Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mismatch Of The Gods

Thor vs. Pluto!

Gee, it doesn't look like much to get excited about, does it?

Pluto is the ruler of the Grecian "netherworld"--an abode of demons and the damned, surely, but not necessarily of the dead. (Though, if you take a look at the netherworld, the difference would probably be negligible.) He's not thrilled about being the ruler of demons and surrounded by stygian fire all the time, and he's definitely not in that position by choice--it seems Zeus has consigned him there because... because... oh, even Zeus has probably forgotten why, or no longer cares. Suffice to say that Pluto is always looking for a way out of the netherworld, often resorting to trickery as well as outright force.

Ares, the Greek God of War, has been known to throw in with Pluto in his schemes from time to time--which should tell you something about Ares, in spite of his makeover in the Avengers. Pluto has also demonstrated a knowledge of and willingness to interact with Earth's population and history when it suits him, and it seems to suit him often enough. And while Pluto indeed has his own domain in Greek mythology, he's ventured into matters concerning other pantheons when seeing opportunities to increase his power base, as when Odin was presumed to have died and the Asgardian's soul was ripe for the taking.

As for his somewhat extensive involvement with Thor--well, Thor gets around, as we know. He's friends with Hercules, who's found himself the target of Pluto's machinations; he's one of the Avengers, who also get around, including a nice little damnation trip to the netherworld courtesy of Zeus; he's the son of Odin, and isn't going to just watch and see a thug like Pluto swoop in and steal his father's soul; and he's frequently involved in Earth matters, and will thus cross paths with Pluto from time to time.

But, as I've implied, the skirmishes between Thor and Pluto, with rare exception, have been nothing to write home about, so perhaps I'm giving more of a build-up to Pluto than he deserves. We know that Thor can provide a darn good fight for practically anyone, man or god--but Pluto, being on a standing with Odin and Zeus (though not quite equal standing), is really out of Thor's league. Yet, Thor is resourceful, and not without his own exceptional levels of power--and so, while seeing Thor square off with Pluto won't necessarily have us sitting on the edge of our seats, it's still enough to get our attention.

At least, it used to be.

If Pluto has achieved less than spectacular villain cred with Marvel readers, it can probably be traced back to his first appearance in Thor, where he posed as a Hollywood producer in order to trick Hercules into signing an "Olympian contract" to replace him as the lord of the netherworld. "Pluto the Underhanded" is what we were all tempted to call him, which wasn't the most flattering handle for a new villain. It also didn't help to establish Pluto's threat level by keeping him mostly behind the scenes when Thor arrived to fight for Hercules, as he chose instead to let the deadly warriors and armament of his netherworld handle the Thunder God:

Pluto only took a direct hand in the situation when it became clear that Thor was causing too much damage to his domain, causing Pluto to basically throw in the towel and bring an end to hostilities, thereby freeing Hercules. As a result, Pluto came off more as a bitter administrator than as a threat to Thor, or to anyone else.

It was only later, when Thor was investigating strange manifestations near a scientific research center in the heart of the city, that Pluto was revealed to again be inserting himself in mortal affairs, this time by visiting Earth's future where he would conscript the "mutates" that aggressively roamed there to assist him in conquering present-day Earth. It really only took just a few panels to show how Thor would stack up against his direct threat:

With the main battle segments focusing on the threat of the mutates vs. Earth's armed forces, the rest of the story didn't offer much more in terms of a Pluto/Thor confrontation--and what we did see was somewhat lackluster.

Thor and Pluto would only really cut loose when Odin was drained to a state where he was on the verge of death, with an energy field established by Thor the only thing keeping him from being claimed by Hela, the Asgardian goddess of death. But good news travels fast in death circles, and there was another who would come calling for such a valuable prize as Odin's soul:

But the Thor/Pluto clash doesn't happen immediately. To give you an idea of where Thor falls on Pluto's list of dangerous enemies, Pluto warms up by taking on his Asgardian counterpart Hela first, leaving Thor and his comrades to deal with the legions of the netherworld:

Despite the apparent ferocity of Pluto's fight with Hela, he manages to overcome Hela easily enough by siccing the "demon hounds of Hades" on her and forcing her to retreat. From there, he sees a clear path to Odin--at least in his mind's eye. In reality, there's indeed one foe left for him to dispatch:

But, while this fight between Thor and Pluto is considerably more involved than anything between the two we've seen to this point, it's a little on the disappointing side. Both combatants have a serious case of Gerry Conway syndrome, with the writer having these two converse to such poetic depth in the middle of a life-or-death struggle that they almost appear to be moving in slow motion.  And when the fateful moment comes when Pluto gains the upper hand, this fight between two supposed giants of godhood has already been sapped of the excitement it promised:

But, what a difference a gap in issues makes.  When the battle spills over into the next regular issue (with a fill-in issue inbetween), Conway has picked up the pace--with a timely save from Pluto's axe by the Norns, as well as a fighting-mad Pluto who's finally done debating with Thor.

