Thursday, January 26, 2012

Thorsday Thrills! The Mighty Thor #222


Thor #222 (April 1974)
"Before the Gates of Hell!"
Gerry Conway-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott

Doug: We're halfway through a month of random issues of Thor. However, today and next Thursday actually contains consecutive issues in the middle of a Thor/Hercules team-up. While you'll have to suffer through the lack of a beginning, I don't think you'll be disappointed in the action you'll see today. And that art... truly, this was John Buscema and Joe Sinnott at the height of their collaboration!

Doug: We open with a bar scene that could have been ripped from any of Buscema's innumerable Conan stories. The God of Thunder is arm wrestling the Lion of Olympus as the denizens of said mythical Greek civilization surround them. As they spar, we find that they are seeking to determine who shall have the right to face the lord of the underworld, Pluto! What the? Yep -- each feels that it is his right and his alone to strike out for iniquities levied over past issues. But as the table gives way, they don't stop -- instead they continue, locked in full combat! As Olympus begins to crumble around them, a booming voice brings them to a halt. It is mighty Zeus, who chastises their immaturity and lack of forethought -- why not team up? Well, duh...

Karen: I really liked it when Gerry Conway brought Hercules back into Thor. The two made a great pair, with the boisterous Olympian playing well off the grim Asgardian. But the two of them together were often complete lunkheads.

Doug: We next look in on Ares, as he was meant to be -- the Greek God of War, and a bad guy (hear that, Bendis?). Ares wanders on a mount through a woods, when he stops to slake his thirst. While drinking, a troll emerges from the pool and tells Ares that Pluto wants him as an ally in the killing of Hercules. Ares, feeling somewhat slighted by the messenger and not a little perturbed, agrees to meet Pluto at the gates of Hell. And off he rides, brooding.

Karen: I still do not understand how Ares became an Avenger. It's as if no one at Marvel had ever actually read any books he had appeared in.

Doug: Then to Asgard, where Odin, the vizier, Lady Sif, and Hildegarde watch the journey of Thor and Hercules. The women caution that a plot is afoot, but Odin rebukes them. Dismissing them, and assuring Hildegarde that her sister Krista will be rescued from Pluto, Odin turns to the vizier. The wise sage tells the all-father that he detects a hint of a lack of confidence. Odin says it's a father's worry...
Karen: Conway's Odin was a definite improvement over Stan Lee's. One began to wonder if Odin was senile when he kept taking Loki's word over Thor's! But this Odin has mellowed and come to appreciate his fair-haired boy. I've always thought that Buscema's version of Odin actually looks a lot like the artist himself! No, they didn't both have long white beards, but there's something about the All-Father's face that reminds me of pictures I've seen of Big John. Anybody with me? or am I out on a ledge by myself here?

Doug: I can see that. Big John has often been called a big bear of a man, and Buscema's Odin is a massive fellow. Another trait of the artist was his gruff manner -- when's the last time you ever thought of Odin as cuddly?




Doug: As Thor and Hercules walk toward their destiny, they are suddenly descended upon by an army of trolls. Their mistake. The thunder god and demi-god lash out with no holds barred. Of course Hercules is having the time of his life -- any excuse to scrap is a welcome diversion. But it's a violent Thor who offers no quarter, taking full advantage of his mighty sinews and the destructive power of Mjolnir. Trolls lie scattered about the land. Thor and Hercules, surprised by the attack, wonder if they should not think about how Pluto is operating through this. Hercules decides that they should go see an old oracle.

Karen: I guess there is a brain in that curly-haired noggin. The idea of visiting an oracle is perfect for this Greek hero. I really enjoy the mythological stories in Thor and the cross-pantheon ones especially. This was Conway's tribute to the Lee-Kirby Thor classic where Thor went to the Underworld to save Hercules, and he does a great job invoking its memory without copying it.

