Monday, March 30, 2015

Guest Post - Thor: The Truth of History Review

Doug: Edo Bosnar is back today with another Bronze-feeling gem from the 21st century. Join him as he walks us through an Alan Davis/Mark Farmer Thor romp. And yes -- for those scoring at home this is our third Thor post of the last four days!

Edo Bosnar: Once, when Karen and Doug reviewed Avengers 1.5, the post had the title “Finding Silver Well Past Bronze.” Well, I think this book kind of fits that category, although the story has more of a Bronze Age feel.

Thor: The Truth of History (2008)
Alan Davis-Davis/Mark Farmer

Although this book was published in 2008, it could have very easily been released as an annual in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s and nobody would have batted an eye. It is very much like one of those fun, done-in-one stories from that period. (Even the art, except maybe the coloring, wouldn’t have been too out of place: as far as I know, Davis was already working for Marvel UK in the early 1980s).

The story starts with a prologue in modern-day Egypt. Two archeologists (who bear a striking resemblance to Laurel and Hardy) are discussing the sphinx, and some controversies surrounding the hieroglyphs on it, which may or may not speak of a great rainstorm in ancient Egypt. One of the scholars is receptive to the idea, the other is dismissive.

And you may ask, what does all of this have to do with Thor?

Well, the scene then shifts to the distant past, and we see Thor, Sif, Balder, and the Warriors Three storming a fortress inside Asgard held by Storm Giants. There’s a mystical gateway in the fortress that the Storm Giant queen wants to use to access Midgard, which is apparently a no-no due to an agreement reached between all of the pantheons, as Thor explains to the queen. Volstagg, enjoying the heat emanating from the portal, gets closer to warm his posterior, and – of course – ends up falling through it.

This prompts Thor, together with Fandral and Hogun, to go through themselves to retrieve their voluminous comrade. They emerge in a desert, note the furnace-like heat, and then see a construction site nearby and set off for it. The workers are quite frightened at the site of the Asgardians, pointing out that they must be demons since they have the appearance of “blood-drained corpses.” A nice touch here as that neither understands the other (even though I recall reading a Thor comic once in which it was pointed out that Thor understood pretty much every human language). In the first sign that something is seriously amiss in Egypt, the overseer of the workers, a demonic-looking beast, interrupts the attempts at communication and attacks the Asgardians. Thor dispatches quite him easily.

In a an attempt to ease the fears of the workers, he uses his hammer to cut the remaining stone blocks for them, saving them a few days’ work at least. However, this makes them angry, as they shout that he deprived them of their right to “cut the sacred blocks.” Oh, well.

Thor then spies a city in the distance (Giza as it turns out), and they figure that may be where Volstagg ended up. They hope that he’s had a better welcome. And sure enough, Volstagg seems to be having the time of his life – and not really questioning why everyone is content to ply him with food and drink.

Thor and the Warriors Two make their way to the city, where they see, among other things, a pyramid being built. Thor is none too impressed.

They eventually run into a priest who seems to speak a little Asgardian. Specifically, he keeps repeating, rather awkwardly, “wine, mead, food, hungry.” Thor and his companions immediately conclude that Volstagg is somewhere nearby.

While being led through the settlement, the Asgardians also make some disparaging remarks about the Egyptian (they call them Heliopolitan) deities, which seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle black – because anyone who’s read any mythology knows that many of the gods of any of the various pantheons were often than not rather petty and disagreeable sorts.

Anyway, they also pass by the sphinx, which indeed has a different head than the one with which we’re all familiar – it’s also some kind of demonic-looking beastie. The Asgardians are led to a table set for a feast, but Thor is rather disgusted by the fact that this abundance is being offered to them while the common people seem to be on the verge of starvation. So he picks up the table and tips it over so everyone can get some.

At this point, the pharaoh shows up with a rather unusual entourage, and he’s not very happy with Thor’s act of generosity. The Asgardians don’t understand a word, but wonder how Volstagg is involved in all of this.

