Monday, July 13, 2015

"-- And Odin Dies!"

Good grief! Could things get any worse for the maybe-not-so-eternal realm of Asgard? The city has been ripped away from its location in the normal universe--Thor has returned from World's End and engaged Asgard's attacker in what seems a hopeless battle--and Odin has fallen into the merciless clutches of said attacker, the murderous Mangog!

And you know things are bad when the issue's splash page gives away Odin's fate in the title! (Which raises the question: Why do people get so up in arms about running into unannounced spoilers in articles, yet don't bat an eye when the story spoils itself?) Not to mention the fact that there's an apparent goof on the cover that's even larger than the girth of the voluminous Volstagg. (Can you spot it?)

But we'd better get back to Mangog, whose hatred for Odin precludes any show of mercy. Are we going to find Odin crushed to a pulp before this story even gets started?

Not if Mangog has anything to say about it. Which, incredibly, HE DOES.

Wait a minute! Why in the world would Mangog pause in his vengeance, if he's come this far to wipe the Asgardians (and particularly Odin) off the face of the map? And why would he be worried at all about an attack from Thor, whose power has proven to be no match for him? There's absolutely nothing to stop Mangog from acting here--nothing, that is, except writer Gerry Conway, who appears to want to drag this conflict out a little longer and provide it with even more drama, which he's done a fair job of thus far. After all, if Mangog were to act here while he's holding all the cards, Thor and the others haven't a prayer of stopping him as he continues to what's likely his other target, the Odin-sword; and we still have to learn more from Odin on how Thor's mission to Kartag's domain ties in with what's happening with Asgard.

Which means we have to set aside the unlikelihood that Mangog would bargain for Odin's life when he's literally holding it in his hand, and instead focus on Hogun the Grim, who's providing a distraction for the Thunder God to act.

While Hogun and Fandral keep the monster busy, if only for a few precious moments, their efforts make it noticeable that conspicuously absent from this struggle is Balder the Brave, who hasn't been seen since the role he played in giving aid to Thor following Loki's theft of the Odin-Ring. We could chalk up his lack of presence in these subsequent stories to his coerced pledge to restrict his service to the Norn queen, Karnilla; but it seems odd for Conway to drop that ball now, after he's invested so much development in it. As for Volstagg, he, too, has been absent from the battle, though Thor now has an important task for him that will at least fulfill Odin's purpose in retrieving waters from the Twilight Well.

As is clear here, Conway intends to transform the humorous take that Stan Lee always gave to Volstagg's avoidance of situations involving clashes of steel or all-out battle, and instead force the character to confront genuine fears of cowardice that, until now, have been masked with challenging boasts which saw little to no follow-through. Conway has either had no use for Volstagg's jovial and self-promoting attitude in his run on Thor, or no idea on how to work it into his concept of the Asgardians or his association with the Thunder God; and while Lee had Volstagg present in the battlefield during the first life-or-death conflict with Mangog, and knew precisely how to deal the character into those battle scenes (however briefly), there is no room for joviality in Conway's treatment of Volstagg, a character who once practically stole every scene he was in but who now is given only token attention.

Meanwhile, the battle against Mangog--who, by the way, has resumed his rampage with no thought whatsoever of giving quarter--goes as expected, even as Thor rejoins the fray.

But, what of Odin? Located by his elder circle of friends, he struggles to regain his strength and, equally as important to him, his composure. Whatever the state of his stamina at this point, it becomes quite clear that the one thing which requires an equal amount of attention is his ego.

Given the frequent blow-ups that Odin has indulged in, including ones such as this which was unprovoked except by a lapse in protocol, you could almost believe that Odin created the Asgardians from thin air, given the instances he treats them less like his people than he does as subjects who exist to follow his will. It's an excellent touch by Conway--that, with Asgard teetering on the edge of defeat, Odin nevertheless feels the need to take precious time to establish his supremacy. And among his closest friends, at that.

Yet Odin's re-entrance into the battle is due to be mostly for show, as he has yet to regain any measure of power to challenge Mangog. And with the state of Asgard's defense in near-collapse, there are few warriors in the vicinity to inspire.

