Friday, August 24, 2012

Fight To The Near-Finish


Even though I've written before how we're not likely to ever see a clear winner in any Thor vs. Hulk matchup, it still remains one of my favorite clashes to look forward to. And Marvel, savvy company that it is, knows that I'm not alone. Any cover featuring these two titans is a sure seller--so why should they resolve once and for all which character is stronger? As long as the issue remains unresolved, it's money in the bank.

So for we readers who follow these battles, the only thing we can truly savor is how the fight is handled: (A) if it's well-written and well-drawn, (B) how fierce a fight it is, and (C) if it's no-holds-barred. There have been times when some of these conditions haven't lived up to expectations.

For instance, the second Thor vs. Hercules fight was a knock-down drag-out and a huge improvement over their first meeting, but was ruined when Odin, in a fit of rage, secretly removed half of Thor's power in the middle of the fight. (We later got an excellent fight when an angry Thor came to Olympus and basically was about to lay Hercules out before Zeus stepped in.  Sheesh, why do the parents always have to butt in and spoil the fun?) The first Thor/Hulk fight was handicapped from the beginning, when Thor asked Odin to remove his hammer's enchantment so that he could test his strength against the Hulk. In the Silver Surfer's first fight with Thor, Loki secretly amped up the Surfer's power so that he would prove a match for Thor (which practically ruined the fight for me right off the bat). And there have been several fights with the Sub-Mariner where his opponent only gets anywhere because the fight is taking place on dry land.

In The Defenders #10, though, we get a very satisfying fight between Thor and the Hulk--if not a "fight to the finish," as the cover claims. (Note to Marvel: a "fight to the finish" is when one opponent is knocked out cold by the other, not simply when the fight is technically "finished." Cheaters.) That's mostly due to writer Steve Englehart, who understands the attraction of a good Hulk vs. Thor fight--and artist Sal Buscema, whose pacing of a fight is usually first-class. The difference between this fight and those that have gone before is that Thor here doesn't tie one hand behind his back, being supremely confident in his superiority and having no qualms about making sure the Hulk knows it--which, as you can imagine, elevates the Hulk's fury to the point where he can barely form a sentence (not that he was ever exactly a wiz at it). The result is a fight which by all rights should be to the finish.

And at the end, we readers who wait for things like this get a bone thrown to us. The Hulk and Thor lunge at each other--and are locked in place, "an unmoving sculpture of seething, bridled force." Both attempting to overpower the other--both making absolutely no headway, for up to an hour. At that point, the fight is broken up--but it seems definitive proof that the two are equally matched, as far as brute strength is concerned. Sticklers will point to Thor's hammer, of course, which might give Thor the edge in sheer, raw power.  But as far as this story is concerned, the reader got a good fight, and a satisfying end--while once again giving Marvel a free pass.

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