Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Replicus 2.0--and the Thundering Return of John Buscema!

As a follow-up to the introduction of Replicus, the alien creation that battled Thor on the streets of New York but which became powerless when its base was destroyed, let's move forward three decades to March of 1999, where another Replicus has been mysteriously unleashed. And while Replicus itself is probably nothing to write home about, this issue's guest artist will likely make it a page-turner:

Joined by Jerry Ordway on inks, John Buscema returns to the pages of Thor for one issue, and the resulting story is a feast for the eyes. There's quite a lot happening in this issue, thanks to the story that writer Dan Jurgens has set in motion regarding the Dark Gods and the conquest of Asgard--and in this issue, Thor finds the answers he's been seeking about a long-forgotten war that saw Asgard on the brink of destruction, and how the god Perrikus rose again to see his vengeance on the Asgardians fulfilled.

This would be (to the best of my knowledge) Buscema's last work on the Thunder God's book, turned in nearly three years before his death at age 74. The final product is not only an encapsulation of Buscema's technique and storytelling ability, but also an incredible demonstration of his skill, honed over many years at the storyboard and which appears to be at its peak, seemingly untouched by time.

There are many facets to his work here that long-time readers will recognize--as well as others which are delightfully surprising, which include extending his figures beyond panel bordering while also varying the sizing of the panels on each page. Free of such conventional constraints, Buscema's work practically leaps off the page, setting his own pacing for the story which Jurgens adapts to and blends with quite well.

Both Ordway and colorist Gregory Wright deserve a generous amount of credit for what they bring to Buscema's pencils. It's difficult to tell at times what amount of finishes Ordway is applying here, since much of this work resembles that of Buscema's inks on his own pencils. If I had to take a guess, I'd say the facial features of Thor and others are given slightly more attention by Ordway, as is Mjolnir in those panels where we see it at a closer angle; yet for the most part, Buscema looks to be handling the lion's share of the work himself. I would have been curious to see the result of such a ratio of pencils/inks in the work that Buscema did with his brother, Sal, on inks, the latter looking as if he contributed much more to the finished product.

As well-matched as Ordway and Buscema appear to be on the issue, Wright's colors are also a beautiful match for the paper stock of this comic, as opposed to the newsprint of old. It's been over fifteen years since I opened my copy of this issue, and the pages still retain nearly all of their original color and detail, with whatever difference there is from the original publication date being negligible. When combined with Buscema's figures, I found myself much more engaged in the story, swept along in the visual fantasy that a comic book is uniquely suited to excel at.

As this story's splash page implies, Thor is seeking answers as to the fate of Asgard as well as its citizenry. But a more mortal crisis looms, in the form of one long since thought vanquished:

Will Replicus 2.0 wipe the floor with Thor as his predecessor did?

(Don't count on it!)

"...'til the power of Thor didst vanquish him!" If you've read the prior story of Replicus, Thor is obviously indulging in either wishful thinking or the kind of embellishing of past battles that Hercules tends to add to his lofty tales. But where the prior Replicus had Thor on the ropes--even wresting his hammer from him--Jurgens and Buscema are out to make sure that a match between Replicus and the God of Thunder is far more one-sided in the opposite direction than this alien creation had bargained for.

As we can see, Replicus is unloading most if not all of his prior tactics and powers against Thor. But in addition to Thor now being ready for those abilities and knowing what to expect, he's also through with taking on the enemies he finds on Earth as anything less than the god he is:

(Love the touch of the bystanders making grabs for the scattered money!)

We still haven't seen the creators of Replicus show their faces in all this time, nor will we now. (Heck, would you want to give Thor any grief after seeing him wipe your creation all over the street?) But we do learn that this Replicus model's activation is due to generational rather than alien means--specifically, the nephew of mob boss Slugger Sykes, whose career in crime is about to be nipped in the bud by the deafening impact of a thundering hammer:

As Thor proceeds with searching for the answers he seeks, we see that Buscema is fully up to speed on not only Jurgens' story in progress (which includes Jake Olson, the paramedic who is now Thor's human form), but also some elements of old that Jurgens brings back from the title's Silver Age stories:

Orikal's presence once again in the entrapping flames of the trolls is confusing, as he was freed by Thor in their prior encounter and subsequently returned to his own universe. Why Thor would expect to find him once again a prisoner in Geirrodur's kingdom is anyone's guess--though however it happened, it makes sense for Thor to seek him out for answers to his questions, since he lacks access to Mimir, Karnilla, or other Asgardian methods of gaining knowledge. But while Orikal is prevented by Geirrodur from helping him, Thor is visited by Marnot, who assisted in bringing him back from death--and Marnot relates to him the origin of the Dark Gods, and their war on Asgard which was barely overcome.

In closing, Buscema paves the way for the next issue and the continuation of Jurgens' tale, in true Thor fashion--with hammer raised and defiance shouted:

One couldn't ask for a better sign-off on Thor from an artist who's known for his distinctive work on this character as well as so many others. In wrapping up the story of Replicus, what a treat it was for me to flip through these pages and find more of the wonderment that Mr. Buscema has brought to Marvel Comics throughout its history.

Have a look at the Avengers lithograph print by Buscema and Alex Ross,
reported to be Buscema's last professional work.

Mighty Thor #9

Script: Dan Jurgens
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Jerry Ordway
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Comicraft/WA


Anonymous said...

The riotous return of Replicus!!!
Yeah, okay. But seriously, if this was Big John Buscema's farewell to penciling Thor, then it was well met, indeed.
My introduction to the character in the '70's was during Buscema's run, (and what a run that was) and I'll always associate him with Thor.
Brilliant art, here, and a classy exit from one of the all-time greats.

Dunsade Dave said...

I loved the first couple of years of Jurgens's Thor run, it would make a great Omnibus.

Those pages, especially the splash page of Odin in battle, are just gorgeous. John Buscema is my all time favourite artist, and it's great to see his work so beautifully enhanced by Messrs Ordway and Wright. Thanks for posting this, CF!

Comicsfan said...

M.P. and Dave, I'm in full agreement with you that Buscema has lost none of his touch on Thor. (And we can certainly thank him for finally putting the kibosh on Replicus!)

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