Sunday, November 10, 2013
BAB Classic: Doug's and Karen's Favorites -- Thor Annual 5
NOTE: This post was originally published on July 25 2011.
Thor Annual #5 (Summer 1976)
"The War of the Gods!"
Steve Englehart-John Buscema/Tony DeZuniga
Doug: Man, how do you put your finger on that favorite Annual? The usually-summertime release of these treasures makes them so memorable! I'll declare right now that this is my favorite, and that's saying something. There are some great Fantastic Four Annuals (#'s 5 and 6 come to mind), and I've always enjoyed Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 as well as Daredevil Annual #1. Oh, and I forgot to mention FF Annual #2, with the origin of Dr. Doom. And then there's... See what I mean? But this one's really stuck with me over the past 35 years, and as it also happens to be a fave of my partner's, we're going to give it the BAB treatment to close out this summer's Giant-Size July.
Doug: Scribe Steve Englehart gives us the "Tales of Asgard" treatment over the first 7-8 pages, and it's a nice rendition with John Buscema providing the visuals. Sure, you can't go wrong with Jack Kirby, but there's such a majesty to Big John's art and it's on full display here. Englehart reminds us how, according to Norse mythology, the universe, Earth, the giants, gods, trolls, and finally humans were formed. It's a nice story, and a great entry point for readers who might have come along here to a Thor magazine for the first time.
Karen: I find it really interesting that Steve Englehart wrote this story. As far as I know, Englehart never had any kind of run on Thor. The only time he worked with the character was in Avengers. I'd love to know why he was given this assignment. But whatever the reason, I thought he handled this mythic narrative very well. Of course, Buscema's art is magnificent, even if DeZuniga is not my favorite inker for him.
Doug: As Chapter 1 begins, following the lengthy but able prologue, we meet the mighty Thor, prince of Asgard. Thor's personality is laid out for us: brash, loyal, a fighter. We're told of his affinity for Midgard, and that he is wont to pay heed to the prayers of mortals that are directed toward him. We also see the forging of Mjolnir, and here is the reason why I've always thought the mallet to be made of stone -- it's right here! Of course, every other source tells us it's made of a metal known as Uru, but here Englehart clearly states that it's stone. And no argument from me -- in my eyes, it had always been portrayed as if it were stone. As Englehart's background information segues into today's story, Thor appears near the Arctic circle to join a battle on the side of his beloved Vikings. These men are engaged by warriors not known to Thor, but nonetheless Thor brings death to them. We cut away briefly to the headquarters of the invaders and find that they are Greeks, who now pray to their champion -- Hercules, son of Zeus!
Karen: This reminded me a bit of that sequence in the Thor movie where we see the Vikings and then the Asgardians vs. the Giants. The idea that Thor really is a legendary figure is driven home here. Might this have been the first time any writer presented him as hearing and answering prayers? Regarding Mjolnir, yep, it always looked like stone to me, and Englehart calls it stone here -but we're always told uru is a metal. Eh, it's mythology -maybe it's both a metal AND a mineral???
Doug: So what do you think of this yarn so far? I recall as a kid just hanging on every word and picture. I was really into mythology at this point in my young reading life, so for these tales to spring to life was astounding. I don't think I'd fully fleshed out my opinions on various comic book artists, but I knew that Big John was something special. I knew nothing of Steve Englehart (though I'd been loving his run on The Avengers), but his manner was easy. I probably didn't know him from Roy Thomas, but I'd say now that Roy would have worded this up even more in order to include limitless literary references.
Karen: I checked out every book on mythology from our public library a dozen times. I couldn't get enough of it. So this -and the old "Tales of Asgard" tales -were music to my ears. As for Roy, when he finally did write Thor, we got that "Ring of the Nibelung" storyline that seemed plopped down in the middle of the very exciting Celestials storyline. I know people complain about the "Trial of the Flash" as an overlong storyline, but for me it was excruciating waiting for Roy to get done with his Wagner fixation and get back to the cosmic conflict!
