Wednesday, October 1, 2014

The Wrath Of The Wrecker!

At the end of 1969, Jack Kirby's time as penciller on Mighty Thor was nearing its end, with only seven more issues before he would conclude his distinctive run on the title--while closing the door on this chapter of his work at Marvel Comics altogether, and moving on to hopefully greener pastures. Reading Thor around this time was something of a mixed blessing, since writer Stan Lee's scripting was barely present in Kirby's panels--only contributing insofar as what it took to move things along, with little to none of Lee's usual depth added to either characterization or the elements of the story. It was much the same in issues of Fantastic Four published at the same time, with Kirby ending his time there, as well. You and I can only imagine the upheaval Kirby's departure was causing in the Marvel offices, and not just in terms of scheduling. There seems to be general consensus that Kirby was not leaving Marvel under pleasant or even cordial circumstances--and, whether coincidentally or otherwise, that air of discontent was evident in these final stories.

Yet the Marvel promotional machinery was still going strong--and this house ad was pleasing to come across, even though a tight lid was being kept on what was going on behind closed doors:

If the cover to this issue of Thor was any indication, Kirby had no intention of throwing in the towel on his work before punching his time card for the final time. Kirby would later end his time on Thor with a battle between the warriors of Asgard and Surtur, the fire-god of legend who would one day put the final touches on Ragnarok--followed by another encounter with evil Loki. Inbetween, we'd see the first appearance of the Crypto-Man, which would eventually end the life of the Hulk's betrothed, Jarella, and pay the price. There was an encounter with billionaire Kronin Krask, who involved Thor in a mad scheme to gain the Thunder God's immortality. Kirby also presented another battle with the rock troll, Ulik, who had fallen in thrall to the Ringmaster (I simply have to get my hands on one of those hypnotic hats)--as well as a story where Loki seizes the throne of Asgard by laying claim to the Odin-ring.

And beginning this home stretch of issues was a rematch between Thor and the ruthless Wrecker, a common thief who was mistakenly granted Asgardian power by Karnilla, Queen of the Norns. In their first battle, the Wrecker almost succeeded in slaying Thor, who had been deprived of his Asgardian might by Odin--but through the intervention of the Destroyer, the Wrecker was beaten and subsequently carted off to a holding facility.

Trouble is, no one on Earth had really counted on having to incarcerate a super-villain with Asgardian power coursing through him--and so they drugged him, hoping to keep him sedated until proper facilities could be prepared for him.

Their time ran out.

Thor's penance with his father had ended some time ago, so he's now back to full fighting strength--and a good thing, too, because clearly the Wrecker is gunning for him. Nor does this villain plan to spend time thumbing for a ride to the city:

Kirby's work here is inked by Bill Everett, who of course had an incredible career in comics art and whose inks I particularly enjoy seeing on any number of artists' pencils. His work on Thor adds something of a sheen to the book's characters while flattening facial expressions in places, though that really amounts to only a quibble on my part. Most artists who apply their inking to Kirby's work wisely refrain from diluting his pencils (though Vince Colletta softened them significantly), and Everett for the most part lets the man go to town in these panels.

As for the story itself, there's still a fair amount of contribution that Lee makes to it--with Don Blake waging his own battle to save the life of a civil rights activist, but who incurs the shock of his fellow doctors by abandoning the patient in the middle of the operation (in order to meet the threat of the Wrecker). Unfortunately, Lee ends the story with Blake relatively spotless as far as blame goes; and Thor's battle with the Wrecker breaks no new ground, with the Wrecker his usual cocky thug self and Thor battling for truth, justice, and the Midgardian way. Kirby and Everett, however, go for broke, with each series of scenes almost exploding out of the panels:

You can see why the Wrecker rubs Thor the wrong way, personifying as he does the materialistic preoccupation that Thor has found in villain and super-villain alike during his time on Earth. Yet it's a mainstay of Thor's character to advocate man's greater destiny and his ability to rise above his shortcomings, and Lee pours it on in that respect--not to an unbearable degree, but rather weaving it into these scenes with a good sense of timing.

But Thor has a patient to get back to, so let's take a look at Kirby's own good sense of pacing a story and bringing a knock-down drag-out to an exciting conclusion.

We know from later stories in other mags that the Wrecker would regain his power--as well as put together a four-man team of crime, the Wrecking Crew.  (As if the guy doesn't wreak havoc enough on his own.)  When we return to Thor, we'll continue our look at these last seven issues of Jack Kirby's final work on the character (at least as far as the interior of the book is concerned), as the Thunder God is shot out of the sky and into the clutches of the last mortal villain he would face on Kirby's watch.

Mighty Thor #171

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Bill Everett
Letterer: Sam Rosen


david_b said...

One of the silliest villains, but with that AWESOME COVER and near-convincing story with Kirby art.., 'Yes sportsfans, ol' Jack hits another CLASSIC..'.

Pure fun.

Anonymous said...

I always loved how Kirby would draw those villains with exaggerated, leering features and huge mouths with giant, crooked teeth!
Look at the Wrecker! He looks like he could swallow a cat whole, and might consider actually doing it.
Comics were funnier and a lot more fun back then.

Comicsfan said...

I don't know, Anon--maybe those facial features only look exaggerated because Kirby was drawing close-ups. I'm staying out of the Wrecker's way in either case!