Monday, April 28, 2014

Avengers Firsts: Hercules

 Today's post is #1500 by the Bronze Age Babies - thanks for reading!

Journey Into Mystery Annual #1 (1965)(cover by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta)
"When Titans Clash!"
Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Vince Colletta

Doug: Stuck in the '60s we are! But it's been fun so far, hasn't it? Today's fare should be a blast, too, as we look in on a beloved series -- the Mighty Thor under the creative direction of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Vinnie Colletta. God of Thunder vs. Lion of Olympus? Shoot -- why wait?!

Doug: We open with a nice splash page, perhaps an image that could have taken place a mere moment ahead of the shot on this issue's cover. Even in a stand-off, Kirby's figures exude dynamic power. So we get it rolling on page 2 with Thor and Loki riding their steeds amongst some craggy rocks. Thor has convinced skeptical Loki to ride with him in search of adventure in Jotunheim -- the land of the Storm Giants! Thor knows the legends, that the Storm Giants have been searching for a lost passage to fabled Olympus. But wanting a little action, and glory to report to the All-Father, Thor has come here really to create some mischief. He spies two giants moving heavy rocks and attacks them without provocation. Loki melts away while Thor takes it to these two bozos with all the fury we saw on display in the battle scene that began Thor: The Dark World. This action is fast, powerful, and over pretty quickly. But of course Thor's brazenness could be his worst enemy, and indeed in his lust for a quick and lasting triumph he creates a massive landslide.

Karen: It's interesting that the caption on the splash page finds the creative team sort of hedging their bets, saying that "if ever the son of Odin had fought the son of Zeus" it might have been like this!
So maybe they weren't so sure they wanted to bring Hercules into the Marvel universe. This could almost have been Marvel's version of an imaginary story, if they hadn't followed it up with a modern meeting of the two princes in the pages of the regular title shortly after. Also, it's obvious to us this takes place in the past but if I had read this when it first came out, I might have been a little confused about that point. You're right though that this scene with the giants really seems to reflect the Thor films -or is that the other way around?!

Doug: I love these stories that have the flavor of a "Tales of Asgard" yarn, because Thor always seems to be even a bit wilder and more impetuous. In the Earthbound stories his godliness seemed a bit more to the fore.Doug: Thor falls with the rockslide, down, down, down... until he lands upright in a chamber made of stone. He figures that the giants must have been right in their guess as to the placement of the gateway to Olympus, for surely he must be in it. He ventures outside, attempting to remain in the shadows. He marvels at some of the odd creatures he sees, yet thinks that perhaps Olympus is not so different from Asgard. But he knows that he must find a way back to the Realm Eternal, so sets off in bold fashion toward a bridge. But -- you guessed it -- as fate would have it another wants to use the narrow construct first. And that someone happens to be named Hercules. What a great way to introduce the conflict between these two: who can be the first to walk across a bridge. How fitting for both of these characters' temperaments!

Karen: Lee must have felt the need to tie the realms of Asgard/Jotunheim and Olympus together, but the idea that the giants originated in Olympus is an odd one. I can't recall reading of giants in Greek myths -other than the Titans or Cyclops. Kirby gives Olympus a distinctly different look and feel than Asgard. We see typical Greek mythological characters like satyrs and centaurs, as well as the marble columns and temples that typify ancient Greek civilization.

Doug: Even though I read this in the Essentials, I could still get a sense for the brightness and airiness (is that a word?) of Kirby's Olympus. While Asgard was generally depicted as magnificent, I think the notion that it floated as an island in space always transmitted to me a darker setting.

Doug: I truly don't know which I enjoy more in this era of Thor -- Kirby's visuals or Lee's dialogue. Both are just wonderful. Hercules and Thor begin to spar verbally as well as physically, and it's just a hoot. We've provided a few images to let the pages speak for themselves -- pure fun! As we've said in our two previous reviews, it's very interesting that of the four characters we've looked at Stan seemed to have their personalities fully-formed from the beginning. Hercules is every bit as brazen as Thor as he continues to talk trash aloud while marveling at his opponent's prowess and comparing it to his own. Both godlings engage each other with their weapons, with Thor's Mjolnir coming out ahead of Herc's mace. And then they decide to go hand-to-hand. Hercules delivers "the most powerful blow *Thor* has ever felt", but Thor comes to his feet almost instantly. Thor returns the favor, but with the same result. Both combatants declare the other their virtual equal. But with egos like theirs, that just means they fight all the harder to prove one's superiority over the other.

