Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Thunder in the 31st Century!

Thor Annual #6 is proof that a comics story need only have the basics to be good, satisfying entertainment. Heroes! Villains! A diabolical plan! Mix all of that in with a noted writer paired with talented artists, plot it so that you can fill 46 pages without sacrificing quality, and you've got yourself one pretty impressive "King-Size!" annual:

Good heavens--the "Minions of Menace"! How are you going to put that back on the rack?

Regrettably, the Minions of Menace never present themselves formally as the Minions of Menace, an oversight which should merit at least 20¢ being deducted from the cover price. On the other hand, this story featuring Thor and the Guardians of the Galaxy still packs enough goodness to give you your money's worth, even if its plot is by-the-numbers comics storytelling. Again, though, if it's done well, by-the-numbers can prove to be satisfying by the time we reach the final page.

The story begins normally enough--normally for the God of Thunder, that is, as he foils a terrorist plot that would have wiped out the entire city of New York. But as Thor seeks to disarm the group's nuclear reactor that shows signs of raging out of control, he finds that the forces being released are actually from the far future, where he is reluctantly retrieved.

It turns out that Thor's mysterious host finds the Thunder God's sudden appearance as much of an inconvenience as Thor himself, and so takes steps to rid himself of this powerful intruder. Yet Thor's final destination proves to be a considerably deadlier environment.

It's the only instance I can recall where outer space is shown to be near-fatal to Thor, and after only seconds of exposure--contradictory to the many instances where Thor has operated in space despite its harshness and lack of air and warmth. Fortunately, there are others in the vicinity, investigating a strange power beam--launched by one whose purpose will bind these heroes together in common cause.

Assuming one of those heroes hasn't already fallen victim to the enemy, that is:

While Thor drip-dries in the Guardians' medical bay, it's time we learned who was behind not only Thor's displacement in time, but the power beam which will soon become a threat to Earth's solar system--none other than Korvac, currently holding court with his deadly minions.

Most of Korvac's hirelings have been snagged by writer Roger Stern from Giant-Size Defenders #3, where they faced off against that team as part of a contest between the Grandmaster and the Prime Mover. Since Korvac is still in his man/machine state and hasn't yet gained ultimate power as the being "Michael," and since this annual has a heck of a lot of pages to fill, Stern gives Korvac's origin generous attention for those readers unfamiliar with his history, as told by the villain himself.

The reason why Korvac is so manic about this hunk of rock he's transformed becomes more clear when he supplies another word for what he would see it lead to:

Why Korvac is taking such delight in causing Earth's destruction doesn't quite make sense; given his origin, his beef would seem to be with the Badoon, not the race they enslaved. Why not aim that beam toward the Badoon's sun, and satisfy his lust for revenge at the same time? No wonder his minions look confused.

Meanwhile, Thor meets with the Guardians for the first time. As introductions are made, it's interesting how these beings of the 31st century regard not only a hero out of legend, but also one reputed to be nothing less than a deity. The reactions that Stern gives each of them seem appropriate to each character. Vance Astro, himself from the 20th century, reacts with awe; the scientest Martinex, with blunt skepticism; young Nikki, with amusement; and the spiritual Yondu, with humble respect and near-worship.

It's gratifying to see Stern take his time with the Guardians, given that they haven't had an easy time of it getting their due with readers. Their first "series" in Marvel Presents ended in 1977 after just ten issues--and having them show up and be featured so prominently in the Thor annual for that year was frankly unexpected (though they could simply have already been scheduled to appear). The difference between the two presentations is like night and day. The Guardians of the series were argumentative and cynical, looking for direction after finding no real place for themselves on Earth following its liberation from the Badoon; while here, we seem to have skipped past all of the conflict and doubt between them and found them as they've realized their potential, a solid group at last. It's a welcome transformation to see.

Thanks to Starhawk's information, Thor and the Guardians now have their goal and the resolve to reach it.

However, the Guardians find that their ship, the "Freedom's Lady," is hard-pressed to break through Korvac's defenses. But Korvac isn't the only one with teleportation equipment--and the Guardians transport with Thor directly to the surface of Korvac's planet, while the Lady moves out of weapons range. But our heroes arrive to face weapons of a different sort.

