Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Mighty Thor #217: Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?

Thor #217 (November 1973)
"All Swords Against Them!"
Gerry Conway-John Buscema/Sal Buscema

Doug: Jumping on point, kids! Hey, can you believe it's been 13 months here at the BAB and we've not checked out an issue of everyone's favorite Thunder God? Well it has, and we're gonna fix that indiscretion today. Thor #217 begins a "new episode", as they say. So what say we get down to it?

Karen: Verily, thou speakest the truth friend Doug! Let it be done!

Doug: As the Odinship descends upon the Realm Eternal after a long adventure (which regretfully I don't know anything about, as I don't have the previous issues! Doh!), the Asgardians are bursting with anticipation at landing after many trials. As the mighty ship begins to land, the denizens of the royal city shout praises to Odin, and to Thor. At first the gods are excited, but suddenly Thor notices that it is not they who are cheered; instead it is a band of doppelgangers who draws the adoration!

Karen: I really like that shot that Buscema does from the angle of the ship above, looking down on the city.

Doug: Needless to say, Thor isn't going to just sit around while Odin's name is desecrated. His band leaps toward their counterparts, and the battle is joined. Of note, however, is that the Thor on the ground wields not a version of mystic Mjolnir, but a sword!

Karen: Yes, tip-off number one that these guys are a bunch of fakes! For some reason the faux Thor also has slightly different wrist bands -there's no black stripe on them.

Doug: Well, I'm glad that they made those little things clear; I usually hate when a guy has to fight his body double -- I never know what the heck is going on!

Doug: Cut away to the constellation Rigel, where Karen's favorite aliens, the Colonizers, reside. A great tragedy bears down on their Command Planet, and the dome-headed citizens board huge space arks in an attempt to flee. This is all very cryptic, and you can rest assured that more information will follow.

Karen: Doesn't Big John do an outstanding job of conveying emotion here? Look at not only the facial expressions of the characters, particularly the chief colonizer, but also at the body language. There's a sense of resignation, of defeat, in the way the chief stands, while the other characters get across the idea that they are scrambling. I just thought this section really stood out and showed one of Buscema's often-overlooked strengths: the ability to show emotion in quiet scenes.

Doug: Big John usually gave us his all in not only camera angles but in atmosphere, too. Despite his common cry that he hated super-heroes, the guy just never mailed it in. I always felt like I was getting his best.

Doug: Back to the battle royale, the false Thor raises his blade against Odin, while the doppelganger Heimdahl challenges Thor. Let's just say that Mjolnir works really well at smashing fake Rainbow Bridge guardians. Sif is in battle, as are the Warriors Three. We next see a goddess named Krista, fretting over all the commotion. As she seeks safety in the West Woods, she stumbles upon a glowing stone, marked with a menacing face. To be honest, this dame reminds me of Little Red Riding Hood... I say to thee, scribe Conway doth weave a tangled web!

Karen: Krista doth like to refer to herself in the third person, which doth driveth me crazy! But without any other characters in the scene, I suppose this was the only way to give readers her name.

Doug: Battling again, Fandral moves around a corner and bumps into Voluminous Volstagg. Fandral is surprised to see him, as the last time they were together was on Earth as Volstagg guarded the stricken Balder. Bringing Fandral up to speed, Volstagg tells of returning to Asgard to find the Realm occupied by the doppelgangers. Balder insulted and then engaged the impostors, of course Volstagg hid, and Balder was beaten. Thrown in jail, it's been two weeks. And Volstagg has done nothing, which doesn't seem to surprise Fandral. Leaping to action, Balder is freed in mere seconds.

Karen: I know Volstagg is comic relief, but there were times like this where I just wanted to kick his big fat behind. However, I couldn't help but smile at that one full-face panel of the buffoon, where he looks a lot like Sgt. Schultz from Hogan's Heroes.

Doug: I couldn't agree more -- Conway apparently did a good job of making us both want to scream!

Doug: As the battle rages, Sif fights against Hildegarde and Thor continues the struggle against Heimdahl. At Sif's request, Odin releases the legions of Asgard to give the heroes a surge. Thor finally bests Heimdahl by knocking him over the Bridge. As Heimdahl falls, he laments that he will change, and indeed begins to dissolve -- before he fades away, he remarks that it is just as the wizard had said. Thor smells a rat.

Doug: Thor gathers up Sif, and as they fly across the Realm they spy Balder on a rooftop. Landing to ask how he got back from Earth (hey, duh -- you don't think it might be the bad one, do you?), Thor and Sif are trapped in a large box by a now-transformed wizard named Igron, the Invincible, former lackey of Loki. He begins to explain how he came to be the ruler of Asgard. It's a simple tale of fall, revenge, triumph, and then ultimately -- as the real Balder belts him with the flat of his shimmering blade -- defeat. Thor and Sif are loosed from their prison.

Karen: The Asgardians often seemed to be portrayed as somewhat simple-minded, or at best, creatures of the moment! I suppose Thor was considered a man of action, not thought, so he was easy to dupe. But even so, there are times when he seems like a complete dunder-head.

Doug: As the battle ends, the spell broken, it is the true gods who again rule Asgard. Odin wraps it up with this proverb: "Be wary what gods thou dost give legiance to, for belief is all too easily used against thee and faith can seed a most bloody fruit!" Wow -- good stuff! And as we close out the issue, Odin sends Thor, Sif, Tana Nile, and Silas Grant on a mission to find out what is closing in on the planet of the Colonizers, and indeed, on all the worlds of men!

Doug: I thought this was a fun issue -- lots of battle scenes, which John Buscema just excels at drawing. Perhaps only Jack Kirby was his master. Sal's inks over big brother John are pretty solid; as we remarked earlier on the Open Forum discussion of inkers, some of John's faces can seem a bit flat (particularly on the 3/4 angle). Sal doesn't necessarily fix that, but then that may be why John often preferred Sal's true treatment of his pencils. So as a done-in-one and a jumping on point, I'd say this was a Bronze Age beauty!

Karen: A fun little story, packed with action. I liked the fact that Thor was somehow able to combine fantasy and science fiction in a rousing adventure format. When you think of many of Thor's greatest adventures, they actually took place in outer space! But it worked.

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