And the scene switches again to Volstagg, being carried on a litter (I had to sympathize with the guys carrying it). They take him to a dark chamber, where there’s several lamp-wielding priests, some kind of cairn and a pile of human bones. Volstagg finally puts 2 and 2 together and shouts for help, loud enough so that Thor and his companions hear him, and rush to his rescue. The three fight their way to the sacrificial chamber, where Volstagg is now tied to the obelisk, about to be eaten by a giant griffin-like creature that looks exactly the sphinx statue.

Thor takes the (fire-breathing, as it turns out) creature on, and the next few pages contain a nicely drawn battle sequence. The demon puts up a good fight, but Thor eventually smites him down, and in the process summons up a massive thunderstorm.

Oh, and during the fight, much of the head on the sphinx statue gets broken off. Thor muses that the griffin and the other demons must have been some kind of discarded pets of the Heliopolitan gods whom the pharaoh thought he could tame. He also says he will dispel the thunder, but not the rain…

As the Asgardians head back toward the portal, they wonder if their unexpected Egyptian adventure was somehow decreed by fate, seeing as how it caused the downfall of a tyrannical pharaoh, the vanquishment of a demon, and much-needed rainfall in the impoverished and drought-stricken land. Indeed, Volstagg says that the day it rained in Egypt will be recalled “as long as men walk this Earth.” And that brings us back to the present day and the two debating archeologists in the epilogue …

This is a fun little story, and the art is simply a joy to look at. I think it’s still really easy to find this cheaply, and it’s included in a TPB called Marvel Tales that also collects a few annuals done by Davis.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Inaugural Post - 100-Word Review

Doug: A few weeks ago I challenged our readers to enter the Guest Writer arena and perhaps take a baby step by writing a 100-word review. Apparently fish aren't biting, but since I've long had today's story on my mind I thought I'd try this myself. So here goes -- and at the end I'll evaluate the experience. Was it easy or hard to hit that 100-word parameter? What could I discuss, and what did I have to leave out? We shall see.

Doug: My earliest Thor story was the Mangog epic reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #10. Awakened by Ulik, Mangog lumbered off to defeat Odin. The All-Father had beaten back an invasion by an alien race and imprisoned them in the form of Mangog, who then possessed the strength of billions! This 4-issue novel is replete with action, suspense, awe, love... Love? My major takeaway was Asgardian loyalty. Thor’s devotion to Sif, she to him, the valor of Balder and the Warriors Three, and everyone’s willingness to die for the Realm Eternal seemed genuine. If you’ve not read this arc, seek ye it!

Doug: My 100-Word Review landed on your computer at 101 words. Not bad. But certainly not easy. I decided to start with as brief a review as I could craft off the top of my head, and here is what I got:

One of the earliest Silver Age Thor stories I read was the Mangog epic as presented in all its giant glory in Marvel Treasury Edition #10. Jack Kirby’s engine of destruction would surely bring about Ragnarok in Asgard. Freed by his would-be master, the Mangog dominated Ulik the Troll before lumbering off to defeat him who he hated most – Odin. The All-Father had beaten back an invasion by an alien race and imprisoned them in the form of the Mangog. Now this creature possessed the strength (and hate) of a billion billion people! The Lee/Kirby juggernaut gave us a 4-issue novel replete with action, suspense, awe and love. Love? My major takeaway was how loyal Thor and his friends were to each other. His devotion to Sif and she to him, the valor of Balder and the Warriors Three, and their willingness to die for the Realm Eternal all struck me as genuine. If you’ve not ever read this arc, seek ye it!

Doug: That's not very long, is it? But at 163 words, it's pretty far away from our target. Why does it have to be oh-so-close to 100 words? Because that's the hook, the gimmick. And it became a war against myself to trim it as close to the goal as I could. I initially wanted to include thoughts on Loki, the Odinsleep, and the Odinsword, but I knew space would not allow me to touch on those major plot points. So not even going there, I was still challenged to communicate some sort of brief synopsis with at least one parting thought or recommendation. I think I did that, but you tell me.

But man -- that wasn't easy! Next! 

