Thor #222 (April 1974)
"Before the Gates of Hell!"
Gerry Conway-John Buscema/Joe Sinnott
Doug: We're halfway through a month of random issues of Thor. However, today and next Thursday actually contains consecutive issues in the middle of a Thor/Hercules team-up. While you'll have to suffer through the lack of a beginning, I don't think you'll be disappointed in the action you'll see today. And that art... truly, this was John Buscema and Joe Sinnott at the height of their collaboration!
Doug: We open with a bar scene that could have been ripped from any of Buscema's innumerable Conan stories. The God of Thunder is arm wrestling the Lion of Olympus as the denizens of said mythical Greek civilization surround them. As they spar, we find that they are seeking to determine who shall have the right to face the lord of the underworld, Pluto! What the? Yep -- each feels that it is his right and his alone to strike out for iniquities levied over past issues. But as the table gives way, they don't stop -- instead they continue, locked in full combat! As Olympus begins to crumble around them, a booming voice brings them to a halt. It is mighty Zeus, who chastises their immaturity and lack of forethought -- why not team up? Well, duh...
Karen: I really liked it when Gerry Conway brought Hercules back into Thor. The two made a great pair, with the boisterous Olympian playing well off the grim Asgardian. But the two of them together were often complete lunkheads.
Doug: We next look in on Ares, as he was meant to be -- the Greek God of War, and a bad guy (hear that, Bendis?). Ares wanders on a mount through a woods, when he stops to slake his thirst. While drinking, a troll emerges from the pool and tells Ares that Pluto wants him as an ally in the killing of Hercules. Ares, feeling somewhat slighted by the messenger and not a little perturbed, agrees to meet Pluto at the gates of Hell. And off he rides, brooding.
Karen: I still do not understand how Ares became an Avenger. It's as if no one at Marvel had ever actually read any books he had appeared in.
Doug: Then to Asgard, where Odin, the vizier, Lady Sif, and Hildegarde watch the journey of Thor and Hercules. The women caution that a plot is afoot, but Odin rebukes them. Dismissing them, and assuring Hildegarde that her sister Krista will be rescued from Pluto, Odin turns to the vizier. The wise sage tells the all-father that he detects a hint of a lack of confidence. Odin says it's a father's worry...
Karen: Conway's Odin was a definite improvement over Stan Lee's. One began to wonder if Odin was senile when he kept taking Loki's word over Thor's! But this Odin has mellowed and come to appreciate his fair-haired boy. I've always thought that Buscema's version of Odin actually looks a lot like the artist himself! No, they didn't both have long white beards, but there's something about the All-Father's face that reminds me of pictures I've seen of Big John. Anybody with me? or am I out on a ledge by myself here?
Doug: I can see that. Big John has often been called a big bear of a man, and Buscema's Odin is a massive fellow. Another trait of the artist was his gruff manner -- when's the last time you ever thought of Odin as cuddly?
Doug: As Thor and Hercules walk toward their destiny, they are suddenly descended upon by an army of trolls. Their mistake. The thunder god and demi-god lash out with no holds barred. Of course Hercules is having the time of his life -- any excuse to scrap is a welcome diversion. But it's a violent Thor who offers no quarter, taking full advantage of his mighty sinews and the destructive power of Mjolnir. Trolls lie scattered about the land. Thor and Hercules, surprised by the attack, wonder if they should not think about how Pluto is operating through this. Hercules decides that they should go see an old oracle.
Karen: I guess there is a brain in that curly-haired noggin. The idea of visiting an oracle is perfect for this Greek hero. I really enjoy the mythological stories in Thor and the cross-pantheon ones especially. This was Conway's tribute to the Lee-Kirby Thor classic where Thor went to the Underworld to save Hercules, and he does a great job invoking its memory without copying it.
Doug: John Buscema's at his best when drawing the odd, the old, and the ugly. In the case of Chaga, he gets a three-in-one. She tells our heroes that it is not Pluto they will next encounter, but Ares! And encounter the God of War they do -- but it's Thor who requests the pleasure. Herc defers, and as Thor battles it's pretty funny to watch Hercules sit on the sidelines and actually engage Thor in conversation! But Ares has increased his strength threefold, so this is no light work. The battle rages, until finally gives him a one-two of Mjolnir across the chops and huge uppercut that finishes the fight. Making a death pact, the two godlings enter the cave that will lead them to the depths of Hell.
Karen:It's always exciting to see Thor cut loose. When battling godly menaces, he can really go full out. And I agree with you about Buscema -his "characters" were always a delight to behold.
Doug: This issue was a flat-out blast, and it's due in large part to the phenomenal artwork. Sure, Gerry Conway crafted a cool story (as I said, I don't have the first part, but we'll look in next Thursday at Thor #223 to see how this progresses) -- anytime you get Thor and Hercules together it's going to be a party. One would have to be a pretty poor writer to screw it up -- so Conway does what he should here and let's John Buscema just run wild. If I sound like I'm gushing... well, I am. From the splash page to the concluding brouhaha between Thor and Ares this was 20 minutes very well spent. Hmmm... isn't that the way comics are supposed to be?