective John Jones hurry to stop Morgana’s schemes in 1950s America, Morgana is enjoying being worshiped by a bunch of mind-controlled cultists. Nimue and Mr. Jones have intercepted one of Morgana’s artifacts — the war helmet of Morgana’s son, Mordred — and her frustration with its loss leads her to gruesomely kill two of her cultists. When our heroes arrive, they have little trouble with Morgana’s cultists, but her spells prove to be a lot more difficult to shrug off.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Again, it’s great fun to see the Martian Manhunter in action here. Heck, even when Morgana is being her most rotten, it’s mainly an irritation that John Jones isn’t front and center, showing off…

Jonah Hex #55

So five years ago, a bunch of saloon robbers tore into a bar, killed the owner and his wife, and got captured by Jonah Hex, leaving little Billy, a explosives-obsessed toddler, orphaned. The kid steals Hex’s gun away and kills the surviving robbers himself, with four bullets and four perfect headshots. Years pass, and another bunch of banditos show up to rob the joint. Billy, now calling himself Billy Dynamite, owns the place now, and he stuffs an oversized firecracker in the leader’s mouth. The rest of the gang set the bar on fire, strap Billy with dynamite, and throw him inside. Hex gets persuaded to do something about it, so he catches the gang, ties ’em up, and leaves ’em suspended over multiple packs of explosives before blowing ’em all to kingdom come.

Verdict: Thumbs down. This story has some serious problems. First, Billy doesn’t really change in appearance over five years — he starts out looking like he’s five, and by the time he’s ten, he still looks like he’s five. And dangit, you don’t take a saloon-owning pre-teen, make him a pint-sized badass, give him a moniker like “Billy Dynamite,” and then just kill him off. That’s a character with some serious personality, and you keep him around so you can use him again in future stories. You do not just cast him aside like he ain’t awesome. And finally, the ending is just too abrupt. Hex captures and kills the gang in just three pages, and he doesn’t even use a gun to do it — just fifty sticks of dynamite. That don’t seem like the Jonah Hex way, sir. So yeah, a rare (hopefully) Gray-and-Palmiotti misstep here.

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One Froggy Evening

Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers Unleashed #2

We backtrack a bit from last issue to show where Frog Thor had vanished to — Asgard, to seek the counsel of Thor himself. The Thunder God welcomes Frog Thor — by his real name of Puddlegulp, no less — and acknowledges him as a brother, just as he considers the alien Beta Ray Bill as his brother because they both wield the same weapons. He encourages Frog Thor to seek out other mythological beings to find more of a sense of belonging, and Puddlegulp starts out in the Himalayas, running into a belligerent yeti. After a short battle, the yeti admits that he was playing at being an abominable snowman to scare off tourists and invites the amphibian into his cave. But they’re both soon unwillingly dragged into some sort of mythological afterlife, ruled by someone who’s decided to get rid of all mythological beings with a giant lizardy monster. They’re all being cast back into the earthly realm — and the giant monster is coming, too.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Frog Thor is turning out to be a really fun character, and the scenes of him walking the streets of Asgard are just great, as are the battle scenes with the yeti.

Thor and the Warriors Four #1

For those of you who aren’t up on your Marvel characters, this story focuses on the Power Pack, a group of four preteen siblings with superpowers. There’s Alex Power, levelheaded gravity controller, Julie, the brainy speedster, Jack, the hotheaded brawler, and Katie, the energy-blasting baby of the family. Their grandmother is dying, and the kids are at various degrees of upset about that. Julie has been reading a book on Norse mythology and decides that the way to save her is to travel to Asgard and get some of the magic golden apples that keep the Norse gods healthy and immortal. The kids see a nearby lightning strike and figure that must mean Thor is nearby — but what they find is Frog Thor and the Pet Avengers fighting a bunch of wolves in Central Park. Power Pack lends a hand, but the wolves are a lot tougher than expected. Turns out they’re really wargs — steeds of the Asgardians — and the best way to calm them down is for everyone to pick a warg and jump onto the saddles on their backs. Frog Thor agrees to help the kids, and the Power Pack rides the wargs back to Asgard.

