Thursday, April 21, 2016

Beware The Future--Beware The Mutates!

As often as Pluto, Lord of the Netherworld, insinuates himself into the affairs of mortals, he might as well just assume leadership of the Masters of Evil and get it over with. Pluto, as we know from stories past, regards his status as ruler of the netherworld as being under lock and key by his brother, Zeus, who has consigned him there indefinitely. Consequently, he schemes to find a way to bypass Zeus's edict (as he did when deceiving Hercules into taking his place), or disregarding it entirely in order to make incursions into other worlds or realms.

When his attempt with Hercules failed with the interference of Thor, Pluto returned to his scheming--and in a two-part story from 1969, he boldly seeks to conquer Earth, completely unmindful of the wrath of Zeus at this bid to escape his fate in the netherworld.

The only way for Pluto's plans to move forward is to ignore a gaping plot hole by writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby: How will Pluto succeed in such an audacious scheme without fear of reprisal by Zeus? For the duration of this story, there appear to be no provisions made by Pluto in that regard, whereas a later scheme to gain Odin's soul could be seen as falling within his role of taking possession of the dead (if loosely--Pluto still overstepped his bounds with Odin in superseding the jurisdiction of Valhalla vis-à-vis Odin's soul). Nevertheless, Pluto's scheme involving a direct threat against Earth demands the intervention of Thor, whose involvement begins with the startling appearance of a mystic funnel in the heart of the city.

The funnel coincides with the disappearance of the city's atomic research center, which explains the military's arrival in force. We also learn that the lady Sif, Thor's beloved, had been an early responder to the scene and had inexplicably vanished inside the funnel soon afterward. Yet before Thor can attempt to join her, he finds himself another victim of the forces within.

Little does Thor suspect that he's been taken not only elsewhere--but elsewhen.
But what has all of this to do with the ruler of the underworld?

To learn of Pluto's possible involvement, we must first learn the identity of Thor's abductors. And in doing so, we also learn the fate of humanity, as we're presented with a grim picture of the far future where the human race has fallen victim to hostile mutated offshoots of itself following atomic wars which have devastated Earth. The same future where Thor and Sif have been taken, for reasons as yet unknown.

With the Mutate "chief" driven off for now, Thor frees Sif--and together, they begin to explore the ruined surroundings that make it clear that they're no longer on the Earth they knew. Several of the Marvel stories from the late '60s through the '70s alluded to and gave us glimpses of Earth's future which often indicated that humanity had destroyed itself (with Kang's rule of the decimated 41st century perhaps being the most frequently used example).  Mostly, the reasons those wars came about are kept sufficiently vague in order to make the more general point that the human race, which had the potential for greatness, instead foolishly chose to destroy itself without forethought or care, for reasons which any sane creature would shake their head in astonishment at. In comics stories, that provides the opportunity to re-use such a plot device whenever suitable, since to a wayward traveler such as Thor, the war(s) could have happened at any time, with humanity either long gone or in a stage of decline.

Here, the circumstances obviously indicate the latter, with the Mutates having ascended to dominance and having all but wiped out any humans who haven't succumbed to radioactive fallout, either through death or mutation. Thor and Sif find plenty of evidence of humanity's final fate, in a stunning sequence of images by Kirby--and in its midst, a sight that reminds them of the mystery which was responsible for bringing them here.

Nor does that lone figure intend to remain incognito for long.

Pluto clearly has a lot of time on his hands in the netherworld, most of which is spent trying to find a way to cause more mischief on the surface. In this case, he extended his research through time itself, and found the Mutates to recruit as troops for his conquest of Earth in the present. To further ensure his success, he used his time funnel to transport anything that might give humanity a scientific edge to resist him--in this case, the building complex which housed the city's research center. Last but not least, the funnel was a lure for Thor, whom Pluto could bring to the future and eliminate on his own terms.

Naturally, Thor isn't the type to go quietly to defeat--but once he frees himself and Sif from the stasis field that Pluto confined him in, they fall victim to the weaponry which Pluto created for the Mutates.

The being that Pluto speaks of that lies dormant within the research center has a story of his own--but for now, this story segues to its second part, where Pluto suits up to bring his plan to fruition. As far as Thor is concerned, however, his battle against Pluto begins in earnest no matter how stylish his foe chooses to be.

Pluto makes a fair point: What will it accomplish for Thor to bring this battle to the 20th century? That only puts humanity in direct danger from the Mutates, who won't hesitate to kill on sight the humans they find; and Pluto will also be just where he wishes to be, leading his Mutate army in conquering Earth, assuming he can dispose of Thor and Sif. Thor, in addition, will have to be concerned with the mortals who will be endangered, as well as the destruction that will be inflicted on the city. The smart move would have been for Thor to transport just himself, Sif, and the research center--but everyone?

With Pluto's protective barrier fallen, the military forces on the scene are now free to retaliate against the Mutate surge, with the added power of both Sif and Balder in their midst--while Thor takes on Pluto directly. It's regrettable that Lee's light-hearted narrative distracts from what could otherwise be a dramatic climax to this story; a mutated army from the future that has already overwhelmed and hunted down scores of human victims, and now armed with weaponry conjured by a god, could prove to be a serious threat to the far less advanced soldiers of this era, particularly with Thor already occupied facing a deadly threat of his own.

Thor has managed to fend off Pluto for the time being, though he fights mostly a defensive battle against such a powerful individual. But fear not, for this story's deus ex machina has finally arrived--and as you've probably already guessed, it's wearing robes.

(I guess that would be "zeus ex machina.")

Which promptly ends the story and effectively snuffs out any resolution or even closure the reader had been anticipating regarding Pluto or the Mutates. These were the forces who were going to "conquer a galaxy"? Talk about their plans going up in smoke.

If you're curious, you can see more of the Mutates--again in the role of Pluto's flunkies--in the opening issues of The Champions.  In that story, it takes the Ghost Rider lighting a fire under his robes (figuratively!) before Zeus steps in and again pulls the plug on Pluto.

Mighty Thor #s 163-164

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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