Monday, March 30, 2020

Blood And Thunder!

From a period of eleven months during 1993-94, you may remember a crossover event which took its lead from the pages of Mighty Thor and essentially had the Thunder God decimating a number of high-profile opponents in a fit of madness and rage which, if unchecked, would have him seeking the destruction of the entire universe, including his homeland of Asgard. Aptly named "Blood and Thunder," the storyline would also serve the purpose of drawing readers' attention to five other titles to which it had a connection, specifically:

  • Silver Surfer #s 86-88
  • The Warlock Chronicles #s 6-8
  • Warlock and the Infinity Watch #s 23-25
  • The Infinity Crusade
    As well as, for the sake of accuracy,
  • Thunderstrike

The Infinity Crusade, of course, being a crossover event in itself, capitalizing on its 1991-92 predecessors The Infinity Gauntlet and The Infinity War, with this new series perhaps being the first (and only?) time two crossover events have *ahem* "crossed" paths at the same point in time. In this case, "Blood and Thunder" gave a plug to The Infinity Crusade by dealing in its protagonist, the Goddess, who merely conscripted Thor in the same way she did other characters in her story--temporarily derailing the influence of the female figure named Valkyrie (more on her in a moment) until The Infinity Crusade ran its course, after which Thor would again fall under Valkyrie's sway.

Yet "Blood and Thunder" informally has its beginnings in Mighty Thor #s 460-467, several issues before the "Blood and Thunder" banner begins appearing above the masthead--installments which take us back to where Odin is concerned about Thor starting unprovoked brawls and consequently sends him on vacation among the stars to sort himself out. Though if we cut to the chase of "Blood and Thunder," we find that the violent madness which afflicts Thor thereafter is rooted in actions Odin himself has taken over time:

Aside from Blake, Dr. Strange alludes to other instances which in one way or another affected Thor's spirit, including Thor having to surrender his identity to Eric Masterson, as well as the period during which Thor saw his power and hammer duplicated in the form of Beta Ray Bill. (The latter of which I'm not buying, since Thor was totally on board with Odin's decision regarding Bill and displayed no misgivings about it or signs of trauma in the slightest--in fact, quite the contrary, given the deep friendship and trust he and Bill established between themselves.) Still, during his madness, Thor often despairs that he's lost "bits and pieces" of himself, which would seem to validate the overall diagnosis.

But on his "vacation" in space, seeking solace instead causes a manifestation of Thor's anguished mental state to take shape as a woman known only as "Valkyrie," a hallucination that he nevertheless believes is real and which naturally sympathizes and encourages his most deep-seated doubts about his father's treatment of him.

And armed with the affirmation he has long sought, Thor embraces a path of anger which will have him lashing out at friend and foe alike.

How you enjoy this crossover will depend on how willing you are to swallow this "imbalance" of Thor's spirit, apparently a cumulative malady reaching all the way back to his mortal guise of Donald Blake. In addition, if you were a regular Thor reader, it would depend on how you felt about Thor finally emerging whole after being missing from his own title for nearly two years only to be bogged down in another lengthy saga which once again takes the Thor we know out of the mix and gives us another kind of Thor for the duration. Add to that the fact that you're also roped into picking up other titles in order to follow the twists and turns of a story that might not necessarily interest you in the first place, and the situation becomes somewhat frustrating--arguably the exact opposite of what the comic book experience should be.

On the positive side, however, writer Ron Marz and artist Bruck Zick (who hands off to M.C. Wyman later in the series) make a good team and do a fair job in their presentation, with no major slip-ups in characterization (other than perhaps Thor himself, whose onset of madness makes for a convenient excuse of his sudden pivot toward embracing senseless and extreme violence). Zick's style is a hard shift from the more conventional renderings of Thor by Ron Frenz, whose long run on Thor with that of writer Tom DeFalco ended just prior to this story--but he brings an interesting and detailed perspective to the world of the Asgardians, and his panels certainly suit the overall trend of '90s Marvel art which stressed that bigger was better when it came to story pages. If you don't mind biding your time while Thor endures this story's direction, other character scenes that take place in the interim are handled quite well and compensate to an extent for the wall-to-wall brutality of Thor's behavior.

As for Thor's sparring partners, the PPC will take a look at their scenes in a way which shouldn't ruin the overall story for you in case you decide to sit down with the TPB and pursue the story from beginning to end in one sitting while dealing in the other titles in chronological order.  (Be warned that the TPB unfortunately doesn't include the essential eight issues of Thor mentioned above.)  And there is one other character to watch in this series:  the lady Sif, whom Marz uses as a strong central figure to anchor this story--her concern for Thor's state of mind leading her to erroneously to conclude that Thor is afflicted by the "warrior madness" which would bring disgrace to an Asgardian and likely result in their exile from the realm. As a result, Sif decides to avoid informing Odin of what's happened to his son and instead take steps to help him overcome his irrational state as best she can; consequently, many of her scenes, dare I say it, read sensibly, whereas the actions of Thor himself are driven by a sales event which leads him to lash out at whoever crosses his path. (On a related note, you'll likely notice that Mjolnir, his mystic hammer which can be wielded only by the worthy, is nevertheless going along for the ride regarding its master's behavior--though in all fairness, it behaved similarly when Thor was afflicted with genuine warrior madness during Stan Lee's tenure on the book.)