And there’s a backup story, too, with story and art by Colleen Coover, about Hercules babysitting the Power family.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very fun story, with funny dialogue, characterization, and action. Katie Power certainly gets the best lines, and her background interactions with the Pet Avengers are really cute. The backup story is short, but very, very enjoyable.

The Super Hero Squad Show #4

Three separate stories in this one. First, Man-Wolf and Drax the Destroyer have been hired by the Collector to kidnap all the superheroes and supervillains to be part of his interstellar zoo. Can the remaining heroes turn the tables on the Collector by bringing an even bigger collector into the picture? Second, the Hulk is having nightmares and is trying to figure out a way to get rid of the things that go bump in the night. And finally, Reptil plans out this year’s April Fools jokes on his fellow superheroes, but will the joke be on him when he has to face the menace of… Chtylok, the Chicken-Cow?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very lightweight stories, but they’re still pretty fun. The Chicken-Cow is probably the standout of the whole issue. Come on, it’s a freakin’ chicken-cow!

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Simonson in Asgard

If there’s ever been a comic character whose adventures should’ve always been Capital-E Epic, it’s Marvel’s Thor. Yeah, he’s a god, and a thunder god to boot. And he’s got the most dynamic pantheon. Sure, the Olympians are older, but they spent all their time turning into swans and chasing maidens and letting mortals do all the hard work. Sure, the Egyptians were even older than that, but they always seemed mummified and remote.

But the Norse gods had epic poetry and operas. Operas by Wagner, let’s not forget. They had mad dwarfs, frost giants, Valkyries, a giant ash tree that held up the world. Norse mythology even came with a prepackaged End-of-the-World looming in the future, and their End-of-the-World was so cool, they called it Ragnarok. That’s one heck of a name. Say it out loud. Ragnarok. Say it loud enough and heavy metal bands will start following you around.

But even with all that, Thor still ran around the Big Apple, fighting bank robbers, hanging out with a drunk in powered armor, being waited on by an English butler named Jarvis.

Then in 1983, a guy named Walt Simonson started working on “The Mighty Thor.” And Simonson made Thor Epic.

David L. Wyatt Jr. has written an essay on Simonson’s run on Thor’s comic, called “Simonson in Asgard,” and with his kind permission, I’m going to reprint it here. If you want to see it in its original form, just click here, but David has very kindly given his permission to have it reprinted here.

Simonson in Asgard
by David L. Wyatt Jr.

When a new writer takes over an established comic book it may seem like smooth sailing. You have a ready stock of villains and supporting characters. The book has loyal fans who bought every issue since number six and almost certain to buy the next one. You have a franchise. As the old saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

But the safe route leads to mediocrity and inevitable decline. The regulars will continue to buy until they grow up and demand more. New readers will look for the stories that excite them. Even the strengths of an established title, a well-developed roster of supporting characters and villains, a worldview, can become crutches if the writer repeats him or herself. To reach out to readers who have never before considered the book you must introduce change. But change carries certain dangers. Change risks angering the book’s loyal fans, who expect the writer to maintain consistency with issue number six. Change and you toss away many established advantages. Bruce Wayne can grow old in a miniseries, but in the regular Batman series Wayne must remain thirty, and no one dare suspect his true identity.

This was the situation when Walt Simonson took over Marvel Comics’ Thor. Thor had a rich history. The comic was the brainchild of comic legends Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It had a variety of Lee’s original characters and the whole of Norse mythology to mine. But the comic had its faults as well. Ragnarok is supposed to be the end of everything. This cataclysmic struggle took place every third year. Odin was little more than temperamental father. The supporting characters were full of weaknesses.

Let us consider Thor’s secret identity, Dr. Donald Blake. When the book was begun all superheroes needed a secret identity. It was a time honored cliche. But why in the world would a God need a secret identity? Thor already had an identity, thank you, and one developed over several millennia. The idea of his father trapping him in the hammer to teach “humility” ought to summon an army of social workers. Silliness abounded everywhere. Heimdall, all-seeing Guardian of the rainbow bridge, spent eternity at his post without even a potty break. Balder the Brave was the most joyous and pure hearted person who happened to have slain a few thousand in combat, and a few dozen deaths. Balder remained merry, and endlessly willing to blindfold himself in the face of mistletoe. You’d think after the thirtieth death he might learn.

