Saturday, July 6, 2013

When The Servitor Commands!

I can't say I'm a great fan of writer Len Wein's prose ("If I must defeat you to end the vile threat you pose, madman--then that is precisely what I shall do!")--but I do have to take my hat off to some of the concepts he came up with. And if I had to pick one that stands out for me, it would be the four-part story that took place in Thor #s 242-245, which involved Thor, Jane Foster, the Warriors Three, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man--and, I might add, the destruction of planet Earth at the end of time. Without a doubt, one of my favorite Thor stories--not just because of all the interesting things Wein keeps in play throughout and the way he weaves the story together, but because it also visually knocks it out of the park with some of the best work by artists John Buscema and Joe Sinnott that you could hope to see.

Before "When The Servitor Commands!" cranks up, though, it has to wrap up the events of the last story, where Thor battled the Egyptian gods who had his father, Odin, in thrall. That crisis over, Thor must now calm the military, which had converged on a field of orange groves in San Diego where an Egyptian pyramid had mysteriously appeared. These kinds of scenes are often amusing, where Thor deals with mortals who aren't necessarily inclined to take his explanations at face value. As you might guess, those conversations usually don't last too long:

Thor deals with the pyramid easily enough (well, easily enough for a guy with a hammer that whips up a displacement vortex), and then discovers that his father has recovered his memory and is ready to return to Asgard. But Odin sees that Thor has again taken up with Jane Foster, a match he doesn't approve of; and he's not about to listen to Thor's explanation of how Jane is now infused with the spirit of the goddess Sif (long story). And so, again, a rift between Odin and Thor forms, and they part ways (though Odin ends up taking an unexpected detour).

Thor, fortunately, has happier circumstances waiting for him at Jane's apartment in New York:

Though I must say, I wasn't expecting the coffee table reading that Jane keeps around her place:

Jane's horizons seem to have broadened since her pining nurse days, no?

But now it's time to kick this story into high gear, as a giant armored hand reaches through Jane's wall and grabs her, heralding the attack of the awesome Servitor who makes his first appearance in this beautiful full-page scene:

While we get the feeling here that there's an epic unfolding before our eyes, this particular story perhaps didn't need to be stretched out to four issues--but that's Wein's writing for you. It's not that Wein is giving so much story here; rather, his work generally tends to reflect a style of inserting a lot of unnecessary (and at times repetitive) banter and narrative, which detract from the story's pacing and add no real significance to the events taking place. In this instance, I'm reluctant to lay all the blame at the artist's door, since I've seen enough of Buscema's work to know that he's able to cut to the chase as well as anyone. But take this example, where Thor attempts to respond to the Servitor's incursion with force:

Now, we don't really need to see the mechanics of the hammer's trajectory in a separate panel of its own--and we don't really care about the damage to that car, do we? And why is Jane so flustered about it? You'd think she'd have more important things to worry about at this point, wouldn't you?

So why not whittle down this scene and keep the focus where it belongs? How about something like this:

Which brings us back to the Servitor--who, though not central to this four-part tale, proves to be an interesting character throughout. Wein gives him a generous amount of scenes, particularly in this issue where he's clearly following the instructions of another to carry out a mission. But it's difficult to apply greater dimension to him when he delivers such a hostile ultimatum:

Good grief, Servitor--have you met the Asgardians?

Thor manages to free Jane (though, again, not before a great deal of delay on Wein's part--including, astonishingly, three large panels of space devoted to nothing but Volstagg clumsily tumbling from a precipice), after which the battle intensifies. The Servitor actually does a good job at keeping the Asgardians at bay, with both his size and strength as well as the power lance he carries. Had he been sent to destroy all of them, the level of confusion going on here might give him the advantage to actually succeed. As it is, "going easy" on Thor is taking a lot of self-restraint on his part:

But Thor finally decides on a strategy to both separate the Servitor from his weapon as well as deal with his size:

Wow, the Servitor throws in the towel pretty quickly when he's looking up at an enchanted hammer about to reduce his face to pulp. But before Thor can use deadly force, the Servitor's master suddenly arrives to give him a reprieve. Ant it turns out to be one of Thor's earliest foes--Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, who arrives seeking, of all things, an alliance:

Yeah, I know what you're thinking--if this is Zarrko's way of asking for help, can you imagine what the mission is going to be like?

In Part 2 of this story, we'll find out more about just what the heck is going on here.


Kid said...

This four-part adventure has always been one of my favourites as well, CF. Glad to see you're a man of discernment. It was collected in a hardback book with some other tales a couple or so years back.

Comicsfan said...

Yes, I was going to plug it when I finished up with this story. The TBP includes some other Wein/Buscema goodness, so the discerning reader can't go wrong. :D

Gecho said...

I'm sure Jane only reads Playboy for the articles!

IADW said...

Nice post! I miss multi-story tall adversaries! So many villains these days are all human size, it is too good of a comic device to do away with!

'So speaks The Servitor!' and with classic comic dialouge to boot!

Comicsfan said...

Heh, good point, Gecho! Not to mention that there's certainly enough human anatomy in those pages to pique her medical curiosity.

Hiya, Dan--multi-story adversaries, eh? Have I got the post for you! :)

Anonymous said...

This was a great arc, and I liked the Servitor...It's hard to make a big robot (android, not sure) interesting, but they did. No spoilers, but I liked the way he was portrayed at the end of this whole thing.