Kirby soldiers on! For 12 more issues anyway and does a pretty good job of them, too. Just before he left Marvel, that company or Stan Lee had decided to revert from multi-issue stories to yarns that were full and complete in one comicbook. The theory was that potential new fans were put off by finding themselves in the middle of a confusing story. This experiment did not last long and the stuff produced is often dismissed by old-time Marvelites but not all of it was bad. What was lost in big production was gained in the necessity to tighten plots so they fit twenty pages. By the late sixties, Lee and Kirby had developed the bad habit of stretching a thin plot over four issues. They could get away with it because Kirby’s art was still great and Stan’s dialogue could carry a reader along but art is about doing your best work, not getting away with as little as possible.
Jack Kirby’s run ended with Mighty Thor # 179, ‘No More The Thunder God’, in which Loki swaps bodies with him. For dramatic contrast, this yarn was taken over artistically by Neal Adams, a penciller so utterly different from the King that there is virtually no point of comparison. Perhaps that was the idea. It’s an interesting contrast, though, because Kirby was the man to emulate in the sixties world of comics and Neal Adams quickly became the man to emulate in the seventies. The torch was passed.
Adams didn’t stay long and the artistic reins were taken up by John Buscema. Big John produced art that is lovely to look upon and has spoken often – I’ve seen him on video – about his debt to Jack Kirby, at least when it comes to dramatic layouts and storytelling in comics. Stylistically, they are miles apart. Buscema’s figures are anatomically correct and he could draw ladies you want to rip off the page and take over to the sofa. Kirby completely ignored anatomy and generally drew ladies you would send out for pizza, though there were exceptions. I’ve seen Buscema saying he was terrified of taking over from Kirby on ‘Thor’ and ‘The Fantastic Four’. He regarded Jack as the absolute master of comics and thought Marvel was finished when he left. Buscema has since moved on to that big drawing board in the sky but I am happy to report that he did a fine job.
Marvel wasn’t finished, neither. There was enough new talent coming on board to keep the ship running. Most of the new talent were writers and some say that the sixties was the age of the artist at Marvel and the seventies was the age of the writer. Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and other college types (can I say hippies?) grew up reading Stan Lee and wanted to join in the fun. Gerry Conway took over the Thunder God in Mighty Thor #193. Stan Lee filled the interim between Kirby and Conway with Doctor Doom, the Infinity/World Beyond five-part story and yet another Loki-takes-over-Asgard yarn. Loki has gained possession of the Odin-ring and so has the right to rule. In earlier days, he got Odin’s sceptre. Anything Odin wears is named after him and if you grab it you can take over. ‘Loki has the Odin-socks and the Universe is doomed!’ It all got a bit silly at times.
The so-so stories are redeemed by Buscema’s beautiful art, usually inked by Joe Sinnott, but a couple of times by John’s brother, Sal, his favourite inker. The last issue here, Mighty Thor # 195, is inked by Vince Colletta. I have spoken ill of Vince in regard to his inks on Kirby but that was for what he failed to ink. When he does apply the fluid he does a pretty good job and his thin line style seems particularly suited to Thor, making things seem slightly mediaeval somehow, like old etchings.
‘Essential Thor Volume 4’ collects Mighty Thor # 167 (August 1969) to Mighty Thor # 195 (January 1972). That’s a good hunk of reading material at a very reasonable price. Nearly half of it is Kirby and the rest is Adams and Buscema which makes it a pretty good buy.
(pub: Marvel Comics. 608 pages softcover graphic novel. Price: about £12.70 (UK) if you know where to look. ISBN: 978-0-78513-076-5)
check out website: www.marvel.com