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.


Humanbelly said...

Somehow, we almost always seem to leave Alan Davis out of the picture when we talk about absolute A-List Bronze Age artists (or all A-listers in general, really). Our minds go immediately to Perez, Byrne, John Buscema, and Neal Adams & Jack Kirby, if we're harvesting earlier. I'm completely guilty of this. And then you come across something of his, and you're reminded of what a great penciler he is. Possibly because he's really more from the "Modern Age" than the Bronze, and his fantastic work was being upstaged by the Leifelds and McFarlanes and Larsons and the massive host of their wannabes? (Of them, Erik Larson is probably the one that I can still live with the easiest.) Maybe Davis was a ringer, hangin' w/ a bad crowd, and that's why he doesn't always get his due?
Very much like Kurt Busiek, he clearly has a deep affection and feel for what we think of as "classic" superheroes, and doesn't shy away from that sensibility whatsoever. Does anyone remember AVENGERS PRIME? A five-issue mini that came out, gosh, I think near the conclusion of Civil War? Even though the entirety of the MU was in an irreversible shambles by then, he produced this terrific, endearing, valentine to our "Big Three" Avengers. Ostensibly written by Bendis, it is painfully clear that BMB did not do the actual scripting. . . that Davis handled that as well (and such is the rumor, in fact).
I wonder. . . y'know, what Davis is NOT is Grim & Gritty, and he's much more closely associated with an era when G&G was the expected and popular norm. Hence, that may be why he's never had quiiiiite the same level of broader adulation. How to put this? His art, to me, always looks like he was probably smiling a bit while he was working. For myself? I LOVE that. . .

(Oh! And a delightful review here, edo-! Sheesh, my THOR longbox is clearly on the cusp of having a major influx, methinks. I think you nailed the tone with this-- it looks exactly like what you'd expect from a really good summer annual.)


Redartz said...

Very nice review, Edo! My Thor readings are limited, mostly to some Lee/Kirby stories and the Simonson arcs. But this story looks like one well worth hunting down.

Yes, Davis' art is a pleasure to admire, and seems quite well-suited to depicting the Egyptian settings and decor. And I love the two archaeologists (who, at least for the moment, don't seem to be embroiled in a Fine Mess)...

Doug said...

HB --

I loved me some Alan Davis especially when he had a little run on Detective Comics (it's been collected in the completely-awesome Tales of the Batman series of hardcovers). You're right about his somehow "getting lost" among the Image guys, maybe in the public eye. But I kept finding him! I recall my "disappointment" when Todd McFarlane only did the first issue (or was it two?) of the Batman: Year Two arc. He was replaced by... Alan Davis. In retrospect, I was a dummy, as Davis's work was every bit as good. Capes were a bit shorter, though! :)

Davis also had nice turns on X-Men and Excalibur, which I followed briefly. I have always enjoyed his work -- to me he really hearkens back to Neal Adams.

I most highly recommend the two Elseworlds series that Davis penciled, Superboy's Legion and JLA: The Nail. Fun stuff!

Edo did another good one today, didn't he?


Garett said...

Nice spotlight on Alan Davis, Edo! He's produced some good looking, colorful comics over the last several years. I agree too, he's going against the grain of overly serious, grim comics. Interesting panel shapes, old school Bronze age vibe, and he can write! I picked this one up a while back, and I'll have to check it out again. My only complaint would be that font when they speak--little hard on the eyes.

I think Davis has improved his art since the '80s. Nice to see.

Martinex1 said...

Edo, great choice on story and great coverage as well.

I have always enjoyed Alan Davis' work for many of the reasons already listed. His art was always so clear and clean. He captured the heroes very well and they were always on model. I don't know if Mark Farmer inked much of his work, but it always seemed consistent. I enjoyed his work on Excaliber and can remember being excited by the style. I even looked up some of his work on Captain Britain and his style is always apparent; it has not changed much over the years.