Doug: Well, back to the battle royal at hand. Big John really cuts loose in this scene -- I don't think I'm exaggerating if I say that it's quite possible to hear the battle while looking at the beautiful tableau in hand. After several pages of awesomeness, however, Thor decides that the brutalities between he and Hercules can only end in a draw. So, agreeing to resume the battle of Greek and Norsemen in one week, they part. But, upon retiring to Asgard, Thor is much disappointed when Odin rebukes him for setting up the coming war. Of course Odin is the wiser, but brash Thor will hear none of it and turns on his heel. Wily Loki watches from above, grumbling to himself that Thor is never restrained. Turning himself into a fly, he departs for... you guessed it -- Olympus!
Karen: It's interesting that at this point in time, Thor and Herc have very similar personalities -brash, immature. Back when Hercules first appeared in Thor in the '60s, he was always shown in this manner, while Thor was portrayed as more somber and reasonable. It's fun to see a younger Thor here, with a little more fire -even if he was a dunderhead.
Doug: On the mount, Herc is meeting the same fate that Thor was faced with. It's a bit worse, though, as aside from bloodthirsty Ares (why, oh why, did Bendis ever think Ares was an Avenger??) no other among the pantheon of Greek gods will side with Hercules. I want to add that there's plenty of great characterization here -- Englehart gets the voice and personality of each of these gods and goddesses. But remember Loki... Suddenly "Thor" materializes in the midst of the Olympians and strikes Hercules while hurling insults at one and all. It doesn't take Zeus long to come over to Herc's point of view -- it shall be WAR!
Karen: Englehart knows his mythology too, as he has Hera show her disdain for Hercules, "the unfortunate result of earlier escapades"!
Doug: Yep -- caught that. And if she knew ol' Zeus was going and disguising himself as all manner of beast... What a war it is! Buscema again is really allowed to cut loose. There's a lot of pageantry in this battle, as it oozes "epic" right off the printed page. There's a nice little vignette involving Balder battling Ares and again, Englehart nails it. But in the end, it is the Asgardians who triumph. As the dust clears, the Valkyries ride low to gather their dead. One day, Thor says, all of them will ascend to Valhalla. But not this day.
Karen: The artwork is spectacular. I can only imagine that Buscema had a blast drawing ancient warriors, horses, weapons, etc. This was like Conan but on a larger scale.
Doug: Chapter 3 opens in Odin's throne room, as Loki is in custody and Thor stands before his lord. Thor, dull one that he is, wonders how Odin knew it was Loki who orchestrated the battle. Odin has a couple of great lines in this scene, as does Thor. I know I'm gushing over and over, but this story is so well-played that it rivals anything Stan and Jack did in the Silver Age. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. Thor, disgusted that his father will not pay him tribute, gathers his mates to set off to inspect their spoils. Venturing across Bifrost, they head to Olympus.
Karen: Odin is very well handled in this story. He comes off as regal and masterful, not petty as he often seemed in the Lee-Kirby era.
Doug: But in Olympus, Thor and the others are not recognized. In fact, they are insulted. Thor, ever the hothead, decides to bring the thunder to the Greeks. But as he raises Mjolnir, naught transpires! Disgusted and dismayed, the Asgardians immediately return to the North. Storming (no pun intended) into Odin's quarters, Thor seeks answers. As father and son battle to be heard, it is the All-Father's voice that wins out. When Odin speaks, he informs Thor of his machinations behind the scenes and with his counterpart Zeus. The Olympians, you see, believe that they won. And then Odin imparts wisdom in a morality play that ends our tale: the Asgardians exist because the Vikings believe in and worship them; likewise for the Olympians and their Greeks. It's a symbiotic relationship, Odin explains, and one Thor doesn't quite grasp. Why, then, would he have power in Olympus? They believe in him not. Departing abruptly, Thor wanders, feeling like he's been played. Venturing near the quarters of Karnilla the Norn Queen, he allows her to prophesy to him -- of coming champions with which he will ally himself: the Avengers. And our young thunder god knows one thing: that he doesn't yet know everything.
Karen: I liked that idea, that the faith of men strengthened the gods. Of course, it doesn't hold up when you think about Thor's battles in outer space with aliens who haven't a clue who he is, but it's still a neat idea. Buscema portrays Thor's frustration very subtly. The quick flash of the Avengers was nice, as was the final page showing the thunder god in his glory.
Doug: This story was recently reprinted in a trade paperback, Thor vs. Hercules. I'd say -- get your hands on it! I'll stop with the praises -- you should have gotten my message by now. What a great way to have spent 30-35 minutes as a 10-year old!