Here be another ‘Essential Thor Volume’ for ye to read, mortals. This is the point at which the Thunder God became more godly, more cosmic and yea, more awesome. Stan Lee contributed to the elevated atmosphere by having the Asgardians speak in an old-fashioned, cod Shakespearian dialogue. Verily, I remembreth a letter in the pages of the original comic wherein some varlet did opine that it wath nonsense for Norse Gods to speak in the language of early North American Quakers. Was this a good criticism? I say thee nay! To be literally exact, the comics would have to be scripted in Old Norse. This would have limited the readership to J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, E.R. Eddison and a few other scholars mostly known by their initials and even they wouldn’t have enjoyed it. No! They would have written in every month complaining that King Kirby’s plots had diverged significantly from the original sagas and that there was no such thing as uru.
This volume runs from Mighty Thor #137 (Feb 1967) to Mighty Thor #166 (July 1969). I noted the dates on the book with particular interest for reasons I will go into later. The pencil art in all this is by Jack (King) Kirby and most of the inking is done by Vince (makes Kirby fans wince) Colletta. It has to be said that nobody winced at the time and many fans wrote highly favourable letters about Colletta’s scratchy style. It was only when the original pencil art came to public view years later, mostly in the pages of ‘The Jack Kirby Collector’, that his faults were highlighted. His main fault was rubbing out pencils he couldn’t be bothered to ink. That which he did ink, he did ink quite well, but he was meant to ink all of it. For contrast, Mighty Thor # 143 is embellished by Bill Everett, who did a great job. Compare the background buildings in # 143 to those in # 144 and you can see the difference. Colletta reduced Kirby’s intricate designs to checkerboards or silhouettes to make life easier for himself. Interestingly, the front credits of this volume list Vince Colletta and Joe Sinnott as inking issues #151-152, though the comics don’t. Joe must have helped out and claimed credit belatedly for the reprints.
Enough nerdy nit-picking! The stories are what count and what a great bunch of stories they are. Mostly. It starts with the trolls making war on Asgard, aided by the mighty Orikal, a creature from another dimension whom they have imprisoned and forced to help them. This is followed, for a change of pace, by some one issue stories set on Earth. Thor fights the Super-Skrull, Replicus and the Growing Man. Then it gets all Asgardian again with the evil Enchanters and this leads into a great run of yarns set on Earth, with the Circus of Crime, the Wrecker, Loki and the Destroyer making life difficult for the Thunder God and his friends. Then it’s back to Asgard to fight Mangog, in a rather drawn out tale. The last third of this book is filled with recycled villains, the Colonisers, Galactus, Ego the Living Planet and Pluto. Kirby’s art deteriorates into big panels and too many splash pages to stretch thin plots. It still looks great, mind, but he seems to have lost interest, and therein hangs a tale.
Some folks reckon that Kirby lost interest after Fantastic Four # 67 in October 1967, the story of Him, that guy who grew in a cocoon and became Adam Warlock later. They say that Stan changed this story a lot, Kirby didn’t like it and stopped creating new characters. Using the Internet, I have noted that October 1967 coincides with Mighty Thor # 145 ‘Abandoned On Earth’ which launched the Wrecker, Hela, Destroyer run, arguably some of Kirby’s best work. It seems to me that his interest in Thor continued for a little longer. The decline and its relative, started after the Mangog epic. I say relative because even when he had lost his great enthusiasm for Marvel, the King was still a pro and still turned in some damn fine artwork. But the glory days of brilliant new creations were done.
As it happens, I incline to date the glory days earlier than most and would say that ‘Essential Thor Volume 2’ is even better than this one. The plots were tighter in 1964-66 and the art was more realistic, albeit less Kirby-esque. However, it’s like comparing the Mona Lisa to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. It’s all great and it’s all available cheaply now in glorious black and white so get it while the getting is good.
(pub: Marvel Comics. 616 pages softcover graphic novel. Price: about £11.70 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-078512-149-7)
check out website: www.marvel.com