Monday, September 10, 2012

Thunder vs. Crackle

When Marvel wanted to graphically portray a dramatic matchup between two of its characters, the cover featuring the two could be something to behold. One of the best examples I can think of to illustrate this was the classic Silver Surfer #4:

No words or bold captions were needed--just an unforgettable pose of imminent confrontation by two powerful characters who had never met in battle before. The Surfer's book--the character's first--was just getting off the ground, so a marquee battle such as this was no doubt aimed at both sales of the fledgling title and fans of the long-established Thor character.

Yet the battle itself was something of a letdown. The Surfer, as readers knew, was far from the invincible character who came to Earth as the herald of Galactus, his cosmic power seriously depleted in a prior skirmish. So while an angry Surfer lunging for Thor makes for a powerful image, we knew that the Surfer on his own wasn't a match for a battle-hardened Thunder God.

Secondly, we learn in the book that the Surfer's power is being augmented by Loki, God of Evil, which allows the Surfer to have Thor on the ropes. At first, the Surfer is ignorant of Loki's assistance, but deduces during the battle that Thor should be more than a match for him. So (a) the Surfer's heart really isn't in this because he suspects duplicity, and (b) he's already throwing in the towel, to us if not Thor, as far as admitting who the more powerful character is--and the battle isn't even over yet. Talk about having the rug yanked out from under you, from a reader's perspective. The closing pages of the story involve the Surfer washing his hands of the whole thing and Thor realizing there's something more going on here, but for the reader the momentum of this battle has already been lost.

Also, there's artist John Buscema's rendition of the Surfer's power, which frankly has been better displayed. Buscema has the Surfer emitting what look like little more than large crackling bursts--a cosmic light show, if you will, which Thor could top with two stamps of his hammer. Picture Thor reeling from a crackling light show, and you're not exactly going to gasp as this battle plays out; whereas Thor responds by hurling his hammer that smashes the Surfer and his board through a wall. Which display would you be more impressed by?

"What wonderment is this?" Hardly the reaction of someone being threatened with incineration by cosmic power.

The far more dramatic battle is actually between the Surfer and Loki at the story's beginning, as Loki seeks to test the Surfer's ability to battle a god. Loki is ruthless, and arrogant, and clearly overwhelming, attacking viciously to provoke his foe and gauge the true extent of the Surfer's might--yet the Surfer holds his own and battles Loki to a standstill:

So this battle is really a mixed bag. On the one hand, it's a typical Marvel matchup between two heroes: the result of a misunderstanding, and no clear victor. Yet while there's certainly no shortage of those, there aren't many such battles where the hero who stars in the book in which the battle takes place spends half the battle questioning his ability to win it. (Daredevil being a frequent exception--but we're accustomed to him being the underdog in, say, a clash with Spider-Man or Thor.)

The greatest, most memorable battles between two such characters have been no-holds-barred--skill against tactics, strength against cunning, experience against resolve. Such battles can be mismatched and yet deliver a confrontation that fans still talk about years later in enjoyment and appreciation. Sadly, the only thing memorable about this particular battle was its cover--an image lacking words to herald its impact, perhaps because no such words could be delivered in good conscience.


Murray said...

Every repeat visit I make to those Silver Surfer issues is harder to take. He is such a chrome-plated sad sack. What a whiney drip. Yes, being imprisoned on Earth is a harsh and raw deal, but jeez, grow a spine.

The Surfer does seem to have found a bowl of wheaties to eat by the time he guest stars in Thor #193. He meets Balder and Karnilla as equals and with a glint in his eye. He absolutely takes no cosmic crap from Karnilla, Queen of the Norns. When they sway him to their request, he acts pretty decisively to help Thor against Durok.

But in this issue, you're quite right. It's yet another bait & switch.

Though, it was interesting to see Loki measured against another character in the Marvel universe. Up until this, I had only seen Loki in Asgardian settings. This suddenly brought home that the God of Mischief had some serious chops.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, Loki tends to act pretty aggressively against mortal foes, and why shouldn't he? He enjoys the clear advantage. Yet mortals have something of an advantage as well, in being able to scrape together the will to prevail--while Loki relies solely on might and ruthlessness, and, as we've seen, deception. Qualities which, in any other aggressor, would likely win the day.

maw maw said...

Thor #193 was Gerry Conway's first issue on the title. His bolder scripting style was a nice change from Stan Lee's whiny take on the character.