Monday, November 3, 2014

And So, To Depart!

We've been taking a look at the last seven issues that artist Jack Kirby turned in for Mighty Thor, and now reaching the last two before Kirby would leave Marvel Comics in 1970. In the prior issue, Thor had been recalled to Asgard in order to guard the realm while Odin once again went through the ritual of the Odin-Sleep. Asgardians were particularly worried about the God of Mischief, Loki, who would consider this the perfect time to strike and seize the throne.

Despite the best efforts of Thor and all the realm's loyal warriors, Loki was able to steal into the palace and obtain his true prize--the Odin-Ring, which conveyed rule of Asgard to its wearer. Loki wasted little time in slipping the ring on and asserting his place as Asgard's new ruler--a status even Thor was forced to acknowledge, despite his frustration and anger on the matter:

With Loki now free to do as he will--including seeing to it that Odin never wakes from his sleep to regain the throne--the realm would also soon face its darkest hour in the form of Surtur, the god of fire and Odin's sworn enemy, who will undoubtedly destroy all of Asgard in seeking his vengeance. Normally, we might expect Kirby to really go to town in turning in this last work on a character that he's been with since its beginning, though one could argue that even average work by Kirby would impress a reader. We can make a reasonable guess as to Kirby's state of mind toward Marvel during this time--but if there's an indication of any discontent or bitterness in his work, you'd be hard-pressed to find it in these issues. And aside from the splendid job he did on these last seven issues, it's that dedication to his craft that speaks most highly of him.

In fact, on the cover of the last of Kirby's issues*, it's almost as if Thor himself is paying tribute to his creator's care of him:

...or at the very least, giving him one heck of a sendoff.

*Whoops! I'm one issue off--see the comments below!

Before the battle gets started in full force in that final issue, the prior tale--following up on Loki's seizure of the Odin-Ring--gives Kirby the opportunity to have the Warriors Three indulging in a last bit of horseplay. At least, to them it's horseplay. Their opposition might have put it another way:

Loki, the killjoy, breaks it up and, to be on the safe side, consigns these friends of Thor (and the Thunder God himself) to the dungeon. Little does he realize that his possible downfall is even now in the process of escaping from his long imprisonment:

In the meantime, Balder has arrived and freed Thor and the others, and they discover that Loki's fiendish plan for Odin has already been put in place, to the outrage of his half-brother and his comrades:

But before Loki is set upon, the attack on Asgard by Surtur begins, as his overwhelming might is felt throughout the realm--and within view of a panicking Loki, who must now regrettably bear responsibility for its defense:

Loki, of course, reverts to type--as does Thor, but far more nobly:

In the story of Ragnarok which would be told by writer Roy Thomas almost 100 issues later, Thomas often raised the possibility of Earth sharing in whatever dire fate befell Asgard, even though he would side-step confirming it as a certainty. When Loki flees to Earth specifically to avoid its fiery end from the sword of Surtur, his advisor seems to make it quite clear that there's no doubt of Earth being destroyed along with Asgard, though Loki is still regarding Asgard's fall as a mark in the "win" column:

And so Kirby's final issue begins, with all of Asgard girding for its greatest battle which will end with either its glorious victory, or the last day of its existence. Thor wastes no time in marshalling his forces for what could be Asgard's final war. Kirby has often cut loose when it comes to Asgard's conflicts against its enemies--and when Kirby takes off the gloves, we can usually count on Thor doing the same:

While Thor and his fellow warriors face Surtur, Thor has assigned a crucial task to Balder the Brave: freeing Odin, so that he may regain control of Asgard and hopefully be able to stop Surtur. But Odin resides in the dimension of death, which gives Balder a slim chance at best to revive his liege before death claims this brave warrior:

On the battlefield, Thor's tactic of hurling the sea against this demon of fire has failed. But defense of the realm is not a one-man show, and Asgard's finest once again enter the fray in tandem with Thor:

And while it might be humbling to see the God of Thunder battling with might that dwarfs their own, these warriors are quite willing for Thor's power to have its day:

Save your spears and swords, gentlemen--it's a safe bet that the impact from a planetoid trumps your arsenal many times over.