HB is correct about AVENGERS PRIME. That was a very nice story of the big three and for the most part was representative of the characters as I like them. It is too bad that limited series was overshadowed by some large "event" and did not get the marketing support that it deserved; it would have been a very nice jumping on point for new readers.

In general, I wish these limited series or one offs would just appear somehow in the regular titles; I think they would get more attention. It is a shame that talents like Davis seem to be relegated to side stories.

Until Edo reviewed this tale, I was not aware of its existence. I like how it looks and I like its overall jovial tone. Volstagg always adds a nice dose of levity; and I wish there were more characters who enjoyed what they are doing.

My only quibble (and it is minor as I think the art is fantastic) is that I cannot really see how the sphinx as it was morphed into the sphinx as it is through the erosion etc. The gaping mouth in the original creature seems insurmountable, and the human ears in the final seem impossible. Like I said, a minor quibble as I understand the intention.

Overall, like others I think I am going to have to explore more Thor. Verily so.

Edo Bosnar said...

Thanks for the comments, guys! Yeah, this is a fun book, and I enjoyed re-reading it to do a review.
Doug, re: Superboy's Legion and The Nail. Agreed to the 10th power. I have both as they are a double bonus for me, since I am a big fan of both Davis and the Elseworlds line.
As for Batman: Year Two - isn't it Davis who only did the first issue, only to be replaced by McFarlane for the rest of the story? I should know this, as I have the TPB somewhere (haven't read it yet, though; it was one of those books I stumbled onto for next to nothing a few years ago and then just tucked away).

Humanbelly said...

I tell ya, even though Volstagg is openly (and lovingly) based on Shakespeare's Falstaff, he also tends to have more than just a little of Nigel Bruce's version of Dr. John Watson in 'im--! (If there's a bucket available to be stepped in, etc. . . )

My small quibble was going to be the fact that, obese or not, the man is still an Asgardian. How in the world can he be subdued by being bound to a simple post??


Anonymous said...

Nice one shot review Edo! Yeah one can never have too many Thor stories! Now if we can include some Hercules one shots then we'd have a complete set of Asgardian and Olympian tales!

This time and dimension travelling tale really fits a character like Thor, giving us a spin on the origin of the ancient Egyptian Sphinx. Personally, I would have liked to see how Thor might have impacted other sites like Stonehenge or the giant statues on Easter Island!

- Mike 'Laurel & Hardy? I thought it was Abbott & Costello!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Dr. Oyola said...

I somehow missed this one despite the fact that I was collecting comics again by this time.

Looks like an interesting one I am going to need to track down.

I have always liked Davis' work on EXcaliber.

Good work, Edo!

Humanbelly said...

Say, another quibble is how many "secret origins" the great Sphinx seems to have in the MU--! (Granted, Egypt does have a few different Sphinxes-- but the Great One w/ its broken nose is the one they invariably depict). In the Fantastic Four and later the Avengers it served as a time machine for Rama Tut/Kang. . . although it was later suggested that R-Tut cleverly "substituted" it for the "real" one at the time. In Hulk #145 it's apparently a dormant alien guardian/robot/totem or something, which begins to come to life. In this Thor story, it started out as one kind of sphinx, and ends up another over time-- which doesn't jibe w/ the FF version either.

And my memory strings are insisting that there are at least a couple of other conflicting accounts out there--- like, from Moon Knight, maybe? The Living Mummy? Hmmmm.


Anonymous said...

Great review, Edo! I'm not familiar with this particular comic, but then I was never a huge Thor fan. I always liked Alan Davis's work, especially on Outsiders and Excalibur.

Mike Wilson

Doug said...

Hi again, all --

Back from a day trip to Chicago with my wife, and wanted to thank Edo again for today's post. I also wanted to thank him for correcting my memory that yes, Davis did the first issue of the Batman: Year Two mini followed by Todd McFarlane on the final three. As we've remarked with other artistic changes in the middle of series, the switch was somewhat jarring.