Karen: This younger Thor is much more like Hercules in personality than his later, more somber, self. That does make it a lot more fun to watch them go at it! Hercules' look was definitely inspired by the Steve Reeves' Hercules films, although where the little "H"'s on his heels and belt came from, I have no idea (the same place as Galactus' "G" I guess).
I love the dialog just as much as you do - our two boys are threatening to "pummel" and "thrash" each other in every panel! Kirby is at his dynamic best.

Doug: Hercules uproots a large totem and bends it into a shape that he declares he will use to bind Thor and make him Herc's prisoner. Dumb old Thor plunges headlong into the twisted arrangement, and Hercules does indeed ensnare him. But Thor strains against his bonds and bursts free, to Herc's incredulity. They again resume fisticuffs, with Hercules pledging to strike Thor again and again in the same spot until Thor falls. Well, Thor does indeed fall, only to bust out a trick that only fans of the Silver Age could appreciate -- the Son of Odin digs his fingers into the turf and rips up the entire landscape like it was a roll of carpet! Hercules is thrown off-balance. As Thor leaps upon his adversary, Hercules grasps two large stones, which he crashes together in Thor's face, the powder blinding the Asgardian.

Karen: Well, we got the pulling-on-the-ground trick.
All we need now is someone wearing a rubber mask that is indistinguishable from a real face, and a hero wearing a really large costume piece, armor, or weapon underneath their street clothes.

Doug: With no vision, Thor knows he must swing wildly in order to stay upright until his eyes are clear of the dust. Each immortal uses his strongest punches to try to vanquish the other. But suddenly the Earth shakes as light cracks the sky. Zeus appears, and orders an end to the battle. Fittingly, he's been watching from afar and thinks the whole thing was just great. In a page out of any parental handbook, Zeus compliments both of the spoiled brats, declares them equals, and makes them shake hands and declare friendship for one another! Thor offers that Zeus has the same lordly qualities as his own father and even kneels to the All-Father of Olympus. But then Thor says he must take his leave of Olympus to return to affairs in Asgard. With some Kirby rays emitting from the royal scepter, Thor is lifted back across the divide to Jotunheim, where his adventure began. Loki awaits, and Thor accuses him of fleeing during the fight with the giants. Loki asked where Thor had gone, but the prince says that his memory is failing him. Suddenly huge boulders begin to erupt from the chasm -- Loki claims it must be the work of the Storm Giants, but Thor knows better. He smiles to himself as he watches Zeus's barrier complete itself, but muses that someday he shall again learn of Olympus and see Hercules.

Karen: Zeus shuts  things down quickly, as Thor pretty quickly accepts his authority. I suppose he was used to this sort of thing with Odin. There's a lot of nice imagery by Kirby here, some of it subtle but very effective. All in all, this was a fun romp, a light bit of early Marvel magic. I couldn't help but think of Thor Annual #5, where these two characters would meet in a much longer story.

Doug: This one was short at only 15 pages. We remarked to each other when we chose this Annual for our little Avengers series that it seemed somewhat out of place, disconnected from Giant-Size July. But when we paged through it and found how short it was it was sort of nice. It's a simple story -- the only motivation in telling it is to pit Thor against Hercules. I suppose it's more satisfying than the Thor-Hulk tussle in Journey Into Mystery #112, although like that there's no real winner here. But it must have been a thrill ride for youngsters who'd have come to this in the year before I was born! And as I remarked above, today's story hails from that time when Stan, Jack, and Vinnie were cranking out top-notch adventures each and every month.


Kid said...