Tragically, Balder may not be joining whatever attack Thor and his warriors may launch next, unless some miracle intervenes. Odin is due have his own problems later with the repercussions of his imprisonment in death's dimension--but for now, he's obliged to repay his loyal subject and liberator in full before turning his attention to Surtur:

For the warriors on the battlefield, however, the battle to remain alive does not go well. Surtur has defied the best efforts of Thor and his men, no matter the specialized weaponry they bring to bear:

Finally, when all seems lost, Odin arrives--and, ring or no ring, he makes it clear to Surtur just who's in charge here:

Kirby takes the issue out on a modest note, with Thor and the other Asgardians getting on their feet and giving praise and fealty to their liege. In hindsight, I might have imagined a double-page spread of Odin, seen from behind in partial profile, facing a two-page field of his cheering warriors on the field of battle. Regrettably, the battle has taken us through page 20, which at the time was usually the last page allotted to a story; so there's little to distinguish this story's end from any other triumphant victory Asgard has won from a fierce conflict.

Kirby's departure from Marvel, as I've mentioned previously, was low-key and quite unceremonious as far as informing readers and giving mention to his long history with and contribution to the company--a conspicuous oversight by a company which seemed to pride itself at keeping its readers in the Marvel loop. In the succeeding issue's Bullpen Bulletins page--the issue which John Buscema pencilled instead of Kirby--there appeared to be an effort to side-step the transition as deftly as possible, with half of the page being dedicated to an ad featuring the first issue of Astonishing Tales with a Ka-Zar story by Kirby and Stan Lee, while a relevant blurb in the Bulletins gave the impression that everything was status quo:

ITEM! There's a surprise awaiting you in this month's THOR! It's illustrated by ol' Johnny Buscema, who switched off with Jolly Jack this month just for kicks. Meanwhile, the King is making comic book history by drawing SILVER SURFER #18, on sale 'most any minute!

In the following issue, the "Stan's Soapbox" column finally announced Kirby's departure, referring to it in a single sentence: "Well, at the time of this writing (early in March), Jack Kirby has unexpectedly announced his resignation from our surprised but stalwart little staff." -- lightening the shock in a no-big-deal tone by comparing it to Steve Ditko's exit. After artist Neal Adams contributed three issues of work following Buscema's one-shot, Buscema would become the book's regular penciller.

It was an awful lot of fun for me to look back at these last seven issues which brought Kirby's tenure on the book to a close. But next time, for an interesting comparison, we'll take a different look at a life-or-death battle between Asgard and Surtur, this time featuring artist Walt Simonson's take on the struggle. And believe it or not, Loki even steps up to give the fire demon a few licks! Good grief, what's next? Volstagg taking on Mangog??

That's more like it!

Mighty Thor #s 176-177

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterers: Artie Simek


B Smith said...

"holds hand aloft*

But - but...didn't Neal Adams pencil only two books (#180-181) and #179 was Kirby's swan song?

C'mon, giz a no-prize.....

Comicsfan said...

You got it, B! Absolutely correct. Maybe Loki was using that darned Odin-Ring on me! Kirby's last issue on the series was indeed #179.

Colin Jones said...

Did the frost gun destroy Surtur's horns as they are missing from his final two panels. If Loki became the permanent ruler of Asgard would he have to undergo a "Loki-sleep" and if not then why not ? Why would it only apply to Odin and not to anybody else ? And what good is a ruler who needs to go into hibernation every so often ? When the Thor movie came out I assumed that Volstagg would be portrayed as grossly obese via a "fat suit" or CGI or such-like - what a disappointment !!

david_b said...

Awesome, awesome review sir, will look forward to grabbin' these.

The King certainly set the bar for Big John and others...

Comicsfan said...

Colin, frankly I'm surprised that planetoid didn't break off those horns. Maybe Surtur has the god equivalent of a healing factor?

david, thanks very much for the nice words. I think you'll enjoy both issues in their entirety.

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