Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Your Own Worst Enemy

My Very First Issue of:

The Mighty Thor #188

I have to admit: this issue of Thor is nothing to write home about, and there's not much happening with the title character to leave an impression with a first-time reader. In fact, it left me so apathetic about the character that I wouldn't start regularly reading Thor until issue #193, which featured the Silver Surfer. From there, I worked my way backward--first going through artist Neal Adams' work on a three-issue story where Loki appropriates Thor's body, then his first battle with Dr. Doom, and then his two-issue evasion of Hela, Goddess of Death, before finally circling back and reading the "Infinity" story which culminates in this issue. In a way, Thor led me on as much of a merry chase as he led Hela.

Read in its entirety, the five-issue story of Infinity is more entertaining and interesting than inadvertently cutting to the chase, as I did, and picking up the story's climax. But this issue has a few things to pique your interest. You get a great sampling of John Buscema's artwork, inked by both Joe Sinnott and Jim Mooney. You're introduced to practically every main Asgardian character. You don't see Thor in battle, but you definitely get a measure of the power he wields. You learn of the Odin-sword--the power of which is revealed in full much later, but still awes you with its appearance in this issue. And you get the menace of a threat that is engulfing whole worlds, one by one.

To understand the gist of this story, you have to sort of come to terms with Hela and her role as Goddess of Death. And that's difficult to do. Because in Thor, she's treated alternately as both a malevolent entity and a necessary evil. In some stories, she exists as a sort of conductress to the gates of Valhalla, a refuge the gods hope is their final "resting" place where they wage eternal, glorious battle. In other stories, she maliciously attacks the gods in order to bring about their deaths prematurely. In still others, she's portrayed as the mere personification of an inevitable fate, neither good nor evil. In other words, if you ever face Death and hope to reason your way out of it, you can forget about it if Hela is the one in front of you. (Sif, pleading for Thor's life, being the only exception I can think of.)

Suffice to say that, for this story, Hela is going all in and seeks nothing less than the death of the Universe itself. But her plan doesn't take shape until an opportunity arises to slay Odin while he's helpless in a rejuvenation cycle called the "Odin-sleep." She strikes, but doesn't get the end result she wished for:

So she drops off "Infinity," a soulless version of Odin himself, at his first world to bring to an end, and her plan is put in motion:

And just look at this gorgeous representation of Infinity in action by Buscema, showing the power of Odin in its relentless march to universal death.

In the stories leading up to this one, Odin--with no knowledge of Hela's actions (so much for being omniscient)--leaves Asgard to go off and battle this massive threat to the universe, with Thor tagging along later and managing to pick up clues while Infinity sends lackeys to deal with him. Odin, naturally, has his hands full; after all, in essence he's fighting himself. He makes little to no headway against Infinity, and is completely taken by surprise when Infinity closes in for a final strike:

From that point on, Thor's task is made doubly difficult--because not only does Odin fall in thrall to Infinity, but Infinity also seeks to merge with his tangible self. Once Thor reveals that fact to his fellow Asgardians, they launch several attempts to foil that plan. First, Karnilla, Queen of the Norns:

And then, in tandem with the God of Evil himself--Loki, who has no wish to go down with the rest of Asgard:

But Thor attempts the same tactic on a greater scale, using his hammer to combine the power of himself with a number of other powerful Asgardians. And this time, the strike is successful:

Afterward, Odin--being Odin--uses his power to restore everything to its former state, with none of the engulfed worlds any the worse for wear. It's the mother of all reset buttons--which Odin, over time, has practically worn the paint off of, as often as he's hit it. When you see power displayed on this level, it's no wonder why the Asgardians regard him as their undisputed leader and are in such awe of him. Not only can he correct destruction on a universal scale--but he can actually overpower a version of himself (provided he knows what it is he's fighting). I can't figure out how the Celestials practically stepped on someone like this, as if he were only mildly bothersome. Maybe Odin should have sicced Infinity on them, instead.


Big Murr said...

We began nearly at the same juncture of "Thor"! I had the better luck, though, in that my first issue was the first issue of John Buscema with Thor meeting Dr. Doom. A perfect issue to hit the Marvel mythos for Asgard running.

The Infinity Saga blew my young mind on every level, gobbling up the plot AND all the cast of "The Mighty Thor". Dewey and green I might have been, I did find the Big Finale to be a touch anticlimactic. After all the universe-shaking power displayed, the prodigious Infinity wrapped up in three panels. And then the, as you say, well-worn reset button. Bing, bang, boom, done too soon.

(Fascinating how this is essentially the plot of the first saga featuring Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet: destroy the universe in service of Death.)

This was the omnipotent Odin I had burned into my dewey green brain. Which eventually leading me to realize how rife with buffoonery Marvel's creative policies truly are. A couple of years after Odin rocks reality itself, a flying saucer lands on the Rainbow Bridge (?!?) and a bunch of alien thugs hauls the Asgardians and ODIN away in slave chains. Why I didn't drop the title like hot compost right there, I don't know.

And, as you say, the questionable moment when the Celestials are a nuisance. But, then, all the Celestials/Eternals/Deviants baloney should never have been crammed into the Marvel continuity.

Comicsfan said...

Though there were some interesting Thor stories that came about as a result, I tend to agree about the decision to make Kirby's Celestials (and trickle-down characters) permanent fixtures in the M.U., Murray--particularly given the fact that Kirby was apparently such a stickler about keeping the rest of the M.U. out of his own stories whenever possible (the main exception being SHIELD, for whatever reason). The Celestials became the de facto major power figures as a result, which made it only a matter of time before it would be necessary to begin dealing with them as characters that weren't as invincible to other Marvel characters as they were made out to be--and even well before that. (They would, for instance, be toddlers in comparison to Lord Kragonn and the rest of his race.)