Tuesday, September 6, 2016

When Gods Collide!

In the nineteen issues of Jack Kirby's 1976-78 series, The Eternals, it was frankly surprising that Kirby never considered orchestrating a meeting between his race of beings who dwelled in "Olympia" and their actual Olympian counterparts who had long since abandoned the mortal plane but were still in existence. Perhaps not all that surprising after all, given Kirby's apparent efforts to isolate the projects he created and managed during his return to Marvel from any tie-ins with or references to Marvel's other characters, with very few exceptions. For instance, during the waning months of The Eternals, Kirby prominently featured a guaranteed show-stopper and sales generator, the incredible Hulk, within the book--or, rather, the "cosmic-powered" Hulk, which was only a mechanism and not the real McCoy.

After Kirby's final departure from the company, many of the loose ends of the Eternals and their mammoth overseers, the Celestials, were picked up by Roy Thomas and played out in The Mighty Thor, culminating in the book's 300th issue by Mark Gruenwald and Ralph Macchio which finally delivered the results of the Celestials' 50-year judgment of our race. It was during this drawn-out arc that Thomas brought Thor to Olympia, where he eventually formed an alliance with the ruler of the Eternals, Zuras, in an effort to stave off the Celestials' day of judgment which they feared would mean the end of our world. Reaching a decision, Zuras directed his people to form the Uni-Mind, the physical representation of the collective minds of all the Eternals, which would rise to challenge the Celestials in their orbiting mother-ship.

Thor abstained from joining the union, deciding instead to guard Olympia in their absence. But while the Uni-Mind ascended into space, Olympia received some unexpected--and unwelcome--visitors, in the form of the gods of Olympus. And most surprising of all is the sight of the one who joins Zeus at the head of the pack.

In spite of Thor's warning to cease and desist, we have a good idea of how this is going to go down, thanks to the covers of this two-part story. Soon, the Eternals of Olympia will join the fray and meet their legendary counterparts for the first time--but it looks like it's Thor's meeting with his father which might eclipse that moment and turn this instead into Asgardian vs. Asgardian!

Like Thor, we don't know yet why the Olympians, joined by Odin, wish to lay waste to the home of the Eternals. The timing of their arrival suggests that they were waiting until Olympia was deserted and vulnerable--but that may be only part of the reason.

You can imagine that the Olympians aren't about to pay heed to Thor, regardless of his commanding presence and his clear intent to hold his ground--and hostilities erupt almost immediately, with Odin stepping in to check Thor very quickly.

Too quickly for Blake to react, the Olympians then attack the tower where the Uni-Mind was formed, which serves to weaken the organism before it engages the Celestials' starship and forcing it to return to Olympia where it dissolves into its component individuals--demi-gods who angrily confront the invaders of their home. To say that chaos results is an understatement.

As you might expect from this kind of clash, artist Keith Pollard focuses on some interesting match-ups that pit each side's respective deity against the other, though you get the sense that it's all for the novelty of the show and that there are no real stakes involved, at least for the time being. Odin has already disclosed that their purpose in Olympia was to foil the Eternals' attack on the Celestials, and that they've done--while Zuras has no intention of allowing the Olympians to just come in and lay down the law in the assumption that they outrank the Eternals. Unfortunately, rather than delve into the meaning of why Asgard and Olympus are so set on protecting the Celestials, the Eternals decide that now is the time to make a stand and send a message to the Olympians that their interference in their affairs won't be tolerated, no matter what right they think they have to do so.

As a result, there's a lot of pride at stake in the fighting that takes place en masse, and certainly in closer quarters. For instance, Hercules and Gilgamesh, who are currently featured as brothers-in-arms in Hercules' solo title of this year, had a very rocky first meeting, indeed.

Also featured is Ikaris vs. Ares, in a contest that appears to be far from a battle of equals:

And how about two super-speedsters, a clash which is probably no more than a blur to any who might be seeing it? And nearby, Thena of the Eternals and Athena of Olympus.

Of course, it's Zuras vs. Zeus which likely holds our interest--though, as with the others, we'll see no true victor this day. (Aside from Ares having his butt handed to him.)

As for Thor, he seems to be the only one looking for answers that point to the reason behind this invasion--and, more importantly, the reason why Odin would not only take part in it, but why the lord of Asgard would kneel in apparent fealty to the Celestials, as Thor has discovered. Odin isn't talking--nor will Odin disclose anything here--but Thor nevertheless feels he must fight to prevent Odin from carrying out his actions that are done in the name of these space gods who stand in judgment of the Earth. Unfortunately, Thor's resistance forces Odin to put his vow to the Celestials to the test, and make an impossible choice that could lead to his son's death.

Thank whatever sanity Odin still retains that he draws the line here and refuses to go through with the killing stroke. It would be some time before we learn the secret of Odin's involvement with the Celestials--but he's clearly decided that he'll hold to their terms in his own way.

The impact of Odin's spear, Gungnir, shatters as well the collective brawls on the field of battle--a field which Odin now decides to abandon, given his son's intent to defend the Eternals. And with Odin's abrupt departure, Zeus realizes that Odin has played him to an extent--and a cooler head now prevails over pride.

Despite Zeus's words, he made the same pact with the Celestials that Odin did, so his decision to quit the battle and leave Olympia (mostly) intact is as startling as Odin's, though you could make the same assessment about their beginning this battle in the first place. Their agreement with the Celestials can be best described as a nonaggression pact--to stand by and take no action while the Celestials proceed with their judgment of Earth, whatever the outcome.  Not as allies who fight on their behalf and, in this case, prevent any offensive action against them. Zeus has just indicated why he would have no problem with adhering to terms which specified abandoning Earth to its fate (though the sight of Zeus bending his knee to anyone is almost unthinkable)--but why would Odin agree to abide by their will? With Odin's ever-deepening involvement in this affair, Thor wants answers--and, to his shock, he'll have them.

The secret of Odin!
(One in a series--collect them all!)


Anonymous said...

I say this with respect, but I think, in the Seventies, Jack Kirby had little or no regard for the established continuity of either the D.C. or the Marvel universes. Not sure that I blame him for that.
Apparently it required major "clean-up" operations in both companies to integrate his characters and concepts into the larger mythos.
It got messy.
Of course, they could have come up with concepts and characters of their own, but they weren't Kirby.
On a personal note, that fight between Ikaris and the Cosmic Powered Hulk is one of the best fight scenes in comics, a personal favorite of mine, and well worth a post! (hint)

Anonymous said...

I had every issue of Thor from #292-299 and I was absolutely gripped by the Wagnerian "Ring Of The Nibelung" issues which are coming up, the Rhinegold, the Lorelei and all that Germanic myth. Even to this day if I hear any mention of Wagner's Ring Cycle I still think of those Thor issues from 1980. And at exactly the same time Uncanny X-Men featured the Hellfire Club/Dark Phoenix saga so Thor and X-Men were definitely the comics I had to have every month - unfortunately both stories ended in double-sized issues which weren't available, bah !! (But I got hold of X-Men #137 about a year later via mail order and I've read about Thor #300 here on the PPoC).

Comicsfan said...

M.P., I'll have to give that Eternals story another read--the "Hulk" appearance didn't really give me the urge to put pen to paper... er, fingers to keyboard, but I'm at least open to giving it another look.

Colin, you and I definitely have different feelings about the Ring of the Nibelung mini-saga leading up to Thor #300; but you might wish to check out this post's follow-up, as it contains some additional key scenes to that double-sized issue.

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