‘Essential Thor Volume 2’ opens with a magnificent battle scene in which Odin, Thor and a bunch of other Asgardians fight the demon men of Jutenheim. As they are defeated in two panels, they obviously weren’t all that tough. ‘For Asgard and freedom!’ cries Odin, which is a bit rich coming from an absolute monarch. Three panels later he shouts at Thor about his wayward son’s love for mere mortal Jane Foster, an on-going theme in the early years. Happily, the theme is tied up at the end of this volume in Mighty Thor # 136, ‘To Become an Immortal’. After failing to become an immortal, Jane Foster is taken away forever and Thor is morose for about three pages, until he meets Sif, a curvy goddess who can fight. The best way of getting over a woman is to get over another one, as some brutish man once said.
In between these two episodes are several hundred pages of Jack Kirby’s best artwork, well worth the price of admission. Most of it is inked by Vince Colletta but even he can’t completely dampen the power of the King. Sighs can be induced by comparing Kirby inked by Colletta to Kirby inked by Chic Stone in Journey Into Mystery # 113-114. Sobs can be induced by comparing Colletta’s inks to the magnificent job Frank Giacoia did on Journey Into Mystery #115, ‘The Vengeance Of The Thunder God.’ Chic Stone went on to other things at this point and, for a brief, wondrous spell, Giacoia inked a couple of issues of ‘Mighty Thor’, ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Fantastic Four’. He’s my absolute favourite inker on Kirby, even ahead of Joe Sinnott and Mike Royer. Why Stan let him go is a mystery. Vince’s inking isn’t all that bad and in places it’s very good, but one can’t help wonder what these magnificent pencils might have looked like if Marvel hadn’t gone for the cheapest option.
So much for the art. The stories are great, too, not least because they all roll into each other to form a kind of saga. One thing leads to another and you never know what will happen next. Loki turns convict Crusher Creel into the Absorbing Man and kidnaps Jane Foster, taking her to Asgard. When Thor comes to rescue her, the lying Loki tells Odin that Thor bought a mortal to Asgard which is strictly not allowed. To decide who is telling the truth, they must undergo ‘The Trial Of The Gods’ (issue # 116) in which they have to fight their way bare-handed across the land of Skornheim. Loki wins by cheating, he uses some enchanted norn stones. To hide his treachery, he magics them to Earth. Thor is allowed to seek them out and prove Loki’s treachery but the evil one activates the Destroyer to stop him. Hercules turns up! The Absorbing Man returns and helps Loki take over Asgard! A primitive bloke finds a dropped norn stone and becomes a threat! Thor falls out with Odin and gets half his power taken away! Hercules beats him! Then Hercules is tricked into taking over Pluto’s Underworld and Thor has to rescue him! Tana Nile! The Colonisers! Ego, the Living Planet! The High Evolutionary and the Knights of Wundagore! Truly this was the Marvel Age of Comics! Words can hardly describe how much my brothers and I adored this stuff as kids. I think we first saw it reprinted in Marvel’s English comic, ‘Fantastic’, where it was doled out in seven page segments weekly. Unaware of the evils of cultural imperialism, we lapped up this ‘yank trash’ as our Dad called. Alf Tupper and all those World War Two heroes in Victor just couldn’t compete.
As an added bonus there is ’Tales Of Asgard’ a five page back-up strip that started off featuring the adventures of young Thor and moved on to grander epic stories. They started off showing how young Thor earned his hammer, the mighty Mjolnir, while Loki schemed to stop him. It was something of a paradox that young Thor featured in the back-up strip when old Thor only came along once Don Blake had picked up that stick in Norway and bashed it on a rock. I am reminded of that old joke in which a tourist in Dublin is sold the skull of Brian Boru and then offered a smaller skull which is also his. ‘How can that be?’ asks the puzzled tourist. ‘This is him when he was a young lad,’ said the Irish salesman. The paradox was eventually tidied up in Thor # 159. ‘Tales Of Asgard’ became redundant when the main feature essentially turned into Tales Of Asgard and it was dropped.
This is the really essential Thor, I reckon. This volume takes us from Journey Into Mystery # 113 (February 1965) through to Mighty Thor # 136 (January 1967) and is among the best stuff issued in the Silver Age of Comics. The issues that make up the second half of this essential volume were on the stands at the same time as that magnificent run on ‘The Fantastic Four’ that introduced the Inhumans, Galactus, the Black Panther and so on. Lee and Kirby were firing on all cylinders. This was the wonderful stuff that made Marvel the top selling comics company by the end of the sixties. Who was responsible though? Was it Lee or was it Kirby? Seconds out, round 4,687 for that old fight. Why worry? Just enjoy it. Highly recommended, as if you couldn’t tell.
(pub: Marvel Comics. 584 pages softcover graphic novel. Price: about £11.70 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-78513-381-0)
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