Thor #223 (May 1974)
"Hellfire Across the World!"
Gerry Conway-John Buscema/Mike Esposito
Doug: Well, what to do with the cover of this mag? Talk about a bad first impression. I knew this issue was the conclusion of the Hercules/Pluto storyline, but that sure isn't Pluto on the cover! Yes, it's a scene taken directly from the climactic battle at the end of the story, but ol' Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia -- and whoever colored it -- must have been given some sketchy instructions.
Karen: Yeah, that's a pretty bland super-villain suit he has on. Although truth be told, his outfit inside isn't much better, but at least it's an appropriately dark color.
Doug: We open right where we left off, with Thor and Herc descending on the path straight into Hell. And what should we make of this? We were here just about two years earlier in the Mephisto story we reviewed in Thor #205. Is there more than one Hell? Certainly the concept of such appears in many of the world's religions, and even among those faiths that have faded into history. So is there more than one dark lord? I thought it was funny that Thor complained to Herc about how dark it was. There were fires burning everywhere, and even if not, why couldn't Thor have summoned a bit of lightning to light their path?
Karen: Marvel ran into this problem -multiple Hells - with the satanic characters later on. At some point, I think all of them (Ghost Rider, Son of Satan, etc.) were retconned so that the 'real' Devil and Hell were no longer actually connected to them, which is just a huge cop-out. I know we touched on this a bit in the Hellish Heroes post the other day. I'm sure Mark Gruenwald must have cataloged them all. Maybe in the Marvel Universe handbooks?
Doug: That's interesting. I did not know that. It's no walk in the park as our heroes are set upon by some bat-winged nasties. Thor beats the crap out of his attackers, but Herc is limited by the curse placed on him by Pluto way back in Thor #130 -- a spell which halves his strength! Thor helps his buddy, though, by just smoking a bat-guy with Mjolnir. Herc, once liberated, socks a baddie as well. Then we cut to Pluto -- that ugly sucker. And speaking of ugly... let's just say Mephisto gets some pretty hot temptresses to bait the Surfer. Pluto's got some severely disgusting snake babes. Yuck. But sweet Krista, the sister of Hildegarde, is still in chains, and unable to speak. It is she our heroes have come to save.
Karen: Pluto's realm is a decidedly unpleasant place. All sorts of weird, ugly things running around. I'm sure Buscema had fun drawing them. On a side note, when Conway refers to Pluto as "Lord of the Nether Regions" well, it conjures a very nasty image in my head. Yech.
Doug: Ha! The "Master of his Domain", so to speak! As Thor and Herc get close, Pluto casts a spell and he and Krista vanish. But unbeknownst to the good guys, they think they are almost there. As they reach a chasm, Herc remarks to Thor that while his hammer could certainly spirit them across, Hercules is not helpless. Ripping a huge stalagmite from it's base, the Lion of Olympus fashions a bridge to allow them to cross. But no sooner do they set foot on the other side than Pluto's serpentine consorts (or whatever the heck they are to him!) attack. With their snakelike coils, they pose more of a threat to the weakened Hercules than to Thor. I'll tell you -- Thor is not at all opposed to busting people right in the chops with Mjolnir. He creates a vortex which entraps one female, but uses his mallet against most of the others. Once Herc is freed, they discover that Pluto is nowhere to be found. So it's off to Asgard to consult the All-Father.
Karen: As you say, Thor doesn't mess around. He actually incinerates those dime store gorgons by having Mjolnir drop them in the fiery lake! And what's with Hercules insulting Asgard? He says it's not a handsome place...c'mon, it was designed by Jack Kirby!
Doug: Those little exchanges between our two heroes really exemplify what set Marvel apart from DC at this time (shoot -- or any other, for my money!). Odin isn't too happy to see his son, however. Accusing Thor of harboring an enemy (based on events that occurred in Thor #221), Odin does end up listening and heeding Thor's explanation. He uses his amazing Odin-flashlight to locate Pluto -- who is in Manhattan of all places. Odin then transports Thor and Hercules to Earth, where they immediately engage the Dark Lord. It's not too much of a fight. Hercules is taken out of it by a spell, so it's the Thunder God fighting alone. Pluto crafts a flaming sword, but the only real shot he manages to get in dislodges Thor's helmet. The end result is never in doubt, and after a brief skirmish Pluto is beaten, hightails it to somewhere else, and Thor ends up with Krista in his arms. Once Pluto is gone, the spell under which Hercules was immobilized is broken. But Krista seems to be fading -- which sets up next issue's surprise return of Dr. Donald Blake!
Karen: Kind of shocking to see Odin actually listen to Thor for once, but this was the new, improved Conway version. Odin Flashlight indeed! I still don't really get why Pluto traveled to Earth -seems like he would have had a better chance back in Hades. I agree that the fight was anti-climactic.
Doug: I liked this issue up until the last scene. It just didn't enthrall me as far as super-fisticuffs go. As I said above, the end was never in doubt, and I felt a Thor/Hercules team-up against a truly powerful Pluto would have been more fun. John Buscema's art was reliable, but I felt Mike Esposito's inks fell somewhere in between Joe Sinnott and Vinnie Colletta (referencing the issues we've reviewed over this past month). Espo was solid, but his linework was certainly softer than Sinnott's. Don't read me wrong -- I liked the art, but it just didn't have that classic look.
Karen:Llike most of Esposito's work, I found it serviceable, but that's about it. I felt this story was really going well and then petered out at the end. I guess I was hoping for a more spectacular ending.