Elsewhere, Odin's Vizier has taken the well waters which Volstagg delivered and joined them to those of Odin's cosmic well, with results that remind me of my own reaction when I'd set the range heat too high on a pot too small for the amount of food I'd crammed into it:

Fortunately, it looks like Odin has more on the ball in the cooking department, as his gambit with the well waters has served to launch Asgard on a journey back to its proper space.

At first, it seems like a miscalculation. Odin is obviously pleased that this has occurred at this time; yet Mangog is still a clear and present danger, and Odin's reason for taking Asgard to a location beyond normal space was so that Asgard's expected end would not endanger other worlds (presumably if and when Mangog seized the Odin-sword). Yet Odin's plan is apparently still proceeding, and incredibly dependent on timing. The next part involves Odin making use of the well waters in order to deal with Mangog:

As for the Odin-sword, Mangog has wasted no time in pummelling his way to its chamber--and with no one to hinder him, he'll finally be able to unsheath the sword and thus bring an end to the entire universe. But he'll find that Odin's plan has ensured that Asgard's current status between space and time has foiled that intent--though the sheer destructive power inherent in the sword is another matter.

And thus the final battle has arrived, between Asgard's last defenders and Mangog, a creature now armed with not only his own invincible power but that of the Odin-sword as well. And the final part of Odin's plan is ready to be put into play--but the price for its success will be high.

It's something of an anti-climax that Mangog's demise has taken place so swiftly, "using himself up" as a result of the link of hate with his masters being severed by Odin. The real dramatic moment, however, remains the death of Odin, which, given his depleted state and the might of the foe he was up against, made complete sense--and it serves in part to cap a series of stories which Conway planned and paced quite well.

Yet this issue's epilogue is slated to take this ending and develop it further--beginning solemnly, with a splendid two-page "widescreen" shot of the funeral procession for this king of the gods, depicted by artists John Buscema and Vince Colletta. (Which includes Balder finally making an appearance, looking none the worse for wear.)

But, with a start, it occurs to Thor after Odin has been entombed that all might not be lost--more specifically, that Odin might not be lost:

Granted, Thor bases his hope on a technicality. To the Asgardians, true death isn't acknowledged until Hela, the goddess of death, appears to formally claim the deceased's soul--though we'd have to then believe that Hela personally appears to formalize every Asgardian's death, and past stories involving heavy Asgardian casualties have never taken that approach. Indeed, to Thor's mind, that would mean that the many Asgardians who lost their lives battling Mangog (at least since Asgard began her journey back home) are also not truly dead, since their souls also remain unclaimed. Asgard's arrival in normal space is going to make for one creepy homecoming.

In the final installments of this story, Conway provides some interesting twists. Hela, of course, arrives to find that she's been prevented from claiming what has to be one of the most coveted souls in existence; but she warns that her claim on Odin is far more preferable than that of Pluto, who also arrives in force to stake his own claim. When that conflict plays out, we find that Hela has restored Odin to life, thus rendering moot Pluto's intrusion. From there, Conway completes the story involving the other plan that Odin put in motion regarding the lady Sif being dispatched to "Blackworld" and subsequently discovering the creation of Ego-Prime. Inbetween, the Fates make another appearance to bookend the 200th issue of Thor. You can read the series in its entirety (plus a few more issues thrown in) in the Marvel Masterworks collection, a fine addition to your bookshelf.

Mighty Thor #198

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza (as Jon Costa)


david_b said...

I'll really have to grab that masterworks.. Not a huge reader of his title, but I do grab the awesome VF+ Kirby covers from the Silver Age on occasion when I can afford.

But this..? Fantastic, I LOVE early Bronze Age Conway and the Buscema/Sinnott or Buscema/Colletta teams never, ever fail.

Great review.

Anonymous said...

Who were these "elder" (elderly) gods? Conway could have used actual little-used Norse gods like Freyr or Aegir. Call 'em off the bench!
Still, it's a minor gripe. I kind of enjoyed seeing "Rangor" pound Mangog's hide with his pounding club.

Comicsfan said...

david, thanks very much. I've re-read these stories a few times since I bought them off the rack, but poring over them in these posts has given me a new appreciation of the entire arc.

m.p., Odin is often such a solitary figure that I was glad to see any grouping of friends that Conway provided for him--though in the case of these particular gods, we came to know them too little, too late.