Wednesday, January 5, 2011

If I Had a Hammer: Thor vs. Dr. Doom, part 2

Thor 183 (Dec 1970)
"Trapped in Doomsland!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Buscema
Inker: Joe Sinnott

Karen: When we left Thor last time, he was trying to figure out what to do about a missile that was chasing him. He could outrun it, but then it would hit the town below. This issue picks right up from there. The thunder god figures out that he can use his hammer to create a cyclone that will draw the missile away, to explode harmlessly in the sky. However, his hammer fails to return to him, and he is transformed back to Blake. Meanwhile, powerful Mjolnir has dropped into the town square, where Doom has discovered it. However, try as he may, he cannot lift the hammer. Frustrated, he seals it within a force field until he can determine how to remove it. Doom also sets loose a robot, the Stalker, to track down Blake. I'll tell you right now, nothing ever comes of this!
Doug: Comes of the Stalker? No, you're right -- I wonder if the Marvel Method might have caused a plot hole. I'd assume Buscema had some plan for yon device, yet saying that, it never does appear again.

Karen: Thor's extended family of Odin, Balder, and Sif watch the events from Asgard. Though Sif frets over her love, Odin tells her not to worry -even though he is in mortal form, his spirit is that of the god of thunder. I
have to say, Buscema draws a great Odin!

Doug: Isn't Sif a weak character here? She's just so Stan Lee-cookie cutter in this scene, and Odin
and Balder feed right into it. I always enjoy the Asgard scenes, but this was a little tough to take.

Karen: Sif was a typical Stan Lee woman, whose sole purpose was to play the romantic interest to the hero, and frequently get kidnapped! I guess she at least got to carry a sword. Blake wanders around, somehow gaining entrance to Doom's labs, where he finds the missing Professor LaFarge. Unfortunately, the man has been a prisoner too long, and refuses to believe Blake can help him. Blake leaves and finds Thor's hammer, still inside the half-dome of Doom's force shield. He begins digging next to it, hoping to get the attention of Doom's robot guards. Yes, you read that right. The guards discover Blake's coat by the hole and surmise he must be down in it and begin blasting with their ray guns. They assume they have disintegrated Blake and head off to tell Doom. Meanwhile, the good doctor Blake jumps out of a tree, delighted that the guards have enlarged the hole and reduced his work. Oh, come on!

Doug: You know, going through this, Buscema's and Sinnott's storytelling almost makes the reader forget all of the question marks in this script. Almost. I always thought the 60-second timer on the hammer/cane was too much of an Achilles' heel. But, why does Thor
revert to Don Blake while the hammer does not revert to the cane? Are we to assume that Doom put the hammer in his stasis ray prior to Blake's appearance? And has it ever been said if Thor and Mjolnir share some sort of symbiotic relationship? Couldn't Thor have sensed where the hammer had landed, and does it not return to him automatically? And perhaps the biggest thing that has bothered me throughout this two-issue tour is the lack of Don Blake's lameness. The creators have him running, jumping, digging, etc. I always thought he was supposed to be somewhat akin to a Steve Rogers, pre-Super Soldier serum -- very weak, almost an invalid!

Karen: You're right, for a 'lame' guy, he sure is athletic! Blake gets down in the hole and manages to dig up towards the hammer. He lays his fingers
upon it and -boom! Thor is back! The son of Odin bursts through the walls of Doom's castle to confront the monarch. However, Doom is prepared. He tells Thor that unless he relinquishes his hammer, Doom will throw a lever that will unleash missiles on every major city on Earth. Of course, when Doom takes the hammer it falls to the ground and Thor uses this time to destroy the villain's launch controls. But the thunderer needs to get the hammer back before he reverts to mortal form, and Doom is not about to make it easy. But he eventually does regain the hammer, and heads off to destroy the missiles. There's a little Lee moralizing here, as Thor proclaims, "Too long have weapons enslaved the Earth! Too long have force and fear prevailed! Now let there be an end!"

Doug: I was thinking of Superman IV the entire time I was reading this scene... By the way, one of the worst movies ever made. Right after Superman III. But I digress.

Karen: Odin then summons Thor back to Asgard -to deal with that "world beyond" thing - but Thor says he has one more task, to reunite the professor and his daughter. However, we soon discover that the scientist was no prisoner -he was working for money! He has no interest in seeing his daughter again. Crazed, he fires a gun at Thor, who twirls his hammer to deflect the bullets. Of course, one of the bullets ricochets and kills the man - justice is served. Thor returns to the daughter and tells her that her father "died fighting for that which he believed!" The girl is saddened but still hangs on to the memory of her father as a good man. With that situation resolved, the thunder god is off to Asgard, and the next issue.
Doug: What did you think about this twist in the story? I guess I was surprised that LaFarge never snapped out of it -- in a way he becomes a part of Stan's morality play in that he represents the seemingly greedy munitions producers who created weapons of mass destruction (pardon the contemporary expression) and sold them to whomever wished to pay. LaFarge becomes representative of the escalation of the Cold War -- although in the time this story was originally told SALT I and SALT II were not too far off.
Karen: I thought this issue was an improvement over the previous one, but certainly no great shakes. The little twist at the end was nice, but overall this was a forgettable tale. Honestly, if this had been drawn by someone else, say Don Heck or George Tuska, I don't think I could've even made my way through it.