PS: By the way, I read this story for today's review from the new tpb Thor Epic Collection: To Wake the Mangog. The book is chunky, reprinting Thor #s 154-174 in full color. Highly recommended, as the Galactus origin is in that run. Great, great stuff from Stan, Jack, and Vinnie.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Taking "Stock" of the "Poses"

Doug: A few weeks ago I and some other comics-loving folk engaged in a healthy debate on Twitter. The topic that day centered on Bronze Age artists and their styles. That conversation quickly became about "wow" factor, that "man, that blew me away when I turned the page!" sort of impact. Our pal Sal Buscema quickly came under the gun as an artist who, while steady, rarely "delivered" for some involved in the debate. So, being a guy who is always looking for fodder for the kind denizens of this blog, I thought I'd bring the spirit of that conversation over to our little corner of the Internet.

Doug: It was stated during the conversation that Sal relied too often on "stock" poses. A term Karen and I coined a long time ago was "Buscema blasted". You all know what that looks like, even without the exhibit I've included. And you know what? That's OK with me. That's Sal. Sal draws guys getting pummeled like that. Again, I'm OK with that. So if it's a stock pose, I'm going to wear it like a comfortable pair of jeans. Can we agree that sometimes Sal's faces look a bit too much the same? Sure -- I'll go there. But I think of those guys who are just below the masters (that upper echelon for me being Kirby, Adams, J. Buscema, and maybe a couple of others), such as Sal, and Jim Aparo, as gifted storytellers who really don't ever disappoint me.

Doug: So how does today's conversation strike you? Do you have expectations of particular artists that are usually met? How about that aren't met? When you can identify an artist's work, is it by the faces, or the postures of the characters? Who has certain "trademarks"? Thanks in advance for your input. Oh, and one more thing... I guess I got to thinking about my own "stock poses", my own mannerisms. And it made me think of the sort of things seen in the video below. Enjoy it.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thank You for Being a Friend (Sort of)... Comic Book Cover Love

NOTE: I made an attempt on April 29 2020 at reconstructing this post due to broken image links. There were originally 23 covers displayed; however, my memory for what originally ran has failed me. I've resolved to post only images mentioned in the comments section, and maybe another few that I thought of. My apologies... -Doug

Doug: See, I told you I'd get back to the guest-star covers! It just took a little while. And why, you might ask? If you'll recall, the Groovy Agent himself took a shine to our little drill that day. Offline, we got together and started plotting a follow-up. Today's the fruit of that planning and labor. So, if you're landing here from Ol' Groove's blog, then we say "Welcome!" If, however, we happen to be your first stop on this Friday, then please exit these premises once finished and get yourself over to Diversions of the Groovy Kind for our companion piece.

Doug: Groove suggested that we split up all of the suggestions that our readers on the BAB had made back on February 25th, and then add to them. We drew lots, and your hosts landed on DC. No sweat -- we're going to look at some classic characters. You'll get your Marvel fix once you visit our partner's production.

Doug: I'll be honest -- I really thought there'd be a line, a definite demarcation between the sorts of covers we'd get featuring guest-stars in Marvel mags versus what we'll see today from the Distinguished Competition. But you know what? Those kids from National can't get along any better than the upstarts from the House of Ideas! So to tip this thing off, let's go ahead and examine some very Marvel-centric covers:



Doug: Next up we have covers where the superheroes actually seem to be collaborating. This is what I thought I'd find in abundance. Obviously I didn't do any sort of comprehensive search, but I did spend an hour or so looking through the files at Cover Browser. The main problem with DCs in the Silver and Bronze Ages is that so many of their big name heroes were relegated to the anthology books, or to back-up status in their main titles (like Detective Comics and Adventure Comics). It was tough to find anything in today's genre with Green Lantern, Hawkman, and so on. But again -- this isn't any sort of exhaustive display today.


Doug: Lastly, we have two covers that were nominated the first time we featured this genre. I guess I'd say that the affected characters are just together -- not really collaborating or really even interacting. But they're occupying the same space for sales purposes (one might assume).

Doug: So there you have it -- 23 covers that show the gamut of guest-starring at DC Comics in the Silver and Bronze Ages. While I don't know that any of these covers are as dynamic as what you'll find on Groove's blog today, there's no doubt that any youngster pulling one of these babies from the spinner racks would have felt like he or she was definitely going to get a bit more bang for the buck. Or quarter...

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