Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Thor's Top Ten - and a Milestone!

   September 10 marks a milestone for this humble blog - it’s our 5th Anniversary!
   Hard to believe we’ve been creating daily blog posts for all that time - I thought sure your pal Chuck would burn out long before now. But what started out as a writing experiment continues to be a heck of a lot of fun.
   Special thanks to my guest reviewers who have shared their thoughts (and provided some much-needed help) - if you’d like to write one, gentle reader, you can send it to me at the email address on the right. There's no money involved, but you get bragging rights!
   I wanted to do something special for the big day, so here it is: in this special “Classic” review, I’m going to list my picks for the Top Ten issues of Thor by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. (The Thunder God has a new movie coming out later this year, so the timing seems right.)
   As always, I don't expect anyone to agree - but these are the ones that I picked. (You can also see previous “Top Ten” lists for Spider-Man (here, here and start at the bottom here)  and Fantastic Four.) 
    Note that Thor originally appeared in the comic Journey Into Mystery, and continued the same numbering when the title became The Mighty Thor
   Here’s my list:
#10 - Journey Into Mystery #83
   This one gets the nod just because it’s Thor’s first appearance - and it’s a solid story, as we get an alien invasion (the rock-like Saturn Men), and an unlikely hero - the frail Dr. Donald Blake, who tries to escape from aliens by hiding in a cave in Norway. He discovers a walking stick, but when he strikes a boulder in anger, he is transformed into Thor, the Norse God of Thunder (the stick becomes his hammer, of course). It’s a quick, clean story that leaves lots of room to build on. (To be fair, I should add that this issue was drawn by Jack and plotted by Stan, but scripted by Larry Lieber.)
#9 - Journey Into Mystery #103

  This is where Stan and Jack really started to figure out how Thor worked. After an assortment of science fiction and super-villain menaces, they upped the ante with an attack by the Enchantress and the Executioner, two powerhouses from Asgard who could go toe-to-toe with the Thunder God. The Executioner was a terrific design and a wiley character, and the Enchantress also added raw sex appeal - she was easily one of Kirby’s sexiest creations. 
#8 - Journey Into Mystery #104
   With the next issue, the stakes went even higher, as Odin ventures to Earth, leaving Loki in command (which doesn’t sound like a great idea at all). Loki immediately unleashes two monsters from Asgard to attack New York City, and a massive battle follows as father and son (and Balder) face the massive Skagg, a Storm Giant and Surtur, the fire demon. It’s an imaginative and fierce fight, and you can sense Kirby really starting to hit his stride.
#7 - The Mighty Thor #133
   This issue is a great example of the unbridled imagination at work by Stan and Jack: the alien race of Rigellians threaten to enslave the Earth unless Thor can help them overcome the mysterious threat from the Black Galaxy. When Thor arrives there (in the company of the robot known as The Recorder), he discovers a strange Bio-verse, and the source of the menace - a living planet known as Ego! So how does Thor fight a being capable of creating any weapon or environment, including a instant army, hurricane-force winds and volcanic heat? It's a visual romp for Kirby, as he creates alien vistas (including a stunning two-page spread at the beginning of the issue) and amazing, mind-bending battle sequences. Oh, this issue isn't perfect - the story wraps up a bit quickly, as Thor invokes a level of power we hadn't seen before - but it's all very entertaining and satisfying. It's just a great example of the incredible concepts and creativity that Stan and Jack (with Vince Colletta's inks) were able to cobble together, and one reason why these characters are still in use - and loved - to this day.

#6 - Journey Into Mystery #112

  OK, I admit it - this issue is just in here because I love it so much. The favorite question for any true-blue comics fan is, “Who’s stronger?” When some kids ask Thor if he’s stronger than the Hulk, he tells about the first confrontation between the two, in the pages of Avengers #3 (which was published about nine months before this issue). Most of the fight happened “off-camera” in that issue, so here we get the rest of the story. It’s just a fun, over-the-top slobberknocker between Marvel’s strongest characters. Loved it!

#5 - Journey Into Mystery #111

   This issue is something of a hidden gem, crammed full of characters, amazing action sequences, heartbreaking moments and loads of drama. Jane Foster is at death’s door, and Thor faces death in a house loaded with booby traps, while being attacked by Mr. Hyde and the Cobra. At the same time, in Asgard Balder undertakes an amazing quest in hopes of saving Jane. Heck, this issue is worth it just for the cover!
#4 - Journey Into Mystery #119

   Here’s another issue that I absolutely loved when I plunked down my 12 cents to buy it in 1965. It’s the wrap-up to Thor’s first battle with the Destroyer, a killing machine created by Odin - and a creature far more powerful than Thor (it actually damaged Thor’s hammer). This is the kind of story that you would expect to end with Odin stepping in and saving the day - but instead, Thor finds a way to defeat an unbeatable foe. Terrific art, lots of excitement and court intrigue - just an amazing story!

#3 -  The Mighty Thor #136

  This was probably the most shocking issue in the series - perhaps ever. After years of opposing Thor’s romance with nurse Jane Foster, Odin finally consents to allow them to marry, so Thor brings her to Asgard. But the terrors she’s exposed to are too much for a mortal, and she fails the crucial test - and leaves the series! That had (as far as I can remember) never happened before. Almost immediately, a new love interest was introduced, and the series moved in a different direction. It’s a tribute to Stan and Jack’s skill that this radical move actually worked!

#2 - The Mighty Thor #127

    On the heels of his greatest defeat, