Saturday, September 29, 2012

Beware The Green Monster

Brawl of the Gods


Why Hercules and Thor Should Just Get A Room

A Review of the Battles between the God of Thunder and the Prince of Power

As relatively tame as their first conflict was by comparison, this second meeting of Thor and Hercules will have you thinking that all-out war has broken out between them. That's probably due more to marketing than their own temperament. This issue marks the point where Journey Into Mystery, the title that had introduced Thor and continued publishing his stories as a series, formally shifts its name to The Mighty Thor, with the issue number picking up where Journey Into Mystery left off.

Not giving Thor his very own #1 issue would later come back to bite Marvel from a marketing standpoint, but I think I can see the thinking here in wanting to retain regular readers of Journey Into Mystery while simultaneously bringing them on board the Thor title; also, for whatever reason, it may have seemed a little odd to them to "restart" Thor at #1 when he's already had a run of over thirty issues. In any event, with Thor's "first issue," Marvel no doubt wanted it to explode onto the comics racks with a bang, which was billed as a "clash of titans." And, indeed, that's just what artist Jack Kirby delivers in this cover-to-cover brawl.

So how in the world did it get to this point? When last we saw these two, they were shaking hands and declaring their friendship. Well, you can thank Thor's mortal girlfriend at the time, Jane Foster, whose common sense was out to lunch when she decides to make Thor jealous because she's feeling neglected:

Hercules, of course, had no way of knowing that he'd thrown the wrong punch at the wrong time. Thor had just undergone the Asgardian "ritual of steel," where Odin basically sics the entire complement of Asgardian warriors on a subject who's displeased him--in this case, Thor, who has kept from Odin the fact that he's revealed his secret identity to Jane and declared his love for her. (Yeah, I know--most fathers don't hurl armed legions against their child when they don't agree with what they've done--but Odin isn't exactly your typical poster father.) Nor is Jane entirely blameless here. Despite pulling an often-resorted-to mortal tactic used with inattentive boyfriends, she forgets she's dealing with--let me see if I can say this clearly--GODS. So chances are, things aren't going to end at macho threats being hurled. In fact, Jane, things just might end with a large part of New York City being reduced to rubble around you. Nice going, dear. Astonishingly, you actually have the nerve to look shocked in that last panel.

And this is where you came in. Better give these guys some room, because the battle quickly moves away from the soda shop (what's left of it):

You may have noticed that Thor has become more clear-headed as the fight has progressed, given how frazzled he was at having escaped Asgard and fighting his way back to Jane's side. At that time, Hercules had basically pushed him too far after all he'd been through--and in addition to Jane's manipulation, Thor probably found responding to Hercules the perfect way to release his pent-up anger at Odin's pig-headedness, if only subconsciously. Yet now he's come to see a lot of himself in Hercules--before he'd found his center as Donald Blake, before his time as an Avenger, before he'd become so endeared with mortals and their circumstances. Unfortunately, Hercules' persistence isn't allowing his own thirst for battle to subside.

That last page is yet another of Jack Kirby's beautiful full-page portraits that he often inserted into his later work at Marvel. This would be the last Thor-Hercules battle that he would ever illustrate before his departure from the company (aside from a cover illustration here or there). The difference in pacing between this battle and the earlier one is remarkable--though some of that is due to the battle taking place not on a grassy field, but in the midst of contemporary building structures, the shattering of which is more conducive to displaying pacing. It's regrettable that the battle now begins to draw to a close--because Odin, in his often-questionable wisdom, has decided that now is the time to punish Thor for his transgressions, by removing half of his power. And the tide of battle instantly turns.

It takes awhile--and cannily, on Marvel's part, more book sales--for things to be resolved with Hercules and Thor in terms of wrapping up this situation between them properly. Everyone at this point wants Thor back at his peak and gunning for a rematch--which, in the beginning, is exactly how things start out with Thor and his reconciliation with Odin. Yet when Thor finally finds Hercules again, he discovers that the Olympian is in dire straits--and we're shown, through Thor's actions, that it's more important to have a sense of honor than it is to carry a grudge. In helping Hercules, Thor redeems himself in a way far more lasting than a thrown punch would grant him--and he forms a better relationship with Hercules as a result.

Though if that gives you the impression that these two will never have reason to clash again--well, you haven't been reading comic books very long, have you?


Fred W. Hill said...

First read this story in Marvel Treasury Edition #3 and the full story is one of Lee & Kirby's grandest epics as well as a morality tale in which Thor, Odin, Hercules and even Pluto all learn hard lessons but all in a very entertaining manner for readers. Amusing though that Stan used the chapter title "The Hammer and the Holocaust" both in this saga and as well as in the later Mangog saga that was reprinted in a later Treasury Edition.

Comicsfan said...

An interesting bit of trivia, Fred! (Something I've caught myself doing in the PPC on occasion.)