Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ragnarok--First In A Series

Marvel 100th Anniversary Issues


Thor #200

A quick double-take obviously tells you that this issue of Thor is not Thor's 100th issue. Depending on how you look at it, that would be either one of these issues:

This is where it gets sticky. Thor began his run in Journey Into Mystery #83. With issue #126 of that title, Marvel then renamed the book to The Mighty Thor. So if you're strictly going by the character's 100th appearance, Thor's 100th issue would be Thor #182. But if you're going by the 100th issue of Thor, then Thor #225 is his anniversary issue (which, either coincidentally or intentionally, again features Thor and Hercules on the cover, as its predecessor did one hundred issues past).

Even I get dizzy thinking about all that. And Marvel would certainly have a difficult time explaining it on a cover caption--to say nothing of which cover to explain it on. (Though in later issues, to boost sales, it shamelessly would caption a cover as "Such-and-such's 150th appearance!") But from a reader's perspective, the "real" indication of an anniversary issue is the issue number in the cover box. Journey Into Mystery #100 had no celebratory indication on its cover (Thor vs. Mr. Hyde)--and since Thor dominated the title at that point, apparently Marvel felt that the character, with only 18 issues under his belt, took precedence over the landmark issue of the title itself--choosing to pass up a sales op on that front, however slight.

So Thor #200 turns out to be the character's unofficial first anniversary issue--and even so, it has the feel of being put in place at the last minute. The book's regular story, written by Gerry Conway, has Thor about to be slain by the god Pluto, as he falls fighting to protect the "deceased" Odin's spirit from being claimed by the Lord of Hades. But though that battle has reached its climax, apparently it wasn't significant enough for a first anniversary issue--so a previous unpublished story written by Stan Lee, giving the dramatic full details of how the Asgardians will meet their end in Ragnarok, is put in its place.

The story is bookended by brief segments of the Conway story, basically making the case that Thor can't die from Pluto's axe because he has a greater destiny to fulfill at Ragnarok, so it's a fairly seamless substitution--helped by the Lee story being drawn by John Buscema, the same artist involved in the Conway story.

Substitution or not, the new story (a retelling of a two-part Lee/Jack Kirby "Tales of Asgard" segment) is a fine study in contrast between Conway's depressing, gloomy style and Lee's more engaging pacing. Ragnarok is both a desperate, savage ending for the Asgardians as well as a glorious new beginning--where Loki leads a last attack on the gods, and Thor is killed in battle with the Midgard Serpent. Here we see his final moments:

Of course, it turned out that Marvel's ultimate vision of Ragnarok--in the "Thor Disassembled" six-issue climax to the title (Thor #s 582-587)--trumped that of Volla the Prophetess in this original foretelling, so this grand story of Lee's was jettisoned in favor of a more elaborate ending. In those last issues, we fittingly see the final enactment of Ragnarok, the so-called Twilight of the Gods, which the Asgardians have seen in one form or another several times already--though, notably, they never did experience Volla's version displayed in Lee's story. More importantly, we learn why Ragnarok has occurred in cycles, and we learn of Odin's grand plan for Thor to end those cycles once and for all. Almost four hundred issues past, this first anniversary issue gave us a harbinger of this incredible end the Asgardians would meet. It was our first look at the end of Thor--who, in true comic book form, lives on.

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