Eventually, thanks to Hela's intervention, Odin recovers, and thus removes the reason for Pluto continuing this battle. And when he departs, you have to wonder if Pluto even gave Thor a second thought (though his battered legions will no doubt be remembering their encounter with him for awhile).

Finally, we come to an attempt by Pluto to provoke war between Olympus and Asgard by kidnapping Krista, a young Asgardian goddess, and having Ares pose as Hercules in order to make it appear that the two are in alliance:

After Thor and the real Hercules clash in the misunderstanding, they take the fight to Pluto's domain. Pluto then flees with Krista to, of all places, Earth, where he easily incapacitates Hercules but this time fares poorly against Thor:

Conway, it seems, has little interest in stoking Pluto with the same fire that he showed while battling for Odin's soul--or, rather, has little reason to. By Pluto's own admission, he's already lost this game he's been playing--and so there's not much point to engaging in further hostilities with Thor, except to perhaps play with the Asgardian's head a little more:

With Pluto vanquished (though we can really only use that word to placate Thor), even Conway seems to be admitting the concept of "Thor vs. Pluto" has run its course.  It's doubtful there's any more of worth in further match-ups between these two gods; unlike Thor and Loki, who can perpetually find themselves at each other's throats, they don't share the familial bonds that would sustain their reasons for being pitted against one another.  Pluto is also hampered by the shackles of the netherworld, which Zeus actively enforces when necessary.  Perhaps he needn't bother.  There hasn't exactly been an outcry from readers wanting to see more of Pluto, has there?


Anonymous said...

Welp, I doth say this be a mighty post indeed!
A doff of the feathered helm to you, C.F.!

Anonymous said...

Pluto's street cred is not helped by him having the same name as Mickey Mouse's dog ! His first appearance was reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #4 which came out in 1974 but I didn't get to buy it until August 1977 (the same week that Elvis died).

Anonymous said...

Did you hear about Pluto?

That's messed up....

The Prowler (yeah, he went there).

Anonymous said...

I love mythology, I've taught an occasional mythology course at my college, but the changes taken in popular culture don't usually bother me. I don't mind that Marvel's Thor is blond and beardless, and I'm okay that they had Poseidon summon an alleged kraken (that looked nothing like a kraken) in Clash of the Titans, or that the Dungeons & Dragons RPG decided the gorgon is a steer made out of living metal. I even enjoyed the first few seasons of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Because a blond Thor works as a superhero. Because Clash of the Titans was always a delightful Ray Harryhausen romp that took its inspiration from Greek mythology. Because Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was openly an action-adventure sitcom.

But the way Marvel treated Pluto (why oh why didn't they call him Hades?) was not only inaccurate but boring. His costume is one of the least interesting and most generic of all the "bad guy" gods faced by Thor and/or Hercules, with none of the flare of Loki, Set, or Hela, for example. His bombastic rants about how powerful he is are always generic and colorless, even though Marvel has managed to give force to similar rants by Doctor Doom, Nightmare, Thanos, Korvac, or even Galactus on occasion. There's nothing notable about his minions, and it looks as though the only reason a Roman god has troll underlings is that the writer really, really, really didn't care about getting it right.

Worse, Pluto's motivations come across more like a big business greedhead. He wants Odin's soul only because he wants it! he wants it! he wants it! waaah! There is none of the self-delusion about purpose with Doctor Doom or the power hunger of Set or Blastarr or the violent terror of Annihilus or the overriding egotism of Dormammu. Pluto is the only Marvel villain I can think of who can manage to snivel bombastically while ranting about how powerful he is.

The Greco-Roman god of death can be done interestingly. He has a stylish depiction in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and he's one of the best things about the otherwise odious remake of Clash of the Titans. Perhaps someday he might even be handled as he was in the original myths, in which he is not a villain at all but one of the most impressive of the pantheon, comparatively speaking.

It would be great to see Pluto redone as a strong character, but I think they would have to start from scratch and either hope no one remembers this continuity or depict this as an underling pretending to be the great Hades. Unlikely, thought.