Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Death to Earth! Death to the Thunder God!

There came a time after the Avengers/Defenders conflict where Loki, the God of Mischief (and, it goes without saying, Evil), found that he'd accidentally acquired a new level of power that allowed him to move more boldly in asserting his will over those he wished to subjugate--which resulted in a Thor three-part story arc that unfortunately put the Earth in his crosshairs.

The story by Gerry Conway and John Buscema, however, doesn't appear to have been given a lot of thought beyond putting the wheels in motion for another grab for power by Loki, even though there's no shortage of action, or interesting characters, or drama. There just appears to be, well, something missing--and perhaps the reason for that is Loki, himself. There are times when Loki has been able to do a great deal with what he's been given by the writer in terms of advancing his agenda, even though he often fails due to impatience or a tendency to overreach. Loki's specialty was in working behind the scenes to achieve his ends, which led to basking in a triumph that eventually slipped from his fingers; yet here, all subtlety is thrown out the window, and the plot consists mostly of Loki riding roughshod over his opposition on his path to conquest and establishing his supremacy.

There are other separate, ongoing elements that are given their segments during this crisis, distractions which make it appear as if we're not seeing a crisis here but a "war" that will come and go and see Thor return his attention to the matters at hand. For instance, Jane Foster, on the verge of death, is an ever-present concern for Thor; the lady Sif drafts Hercules to assist her in securing the runestaff of Kamo Tharnn in order to save Jane; while Odin, who often lowers the boom when Loki steps out of line, has taken a guise on Earth and is unavailable for the duration. Essentially, Thor's plate is cleared to deal with Loki while these events tend to themselves (though Jane, in hovering near death, appears to have hovering down to enough of a science so that she assumes more of a holding pattern).

As for Loki, his new power lets him indulge in two priorities--the conquest of Asgard, and his revenge against Thor. Fortunately, there is still a bit of the old Loki remaining, who, instead of just materializing in front of Thor and humbling him, instead moves against the planet of mortals which means so much to the Thunder God. To that end, he lures Firelord to his abode and makes him once again a herald of sorts, though not in a good way.

With Loki's abrupt dismissal of Firelord, he realizes that Firelord's next move will be to warn Thor. The bad news for Thor is that Firelord's cavalier treatment by Loki has inflamed the alien's temper to such a degree that he's not in a mood for words when he arrives in New York.

And so this story begins with a mixture of intrigue and action, which admittedly are good things for a comics story to tempt the reader with. And, after all, Firelord's attack has taken Thor's mind off of his troubles, eh?

This story also gives us the opportunity to sample the work of three different inkers on Thor, one by one--respectively, Dick Giordano, Chic Stone, and Joe Sinnott, all of course with different styles and who each bring something to the table where Thor and his cast of characters are concerned. We probably tend to strongly associate Vince Colletta with the Thor book, as he's finished both the work of Buscema and Jack Kirby in long stretches on the mag; in fact, if there were a fourth issue to this arc, it would have been interesting to line it up alongside the other three in order to have a nice mix of finishers on a single story. Still, you'll see some good comparisons between the three artists in the approaches they take to the characters.

But, back to the story-- "Oh, great," you're probably thinking, "another Firelord battle." Well, in Firelord's defense, this takes place fairly early in his appearances to date, so Firelord is still a character of potential in mid-1975--but, yes, Firelord would go on to have considerably more bark than his bite. For now, however, he's looking to release some anger in Thor's direction. On the other hand, Thor is in absolutely no mood right now for being the target of an unprovoked attack.

(Inks by Dick Giordano)

We'll see some more of the awesome Det. Blumkenn in another post; we'll have to assume that Thor's fumbling for an explanation placated him, or the rest of this story might have Thor and even Firelord cooling their heels at the precinct station. Instead, they arrive at Avengers Mansion, where the two brief Iron Man on the situation and Firelord reveals that their enemy is Loki, Thor's and the Avengers' long-standing foe. Clearly that raises the bar on this conflict; but with Jane still in his thoughts, Thor finds that his heart isn't in girding for war.

Loki, meanwhile, moves on Asgard--and with the power he now possesses from Dormammu, he seizes control and enthralls its warriors to his service. But not before announcing his intentions to his father's loyal friend and servant.

(Inks by Chic Stone)

On Earth, Thor, mulling his next course of action outside of Avengers Mansion, subsequently finds that Firelord, Iron Man, and the mansion itself have been sealed behind an impenetrable barrier; and when he makes his way to the Pentagon to confer with the military, he finds that his suspicions of Loki making a preemptive strike are correct.