Doug: John Buscema's at his best when drawing the odd, the old, and the ugly. In the case of Chaga, he gets a three-in-one. She tells our heroes that it is not Pluto they will next encounter, but Ares! And encounter the God of War they do -- but it's Thor who requests the pleasure. Herc defers, and as Thor battles it's pretty funny to watch Hercules sit on the sidelines and actually engage Thor in conversation! But Ares has increased his strength threefold, so this is no light work. The battle rages, until finally gives him a one-two of Mjolnir across the chops and huge uppercut that finishes the fight. Making a death pact, the two godlings enter the cave that will lead them to the depths of Hell.

Karen:It's always exciting to see Thor cut loose. When battling godly menaces, he can really go full out. And I agree with you about Buscema -his "characters" were always a delight to behold.

Doug: This issue was a flat-out blast, and it's due in large part to the phenomenal artwork. Sure, Gerry Conway crafted a cool story (as I said, I don't have the first part, but we'll look in next Thursday at Thor #223 to see how this progresses) -- anytime you get Thor and Hercules together it's going to be a party. One would have to be a pretty poor writer to screw it up -- so Conway does what he should here and let's John Buscema just run wild. If I sound like I'm gushing... well, I am. From the splash page to the concluding brouhaha between Thor and Ares this was 20 minutes very well spent. Hmmm... isn't that the way comics are supposed to be?



19 comments:

Anonymous said...

First off, let me say I love the way you guys have written this. Rarely (reading my work emails) do I come across words like ‘slake’ and ‘cross-pantheon’.

Karen – I can totally see the Buscema / Odin thing....but that’s based on seeing comparatively recent pics of Buscema. Surely he looked a lot younger 40 years ago?

Karen - I agree about that earlier Thor/Herc crossover. If I remember rightly, it has the most contrived plot since Matthew Mcconaughey dated Kate Hudson (i.e. Thor gets into a situation where he has to help someone or he’s screwed, and magically at the same time, Hercules has to find one person who will stand beside him). BUT I LOVED IT. I remember reading that as a Treasury edition as a kid and just being in Heaven. Those huge splash pages at Treasury size made you feel you were right there. I have deliberately never read it since, but the day will come. Same with the Mangog one.

Doug – I agree with your point about JB characters, but I’d add a further point, which is the extraordinary amount of time and effort spent fleshing out subsidiary characters, not just here but everywhere. Lots of detail, as you say, but on characters where he could really have got away with a lot less. This oracle could easily have been just a shadow in a cave, but he & Joe give us every wrinkle. Imagine Gene Colan getting into that level of detail?

Richard

Doug said...

A general comment on lay-out:

The big two-page splash in the middle of today's post is scanned as two images. On my tablet (it's a laptop with a stylus -- not a small handheld like you'd get from Motorola, etc.), the spacing was off so that the image showed as two separate pieces. I've adjusted it with spacing so that at least on the screen I'm using right now it looks AWESOME! If, however, the device you are using isn't giving you the full grandeur, you have my sincerest apologies. Blogger does shift to fit whatever size screen is being used for viewing. Were this something like a .pdf file, we wouldn't have the disparity in the seen page.

Just throwing that out there, because that 2-pager is, as I said, AWESOME!

Have a great day,

Doug

Anonymous said...

Doug...or anyone...can someone please tell me who inked that cover? There's some Avengers covers where Kane's art is inked liked that and it looks great. Is it Romita? Is that why I can't get it? It's driving me nuts.

Richard

Doug said...

Richard --

The cover is attributed to Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia.

http://www.comicbookdb.com/issue.php?ID=26797

Doug

david_b said...

"I should read more Thor.."
"I should read more Thor.."
"I should read more Thor.."

Ok, it's my mantra for today. And much agreed, it's great when the Thunder God finally lets loose.

I think it's the splash page that sucked me in. And this story's in the Treasury Edition..? I checked the contents on-line of both ish 3 and 10 and neither had this story.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Doug. Now you say it, I can see it, esp. on their arms, but Thor's face still looks Romita to me.

Hi David - no, the reason I referenced the Treasuries was in reply to Karen talking about the first Thor/Herc mash up, which was actually the point where JIM becomes Thor (#124 - 130). That's the story in the first Treasury (sans #124, I think).

Richard

david_b said...

Ah, terribly sorry. I still need to pick up some more Treasury Editions.

