Monday, June 27, 2016

Then I Guess He Had to Crash - Thor 269

Thor #269 (March 1978)
"A Walk on the Wild Side!"
Len Wein-Walt Simonson/Tony DeZuniga

Doug: Marvel should have been embarrassed to put these two on the same cover. Am I seriously supposed to believe that Stilt-Man's rocket pods could vanquish the God of Thunder? The same God of Thunder who Marvelites continue to argue over concerning the victor in a tussle with the Hulk? That guy. If you're stopping by for the first time, back in April we had a fun conversation about mismatches in comics -- and a couple of weeks ago we checked in on one, when Daredevil was pitted against ol' Jade Jaws himself. If you're in a hurry today, I'm going to save you some time and just say this comic was "average". It wasn't horrible, but it certainly in no way distinguished itself in any positive light beyond expectation. I've been reading and have provided the scans from the Gods, Gladiators, and the Guardians of the Galaxy! trade (recommended for the reprints of Thor Annual #s 5 and 6). Here, then, are the details: 

100 Word Review: It’s all cloak and dagger as we find some menacing electronic voice and a shadowy hirsute brute egging on Wilbur Day, also known as the Stilt-Man. Day’s armor has been specially augmented for a job: steal cargo from a messenger helicopter and return it to the electronic voice. For the job, Day’s armor has been adamantium plated and loaded full of gas, concussion blasts, etc. But in the middle of the heist the Stilt-Man is accosted by Thor. In a match that lasts far longer than it should, Thor is victorious. His prize, though? A challenge from Day’s co-conspirator – Blastaar!

The Good: I never think of Walt Simonson's Thor during this period; instead I of course think of his turn as writer/artist a few years hence. I like his work here -- and just to show my heretical side, I'll say that his style here is more pleasing to my eye than his later work. Some may argue that Simonson is aping John Buscema during this run -- and who could go wrong if that was indeed the case? This is a mighty God of Thunder, well-muscled yet regal. He moves smoothly, though, whether on land or in flight. And Tony DeZuniga's inks? DeZuniga's in the same category for me as Pablo Marcos, in that I can pick out his work from a mile away. I don't dislike it at all, but these guys are definitely in the neighborhood of Joe Sinnott's overpowering style. Hear me -- I don't dislike the art. I'm just not sure how much of Walter Simonson I'm seeing. But overall it's pretty tasty.

The scan to the right captures a nice scene that was reminiscent of the airplane catch in Superman Returns, albeit shorter and less dramatic. After Stilt-Man's aerial robbery, the whirlibird went into crisis mode and began to descend wildly over Manhattan. Fortunately, one Dr. Donald Blake happened to be among the masses below. The art team did a nice job of conveying the duress Thor came under.

The story had a one-page vignette with the Warriors Three and the All-Father, Odin. It's not much -- just the boys coming home from a mission accomplished and Odin offering them a boon for their trouble. But Odin does utter a cliffhanger statement about the Realm Eternal being threatened... to be continued. I always dig Fandral and his mates; Balder, too. Thor's supporting cast, melodrama aside, is always a favorite.

Stilt-Man's dorky, but I've always kind of liked him...

The Bad: ...when he's fighting Daredevil. This book is pretty lame. It really is. We've had some arguments around here in the past about street-level stories versus cosmic stories. I've argued in the past and will do so again that my favorite Thor stories are in far off lands, pitted against other gods, or spacefaring. I get that he's not a cosmic hero like Captain Marvel or the Silver Surfer, but if Stilt-Man and Blastaar are all Earth has to offer in the way of adversaries, then editorial needs to make a change.

The plot of the story is basic, and not suspenseful at all. The hidden voice commanding Wilbur Day, the heavy in the background there to keep Day in check (c'mon - who didn't know that it was Blastaar right from the beginning?), the heist, Thor's initial engagement of Stilt-Man, the foregone conclusion that was the outcome, and the "big reveal" splash to end the story. I did not have this particular book when I was 12, but I'd like to think I was a more discerning reader than to be infatuated with this book.


Additionally, are we really to believe that Mjolnir wouldn't put a pretty severe dent in Stilt-Man's armor? Adamantium is not vibranium -- I don't think it repels energy. So while I could accept that the outfit wouldn't crack or split, I do think Mjolnir is more formidable than was implied in the script. That being said, Thor did use the hammer to solve the problem, and that alone makes the plot bad. If Stilt-Man's armor could have been disrupted by lightning, then that could have happened at any time. The battle scene then simply negates itself in my mind.


