Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Lion of Asgard--And Earth

When you think of Thor's comrades-in-arms, the illustrious "Warriors Three" who often join the Thunder God on perilous quests as well as well-deserved carousing, there's one member of that group who literally stands out from the others. And this excellent scene from his creators, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, should give you a fair idea why the name of Volstagg, the Lion of Asgard, is well known in every corner of the realm:

With the right writer, I just become a pile of giddiness whenever Volstagg makes an appearance. The Asgardians can often be a grim lot--I mean, how can they not be, as obsessed as they are with their own approaching doom in the form of Ragnarok? So scenes with Volstagg offer a nice change of pace from Thor's more deadly and perilous lifestyle, as well as a look at Asgard and the interaction of its people when they're not girding for war.

Take, for instance, this Asgardian tournament, where everyone looks forward to competing in battle with their peers. Even Volstagg, who normally chooses the better part of valor but can spot an opening for a quick path to laurels when he sees one:

Volstagg hasn't had the best of luck in this tournament, but he finally squares off with the diminutive Drom--and, would you believe, the Destroyer?

Fortunately, Volstagg survived his encounter with the armored behemoth and lived to brag another day. Though if you recall when I mentioned having the "right writer" for the character, that bragging and boasting became drastically curtailed when writer Gerry Conway took over the book. Conway apparently felt that it was high time to peel back what he saw as the mask of Volstagg's joviality and boasting and reveal instead a simple coward, resulting in disappointing scenes like these:

We never really saw the overly gregarious and blustering side of Volstagg during Conway's time on the book (nor, actually, did you see much smiling at all, from anyone--Thor was a pretty depressing read with Conway at the helm). When Walt Simonson took over the title, we began to see Volstagg return to his self of old, and become much more engaged both as an Asgardian and as a member of Thor's inner circle.

But Volstagg's "golden age," so to speak, really kicked into high gear when J. Michael Straczynski began writing Thor's 2007 series--a limited run for Straczynski, but which produced many scenes where Volstagg basked in the spotlight in which he flourished. Take a look at this segment where our "lion" is being tended to by his close friends, as he rails in a near-theatrical state of absolute, magnificent drunkenness:

Not Volstagg at his most heroic, agreed. But Straczynski gives him ample opportunities to shine in that respect. In this scene, for example, in a small Oklahoma town on Earth where the mad clone of Thor, named "Ragnarok," has been sent to enact Norman Osborn's brand of justice against him, Volstagg is the town's sole defense, and he doesn't shirk his responsibility. On the contrary, he feistily engages this foe even knowing the odds against him. It's a battle his comrades will no doubt hear recounted often:

The battle is interrupted because of further developments which Osborn is also responsible for--but I think it's more than clear that Conway's direction for Volstagg was as ill-conceived as the creation of "Ragnarok," given how Volstagg distinguished himself here. There's also this memorable scene where Volstagg protects both the town and his comrades from a deadly attack by Doombots:

Though as amazed at Volstagg's triumph against such powerful foes as his friends may be, let's just say that the lady Sif finds a little more to be amazed at concerning Volstagg. You might even say a lot more:

Straczynski found an ideal middle ground for the character--taking the Lee/Kirby Volstagg who was played strictly for comic relief and treated his time with the Warriors Three as a mixture of lark and adventure while Fandral and Hogun ran interference for him, and blending all of that with a warrior's disposition which didn't hesitate to advance to the forefront when it was called for. In so doing, Volstagg became a more vital and desirable companion, a more capable fellow warrior, and a more cherished friend. And as such, our giddiness at seeing him hurl himself into battle can only thrive.

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