Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From Brawl to War


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


In order to appreciate this particular meeting of Thor and Hercules in battle, you have to set aside their first. Because just as that earlier tale describes their first meeting, so, too, does this one make the same claim:



Therefore, you'd think that one must invalidate the other. But I wouldn't go that far. Let's just say that this later story is both a nod to continuity and a diverting story that stands on its own. In other words, I think we're just meant to enjoy the story.  I'm down with that.

And there's a lot to like in this story. Writer Steve Englehart tells of a brash Thor in the heydey of the Vikings, well before Odin casts him down to Earth in the guise of Donald Blake in order to give him a much-needed lesson in humility. So you'll see a Thor very much at odds with his father, in terms of defying his authority and being headstrong. And you'll see his fellow Asgardians rally around him and revelling in their warrior existence. (With the odd exception of Odin--but he nevertheless plays a key part in this story.)

To break this issue down, this is really the story of how the Asgardians first encounter the existence of the Olympians, and vice versa. Apparently the Vikings are getting clobbered by Greeks, and they pray to Thor to give them aid, which Thor does. Unfortunately, the Greeks turn around and pray to Hercules to save them--and of course Hercules arrives on the scene to find Thor. The funny thing is, neither realize at first that they're dealing with a fellow god. But since neither is willing to back off, you can guess the result:



Notice how Englehart deftly sidesteps the earlier story in Journey Into Mystery Annual #1, yet stopping short of saying this story replaces it. With just a few smooth words, he manages to have his cake and eat it, too--arranging for both stories to co-exist, while putting the burden on "legend" to decide the issue. And legend, as we know full well, is so named because it's never "decided" anything. Consequently, this story becomes yet another that has been passed down, with no one the wiser--except, of course, for Thor and Hercules, still very much with us but who have conveniently never gone on record to say which "legend" was accurate.

And so, the battle rages:



In time, though, the two realize that neither will prevail--so it's agreed that they and their respective armies will meet in final battle in one week. Unfortunately, neither Odin nor Zeus sees the need for all-out war here, so the fight almost doesn't come off. Until Loki, the big rat, provokes the Olympians into declaring war after all. So we get one last spread of Thor and Herc meeting on the battlefield. Let's just say that in a week's time, neither has exactly mellowed:



I won't spoil the outcome of the battle, nor the twist that Englehart provides to end the story, because it really is a fine story for a fine annual and you'll enjoy reading it as a whole. John Buscema provides some excellent art--this time inked by Tony DeZuniga, who usually shadows the pencilling a little too much for my taste but, in this instance, provides the grittiness and historic feel called for in such a battle.

This would be the last (that I know of) all-out battle that Hercules and Thor would engage in, which is really for the best because I don't think Marvel could squeeze any more water out of this stone. Hercules, despite his power and despite always giving Thor equal measure in these battles, doesn't quite suit Thor as an antagonist, given the extensive and far more powerful foes that Thor has gone up against and prevailed. I suppose it's no surprise that when Thor faces off against Hercules, it's more of a fierce brawl than anything else. Thor makes very limited use of his hammer, Mjolnir, nor does he ever use his powers of the storm--only his strength. In fact, I'm always surprised when he ends up throwing heavy stone pillars or machinery at Hercules--is the guy forgetting that he's got a destructive hammer to throw at the guy? It even returns to him, so he can throw it again. Tsk.

I hope you've enjoyed "Brawl Of The Gods." Say, why don't we start a new series and take a look at Thor against the Hulk? On second thought--probably not. I mean, if you thought Thor and Hercules battled and battled and got nowhere...

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