The Ugly: My frame of mind, for one. I'm sorry to bring a cloud over your Monday. It's not what I usually do -- generally I can get on board with most of what I read for the reviews I write. But outside of the art, I can't toss a single kudo Len Wein's way. Well... OK, I lied about that. There was one specific panel, early in the story, when I segued back to my 12-year old self and did a Beavis and Butthead laugh in the back of my head. So maybe my sense of humor is the "big ugly" here. And a request for forgiveness if my sophomoric humor offends anyone. Thanks in advance.  


Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the review, Doug, and for shedding light on what has to be one of the most epic match-ups in Marvel history - not. The real question is why so many of Marvel's writers kept using Stiltman over and over again. Even with the adamantium upgrade, Thor's biggest challenge should have been how to keep from laughing long enough to take him down...

Doug, although I naturally disagree with your assessment about Simonson's later work on Thor, I do agree that the art is nonetheless quite nice here. However, this is definitely a case of De Zuniga really overpowering the pencils. In fact, I think all Simonson did here was simple layout sketches, because very little of his distinctive style comes through on the pages you've included here.

Anonymous said...

Doug, you state twice that you were 12 when this came out - alas, your 50 year-old brain is failing you as this issue of Thor is dated March 1978 which means it came out in December 1977 when you and I were both 11. And did anybody know how to pronounce Mjolnir ? I still don't really know to be honest :D

William said...

Doug, I wasn't quite clear on whether you liked this one or not. LOL

Thor vs. Stiltman may not be anyone's idea of a dream match-up, but I always liked Stilty. I think he's a visually interesting character that, if handled properly, could become a real threat. Let me explain.

The thing about Stiltman is that he's only a "joke" because some writers chose to make him a joke. If written correctly he could technically be as formidable an adversary as Iron Man.

First of all his extending legs are a great gimmick and make him the perfect second-story man (or forty-story man) because he can rob the penthouse without needing a ladder. All a writer would need to do is upgrade his offensive capabilities to Iron Man level bad-assery by adding energy blasts, and servo motors for super strength, etc., and bingo-bango you have a villain that could go toe-to-toe with most anyone. So, given the proper motivation Stiltman "could have been a contender.

On the other hand Wilbur Day (Stiltman) could have just made himself a fortune selling his technology to the Fire Department or the power company, or even window washing services in New York City. Which is a funny thing about a lot of super-villains. They create amazing technological wonders that would make them super wealthy if they just marketed it, but instead they inexplicably turn to crime and usually get their butts kicked.

William Preston said...

"Yes, the child may touch my hammer. What sayest thou, Jimmy—hast thou ever seen Asgardian gladiator movies?"

Butthead moment dispensed with.

I'm also a Stiltman fan. A book like this could be satisfying from an aesthetic standpoint—characters with such oddly mismatched personalities and powers—while still ridiculous when considered in terms of relative strength. I always found (and still find) Stiltman's look to be so endearingly odd (what's with the giant cowl?), I appreciated seeing him whenever he reared his fine, ugly head.

As for DeZuniga: The art looks exactly like that produced when DeZuniga inked Buscema. I liked the man's inks, but the kohl-rimmed eyes were a distracting tic.

Doug said...

Thanks W.P. - I actually asked Karen if it was OK to publish my junior high-level reaction to that word balloon, and she gave the go-ahead. A) it was too good to pass on, and B) Wein should be held accountable for what was (forget the double entendre implication) a stupid piece of dialogue anyway. "Asgardian gladiator movies"... available for streaming for $2.99/month, I'm sure.

Colin, you are certainly correct on the newsstand date on this book. I'm going to sheepishly write off my "12" comments to actually having been 11 1/2 and rounding up. Wow - that may have been lamer than the plot of this book.

Question about the art: If you look at the last page splash of Blastaar, I do see the Walt Simonson that we'd see a few years later. What do you think? Blastaar's face in particular seems less like it belongs in this book and more like it should have a home in the Thor #350s.

I told Osvaldo last night on Twitter that if you think this one was a clunker, wait until I review Joker #9 in a couple of weeks. Similar reaction from this guy.


Martinex1 said...

I agree with the comments on Wein's writing here. Aside from the plot weaknesses there is far too much in way of the Asguardian dialogue ...verily forsooth...indeed.

But I have to give kudos to the next issue box: Minute of Madness, Dark Day of Doom! You don't see much like that anymore! That alone would have had little Martinex searching for the next issue

Anonymous said...

Take a look at the cover art for Thor Annual #7 published around the same time as the Stilt Man issue. Simonson did full art on the cover and it looks just like his later Thor work. As already mentioned, Walt's contribution to this issue must have been layouts only. For whatever reason, Walt seemed to primarily do plots and layouts for both DC and Marvel in the mid to late Seventies and not much in the way of complete art.


