Monday, October 23, 2017

The Searing Gaze of the Thermal Man!

Along with Replicus and the Crypto-Man, the Thermal Man filled out a trio of deadly man-made constructs that gave the mighty Thor more trouble than they probably should have (as opposed to the Growing Man, whose incredible growth reflected the impact of whatever force was used against him and thus had him well matched against a powerhouse like Thor). But like the Crypto-Man, who went on to face the Hulk and was indirectly responsible for the death of Jarella, and Replicus, who showed up over 30 years later for a rematch with the Thunder God, the Thermal Man got enough of a boost from battling a high-profile character like Thor to be taken out of mothballs and used in other stories. In battling Thor, the Thermal Man, like his brothers in armor, definitely started at the top; but, receiving a two-issue build-up before cutting loose in the third, it may be fair to say that he overstays his welcome in his first appearance.

Aside from his bulk, which begins mainly at his upper body and has been mimicked by other characters, there's little in terms of design that the Thermal Man brings to the table--and granted, there's little argument that Thor has battled larger and far mightier foes. The Thermal Man's primary weapon is of course his thermal blast which he emits from his eye apertures, rays which appear to carry both incredible heat and a concussive force--the latter of which he can also emit from "fingers" which look like they were lifted from the Beetle. Needless to say, he's also capable of great strength--and his outer shell can withstand not only mortar fire but Asgardian steel, as well as a direct hit from Thor's hammer. And while it makes no sense to you or I that Thor can challenge Galactus with his hammer yet fail to shatter the likes of the Thermal Man into bits and pieces, that's nevertheless the story we've been given for our 15¢, folks. For what it's worth, artist Jack Kirby doesn't pull his punches with the Thermal Man's scenes; it's just that the character itself isn't what you might call inspired.

Formidable, however, seems to be another matter. Just how tough is the Thermal Man? Does he rate as an opponent for the God of Thunder? Just ask the harried N.Y.P.D.--they'll take all the help they can get!

As to the origin of our behemoth--well, in comics stories of the 1960s, the enemies of the free world were often sending to our shores destructive creations (such as the Titanium Man or Ultimo) to bring about the fall of democracy. In this case, it's "the Orient" (in other words, anywhere in eastern Asia) where we find the Thermal Man being activated for the first time--and if his creators don't act quickly, the monster's path of destruction will begin at their very doorstep.

Obviously the Thermal Man is literally a loose cannon, rather than operating from a programmed set of instructions. (Imagine creating a walking engine of destruction that "cannot be stopped--cannot be slain," without ensuring that it can't turn on the brainiacs who made it. More on that in a minute.) Instead, the plan is to simply dump it on the western continent, where it will begin to decimate anything and everything.

Since the story has the Thermal Man making its way to New York City, let's look in on the Asgardians we find there--Balder the Brave, who's recovering from surgery performed by Dr. Donald Blake (Thor's human guise); along with the Warriors Three, who were sent to Earth to fill in for Thor while he's on his mission to seek out Galactus. In their new roles as Earth's guardians, all four men are about to get a taste of the challenges that face the Thunder God during his time on Midgard.

Though after going up against the Thermal Man, Volstagg won't be the only one who probably wishes he would have stayed in bed.

More than likely the Thermal Man, in doing his "surveying," is actually doing a double-take at the cover to this story's climactic issue--a rare instance of a Thor cover that wasn't rendered by Kirby, but instead assigned to John Romita.

(Romita would also provide the Thor likeness on the cover of issue #169; while Marie Severin stepped in and handled the cover art for #175. As much as I enjoy a Kirby cover, it made for an enjoyable change to see what other long-time Marvel artists were able to bring to the book's cover while Kirby was still providing interior art.)

With the Thermal Man now beginning to lay waste to the city unimpeded, Thor makes a timely return from space to join his battered friends, who give him the details of what exactly it is that they're facing. We have to assume that Hogun and his friends have received their intel from the authorities--though that leaves the mystery of how either the police or the military know the facts on the Thermal Man. The last thing its creators in the Orient would probably want is to be held accountable for the Thermal Man's actions.

Speaking of the military, they cut loose with everything they've got against the Thermal Man (at least as much as they dare in a populated area). Unfortunately for them, their target returns the favor.

And so the Asgardians return to the fray, this time with the might of the Thunder God at their side. But Balder seems to think that the Thermal Man's atomic pile offsets their own power--and enchanted hammer or not, it looks like he may be right.

As to how the forces arrayed against the Thermal Man seem to know all about him, it looks like our friends to the east have had second thoughts on their project and realized they've bitten off more than they're willing to chew in regard to their deadly creation--which gives writer Stan Lee an opportunity to slip in a teaching moment concerning international boundaries and cooperation. All thanks to the fact that, resourceful as they are, the scientists behind the creation of the Thermal Man neglected to install an "off" switch in the thing in case it ever turned against them.

Give it up for Volstagg--he may not be suited to battle something like the Thermal Man, but he's seldom lacking in comic relief.

Regrettably, Volstagg will be deprived of his chance for glory--because when the Thermal Man revives, the danger to the warriors is observed by the Norn Queen, Karnilla, who isn't about to let Balder be harmed by this threat, despite the objections of her sometime-ally, the evil Loki, who would prefer otherwise.

Loki subsequently stalks out of Karnilla's chamber, even though he might take heart at the fact that Karnilla's actions leave Thor on his own against the Thermal Man. But with only three pages left to deal with the menace, Kirby doesn't have the luxury of continuing to tie Thor's hands. In other words, as Lee puts it, "Not for naught is Thor the God of Thunder."

It would serve the Thermal Man's creators right if Thor's little typhoon dropped his foe off in their neighborhood. Instead... well, given our current problems with ice shelves melting and breaking off in the poles, Thor's solution probably isn't the best suited for a construct named "the Thermal Man."

Thor was a bit premature in his assessment of how long the Thermal Man would be out of action, since, a few years later, a test of a neutron bomb in the Arctic by the Chinese inadvertently revives the Thermal Man and sends him rampaging once more--attacking, on separate occasions, not only Thor but Thunderstrike, Code: Blue, and, with the assistance of Loki, even Asgard. It was finally Thunderstrike who, with the help of some adamantium wire delivered by Stark Industries, stilled the Thermal Man for good by first rendering it immobile and then decapitating it. If you're wondering why either the hammer of Thunderstrike or Thor couldn't have done the same thing, I'll have to refer you to the manufacturer. That would be Odin, so proceed with caution.

Mighty Thor #170
(with scenes from #s 168-169)

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Bill Everett
Letterer: Artie Simek


George Chambers said...

So, Thor saved New York by hitting it with a tsunami? Doesn't that kind of defeat the purpose?

Comicsfan said...

I know, George--that area where it hit looked like it was left in shambles! (I guess that was preferable to the whole city being melted into slag.)

Anonymous said...

The Thermal Man was basically the same deal as that rampaging robot the Silver Surfer fought (and later, Ms. Marvel), the Doomsday Man.
Nevertheless, he is kinda cool in a funky sort of way with his "thermal powers" and those weird pipe-like fingers.
I enjoyed it, in a purely cheesy way.


Haydn said...

Great idea for a follow-up story! Thor appears before the World Court, accused of causing global warming!