This volume of ‘Essential Thor’ collects The Mighty Thor # 196-220, originally published between 1972-1974, according to the copyright notes. All the stories are written by Gerry Conway, who seems to have taken over a few of the company’s flagship titles after Stan Lee retired from active service. He also scripted ‘The Fantastic Four’ and ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’ at about this time. I seem to recall that Conway was a bit verbose when he first started in comics, giving the impression of a frustrated novelist, but he seems to have got over that by this stage.
The pencils are by John Buscema, inarguably one of the best comicbook artists of the modern era. The first fourteen issues here are mostly full pencils by Buscema, usually inked by Vince Colletta. He’s an inker who has some detractors but I think his fine line style is oddly suited to these Asgardian epics. The later issues have ’layouts’ by Buscema and are finished by Don Perlin (inked by Colletta) or by Jim Mooney, who did his own inking. It usually looks nice because the beautiful pencil work of Buscema is difficult to spoil, though he would have disagreed.
All in all, this is pretty good stuff. Many of the old favourite villains come back to attack Thor and his friends, namely Mangog, Pluto, Mephisto, the Absorbing Man, Loki, Ulik and the Trolls. However, there are some innovations, too. The Ego-Prime storyline, in which a bit of Ego the Living Planet fits into a cunning plan by Odin, is good. There are also new enemies such as Mercurio the Fourth-Dimensional Man and the Demon Druid in England. As usual, the England depicted is about thirty years out of date with chaps in bowler hats and trilbies smoking pipes. Never mind, I expect we get America wrong, too. In the latter part of the book, there’s a long space-faring adventure featuring the Colonisers and some really big characters. This carries on the Kirby tradition of Thor being mixed up in Science Fiction settings.
A small note of historical interest, perhaps was apparently part of a sly inter-company crossover with DC comics in which various comic creators are shown at a Halloween festival in Rutland, Vermont. This started in Amazing Adventures # 16, continued in Justice League of America # 103 and concluded in The Mighty Thor # 207.
Lee and Kirby are a hard act to follow but Conway and Buscema do okay. Old villains give a sense of continuity and there’s enough new stuff so it doesn’t all feel like a lazy rehash. Marvel’s ‘Essential’ volumes provide a lot of pages for your pound and though the lack of colour deters some, I personally quite like the black and white art. It makes it easier to see what the pencillers and inkers accomplished. Gerry Conway’s intelligent scripting and the lack of ‘adult’ material also means that these timeless classics could be useful for encouraging children to read, as well as providing a warm nostalgic glow to old codgers like me.
(pub: Marvel Comics. 528 page graphic novel softcover. Price: £ 9.59 (UK) if you know where to look/ ISBN: 978-0-78515-093-0)
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