One of my favourite Marvel tales. Funnily enough, I first read this story as a reprint in a British 'Summer Special' in 1968, before buying it new off the spinner-racks in 1973-ish. A stack of them must have been discovered in a distributor's warehouse, having lain about for around 8 years. In the '60s. U.S. comics came to our country as ballast, so this sort of thing probably happened quite a lot.

Some of the U.S. reprints of this tale were a bit inferior in their reproduction of the cover and a couple of pages, but the most recent softcover Masterworks and Omnibus volumes remedied the shortcomings.

david_b said...

Ohh, I'd LOVE to pick this one up..

By the way, Doug, you missed a comic buyers dream yesterday at the Kane County toy show. One seller had thousands of Bronze/Silver comics for pennies on the dollar. I got some awesome Silver TOS issues for $10 each.. So many issues got away that I saw someone else buying, it was incredible. Also, my old toy-selling friend JR was there, now sponsering an annual celebrity booth, and he had Jackson Bostwick signing SHAZAM autographs, just a wonderful day. I hadn't been to Kane in nearly 10yrs, and it's become much much nicer with the new buildings.

Anywho, this type of story makes me ponder as to who would play ol' Herc if they bring him in the next Thor movie..

Also, CONGRATS on the anniversary.

Dr. Oyola said...

Classic tale.

I love the stories of Herc vs. Thor (b/c even when they are allies they tend to compete). I especially love Thor #356 with Herc's version of his fights with Thor.

Anyway, congrats on the milestone! 1500 posts! WOWZERS!

Does that mean you guys are nearing 5 years of BAB, or is my math off?

Karen said...

Osvaldo, we are indeed approaching 5 years of fun here at the BAB. Is it any wonder that we sometimes wind up repeating ourselves?

This was a really enjoyable tale to read and review, despite the fact that it's essentially one long brawl. Pure fluff but perfectly done for what it is. It's these kind of stories where one feels like the creative team must have been having a good time too. The joy just seems to jump off the page.

Edo Bosnar said...

Wow, a big 15 hundred posts! All I can say - in sticking with today's Silver Age theme - is: "Wah-Hoo!!!" Most excellent.

And Karen, your list of Silver Age mainstays (ground-pulling, perfectly life-like rubber masks, elaborate costumes and/or gear disappearing under civilian attire) is commendable, but incomplete, as you forgot perhaps the most important one: a gorilla or other some other primate making an appearance - preferably able to talk and ready to duke it out with one of the heroes...

Anonymous said...

Karen: Lee must have felt the need to tie the realms of Asgard/Jotunheim and Olympus together, but the idea that the giants originated in Olympus is an odd one. I can't recall reading of giants in Greek myths -other than the Titans or Cyclops.

Well, in Greek myth there was the Gigantomachy, the war between the Olympians and the Giants. After the defeat of the Titans, Gaia created the Giants and ordered them to war on Olympus. Interestingly enough, Hercules played a key role in the battle, as it was prophesied that victory against the Giants would only come via the aid of the son of a mortal mother.


Anonymous said...

Doug and Karen, Karen and Doug, as we say around here, youse guys are awesome!!! I mean it, woo to the hoo!!! 1500 posts!!! Now let's tear the mother down!!!!

The Prowler (wondering where the cake is).

Teresa said...

I truly appreciate the work you two put into BAB. You mesh well together as a team and I love the insights and interaction with your readers.
More than once you have steered me into some great Marvel reads.

This is one of the few of my regular sites that I have to stay on top of or I fall behind. Obviously, you are quite prolific.

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Hah! I've got this one! Down in the dusty crypt.
It's pretty cornball, but call me corny. Back in the '80's, when I had illusions that I might someday be a comic-book artist I was on a mission from the Norse and Olympic gods to grab every classic bronze-age Marvel comic I could get my hot little hands on.
Later, every so often, when I had a little loose time, I'd grab a stack of this old stuff, F.F., Avengers and all the rest and go on a reading binge, sometimes outside, if it was nice.

Doug said...