But the biggest absurdity was Volstagg. Corpulent, gigantic, clad in a puffy maroon tunic with a gold cap topped with long corn leaves, Volstagg looked more like a professional wrestling manager than a God. He could be counted upon to hide, and then come out with bombastic egotism to claim how his large stomach had turned into the key of victory. Worse, he was supposedly one of the “Warriors Three” with dashing Fandral and Hogun the Grimm. Now ask yourself, “Why in the world would Errol Flynn and Omar Sharif hang out with Fat Albert?” More than any other character, Volstagg symbolized the fact that Thor had fallen into cliche.

Until Thor #337. Simonson starts conventionally enough, Nick Fury sends Thor to intercept an alien vessel approaching earth. Thor awakens its protector, Beta Ray Bill. Like all superheroes meeting for the first time, they fight. Pretty much normal stuff, except for one thing: Thor tosses the hammer at Bill, and Bill picks it up. Thor suddenly becomes Donald Blake. And when Odin calls his son to Asgard, he gets the wrong hero.

The next issue Bill and Thor fight again, this time for possession of Mjolnir. And, once again, Bill wins– admittedly abetted by the rather hot place Odin chose for the fight. Again pretty normal stuff, except for the hero losing a rematch.

But in issue #339 we begin to see where Simonson is heading. He’s mining a deeper vein of gold, moving away from the more obvious conflicts into the nuts and bolts of Norse myth. Bill is worthy to lift Mjolnir. Which means he’s honest, and wouldn’t even consider taking the Hammer if his people weren’t facing a dire threat. So instead of simply claiming his prize he asks Odin if there might be a solution to this dilemma. Odin hears and sees both wisdom and nobility in Bill. And so Odin goes dressed as traveler into the land of the dwarves. But Eitri the Dwarf leader recognizes the all father, for Eitri too is wise. One issue minor characters begin to take on a richness normally absent in comics.

Other characters change in subtle ways. No one more than Volstagg. Oh he’s still the self aggrandizing King of the Clean Plate Club, but Volstagg is no longer just a buffoon. He knows he’s compulsive, and even a bit of a joke, but because he understands pain he can see it in others. Simonson reinterpreted Volstagg as jester rather than joke. He becomes serious when appropriate, brave when required, and silly when the tension needs relief. Volstagg belongs in the Warrirors Three for the things he does away from battle.

Simonson introduces that rarest of comic book virtues, character growth. Balder the pure hearted finally began to feel the deaths he has caused. Suffering from depression, Balder has forsaken the sword. Volstagg alone suspects what consumes Balder. When a younger warrior comes to challenge Balder, Volstagg easily disarms him. But he is not angered to see his friend challenged. Rather Volstagg sees in the lad the impetuous ambition of youth. Sitting on the youth, he becomes a mentor

Ragnarok does come to Asgard. But Simonson builds it slowly, and mines the full depth of Viking myth. In issues 342 and 343 he fills the last seat in Valhalla. Odin works quietly against what he fears, with sad resignation almost never seen in comics. A quiet moment with his wife says more than a thousand podium speeches. The End of All brings great fear, not glorious adventure.

In 344 Simonson transforms Loki, the God of Mischief. Loki is often portrayed as malicious force, a powerful sorcerer but little different from any other supervillain. But in 344 Simonson displays a real Loki, one whose humor and malice the Joker might envy. For Balder has been sent by Odin to summon the trickster to Asgard, to aid in the struggle against Ragnarok. And the brave has forsworn violence, and killing. Naturally, Loki forces Balder into lots of killing, sending thousands of cannon fodder against the Asgardian. Until in desperation Balder himself is forced to take up the sword, and slay his way into Loki’s castle. There in Loki’s castle, in front of the destroyer Surtur’s servant Malekith the Dark Elf, Loki summarily refuses to read Odin’s proposition. In a moment of rage at what he has been forced to do, in vain, Balder decapitates Loki with a single stroke, then exiles himself to the desert.

A lesser writer might have let the suspense of Loki’s ‘death’ hang. But not Simonson. Instead the headless body of Loki searches for his head, until he finds and re-attaches it. Loki is in stitches, for the agonized look on Balder’s face proved “an excellent jest, one well worth the price of a stiff neck for a day or so. Balder, thy name is laughter.”

