Tuesday, April 14, 2015

When Wakes The Demon Druid!

There were often times when writer Gerry Conway would slow the pace of a story to a crawl by wrapping his villain in an enigma, while dealing the hero one setback after another in their attempts to battle him. By the end of the story, you ended up with an excess of drama and hopefully an interesting story, but little to speak of in the way of a satisfying read that made you anticipate the next issue. Answers were sometimes hard to come by in a Conway story--and when they did come, they were maddeningly incomplete. One example might be where Iron Man battles the villain known as Mikas; another would be an issue of Sub-Mariner where both Dr. Doom and MODOK pursue the Cosmic Cube, or what was left of it.

One story which nearly fits such a mold is the mighty Thor's encounter with a foe known as the "Demon Druid," whose slumber is ended when Thor switches to his mortal identity on a London street:

And I use the word "nearly" with the admission that the story's ending does indeed provide some measure of satisfaction, as tidily as it seeks to wrap up the mystery of this being. There would still remain some head-scratching moments involving the Druid and his cryptic words, not to mention the style in which he enunciates them; and there's also the matter of the meaning of his name, which we can take a fair guess at but close the final page on the story still wondering about.

In other words, this is a Gerry Conway story. Forking over 20¢ doesn't guarantee you answers.

Once the Druid is freed from his sarcophagus, it doesn't take long for Donald Blake to emerge from the tavern he's been dining in and transform to Thor to confront this being. Nor, astonishingly, does it take long for the Druid to casually brush him aside:

Already, there are about half a dozen questions to be asked about the Druid. First, it's clear that he holds disdain for Thor--but wouldn't you think he'd be more than a little curious about the man whose power roused him from his burial site? Instead, we're left to assume that he doesn't realize the method by which he's been freed; admittedly, it's not a sticking point, since what action he takes from this point on is our real focus.

Secondly, what catches our eye (aside from his hostility) is the pattern of stars arranged on his chest. Given that the word "druid" is part of his name, and he's emerged in England, it's reasonable to assume he has some connection with the ancient Druids, which, if true, would make him equally ancient. Also, the fact that he's calling himself the "Demon Druid," as well as his immediate attack on Thor, would indicate that his nature is malicious. And if he's powerful enough to take out Thor with one zap, that makes him dangerous, as well.

And speaking of Thor, you've likely noticed that the Druid's speech pattern is similar to the Thunder God's--and, by extension, to an Asgardian's. We could also speculate that it might be similar to how the ancient Druids spoke, assuming we had any idea of how that race couched their words. Given how little we know of the Druids, it would be quite a leap for Conway to make. And what of the words he spoke? He seems to be an alien, one who didn't go into stasis willingly--and it looks like he's off to resume whatever mission he was interrupted from completing.

We'll have to wait and see how much of all of this Conway ends up elaborating on. For now, Thor awakens to find one of the local constabulary, Lt. Prichard, on the case, with some information on the Druid's progress across the country. Unfortunately, for someone who dealt with Thor, Britain's finest pose no obstacle to this "blighter":

Prichard seems to have noticed that distinctive star pattern on the Druid--and when Thor takes off after his foe, Prichard begins putting together more clues, including an invaluable one that comes his way regarding the Druid's likely time he spent buried:

Meanwhile, Thor is ready to engage the Druid, a chance he didn't have before but which he intends to make up for in this second meeting:

And for a second time, Thor is laid out by this bruiser. Thanks to artist John Buscema, we know it was a fierce exchange between these two--but letterer John Costanza appears unimpressed, if Mjolnir striking with a "Spunt!" and the Druid decking Thor with a "Zump!" are any indication.  C'mon, Mr. C, this is Thor, not a Warner Bros. cartoon! The Druid's punch would have rated a "Badoom!" at the least.

Yet now we have two more questions to find answers for, and they're doozies: How is it that the Druid is familiar with Odin? And why does he think Odin is dead??

Thor can't respond right now, but perhaps Prichard is on his way to finding a few answers for us:

Prichard's math is off by almost 500 years in this 1972 story, but at least he's linked the Druid's chest emblem to Stonehenge--which is just where our alien is headed, as he reaches the county of Wiltshire. And with a fighting-mad Thunder God catching up with him once again:

If you're thinking that Thor's tactics at this point are strange, join the club. Thor already knows that the Druid is surrounded by a force field, and lord knows he's sampled the alien's mega-strength--does he seriously think strong winds and flying wood are going to give the Druid pause? Nothing less than close quarters with that hammer is going to make a difference for him here. The Druid certainly isn't hesitating to attack in force:

More cryptic clues that Conway drops along the way to this story's climax. "Woden" being the name that Odin was known by in Anglo-Saxon England; and the Druid continues to give the impression that he believes the gods of Asgard to no longer be alive. Hopefully Thor will prove to him otherwise, as he steps up his attack to return the Druid to his long slumber:

Well, at least the Druid went down with Thor this time--that's something.

Our man Prichard then arrives to finally assemble most of the pieces of this puzzle for us, just as the Druid regains consciousness:

For the sake of such a nice resolution to the Druid's story, we can't examine Prichard's reasoning too closely; for instance, the Druid did indeed attack Thor on sight at their first meeting, completely unprovoked. And it may be too much to assume that the Druids used this alien as a basis for their religion, since they were reputed to indulge in sacrificial practices. (The fact that the Druids are often linked to pagans also makes an association between the Druids and religion a contradiction in terms.) But the idea of Stonehenge being the Druid's goal because it was an ancient point of departure for his race was a decent way to explain his single-mindedness as well as his indifference to interference.

Yet the speculation we're left with in the Druid's wake is considerable. Why did this being name himself the "Demon Druid"? He's certainly no Druid--and to call himself a demon would be to describe his intentions as evil and cruel. (Of course, Thor did tag him with the "demon" label first--but what was the Druid doing, agreeing with him?)  It's possible that he was called by such a name in ancient times, though we'd have to assume it was with good reason. And what about this mission he's been going on about? "...for my mission 'pon this planet Earth to be complete ..." "... too long have I been kept from my life's purpose..." He may have had something important to take care of somewhere else--but it looked like all he wanted to do on Earth was to get off of it. As for his memories of Odin and the Asgardians, it's possible he was alluding to the first Ragnarok which Roy Thomas attempted to link to his origin of Odin, though it's anyone's guess how or why his alien race became interested in the fate of Asgard.

In later stories, the Druid was revealed to be an offshoot of the Kree (a "Kree-Eternal"), and would continue as Ultimus.  I hope the Supreme Intelligence gave Lt. Prichard the courtesy of an update.

Mighty Thor #209

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Vince Colletta
Letterer: John Costanza


Anonymous said...

"Enigma" is right.
I first read this comic quite a few years ago, and it was a real head-scratcher then.
I'm not quite sure WHAT happened here.
But that's Conway for ya. Sometimes with Marvel Comics in the early '70's, when the inmates were running the asylum, you had to fill in the logical gaps by yourself. Starlin was a case in point.
But I would be lying if I said I didn't enjoy this weird stuff.

Colin Jones said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

Still, this was a GLORIOUS time for great Buscema/Colletta art.

Just poetry in motion, gentlemen.

I'd pick it up just for the layouts and inking.

Comicsfan said...

Quite correct about the Druids not being a race, Colin--I had the Demon Druid's alien race on my mind at the time, and dropped one race too many in there. :)

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