Friday, July 23, 2010

The Mighty Thor 218: Attack of the Death Stars!

Thor #218 (December 1973)
"Where Pass the Black Stars There Also Passes... Death!"
Gerry Conway-John Buscema/Jim Mooney

Doug: There is an air of intensity and purpose as this story begins. At the end of the previous issue, Odin charged Thor, Sif, Tana Nile, and Silas Grant with a mission to the Rigelian system to find out and/or stop a force that was bearing down on the planet of the Colonizers. Shortly before take-off, Balder requests to accompany his lord and friend, and Thor complies. It is with a heavy heart that Odin watches them sail away.

Karen: The splash page is fantastic. Dramatic and eye-grabbing -Buscema knew how to get the readers' attention!

Doug: On the Colonizers homeworld, the last of the space arks evacuates the population as the leaders monitor the approach of the five black stars. They, too, have a pessimistic view of the coming tragedy, operating under the assumption that this black force will find them no matter where they flee. And indeed, it does advance like some eerie amoeba.

Doug: Scribe Conway inundates us with several vignettes as the magazine unfolds. We next see Krista, who last issue discovered a strange glowing stone. Moving toward home after fleeing from the epic battle between the returning Asgardians and their doppelgangers, she arrives to meet her mother. Stealing away quickly to her bedroom, we get the impression that she has perhaps come under some sort of evil influence from the pulsating rock.

Karen: As you said last time, she looks like an Asgardian Little Red Riding Hood! There's definitely something not right about that stone...

Doug: Back to the ship (wow, Conway was way ahead of his time in this story -- this was certainly made for the attention span of today's teenagers!), we find our heroes have landed on Rigel. Finding it empty, they further explore and are attacked by nether-dwelling mutants. Of course these troll-like creatures pose not much of a threat, but show a surprisingly human side when conversation is allowed to begin. The subjects of Regilian genetic experiments gone wrong, they were left to die in the wake of the black stars. Thor invites them to accompany his team, and they accept.

Karen: I love the absurdity of a Viking longboat plowing across space. Even better, seeing Thor at the rudder! I'm sure modern readers would find it ridiculous but I think it's charming.

Karen: After the Obligatory Fight Scene, Thor displays his nobility by asking the mutants to join his group. It's interesting that you used the word 'troll' to describe them Doug, because as I read this I thought that despite their sci fi origins, these mutants were really no different than the typical mythological underground dwellers, whether they be trolls or some other creature. We've seen this theme in Marvel books before, particularly with the Alpha Primitives of the Inhumans. It's also common in sci fi stories -Morlocks, anyone?

Doug: As the Rigelians flee, they continue to monitor the advance of the five black stars. Watching on a viewscreen, they see rays of energy suddenly burst forth from the black stars, raking through their homeworld. However, they then are astonished to see mechanical tendrils emerge and vacuum up hunks of planet, the cities still attached!

Karen: We are faced with a mind-blowing, dare I say Kirby-esque two-page spread here of the destruction of Rigel. You can feel the raw destructive energy coming off the pages!

Karen: It struck me that the Black Stars are much like the machine in the old Star Trek episode, The Doomsday Machine. They both carve up planets with energy beams and then suck in the fragments and convert them to energy. Of course the appearance is completely different, as the Trek machine looked like nothing so much as a gigantic Bugle corn chip! Seeing as how that episode came out circa 1967, I can't help but wonder if it inspired Conway?

Doug: Thor's ship finally overtakes the Rigelian fleet, and they get attacked! Leaping into the fray, Thor engages the firing ship, quickly dispatching two Colonizers. A melee breaks out, but is soon stopped by higher-ranking Colonizers; it's posited that the Asgardians might be able to assist in the flight from the now-destroyed homeworld.

Doug: Thor and his comrades learn the backstory of the black stars, and it's not an optimistic tale. As the lead Colonizer continues to explain, the group is suddenly confronted with an image of the threat -- a blazing sun surrounded by five black stars, each three times larger than Jupiter; in effect, a solar system moving about the universe destroying galaxies! And what power can stand against such awesome might?

Karen: Another wonderful full-page work. Buscema was really running on all cylinders this issue. I like the Mooney inks -not my favorite on Buscema but pretty good. I've always thought his thicker lines and use of blacks looked good.

Doug: This ish was a mixed bag for me. It seems to be all build-up for what's to come, and sadly I don't have the succeeding issues -- I'm just left hanging. I can't say it was a bad read -- Conway did build up some anticipation, but I'd lie if I said it was one of the most compelling stories I'd ever read. Buscema's art is solid as usual, and like you said, it's nice to see the familiar inks of Jim "Madman" Mooney. There's no mistaking his female faces, especially the eyes. Good stuff, taking me back to his Legion and Supergirl work for DC.

Karen: I really enjoyed the story. Great space action, lots of imaginative art - this is the type of Thor story I like best. It's really story-driven, not character-driven, which I think is the best way to handle Thor. And seeing as how I do have the next issue, I'll definitely be reading it! Sorry Doug!

Doug: Well, then you'll need to do it as part of an upcoming BAB Two-In-One... Don't be cruel!

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