Thanks for the love, everyone -- about the blog and about today's post. We keep churning out these reviews and discussion topics because everyone has been so faithful to us. While we've lost some regulars along the way, we always seem to pick up new folks. As long as this is fun for everyone, I imagine we'll keep writing!


Anonymous said...

Thanks to you, Doug and Karen.
This is a nice place to stop by after a long day. Always something going on here!
Whether I comment or not, I make a point of swinging by and seeing what you folks are up to.
I love this stuff too!

Redartz said...

1500; mighty impressive! Congratulations Karen and Doug, and a sincere "thank you" for all your efforts. Reviews such as today's display the care and enthusiasm you share for each day's topic.

Incidentally, if my recent comments are a bit less frequent, 'tis because I'm starting a new job and also preparing to move. Should be by more often once things settle down a bit...

Doug said...

Ah, moving -- the hassle before the pleasure!

Staying near Lafayette, Redartz, or distancing yourself from the Hoosier state?


Anonymous said...

By the thunderbolts of Zeus! Congratulations on reaching the milestone of 1500 posts! Truly a feat worthy of Hercules himself! Such boundless love and enthusiasm for comics warrants a feast in the hallowed halls of Valhalla!

OK, sorry to lay all the hyperbole on so thick, Doug & Karen. Nice story to celebrate this achievement. Yeah, we see Stan here in all his bombastic glory and of course no one could draw Thor and Herc with such power and majesty like King Kirby (hope Big John didn't turn in his grave!). Heck, even one of my least favourite inkers, Vinnie Colletta delivers the goods here.

If I'm not mistaken, this was the very first meeting between Herc and Thor in the Marvel universe. Yeah, I think Stan really wanted to throw these two characters together; he knew he would have some good action and even at this early stage we can see he was trying to tie in Asgard with Olympus, with the storm-giants-being-kicked-out-of-Olympus angle. At this point in merry Marvel's history, I surmise that Stan wanted to experiment with putting such diverse characters like Thor and Herc together, and then see how such a story would unfold. As Karen said, plotwise this is rather thin, it's really an excuse to pit these two powerful gods against each other.

Hope we see more reviews of classic tales like this one!

- Mike 'here's to 1500 more posts' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Redartz said...

Still a Hoosier, but heading for the Louisville area. Yet wherever I am, I'll be following the BAB's!ngreto

Redartz said...

Bronze Age Babies, that is... and no, I'm probably not a robot...I just type like one... :)

Rip Jagger said...

Charming story from Marvel's golden era when the whole mythos was opening up on a weekly if not monthly basis. Love Vinnie Colletta's inks on Kirby, always have.

Congrats on 1500!

Rip Off

Comicsfan said...

Thor's "yield or else!" blow to Hercules just before Herc grabs that pole reminds me of all the punches we see in Marvel tales that look great on paper but aren't really "workable" in a real fight. For instance, I don't think it would ever occur to me to grab my wrist with my other hand like that--try it! It doesn't add any power to the punch--it even tends to pull it a bit. (Then again, I'm not a god, so what do I know.)

There's also Giant-Man's double-fisted punch against the Sub-Mariner in Avengers Annual #2, another punch I've embarrassingly gone through the motions with but can't seem to make work to any degree. Though if it manages to deck someone like Namor, I must be doing it wrong.

Fred W. Hill said...

Congrats on this milestone on this wonderful blog, Doug & Karen, and thanks for keeping it fun! I actually got this mag, fairly cheap but somewhat higher than the original price. Within the comics world alone, there have been so many versions of Hercules (at least several more than there have been of Thor, I'd guess), but this classic Kirby depiction is the one that always comes to mind when I think of Hercules. To be honest, John Buscema's beardless Hercules in the Avengers of a bit later didn't look quite right to me -- oh, sure, he looked heroic and powerful enough, but he wasn't the same Hercules Lee & Kirby brought to life here and in the later Thor epic reprinted in part in Marvel's third Treasury Edition. This introduction to the brash Olympian, told in the style of a Tales of Asgard, but much expanded, was great. Mostly a slugfest, but it also brought out the characters of these headstrong young gods and set the stage for greater stories to come.

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