Friday, October 16, 2009

The Mighty Thor: The Top Ten Stories

Welcome back to another Top Ten post. This time, we'll be taking a look at that noble Norse god, the Mighty Thor! Now before anyone takes a peek and gets all bent out of shape, keep in mind this list is Pre-Simonson! The reason for this is simple: although I have read the early part of Simonson's run on Thor, it was right around that time that I dropped out of comics for a few years. So not having had a chance to really look at Simonson's work again, I've decided to keep this to the material prior to that run. OK, now that that's taken care of, on to the list, in chronological order:

1) Journey Into Mystery #114-115. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

This was the first appearance of Crusher Creel, aka the Absorbing Man. He really gives Thor a tussle in these two issues. Stan and Jack go wild here, with Creel taking on all kinds of forms. The scene where he absorbs the power of the earth and becomes an amalgamation of stone, wood, and iron is something else!

2) Journey Into Mystery #118-119. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

The thunder god versus the indestructible, all-powerful Destroyer! Created as a sort of doomsday weapon by Odin, it is prematurely released and Thor valiantly battles the metallic terror. I can't help but wonder if Kirby's depiction of this robot-like foe wasn't somewhat inspired by Gort from "The Day the Earth Stood Still", particularly since they share a powerful disintegration beam. The Destroyer's ultimate purpose was finally revealed in Thor 300!

3)Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

This annual features the first appearance of Hercules. Although this story is set in the legendary past, it features some dynamite action scenes as the two respective princes of the realms go at it. Hercules would soon show up in modern times over in the now-renamed Thor book. Although as strong as Thor, Hercules always came across as a vain, glory-seeking battler, unlike the more noble Thor. However, he brought a real spark to the title whenever he appeared.

4) Thor 126-130. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby.

Thor and Hercules in the Netherworld - probably the most spectacular storyline to appear in Thor at this point. First we get a tremendous battle between Thor and Hercules (this on the heels of JIM Annual 1!). Thor gets his power cut in half by Big Daddy Odin, and winds up losing the fight. He then travels to Asgard, where he must stop Seidring the Merciless from taking over. Meanwhile Hercules signs a movie contract with a Hollywood producer, only to discover he has actually signed a contract with Pluto to become the ruler of the Netherworld! Thor (his power restored) must fight the hordes of hell in Hercules' place to free him from the contract. All this, plus the mystery of Tana Nile! Lee and Kirby were at their best here, and this is probably my favorite Thor tale.

5) Thor 131-133. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

In these amazing issues, we get the colonizers of Rigel, the inimitable Recorder, and the unimaginable Ego, the Living Planet! Kirby's efforts at portraying the living planet are eye-popping. Thor was becoming a title of comsic proportions, ala the Fantastic Four, and a significant amount of universe-building began to occur in these pages.

6) Thor 155-158. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

The Mangog, a giant alien with the power of his entire, extinct race, makes his way towards the Odin Sword, to end all of creation! While the Odinsleep keeps Dad out of the picture, sons Thor and Loki fight each other as well as Mangog. A terrific tale, only slightly tarnished by Odin's deus ex machina appearance at the end.

7) Thor 160-162. Stan Lee/Jack Kirby

Galactus vs. Ego! Planet eater vs. living planet - with the colonizers of Rigel, the Recorder, and Thor in the middle! Oddly enough, Thor sides with Ego and Galactus is turned back. But it's a mind-blowing tableau, as cosmic in scale as anything seen in Fantastic Four, and plenty of Kirby collage work is on view. We also get the barest hints at Big G's origin. The whole thing would be revealed in issues 168-169.

8)Thor 232-234. Gerry Conway/John Buscema

Our first non-Lee/Kirby story line makes the list. Here Thor and the U.S. Army face down Loki and his brainwashed Asgardian legions! Issue 232 had inks by Dick Giordano and the combination of Buscema and Giordano was rather striking. The next two issues featured Chic Stone and Joe Sinnott respectively, who were acceptable but pedestrian compared to Giordano. When Thor is captured by Loki and all appears to be lost (the army is considering dropping an atomic bomb on the asgardian camp!), Firelord arrives to lead the cavalry charge, and the thunder god defeats his mad step-brother.

9) And 10) Thor 283-301, Thor Annual #7 . Roy Thomas, Mark Gruenwald, Ralph Macchio/John Buscema, Keith Pollard, Arvell Jones.

These are really two separate stories, but the Ring Cycle storyline gets plopped down right in the middle of the Celestials Saga. This long and rambling story manages to redeem itself by bringing in a huge cast of characters - the Eternals, the Olympians,Celestials, you name it, even an appearance by Baby Jesus in the manger! - and by delving into the secret history of Earth itself. Once again Thor is the nexus of all these divergent threads. If you ever wanted to see a giant-sized Destroyer attack a host of Celestials with the Odinsword, this one's for you.

All right, let's hear it - what did I miss?


Booksteve said...

I remember all the Buscema stuff seeming so majestic at the time but thinking about it in connection with the Kirby stuff shown here--nice choices all--it seems so ordinary. My first THOR was the whole Recorder/Ego sequence. My fave is the Trial of the Gods sequence.

Doug said...

The Mighty Thor just lends itself to epics, doesn't it? Even those 2-parters like #147-148 when Thor fights Loki and then the Wrecker is magically imbued with Asgardian power -- great story!!

My personal favorite Thor story is Thor Annual #5, a tale of biblical proportions featuring a war between Asgard and Olympus. It's John Buscema at his savage storytelling best!

You can read the creator credits and see the cover here:

Karen said...

You know Steve, I still love Buscema's work on Thor, but it's hard for anybody to be compared to those classic Lee/Kirby issues. I did however debate including Thor 192-200, which is a fine story. A lot of the Buscema era stories are good stories, but not classics (in my opinion).

Doug, I also considered Thor Annual 5. It's a fun story with great work by Buscema. But it just got edged out for me by the Lee/Kirby stuff!

Doug said...

Additionally, where do you put the body of work that was Tales of Asgard (and by the way, I can't wait for the tpb to come out for the recently-reprinted series!!)? Talk about an epic.

And it's been discussed on our companion blog, "Two Girls, a Guy..." -- Vince Colletta is probably as important to the Lee/Kirby stories as Stan and Jack themselves. The final product certainly has Vinnie's light touch all over it.

Karen said...

Doug, I had to leave 'Tales of Asgard' out of it or I would never have gotten the post done! There's certainly a wealth of stories there; the Harokin one springs to mind. And what about the Inhumans back-ups? Those were pretty good too, but of course had nothing to do with Thor!

cerebus660 said...

Wow! You've picked some real classics there, guys.
I'd just like to mention the World Beyond / Infinity/ Hela story from Thor #184-190, an apocalyptic, doom-laden epic which was, for me, the pinnacle of the Lee/Buscema team.

Matthew K. said...

Hello! saw your link on "The Glass Walking Stick" and checked it out for the first time. Love it. '70s Marvel is my favorite stuff. I'll be back.

Doug said...

Welcome, Matthew! Glad to have you!

Check back in the next couple of weeks for some '70's tunes, a look at some scary screen guys, the Invincible Iron Man, and maybe another go-round with the Defenders!



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