Loki has also established over 200 dimensional gateways located outside of every important army base across the country, presumably in order to pass through with Asgard's forces and attack in stages. Again we see that Loki's grasp of strategy takes a back seat to whatever confidence the power he holds instills in him, obviously not caring if the presence of his gateways give his foes ample warning of his intentions. He also has no worries about beginning his campaign with the military stronghold of the nation--and taking Thor on, as well.

However sickened Thor is at striking out at his countrymen, he does his job, using his strength and powers to clear the way to Loki while giving the military time to assemble its forces. Soon enough, Loki demonstrates his newfound power to the shock of Thor--and it's then that the engagement between the opposing sides explodes into war. The clash is fierce, valiant--and, regrettably, futile.

It's here that Conway's story skips ahead to an alarming degree. There's no discernible reason for the Army to throw in the towel because of one failed tactic--and no reason for Buscema to display all of that military hardware, standing at the ready, only to have it all just sit in place once the ground forces have retreated and they're now free to open fire. "If something doesn't break soon--we'll have to nuke them." What th..? Really? Without employing an ounce of conventional firepower beforehand? Can somebody get General Ross on the line?

The next thing we know, Thor is leading a small commando team into the enemy encampment to... do what? Sabotage? Prisoner capture? Reconnaissance? Attempt to take out Loki? We're never told what this mission is--only that it's "too important" for Thor to act outside of its parameters. But it's not Thor's style to tip-toe around in confronting Loki; in fact, there was no real reason for him to join the military's retreat earlier, was there? He'd already been seen going head-to-head with Loki--why would he break off, especially since Sawyer wasn't going to shell the enemy forces?

(Inks by Joe Sinnott)

As Loki taunts his brother, he discloses that the Asgardian forces will strike at dawn; but are the Asgardians in the habit of invading a territory they intend to conquer, only to stop short, set up camp, and wait? If light is a factor, why not simply come through the dimensional gateway at dawn, and attack in earnest? The traditional Earth-style movements that Conway seeks to apply to Loki and his forces--i.e., the positioning of men and equipment in military campaigns--doesn't apply to beings who, once prepared for war, encounter and engage their enemies with no quarter given.

Back at Avengers Mansion, Firelord, not known for his patience, lashes out at the imprisoning barrier to no effect, until he's joined by an old hand at applying teamwork. And just in time, too, since even the President seems to see no military alternative to halting the Asgardians short of deploying a nuclear weapon.

(Er, I'm sure Firelord meant, "Ho, Earth-men!"

Such curious logic that Conway uses to establish Loki as Firelord's match. Storm giants, which the Asgardians have taken sword to more than once, are also flesh and blood; yet, unlike Firelord, they don't possess one iota of cosmic energy. Which one of the two would you place money on in a fight? Conway perhaps could have achieved the same dramatic effect by instead referring to Loki as a god, one who at one time more than held his own with the Silver Surfer.

Regardless, Firelord's entry into the fight has distracted Loki to the point that his imprisonment of Thor fails, and the God of Thunder angrily rejoins the fray--and to issue a challenge which his foe must accept to save face.

Loki likely agrees to Thor's demand because there are only two pages remaining in which to conclude this story, one that has already been unduly drawn out and now, virtually giving us whiplash, is about to be accelerated in order to revisit a clash that was earlier halted for no apparent reason. It's Thor vs. Loki, Round Two, with a twist: this time, it's winner take all, in a contest that must be ended in one minute. But other than the obvious repercussions of Thor laying down his hammer for the duration of the contest, why the condition of one minute, since Thor could simply retain his hammer at his side and still fulfill the condition of the match that both participants battle without weapons? Aren't these sorts of contests determined by the fall of a warrior in defeat? What purpose does a time limit serve?

Fortunately, lady luck is in Thor's corner, since this is the moment when Loki appears to be losing the additional power he gained from Dormammu, leaving Thor with a *ahem* fighting chance.

"All at once--it's over." I couldn't have put it better myself.

With Loki's defeat, the legions of Asgard return to normal, and needless to say their war against Earth is quickly dispensed with. Oddly, Conway and Buscema end the story with Thor shedding a tear for Loki, when up until now Thor has felt no pity for him whatsoever; in fact, at this issue's beginning, we're told that in reference to Loki, "Thor has felt fury before in his long, immortal life--yet never has that fire burned so brightly as it does now." That's quite an about-face for Thor, considering the vehemence and hatred that Loki has spewed in his direction during not just this conflict, but countless others. Thor's feelings would do him credit, were he given cause--but without Conway's input, all we can assume is Thor's continuing regret for the absence of familial ties that exist in name only.

Mighty Thor #s 232-234

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Dick Giordano, Chic Stone, Joe Sinnott
Letterers: John Costanza and Artie Simek

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Actually, I think Firelord meant to say, "YO, Earthmen! Wassup!"