Issue by issue the tension builds. Malekith the dark elf schemes to take the Casket of Ancient Winters, that once released can freeze the barrier Odin’s bothers used to seal Surtur in the realm of flame, away from Asgard and Midgard, the Norse name for our Earth. But the casket is shattered and Surtur’s endless minions released into this world. Ragnarok has come.

But instead of facing the enemy alone, all of Earth unites against the forces of Muspellheim. Reed Richards and the Fantastic Four come to battle.. The warriors of Valhalla fight along side US Army divisions. Odin, Thor and Heimdall await Surtur in Asgard. If Surtur passes them he can set his sword alight, and burn the nine worlds to nothingness. Surtur seems invincible. Heimdall falls and the Rainbow Bridge is shattered. Thor is defeated, and unable to use his full power. Odin too is brushed aside. And at his moment of triumph Surtur finds himself confronted by Loki.

The battle is one of the finest in comics, with many little contributions summing up to a greater whole, Surtur versus Odin, Thor and Loki — for Asgard, Midgard, and as Loki put it, “for Myself.”

Of course the tribulations of Thor are only beginning. Before it ends he will have been turned into a frog, had his bones ground to dust, fought his way in and out of Hel, had Hela refuse him death in torment, then forced the Death Goddess regret her decision. He will fight the Midgard Serpent and fall before it, and yet not fall into death. Heimdall, the stoic all-seeing guardian of the Rainbow Bridge will prove that not only has he seen and heard everything, but thought about what all this meant. He well matches wits with Loki. Heimdall even bags a babe. Volstagg gets trapped in Manhattan to the delight of New York restauranteurs. Thor gets a job. All of which is in the greatest of fun.

No writer, before or since, has done to Thor what Simonson did. His run at that comic rivals the Watchmen and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight, for its sheer inventiveness. Perhaps the Dark Knight is the best comparison, for in it Miller took Gotham and made it the same, yet completely different. The rainbow bridge still links Asgard and Midgard. But because of Simonson, Asgard could never be the same.

Simonson issues: (his art and script until otherwise noted)

#337 ” ” (November 1983)
#338 A Fool and His Hammer . . .
#339 Something Old, Something New ..
#340 Though Hell Should Bar the Way
#341 The Past is a Bucket of Ashes
#342 The Last Viking
#343 If I Should Die Before I Wake
#344 Whatever Happened to Balder the Brave?
#345 That Was No Lady!
#346 The Wild Hunt
#347 Into the Realm of Faerie
#348 The Dark and the Light
#349 Debts of Honor
#350 Ragnarok and Roll!
#351 Ragnarok and Roll, too!
#352 Ragnarok and Ruin
#353 Doom II
#354 Pickin’ up the Pieces
#355 The Icy Hearts (or My Dinners with Thor!) — pencils and inks by Sal Buscema
#357 A New Deal from an Old Deck (or Credit Card Soldiers) ? art by Simonson
#358 When Dalliance was in Flower (or Take the Cash and let the Credit Go)
#359 The Grand Alliance (or Life with Loki)
#360 Into the Valley of Death
#361 The Quick and the Dead
#362 Like a Bat out of Hel!
#363 This Kursed Earth . . ..
#364 Thor Croaks!
#365 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (or It’s Not Easy Being Green)
#366 What do you call a 6’6′ Fighting Mad Frog? Sir!
#367 The Harvest of the Seasons
#368 The Eye of the Beholder —- art by Sal Buscema
#369 For Whom the Belles Troll—- art by Buscema & Geoff Isherwood
#371 Peace on Earth art by Buscema & Albret Blevinson
#372 Without Justice, there is no Peace art by Buscema & Bevinson
#373 The Gift of Death art by Buscema
#374 Fires of the Night art by Buscema
#375 Shadows of the Past art by Buscema
#376 Heroes Always Win . . . Don’t They? Art by Buscema
#377 This Hollowed Armor art by Buscema
#378 When Loki Stood Alone art by Buscema
#379 There were Giants in Those Days (or, a Discussion between Heroes and Villains) Art by Buscema
#380 Mjolnir’s Song
#381 Ye Olde Shelle Game! art by Buscema
#382 Journey Into Mystery art by Buscema
(August 1987)

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