Anonymous said...

Not to disagree as I’ve not read this issue (or don’t remember), but there is actually a note of suspense even in your negative review, Doug? Who is the shadowy electronic voice baddie? Obviously not Blastaar, who is another co-opted henchman, right? Plus, I don’t see Blastaar having an adamantium smelting furnace in his front room. You see Doug, even via your negative review, 40 years later, Len Wein has whipped me into a frenzy of curiosity. I have to know! Because, let’s face it, there just aren’t enough shadowy masterminds manipulating events from the shadows, are there? That idea is super-fresh.

What makes this story even more of a stinker by comparison is that in about 5 seconds, the unimpeachable team of Roy, Big John and Tom Palmer are going to unleash that great Ragnarok story on us. Bring it on!


Doug said...

Kevin -- excellent example of exactly what I was talking about in the review. I've tweeted at Walt Simonson, so if we're lucky he might even enter the conversation at some point today.

Richard, the shadowy electronic baddie is just that - some construct named FAUST. I did read the next issue, and it was so underwhelming that I cannot tell you any details. Blastaar proved to be a slightly more menacing adversary than did the Stilt-Man, but he was of course outclassed by our Norse prince. Thor's separation from Mjolnir was the major plot point. And yes, that is one large Midgard Serpent on Thor #273.

William S., I neglected your comment above in my earlier replies. I agree that Stilt-Man should be cool -- again, love him as a Daredevil adversary. Of course Wein powered Wilbur up here, but I was never buying what he was selling! And totally agree on your point about bad guys and their tech. But then, hackers do that sort of thing today, often it appears out of mischief.


Karen said...

I remember that I had this issue, but I don't recall anything about it other than seeing the cover and thinking, "Stilt-Man? Really?" So they tried to even things up by making his suit out of adamantium -it still is underwhelming. And where the heck did they get that much adamantium? It's not exactly easy to make, or cheap. Seems like the cost of making that suit would probably be worth more than whatever he was stealing.

William P., what Doug neglected to say in his comment was that I had the EXACT same reaction as you, even quoting the "gladiator movies" remark from Airplane! I think if you're of a certain age, that is imprinted -for good or bad -on your brain.

This was during a long, dull run of Thor, although it was about to get better.

William said...

That's OK Doug, I've been married 25 years (as of this month) so I'm used to being ignored and neglected. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

By the way, the "touch your hammer" line actually reminded me of that old SNL skit Sprockets, featuring Mike Myers as Dieter, who always asked his guests if they wanted to touch his monkey.
And all this reminiscing about Airplane! makes me want to watch it again...

Redartz said...

I was only sporadically buying this title at that point and subsequently missed this issue. Thanks for showing me what I missed, Doug! 'Guess I picked the wrong week to quit reading Thor...'

Anonymous said...

"By Odin, Stilt-Man's armor doth fire high-intensity concussion blasts!' - Thor

OK,OK I'm paraprhasing here, but ol' Goldilocks actually says a line very similar to that in the story (can't recall the exact wording even though I possess this very issue somewhere).Even up to this day that line sticks in my head for some reason. Who knew the God of Thunder was a munitions expert too!

Well, like Doug said even though this issue doesn't have any earth shattering consequences and yes, Stilty isn't exactly the greatest foe Thor has encountered, it still satisfied my 12 yer old self. The art by Simonson and DeZuniga is gorgeous, even though it looks like a lot of DeZuniga and a little bit of Simonson!

All in all, this issue was like fast food, not nutritious, but it satisfied my comics cravings. Had to feel sorry for Stilty when he got zapped by Thor's lightning!

- Mike 'Blastaar looks a lot like those Troll dolls' from Trinidad & Tobago.

William Preston said...

Karen, lines from that movie will be in our heads as the last sparks of consciousness wink out.

JJ said...

All I know is I need to read that Ragnarok story Richard mentioned! So strange seeing De Zuniga's inks on Thor (let alone learning it was Walt on layouts). I so associate TD with Jonah Hex that the effect is downright jarring. Stiltman vs. Thor. Had no idea this matchup even transpired. At the very least for Marvel posperity, this issue was well worth putting in the spotlight, Doug. Enjoyed it.

William Preston said...

De Zuniga also inked Starlin's Thor in a Marvel Preview b&w magazine. (And check out Starlin's awesome frontispiece!)

JJ said...

Thanks, William. That's one beauty of a cover. Love Starlin.

Bird of Paradise said...

What would happen if Stiltman tripped and fell?

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