With Sif failing in her initial attempt to reach Thor herself, she turns to Beta Ray Bill, one whom Thor trusts implicitly and whom he regards as a brother-in-arms. Yet because Marz's story has specifically made the circumstances of Bill's creation a factor in Thor's madness, Thor can have only one reaction to his intrusion.

Bill is sent hurtling away (into one of the other titles), still alive to spread the warning of Thor's condition. In the meantime, Pluto and Ares, Olympian gods who have cause to despise Thor, see his debilitated state as the perfect opportunity to ambush him, though things don't quite turn out the way they'd expected. (Do they ever?)

Thor's madness then takes a back seat to the Goddess, who elbows Valkyrie out of the picture while she works her own will on Thor to make him a part of her crusade.

Thor's former state of mind is essentially unchanged--but his devotion is now to the Goddess, who dials back his madness to an extent and positions him to act on her will. In terms of his own book, that would involve sending him to head off the approach of the Super-Skrull, who is incensed at the Goddess's subsuming of the Skrulls to her cause and blazes off to take his vengeance, not realizing that one of his old foes bars his path.

Next up is Drax the Destroyer, who at this point in time has the mind of a child and whose clash with Thor takes place in Warlock and the Infinity Watch (in a nice issue by Jim Starlin and artist Tom Grindberg) but which is condensed in Thor's own title in a series of panels by Zick that, in a curious change of pace, Marz folds into a tale being told by Odin of Thor in his youth. It's during this battle that Thor finally breaks the Goddess's hold on him, only to return to the manipulations of Valkyrie.

As for Beta Ray Bill, he takes another shot at bringing Thor to his senses, only to be pummeled to within an inch of his life--at which point the one who had intercepted him in space arrives in the nick of time to save him, and face his attacker.

Thor is startled in this scene by the appearance of Warlock, who later joins with the Surfer to take on Thor but with both eventually realizing they're outgunned.

Artist: Tom Grindberg

By now, Dr. Strange has become involved in this story--as has one other character, who has had a number of appearances in the other titles connected to "Blood and Thunder" and who takes the short road to victory when dealing with Thor.

Artist: Andy Smith

Those last panels are so well timed by Smith in terms of the Surfer's reaction to what turns out to be a harmless gesture on Thanos's part which amused him, though he wryly notes to the Surfer that his weapon is a prototype that can only be charged for a single shot at a time. Priceless.

The scene sets the stage for Thanos, Warlock, the Watch, the Surfer, and Strange making an attempt to return to Asgard with Thor in stasis in order to reach Odin with the news of his son's malady. Unfortunately, Odin misinterprets their arrival as hostile, which opens the door to one hell of a battle between Thanos and Odin (stay tuned to the PPC for that one) before finally leading to the resolution of this matter.

I should confess that my own impression of "Blood and Thunder" during my original reading of it in '93-'94 wasn't a favorable one, for some of the reasons I've already mentioned; but the time spent in gathering all the pieces together in order to review it here has given me an appreciation of not only the coordination involved on the part of Starlin, Marz, et al. in stitching all of these plots together, but of the various quality scenes that are to be found in each book (a number of which, ironically enough, didn't happen to involve Thor directly). Those factors won't necessarily qualify this crossover story to be added to anyone's top 10 list--but as binge reading goes, you may find after turning the final page that you enjoyed the ride.


(Is that really something you'd expect to go the distance?)


Anonymous said...

Yeah, the Nineties.
Uh, C.F., when you name the artist are you talking about the stuff above or below the citation? 'Cause that last section looked a lot like Bart Sears. If that is attributed to "Andy Smith" then I wonder if that wasn't a pseudonym.
No big deal, I'm just curious. Sears was a D.C. guy, as far as I know.


Comicsfan said...

Double-checked and confirmed, M.P.--the work depicting Thanos battling Thor is indeed credited to guest penciler Andy Smith in the story. But Mr. Smith and Mr. Sears are comrades-in-pencils--in fact, you can see them sharing the same screen during their interview together at the Baltimore Comic Con!

Anonymous said...

Huh! I think I can see the difference now. It's just that Silver Surfer's face looked like Sears did it. His faces always looked weird to me, but he was somewhat more polished. I used to see his stuff in Justice League.
An interesting selection of artists on this post.


Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Fantastic artwork- over the top, as was the era, but fantastic

Warren JB said...

"From a period of eleven months during 1993-94, you may remember a crossover event which took its lead from the pages of Mighty Thor and essentially had the Thunder God decimating a number of high-profile opponents in a fit of madness and rage which, if unchecked, would have him seeking the destruction of the entire universe, including his homeland of Asgard."

Huh. I wonder if Greg Pak was a big fan of this event?

And whoof. I can't easily agree with Toybox' opinion of some of the art. A lot of Zick's(?) poses and perspective in the Beta Ray Bill fight are extremely awkward (that panel where Bill says "I am not your foe!" - aping Kirby's style but with few fundamentals underpinning it) and Grindberg's Surfer/Warlock fight looks like a [i]parody[/i] of 90's comic art. Although there's only one thing that would greatly improve that sequence, getting rid of the Beetlejuice-shrunken-head look, and there's some interesting (Mignola-inspired?) shadows in there.

The premise sounds interesting anyway, and you've piqued my curiosity with that ending. I might check it out...

Comicsfan said...

Warren, needless to say after the heads-up I've dropped, we'll be taking more of a look at Zick's style next time. Hopefully there will be something there that you'll find of interest (though I'm partially in agreement with your comments on the subject).