Sunday, March 16, 2014

Onslaught Of The Destroyer!

It would take a braver man than I am to attempt to make sense of the events of Onslaught (the evil persona of Charles Xavier), a sales device used to abruptly end a few of Marvel's major titles so that other creative teams could place their stories in alternate timelines for roughly a year. To readers, it almost felt like Marvel was going through a refit, with its work on four of its major titles being outsourced to other studios which effectively called the shots for the duration. To make a long story short, the project didn't go smoothly. There were reportedly a lot of business reasons behind Onslaught, and perhaps in the long run those proved fruitful; but by the time everything began to be reset in the Heroes Reborn: The Return four-issue series, enough writers and artists had been shuffled around that it was difficult to tell just who made up Marvel Comics at that point. "Marvel Disassembled," you might say.

So, cringing at the thought of wading through the whys and wherefores of the whole "Heroes Reborn" storyline, which engulfed The Avengers, Captain America, Mighty Thor, Fantastic Four, and Invincible Iron Man (have I missed anybody?), let's instead cut to early 1998 when the "Heroes Return" stories brought back these characters into their respective realities, picking up where they left off before they defiantly charged Onslaught. I'll happily bypass the entire "Heroes Reborn" detour, if it's all the same to you.

So. Marvel, looking to make lemonade out of lemons, harvests a good sales event from a confusing one and now relaunches the hijacked titles, resetting them all to #1 (which might well have been the plan all along, once "Heroes Reborn" had run its course)--all emblazoned with "Collector's Item 1st Issue!" captions. And from January to February of 1998, our heroes' new titles make their debut. Here's our first look at Iron Man, the FF, Cap, and the Avengers:

The good thing about returning from alternate realities is that you can pretty much plug in your characters from where they left off--and so, with the exception of Captain America (who finds himself displaced a year and presumed dead), everyone is none the worse for wear. The only odd man out is Thor, whose rebooted title is strangely absent from this mix. You'd think Marvel would have gone for an incredible looking lineup on the sales rack by including, of all characters, Thor in this sales push. Yet the new book is delayed until July--perhaps because Marvel was still picking up the pieces and had its hands full in terms of available staff, or perhaps even to hold the Thor book in reserve in order to provide a little more profit a few months down the road. We do know that it was Thor who had sacrificed himself in a final battle with Dr. Doom, by hurling the two of them into a rift between realities--so his delayed appearance is at least explainable in a fictional sense, and could perhaps even build anticipation.

Still, the absence of Thor's new title is even more perplexing when Thor is on hand to launch the new Avengers title, after discovering Asgard in ruins and finding that the fabled "Twilight Sword" is missing from the realm (thanks to Morgan Le Fay):

And so by the time Thor's new title appears on the rack, his return had already been dealt with and taken the wind out of the new book's sails (though hopefully not "sales"). For his new book, the only thing really on Thor's plate is to find out what happened to the gods of Asgard--and searching for your people isn't the best way for a dynamic figure like Thor to kick off his brand new series. This is the God of Thunder, not the God of Mystery. Instead, then, we're going to see Thor joined by the Avengers in a no-holds-barred battle with a deadly, invincible foe. So you might want to get a good look at Thor in this dramatic double-page splash:

...because by the end of the issue, he's going to be dead.

(Gee, that could be why they're calling it a "Collector's Item.")

Before we dive into the battle, we have to remember that not everyone reads The Avengers--and so the story first pays some lip service to Thor's preoccupation with discovering the details of Asgard's fall as well as whether or not its gods survived. And the story does so not only with its title, but with its clever use of a mental patient who maintains that he's actually Heimdall. Thor has his doubts, of course, but checks out the man's story by taking the direct route:

As Thor probably knew in advance, the glorious sight of Asgard, even in ruins, is enough to overwhelm the man's mistaken impression of himself:

Nor does this dead end do much for the grief-stricken Thor--but he returns the man to hospital care on Earth, only to then receive word of a crisis the Avengers are dealing with at the docks. When he joins them, he discovers that "crisis" doesn't begin to describe the threat they face.

The Destroyer has been animated by Colonel Case, a mocked and unhappy officer who's been overseeing the shipment of the Destroyer and who has carelessly made contact with its container. Neither Thor nor the Avengers know who it is they're dealing with inside the armor; but soon enough, Case, who has always been looked down upon by his superiors and fellow officers for never having seen a minute of actual combat, is taking his anger and bitterness out on the team in spades.

(Hey, the Scarlet Witch is flying again!)

Eventually, though, the fight mainly comes down to the Destroyer and Thor, with the Avengers quickly finding that their forces are ill-matched in a direct assault:

As for Thor, he resorts to creating the mother of all storms to halt the Destroyer's rampage. But in addition to the Destroyer's overwhelming power, he also faces its embittered spirit--one which now seems focused on beating the Thunder God to within an inch of his life.

But if you're the Destroyer, you don't generally stop at an inch:

Assuming that Thor was alive before the blast, we know that the Destroyer's blows left him in no shape to survive the armored brute's deadly blast that emits from his visor. And when the Avengers regroup and arrive at the scene, their worst fears are realized.

While the Avengers are grieved at the loss of Thor, we know someone who's probably doing cartwheels right about now: Hela, Goddess of Death, who can finally welcome Thor into her land of the dead. Probably the one god of Asgard Thor didn't want to find again.  When we follow up on this story, we'll also find out more about another character in this story--Jake Olson, a young paramedic who was in the thick of this fight while tending to his duties, and who just might turn out to be the Thunder God's salvation.

Mighty Thor #1

Script: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Dave Lanphear

1 comment:

karl said...

Heroes Reborn was stunning if only for the art - which was stellar! Really a massive, massive improvement after the debacle that was Heroes Return.

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