Friday, January 3, 2014

The Deadly Return of--You Guessed It--Ulik!


I don't know what it is with these two. When it comes to Thor and Ulik, their encounters boil down to a vicious cycle of one knock-down drag-out after another, with emphasis on the "vicious." Ulik is by any definition one tough customer, and in his battles with Thor he more than holds his own--yet eventually, Thor overcomes his savagery and power, often decisively.

So why should we get so pumped about an issue of Thor on the racks that looks like it's going to be another fierce battle between the Thunder God and his troll nemesis, Ulik? How much more mileage can possibly be squeezed out of this matchup?

For me, I suppose I keep letting myself get hooked because in the back of my mind I keep holding out hope that this time, Ulik will triumph. Because, say what you will about his track record with Thor, but Ulik at times has come very close to winning, and that makes for good reading. Most of the time, the only thing that really wrecks such a victory is that Thor is usually pressed for time in some way, and he has other places to be where people are depending on him; and if that's not the case, then there's something that's otherwise spurring him to expedite the fight and deal with Ulik so that he can move on. To Ulik's credit, though, the troll doesn't make it easy for Thor. When this bruiser wants you to stand and fight, it's tough for a warrior with honor to ignore that kind of direct challenge.

Even so--even Thor reached a point when he tried to make Ulik understand just how it is:




And when he couldn't pound some sense into him, Thor tried jogging Ulik's memory with the cold, hard truth of a scorecard. Unfortunately, in troll-speak, that's called an "affront":



Yet, the one thing you can't ignore about a Thor/Ulik fight is that most of the time, it's going to be a doozy. Ulik is either in it to win, or he's following a greater goal that requires him to engage the Thunder God with the gloves off. Either way, this brute is going to enjoy pummelling this enemy--and whichever way the fight goes, you can be sure once it's over that Thor will have some sore ribs, and a healthy understanding of the word "ruthless."



When these two first meet, it happens when war is breaking out between Asgard and the troll kingdom ruled by Geirrodur. And as with most introductions of new, formidable characters, Ulik's power seems a true challenge to Thor, as well as dangerous:




Unprepared for Ulik's savagery (even for a troll), Thor finds himself caught off-guard by Ulik's brutal and relentless assault. In fact, it's a rare day when you see the God of Thunder on the ropes--but this is what the God of Thunder on the ropes looks like:



Luckily for Thor, Ulik is pulled out of the fight and dispatched elsewhere by Geirrodur--a tactical blunder if ever there was one. What leader interrupts a fight where his own man is about to finish off the enemy's strongest warrior? Yet eventually, the paths of these two cross again, and their fight resumes, with Ulik's strength and power proving to be as daunting to Thor as ever:



In more ways than one, Ulik is proving to be the better fighter in this battle. But, while he's indeed wearing the Thunder God down, Thor seems to have fighting spirit to spare:





With Ulik at least temporarily dealt with, in time Thor is able to discover the secret of Geirrodur's show of force against the Asgardians, and his hammer finally downs Ulik at a crucial moment.

The two meet again during a conflict with Karnilla, the Norn Queen, and seem to pick up right where they left off. Only this time, Ulik goads Thor into battling without his hammer, a strategy which the troll soon comes to regret:




In their next meeting, Loki has sicked Ulik on Thor while on Earth. But upon arrival, Ulik falls into the clutches of, believe it or not, the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime:




Sheesh, if it's that easy to subdue Ulik, maybe Thor should think about replacing his winged helmet with a top hat. Still, you can't beat Thor's method for snapping someone out of hypnosis:




You probably begin to see Ulik's problem here. When he says things like "never again," you just know there's a roundhouse on the way with his name on it:



With the exception of a cover or two in the late '70s, this would be artist Jack Kirby's last battle between these two antagonists--and Ulik seems just as feisty as ever. When we catch up with Ulik again, we'll see more of how Big John Buscema handles a Ulik/Thor throwdown. If you're looking for a troll like Ulik to mellow with time, though, just remember that it was probably a troll that came up with the term "grudge match."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My favorite version of Ulik (now there's a phrase you don't often hear) was during the Defalco-Frenz era, when he was hanging out in a high-rise in Manhattan with Loki, conniving and planning and wearing an expensive suit and a pair of slick sunglasses, and spouting philosophy and political theory. Of, course, it was only a matter of time before he reverted to savage form, tearing up streets, fighting SWAT teams and raiding meat lockers.
I guess you can take the troll out of Nornheim, but you can't uh, well, you get the idea.

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