Above I mentioned the Legends of the Dark Knight: Alan Davis hardcover (I don't know why DC chose to be inconsistent with the titles in that series of reprints). It contains Detective #575, the Davis issue in Year Two, as well as the graphic novel Full Circle, which was an epilogue to the Year Two mini.


Humanbelly said...

Looking at Davis' wikipedia entry, it does seem that, with a few notable exceptions, he's never been a guy to stick faithfully to a title for very long. I remembered a big hoopla about him taking over FF at one point-- I checked and, yes, it was volume 3. . . and he only went for three issues! Man, and that mag seems like it would have been a perfect fit for him, too.


Steve said...

Alan Davis also wrote and drew the first four issues of THE SAVAGE HULK series, with a story set immediately following the events of the original X-MEN #66, which was the last issue of that title to feature an original story before becoming a reprint title.

Edo Bosnar said...

HB, speaking of FF, Davis did "Fantastic Four: The End" (I have the TPB) - and you're right, it really suits him. It's a really good and mostly fun story, despite the rather somber-sounding title.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Edo Bosnar said...

Peter, I'm glad you found the post informative. And thanks for the tip - I have, in fact, been having trouble with this pesky old lock on my tool-shed. If you could zip to Zagreb tomorrow and take a look at it, I'd greatly appreciate it. Thx.
(... Karen & Doug, I know you're going to delete the above comment, but I just couldn't resist...)

Humanbelly said...

Hmm-- HBWife is flying out to Boulder this morn for a conference. Perhaps I could convince her to swing by Denver and smack Mr. Carter across the forehead for intruding his disingenuous solicitations into our biosphere-??


Karen said...

Verily, such spam shall not be tolerated in the Realm Eternal - nor in the BAB either! So sayeth we all!

Edo Bosnar said...

Wait, wha-? BAB isn't the Realm Eternal?! Aw, man...

By the way HB, I imagine that if there is a locksmith in Denver named Peter Carter (hmmm, sounds suspiciously similar to Peter Parker, doesn't it?), he probably has no idea about this comment, and very likely doesn't even approve of his name being left at random places across the internet ether. I think those social networking services liked LinkedIn just do this kind of stuff automatically. Heck, I don't even belong to any of those types of networking sites, but there's spambots out there that use my e-mail to send out spam - I know because sometimes I get spam sent from my own address.

Edo Bosnar said...

John, this blog is indeed full of really good information. Thanks for thanking us for sharing. As to air conditioning repair, well, I don't have an air-conditioner, but I'd appreciate it if - in exchange for all of the great information you got here - you could come out to my place and install a unit free of charge. It's been devilishly hot, and humid, here in Zagreb of late...

(Karen & Doug: again, I couldn't resist; also, I'm beginning to wonder what it is about this post in particular that seems to make it a target for spam comments.)

Karen said...

I don't know Edo, but I'm getting really tired of Mr. Terry, and you can be sure I won't be calling Rheem if the A/C goes out!

Edo Bosnar said...

John, I'm glad you like this post so much that you keep leaving comments here. However, I'm bit miffed that you didn't respond to my request for installation of an A/C unit, so I really don't think there's any point in continuing this conversation. Also, RheemTeam. Really? You might want to think about changing that name...

(Again, couldn't resist. This is actually getting a bit funny. I can't believe the single mention of the word furnace in the original post is leading to these repeated spam comments.)

Karen said...

I've asked Heimdall to take Mr. Terry to the Black Galaxy so hopefully we won't be seeing him for some time. Really....

Edo Bosnar said...

Ah, Mike, like your buddy John, you're courting the wrath of Heimdall. Also, winter's coming up in this hemisphere, so personally I'm not interested in air conditioners anymore. However, if you want to be a sport you could drop by this weekend and help me stack firewood...

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