Monday, October 15, 2012

Leave It To Mother Earth

I'm sorry to say my first exposure to the Eternals, Jack Kirby's highly evolved race of humans, was not in the title of the same name. Instead, it was in Thor, where the Thunder God raced to deal with a new threat to Earth--the Celestials, whom he became aware of when investigating the (latest) machinations of his father, Odin. Thor can probably count himself lucky that his first meeting with the Celestials didn't involve taking on an entire host of them. His encounter with just one of them was humiliating enough, showing a stark difference between the power of a Celestial and a god of Asgard:

Namely, it was no contest.

But to really convince you of the disparity: even Odin, housed in the casing of the Destroyer and wielding the power of the Oversword of Asgard as well as the life force of all the Asgardians, fell before them with little effort on their part. Oh, and did I mention that the Destroyer's armor was enhanced with power from the entire pantheon of the other gods of Earth?

Fortunately, Thor had some time to kill to deal with the threat. The Celestials were currently involved in a 50-year "judgment" period concerning Earth, at the end of which time they would render a decision on whether or not humanity was fit to survive. Until that time, they confined themselves to their base in the Andes mountains. So writer Roy Thomas diverted for a bit, and introduced the Eternals into a few stories thereafter. And then came Thomas's tedious Ring of the Nibelung storyline, which had Thor finding answers to secret plans having to do with staving off Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods. Once that excruciating story had run its course, the Thor/Celestial saga comes to a head in this double-sized anniversary issue:

Even while events have coalesced for Thor in the past few issues and he's finally confronting the truth concerning Odin's secretive past, it's Odin himself who's taken a direct hand in dealing with the Celestials--"aliens" who have presumed "to judge the sphere that spawned both gods and men." After a thousand years, his careful planning and preparations have been completed, and he now confronts the Celestials as:

And though it wasn't Roy Thomas who wrote this particular story, a connection is revealed between his tale and Odin's impending battle in the form of the Oversword--which Odin constructed by melting the enchanted Rhinegold ring (featured in Thomas's story) into the form of a giant sword, and sheathing it in a scabbard to protect Asgard from its curse. So in a few short panels, the mystery of the "Odin-sword" (as it's sometimes been called)--which was said to herald the end the universe if it were ever unsheathed--is finally revealed. The sword can only be safely wielded by Odin, who's always meant to unleash its power against a specific foe:

But even though Odin has every right to be confident, let's get a good look at what he's facing in this beautiful double-page spread of the Fourth Host of the Celestials:

You may have noticed that the Eternals, in the form of the Uni-Mind, have joined Odin as he confronts the Celestial host. I don't know what the Uni-Mind can actually do as far as exercising offensive force, but we won't find out in this story. With the Celestials' first strike, they make short work of the Uni-Mind, splitting it back into all of the Eternals who gave it form and rendering them unconscious. I guess you might say the Eternals had an open mind when it came to the Celestials, heh heh.*

*Oh, come on, you would have said it.

From that point, the battle begins in earnest for Odin, who hacks off an arm of one of the Celestials. For all the good it does him. And the situation goes from bad to worse, even when Thor enters the fray to help:

I don't know why I was thinking that the Celestials might be merciful at this point, with Odin in no shape to continue. Though they've certainly exhibited signs of ruthlessness in their dealings with those who attempt to interfere with their plans (Arishem in particular), I suppose I was thinking that their claim on Earth vs. Odin's (and the other gods') might still be reconciled in some way. Then again, in all the times they've passed judgment on worlds, they've always judged thumbs-down. So I can see the writing on the wall here. It becomes clear that, instead of surrounding Odin and saying "Had enough?", these bad boys are just taking up position in order to best execute a killing stroke and deliver a message that the gods won't soon forget:

Thor, literally the last Asgardian, chooses to fight on--partly out of grief, mostly out of rage. And being outnumbered 9 to 1, it's probably a foregone conclusion that an enchanted hammer and a few storm clouds aren't going to make any more headway than an Odin-powered Destroyer. But when he's defeated and seconds from death, his mother, the Earth-goddess--another revelation we learn in this issue--intervenes, and offers the Celestials the twelve "young gods" that she and other Earth-pantheon goddesses helped to assemble in anticipation of the Celestials' return. Twelve beings who represent humanity's noblest achievements and highest ideals--beings who are the perfect examples by which the Celestials may not only assess humanity, but learn from, as well. They accept, and depart.

With Odin dead, as well as the extinction of the rest of the Asgardians, you might think this would be a turning point in Thor's life. Unfortunately, the next issue fixes everyone back up, good as new. But as much as Thor #300 would have been a collector's item had it been otherwise, the issue is still a remarkable composite of explanations for key events in Thor's past, as well as an excellent battle issue which stands out from the rubble of its ending.


Murray said...

I hated this issue. I hated the, as you say, tedious dreck running up to it. This was pretty much when I stopped collecting "Thor" faithfully. I wouldn't buy another issue until Walt Simonson.

1) I loathe the whole Celestial/Eternal/Deviant hogslop inflicted on the Marvel Universe by Kirby. It was such an obvious pandering ploy by Marvel to get Kirby to return "home". The whole concept fit the established Marvel setting and history like caramel sauce on spaghetti.

2) SO, seeing my favourite hero and his entire supporting cast buried in whupass by these bozos did not really fit my idea of a major anniversary issue, then or now.

But, I rant. Carry on.

Anonymous said...

I loved this issue, in large part because Thor later used this defeat to demonstrate a level of grace and nobility about his limits that he had not previously shown. He has been a finer character since this issue.

One thing I found interesting was the then-novel (now hackneyed) idea that the Celestials were defeated not by what original readers would have called "traditional masculine violence" but by what original readers would have called "traditional feminine wisdom", in presenting to the Celestials nurtured children of earth *from* *whom* *the* *Celestials* *could* *learn*. The omnipotent Celestials were appeased by an offer to nurture *them*, regardless of their power, without any effort to overwhelm them. It's almost as though what the Celestials had been trying to engineer was a means for their own redemption.

By modern standards, that may seem cliche' and a bit stereotypical about gender, but at the time this issue came out, it was an innovative idea for a comic book.

On the other hand, the inclusion of Gaea (who canonically pre-dates the existence of most if not all life on earth) makes one wonder where she, Set, and the other elder gods happened to be when the Celestials first came to the Earth.

Despite my enjoying this issue, I have to agree with Murray that the Eternals never fit well with the Marvel Universe. My thoughts on the matter lie with those who wrote during Kirby's original run that the Eternals should have its own continuity (or take place in an "alternate universe") rather than be roughly mixed in with the rest of mainstream Marvel continuity.

Comicsfan said...

Anon, that's quite a good observation about how the Celestials were appeased, rather than defeated in the traditional sense. I hadn't given any thought to the "new gods" for some time, and their involvement in the story not only made for a nice surprise but led to a very well-handled resolution to this saga.