Monday, November 12, 2012

If I Had A Hammer

You know, whatever disagreement we may get into about comics:

Let's at least agree we'll never take it outside and erupt into a riot about it.

But let's give these kids a break. At the time, the Hulk and Thor were the strongest guys on the Marvel block, yet neither could seem to land a TKO on the other. And since Marvel was keeping mum on the matter of who was the more powerful, thank goodness Thor just happened to be flying by and set down in the middle of this "gang war" to settle the matter, disclosing the details about a fight between himself and the Hulk that no one had been told about. The story takes place in Thor's training wheel magazine at the time:

Thor takes the kids back to the classic battle everyone already knew about, from Avengers #3 where the Sub-Mariner and the Hulk for a shaky alliance against the Avengers. In the middle of the battle, Thor and the Hulk grapple and become separated from the others, taking their battle deeper beneath Gibraltar into the caves used by the British during the war. Thor, seeing an opportunity to test the Hulk's strength pitted against his own in close quarters, decides to hold the Hulk at bay and make a quick appeal to Odin:

Jeez--only five minutes needed to lay out the Hulk. Does Thor have a high opinion of himself, or what? But ego aside, the request just doesn't makes sense. Thor has fought the Hulk before, with his full power and with allies. He knows how tough and resourceful the Hulk is, and he should know that five minutes just won't cut it. But behind the scenes, the time alotted also has to be factored into Thor's participation in the battle the Avengers are fighting above, so five minutes is about all we've got here.

But once he's gotten Odin to remove his hammer's enchantment (I don't suppose it occurred to Thor to skip Odin's tinkering entirely, and just refrain from using the hammer for five minutes), Thor does something else that doesn't make sense:

It seems clear that artist Jack Kirby's layouts had something else in mind here than what writer Stan Lee ended up scripting.  That's a hurled hammer, not one simply tossed to the side.  I think that Kirby meant Thor to hurl his hammer directly at the Hulk, for whatever reason--perhaps just as a demonstration to us of Odin's adjustment, that the Hulk could now not only stop it unharmed but also take possession of it where he couldn't before. We get a graphic demonstration of the Hulk's frustration with the hammer's power under normal circumstances when the five minutes are up and Thor has rejoined the Avengers:

(I don't know what Thor is on about here, declaring that he's not interested in tests of strength. He must have a short memory.)

Anyway, the first part of this battle has Thor trying to keep his hammer away from the Hulk, who now may have the power to destroy it. And it puts Thor sufficiently on the defensive for the Hulk to take charge of the fight:

Keep in mind that this was also the time when the Hulk retained a lot of the savvy and ruthlessness he had when he'd first joined the Avengers--which made him a far more dangerous foe to the Avengers and to Thor. Take this move, for example--digging out an old WWII mine and hurling it at Thor, where it explodes on impact:

The Hulk wastes no time in charging his weakened foe and taking advantage of the situation--while also making sure that Thor gets the message that, to the Hulk, he's no different than any other foe he's crushed. The scene also gives us (as well as Thor) a chance to see how formidable a foe this brute is, and that he has no intention of stopping until he's snapped Thor's neck like a twig.

But then it's Thor's turn, ducking the Hulk's charge and then advancing to pound his own message into the Hulk's thick skull. It would turn out to be the only telling blows that Thor lands during the entire fight:

Yet Thor is able to show us his impressive strength in another way:

Here, with the Hulk insisting that Thor subjugate himself before his power, we get an idea of what this fight means to the brute on a personal level. To the Hulk, Thor is a threat to his standing that must be dealt with decisively. Indeed, later, when the fight is long over, the Hulk throws a raging tantrum, establishing a vendetta between himself and Thor (for as long as his memory will allow, at least), while Thor in contrast takes the lessons he's learned and calmly moves on.

And speaking of the fight ending, it of course ends strictly undecisively:

The Hulk is buried underneath the rubble, but digs a tunnel to rejoin the main fight, where Thor also appears. It's at that point that the Hulk turns on the Sub-Mariner after one too many insults thrown his way, and they part ways with both the Avengers and each other.

But what about our kids Thor interrupted earlier, who were about to come to blows? Do they at least get a little satisfaction for having been made to sit through this story? I mean, all they wanted was a simple answer to a simple question:

And if you thought some idealistic tripe like that was going to cut it
for either the pro-Thor or pro-Hulk camp, well...


Kid said...

If I remember correctly, I first read this tale in a British hardback annual called Fantastic. I hadn't yet read The Avengers story that preceded it 'though - I got to see that in the early '70s. As for who's the strongest - I'd batter the two of them.

Comicsfan said...

Yeah, but then you'd have to deal with Odin, bub. :)

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Always fighting, these two. Had fun witnessing their battle in the Avengers-Defenders War for the first time last year:

Comicsfan said...

I frankly didn't expect that fight to end as abruptly as it did. At the point their battle was interrupted, the Hulk's rage was off the scale--it didn't really make sense for him to just stop and calm down, especially at an order Dr. Strange would bark at him. As soon as Thor turned his head, I would have thought the Hulk would seize the chance to put him out for the count (like he did with the Thing here).

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