Thursday, September 27, 2012

This Bridge Isn't Big Enough For Both Of Us


Brawl of the Gods


OR:

Why Hercules and Thor Should Just Get A Room

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


I don't know what it is with these two. They have either fierce fights or full-blown battles--shake hands at the end, agree how juvenile they've acted, and vow to be brothers from that point on--and then somewhere down the road, start throwing punches at each other at the drop of a hat. You'd think they were Avengers or something. Oh, that's right--they are.

More like brothers-in-arms--at least when the fists stop flying and the dust settles. The irony is that it's usually been Zeus who puts a stop to it--and isn't that a laugh. Zeus--a brawler from way back (way, way back), who's quick to anger and known for brutally attacking his foe(s)--Zeus being the cooler head and peacemaker. That's like saying that Asgardians are pacifists. But perhaps the main reason why Zeus and Odin let these two go at it is to give each of them a dose of well-earned humility. They're both arguably the cream of their crop in terms of their respective worlds, which has given each of them a swelled head. Thor's time on Earth (and as Donald Blake) has taught him a lot about humility--though declaring himself a god at practically every encounter clearly demonstrates he's not likely to be the Humble God of Thunder anytime soon. Hercules, by contrast, revels in his ego and power, so it usually doesn't take much to rile him.

A lot of comics readers think that Thor and Hercules had their first throw-down in the first and only annual of Journey Into Mystery:



And the answer to that would be "yes and no." Technically, this was their first meeting, considering that it happened literally ages ago in their immortal lives. But readers first saw a clash between Thor and Hercules in the pages of The Avengers, when Immortus summoned various figures from history to battle individual team members. And guess who was called forth to battle Thor?



This story from The Avengers was published about eight months before the Journey Into Mystery annual, so from a continuity standpoint it has no relevance to the "history" between the two characters. And writer Stan Lee wouldn't have referenced that story here, since he literally hadn't yet written it.

As you can see, this Hercules is worlds apart from the powerhouse we've come to know--though Thor, I suppose for the sake of the story, describes his foe's strength level as "the greatest I have ever faced on Earth." That makes this Hercules more powerful than the Hulk--which is simply absurd, given how easily Thor deals with him. Nor would the Hulk surrender from the threat of a fall--or surrender under any circumstances, for that matter. (You could say the same for the "real" Hercules.) So this little clash should probably be filed away under "oops." (Though I'd love for a writer to take a whack at explaining this Hercules and the later one as being one and the same.)

As for the fight in Journey Into Mystery, I wish I could say it takes place under far more dramatic circumstances. Unfortunately, it begins because--brace yourselves--neither was willing to let the other cross a bridge first.




Well, at least they're not wrecking half of New York--that's something.



Ripping a bridge from its foundations and hefting boulders aside, you can see by now that these two, though battling, are forming a grudging respect for each other's abilities. And in these early stages, they're really just taking each other's measure. "Look how easily I can flip you to the ground!" "Yes--but see how easily I can then kick your legs out from under you!" Parry, thrust:





But then ego takes over for each, as neither is willing to yield his position as the one who must triumph in a battle:





Finally, when they've fought to a virtual standstill, and it's clear that this is a stalemate, Zeus intervenes, declares the battle over, and makes them shake hands. I suppose it's because a third party has called an end to their fight that they now feel that they can openly praise each other's abilities and mettle (when only seconds before, each was telling the other they were outmatched). Of course, when that third party is someone of Zeus's stature, you tend to listen when they tell you to knock it off.

You'll notice a distinct difference between Jack Kirby's artwork here and his later work on Thor or Fantastic Four. As his art develops, you get more of a sense of pacing and motion, as well as sheer power and impact. You'll probably agree that a battle between two characters like Thor and Hercules should have conveyed more of a "punch" than what we see here; and if so, you'll definitely want to catch their next meeting, when all hell breaks loose between them.

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