I'm moving now into hard-cover Masterworks (most popping up on eBay for under $25..), but getting a Treasury in the mail today still whisks me back to a 10yr old like nothing else.

Doug said...

Ah, yes -- the great John Romita treasure hunt! As art director, the Jazzy One was regularly doing touch-ups and minor re-do's on all sorts of covers and pages. In the past on this very blog Karen and I have remarked that Romita seems to have drawn the first interior page full-body depiction of Namor in his lifesuit (the issue was drawn by Don Heck) and of the villain Diamondback in the pages of Luke Cage #1 (drawn by George Tuska).

Doug

Doug said...

Filed under the heading, "Cheesecake": One guess as to which image from today's post is receiving the most "clicks".

Yep, you're right!

Smirkingly yours,

Doug

Anonymous said...

And it just got another one.... R

Anonymous said...

Hi David,
So true about the Treasuries. I ordered Cap's Bicentennial Battles through the mail when was exactly 10 and for years kept all my treasured Treasuries in the very big envelope it came in.

Hi Doug - I never spot Romita, but I always spot Adams, who was also infamous for tinkering. Even when I know there's a Romita re-touch (like Hulk's face on THAT Steranko cover), I still can't see it.

Richard

david_b said...

Richard:

I'd STILL like to hunt down a copy of that wonderful King-Size Special Hulk ish 1, and I know my eyes aren't as discerning as the rest of you all, I still cannot see the Romita tinkering either.

BTW.., anyone know where that story's reprinted..? I've bid on that issue several times and it keeps getting away from me. LOVE the cover, but I guess I can live with a reprint.

starfoxxx said...

I picked up Thor #221 and #222 waaay back in the 80s for cheap at my LCS---I have always been a sucker for a great cover, and my interest in Hercules was fueled by his 2nd mini-series and his return to the Avengers (the only comic I stuck with thick or thin, from #240 to #343>> the Crystal/Sersi line-up being one of my least favorite, all-time). I haven't seen the interiors since they hit my long box (wow, fantastic stuff), so thanks soooo much for the images and the nostalgia.

starfoxxx

Anthony said...

Richard if memory serves the King Size Special was reprinted in Giant Size Hulk # 1 in 1975. I thought I would say Happy Birthday to the other Buscema brother today. They both did truly remarkable work.

I had this issue of Thor. I got it from a friend who was giving away his old Spider-Man and Hulk comics back in grammar school. Sadly I traded it away for another comic. What was I thinking ?! John did beautiful work on this issue. I'll have to track down a good copy on E-Bay.

Anthony said...

I should have addressed the above comment to David B. Sorry.

Garett said...

Yay! This is my favorite run of Thor, from 221-25. Great fun to see Hercules and Thor together.

david_b said...

Super, thanks for the information!

Fred W. Hill said...

A fun story -- I have particular memories of the great cover of the previous issue (which Marvel used in house-ads in many of its December 1973 mags). Thor was one of my favorite titles simply due to mythological aspects and anytime the stories focused on that I was thrilled, even if I was familiar enough with the actual myths to know that Marvel was putting its own twist on them. Conway seemed very aware that Thor was at his best in spectacular stories with bigger than life menaces but also keeping the supporting cast as an integral part of the proceedings. And the art of Buscema & Sinnott was magnificent.
Among Conway's work of the time, with the emotional turmoil going on his FF & Spidey mags, Thor was almost pure escapist relief.

Anonymous said...

Hi David – I recommend that you DON’T pay silly money for that Hulk KS 1 unless you need it for completist reasons. The art inside is Marie Severin inked by Syd Shores, which is not as good as it sounds / ought to be, and it’s written by Gary Friedrich. The cover is the best thing about it....so by all means buy it, just don’t open it!

Anthony is spot on; it is reprinted in GS Hulk #1 (by which time they were referring to KS #1 as Hulk Annual #1, just to keep things nice & clear). It’s also reprinted in Masterworks #4.

If you’re a huge fan of that cover, then you need to check this out:
http://www.giantsizemarvel.com/2008/06/recreations-jim-sterankos-logo.html

Cheers
Richard

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