If we're still talking "by-the-numbers," you can make a good guess as to how things will go from here, with one difference. Instead of staying with the main group, Thor and Starhawk take off to confront Korvac, leaving the Guardians to deal with the minions. Otherwise, things play out as expected, with the minions arrogantly having the Guardians at a disadvantage.

As for Thor and Starhawk, Korvac amuses himself by teleporting them multiple times and thus blunting their attack, until Thor smashes his machinery. But just when it looks like they're in the clear to attack in earnest, Korvac gives them their wish--just not in the way they were expecting.

Outside, the Guardians have taken their enemies' measure, and now counter with their own powers and abilities. It's the only part of the story I don't particularly care for, given how two of these beings were able to ruthlessly slay both Namor and Daredevil, while another casually fought off the Hulk's attack--yet the Guardians are easily able to turn the tables on all of them.

There doesn't seem to be any way out for Thor and Starhawk, though, as they face off to battle each other to the finish. Which, they realize, is their only hope for foiling Korvac's mad plan:

We know where Korvac's next stop will be, so he'll find that retreat can indeed open a new window to opportunity. Meanwhile, free of his control, Thor destroys what remains of his power beam machinery--and, after sending him home, Starhawk and the Guardians call it a day.

During this story, you'll also see some of artist Sal Buscema's best work, bolstered by Klaus Janson's strong inking style which smooths out his rough edges and supplements his figures and scenes with shadowing and other enhancements. Janson also was the finisher for some of Buscema's Defenders work, and his talents have been put to good use in many assignments for both Marvel and DC.

This Thor annual lands in the middle of a consistent run of three quality end-of-year annuals for the Thunder God. The prior annual featured a new take on a meeting between Thor and Hercules, which would lead to war between Asgard and Olympus--while the annual following the Guardians story had Thor involved in the events of the Iliad, before facing off with Zeus. Both bookend this annual to create a nice set to rest on your collections shelf.

Thor Annual #6

Co-Plotters: Len Wein and Roger Stern
Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: Sal Buscema
Inks: Klaus Janson
Letterer: Joe Rosen


dbutler16 said...

Oh my, Thor AND the Guardians of the Galaxy AND Korvac? Wow, how did I ever miss this? Well, I was 8 when this came out, and hadn't yet discovered the local comic shop, and was thus dependent on what the local Convenient Food Mart had to offer, but I can't believe I never even knew of the existence of this comic. The cover alone tells me it must needs be ten cups of awesome!

Anonymous said...

Heh! Yeah, it was a pretty good one. It set us up for the big Korvac Saga. More costumed characters than you can shake a stick at! I dig this cosmic stuff. M.P.

Kid said...

Okay, you've sold it to me. Now I'll have to track one down.

Comicsfan said...

dbutler, many was the convenience store that grew annoyed with my constant (often daily) visits to check out the new comics. Thank goodness there were other outlets like drug stores and newsstands where spinning a comics rack wasn't so bothersome to proprietors.

david_b said...

SAME here.., not a big Thor or GOTG fan, but always love Sal's pencil work.

I was scratchin' my head about the space survivability myself, since Avengers 125 (for one example), Thor was just fine against the Thanos-led invasion.

Gotta LOVE Marvel...!!

Nice cover.

Comicsfan said...

Thanks to Big John Buscema and Joltin' Joe Sinnott, that cover's certainly cooking on all cylinders, david.

Big Murr said...

Well, colour me gobsmacked!!

I remember reading this story back in once-upon-a-time, but haven't thought about in years. Reading your old posts is always entertaining, but I never expected this pastime to be such a surprise.

Whichever of the scribes behind the movie Avengers: Infinity War was obviously a fan of vintage Thor material. In this Annual, we have the Guardians of the Galaxy rescuing Thor from deep space. In the movie we had the Guardians of the Galaxy rescuing Thor from deep space. And though the movie Guardians are different characters entirely, the gamut of their individual reactions was remarkably similar to the Guardians in this comic.


Comicsfan said...

Quite an intriguing observation, Murray--you never know. ;)