Doug: I agree in that it was quite a comedown from the Englehart-penned epic we recently examined. While characterization was solid, it was Stan Lee solid. Saying that is in no way intended to diminish Stan's skills as an author and certainly not to cut into his status as the co-architect of the Marvel Universe. It's just that as you said earlier, Karen -- it's somewhat difficult to be an apologist of Silver Age writing once the Bronze Age was dawning.


david_b said...

Yep, I bought this ish last year when I was briefly on a 'Doom-centered' comic spree on eBay last year.. Agreed on the triteness of the story.

It's one of those 'wonderful Buscema cover, wonderful Buscema art inside' comics, with not much else.

Steven R. Stahl said...

I have the AVENGERS DVD, but I've read very few issues from the '60s -- very few '60s comics generally. The only comics I'm interested in are those written for adults. THOR #183 and comics like it -- were they written for children, for adults, or for both groups? I'm under the impression that Lee was writing for children and doing one issue at a time, especially in the '60s, since he wasn't sure he'd be writing any given series six months later.

When questions about continuity come up, I don't consider the comics written for kids relevant, except in a very general sense.

Re continuity conflicts generally: I'd rely on the character profile principle. Every major character in a series should have a profile. If what happens in an issue is consistent with the profile, then the story is valid. If what happens isn't consistent, then it's not valid.

It's not uncommon to see people state that continuity shouldn't interfere with a good story, but no one who makes that argument takes the writing in a superhero comics story seriously anyway. He sees comics as throwaway entertainment.

With all the reliance on retcons, alternate future characters, etc., as sources of story material today, there are arguably as many differences between today's comics and the '70s classics as there are between those classics and the '60s comics. However, the audience for today's superhero comics is much older.


Karen said...

@David: The art is definitely the saving grace on these issues.

@Steven: I think when Stan started writing books in the 'Marvel' age (as opposed to work prior to FF1), he took an approach that could appeal to young and old alike. The closest comparison I can come up with are the old Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoons -there was slapstick and silliness for the kids, and some wordplay that would go right over their heads and make the adults laugh.

This issue is not an example of Stan's best work,as Doug and I have said. It really felt like Stan was just mailing it in at this point. But to cut him some slack, he had spent over 8 years as the primary writer (in some cases, the ONLY writer) for the entire Marvel line. That's a lot of writing!

Although his work had declined at this point, I would say that Stan is also the co-architect of many great stories. Books like Fantastic Four 55 still read strong. The style is different, more melodramatic, but Stan's work on the FF and Spider-Man in particular holds up.

It was actually hard to bash his work on these issues, as I have tremendous respect for the man! But I had to be honest.


Steven R. Stahl said...

There's a lot that could be written on the tendencies of reviewers and readers to emphasize artwork, the styles used by an artist and writer, and the superficial appeal of a story's characters over a story's plot, a story's details, and structural issues generally. If a writer considers details important to the story, then overlooking them as one reads or dismissing them as unimportant, even going so far as to opine that style is all that matters, is deliberate misreading of the story.

The overemphasis on style is arguably responsible for many of the problems afflicting current comics. I'll have to stop there, unfortunately.


Doug said...

Random thoughts:

1. Comics are a visual medium, therefore for this reader I'm going to comment on what I enjoy most, and that's the pictures.

2. I majored in history, got a master's degree in Jewish studies, and generally don't get turned on by grammar, sentence structure, and the never-ending search for dangling participles.

3. While I understand scholars have written their dissertations on subjects related to comic books, I am primarily looking for 20 minutes of mindless entertainment.

4. The latter being said, I can honestly say that I haven't stressed over comic books since the last time I encountered the Dreaded Deadline Doom.

I'm just sayin'...


Kid said...

Regarding Blake's lameness, I think it was mentioned in Thor #159 that once he became Thor, his leg gradually became stronger. His continued use of the cane may therefore have been nothing more than an affectation to preserve his identity.

Actually, it's possible to pick plot flaws in most comicbooks of the time. I actually thought these two issues were a nice, undemanding read with a great twist in the tale.

Incidentally, if I remember correctly (not having the issues to hand), John Romita (or Marie Severin?) drew at least one of those Odin pics.

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