Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Alone Against The Celestials!

The mighty Thor's encounter with the Celestials in his 300th issue was an epic conclusion to a long build-up of stories involving Odin's involvement with the so-called "space gods," with the Earth being saved from their deadly judgment only through third-party intervention. The stakes then were literally life and death; yet when Thor again encounters these imposing, invincible beings, we learn more of how and why the Celestials carry out their judgment, as he girds himself to protect yet another world from their awesome but potentially fatal presence.

Thor has crash-landed on the planet Pangoria, a world whose populace is desperate to evacuate to the stars as it, too, now faces the nearing judgment of the Celestials. Their desperation has turned to panic, however, because their planet's spaceport has been taken over by an armed group of pirates, who had long ago conquered Pangoria's inhabitants and have been using this world as a haven for themselves and other such thieves. Now these ruthless men, led by the cruel Pegas, allow passage only to those who are able to meet his exorbitant price.

Pegas tracks the form of Thor as it impacts with the planet, and reacts in disbelief that he still lives, having also survived the impact of a deadly missile launched by Pegas (under the mistaken belief that Thor's hurtling form was a weapon of the Celestials). Pegas, a true opportunist, proceeds to treat Thor's injuries and restore him to health, presuming that Thor's ability to survive such trauma might indicate a level of power that's capable of stopping the Celestial judgment and thus prove to be Pegas's Pangoria's salvation. Thor doesn't yet realize the kind of man he's dealing with; he only concludes that he owes Pegas a debt for saving his life, which of course comes as music to Pegas's ears. Unfortunately, Thor also doesn't realize the scope which his debt to Pegas will encompass--but Thor's character, as opposed to that of Pegas, has been defined by honor and righteousness, and once he discovers the nature of this threat, he will step up to meet it boldly, even knowing his chances of success are slim to none.

To give himself every edge against such a formidable enemy, Thor again dons the special armor he once forged to protect himself when his bones were cursed by the death goddess, Hela, and were made vulnerable to injury. But questions remain for the Thunder God: How can Arishem, the Celestial he faces, again be ready to conclude a 50-year judgment of a world, if only a fraction of that time has passed since Thor challenged him on Earth? And more importantly, how to defeat a 2,000-foot-tall being who has defied his power in the past? One of those questions will have an answer; the resolution of the other remains to be seen.

Since there's no time to put in a call to the Wasp, who could probably give Thor some pointers on going into battle against what seem by comparison to be gargantuan foes, Thor resolves to do his best. In the thousands of other battles where he's faced down impossibly powerful enemies, Thor's "best" would often prove to be more than equal to the task. But a foe of this magnitude?

(Imagine accompanying copy that reads "With a single, earth-shattering blow, the hammer of Thor instantly reduces the stately plateau to minute rubble... but still does Arishem stand!" with a sound effect of "PWUNK!", deflating the entire scene like a balloon. I've noted before how letterer John Workman's style might not be the best fit for Thor stories; now it seems that disappointment must be extended to include a handful of his sound effects choices.)

While Thor has been humbled before by beings of such stature, he nevertheless faces his "biggest" challenge yet in the form of this single Celestial which has so dramatically schooled him in the limits of his power. But his situation is now primed to go from bad to worse--because Arishem has, after all, rendered his judgment, and the time has come for another of his brethren to absorb the formula for Pangoria's fate from Arishem's palm and carry out what has been decreed thereon. In the face of this new threat, tackling Arishem will seem like child's play to the awe-struck God of Thunder.

As Part Two of this story falls into place, the reader will begin to notice how frequently writer Tom DeFalco has the players involved speak of the callous methods by which the Celestials operate--"conducting genetic experiments... tampering with evolutionary chains... deciding which races shall live, and which shall die." It all seems so black-and-white to the inhabitants and imminent victims on Pangoria--as well as to Thor, who has only dealt with the threat these beings represent and has never investigated them to any extent beyond their apparent association with Odin. He only knows that this race of beings once nearly wiped out Earth, with no explanation or seeming regard for the lives that would be snuffed out. We'll see nothing in Part Two that gives us cause to doubt the accusations of those who condemn the Celestials--nor will Thor be diverted from his resolve to defend Pangoria from their incursion, as he focuses on his new and far, far more mammoth target.

Emboldened by the advantage of a sudden vulnerability in his foe, the Thunder God penetrates what appears to be the cranium of Exitar, only to discover an environment totally alien and incomprehensible, containing many bizarre threats that he must overcome if he is to reach is goal. Meanwhile, Exitar has acted in concert with Arishem to encircle the planet in an impenetrable energy barrier, preventing any of the inhabitants from seeking escape through flight and avoiding the judgment that is planned for them. As a result, Pegas makes covert plans to use his fleet of ships to his own ends in order to save himself, even if it means abandoning Pangoria to its fate.

While Pegas redefines the meaning of "contemptible," Thor battles on, penetrating membrane after membrane to bring himself closer to what he believes is the Celestial's mind. Accordingly, the level of resistance he faces grows more deadly, as new threats take their toll on him the closer he comes to his target.

Thor realizes that the task before him will require his greatest effort, using a method of marshalling his power similar to that employed when he drove off the hungering Galactus from his attack on Ego, the living planet. The strike he attempts here will be even greater--and the price it exacts will be high, indeed.

For what it's worth, Exitar, like Arishem before him, reels for a moment from Thor's supreme assault--but the result is negligible, with neither Exitar nor Arishem deviating from their deadly ritual of doom. Even worse for Thor is the fact that his struggles within the Celestial are not abated, as a new threat swarms toward him--this time, to be met without his most powerful weapon in hand. A situation which only causes Thor to double his fierce determination and meet his foes head-on.

Thor sticks it to his enemies! PLUS: The mind-stunning secret of the Celestials!

Mighty Thor #s 387-388

Script: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Ron Frenz
Inks: Brett Breeding
Letterer: John Workman


Anonymous said...

This comic (well, actually, the issue before it, to be honest) has a sentimental value to me, because I started reading this title again just after coming out of army basic training.
I immediately recognized that it was in many ways an homage to Lee and Kirby, but the idealism and optimism of it came at a time when I needed all I could get. I followed it through my time on the East Coast and later when I was stationed in Germany at the end of the Cold War. I may well have had a couple issues crammed into my duffel bag when I took the plane over.
When I was over there, picking up Thor at the PX when it came out was a high point for me, and it was a high point for the cheapskates in my barracks who borrowed all my comics like I was running a library!
The Seth storyline, the fate of Odin, and Seth's campaign against Asgard had several mechanics down in the moterpool on edge, bugging me about when the next issue came out, and created some interesting discussions over beers in the off-time, as I recall. Hey, as long as they fixed my damn truck, and returned my comics when they were done reading them, with no oil-stains on the pages.
The Defalco-Frenz run has always been one of my favorites. It takes me back.

Comicsfan said...

M.P., I think that's so cool that your fellow servicemen were so eagerly waiting to read those Thor stories. Oh for the days when we were all waiting to get our hands on the next issue of a Marvel comic, eh?

Anonymous said...

There were several comics that were in high demand. PETER PARKER THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER MAN, which was drawn by Sal Buscema in those days, was pretty popular, too, as well as several D.C. titles. I loved ACTION COMICS and the whole Superman line back then.

Jonathan Hendry said...

Seems like at the end there Thor could have just leapt into the brain chamber, rather than turning around and fighting the humanoids.

Especially knowing how it turned out when he did enter the chamber.

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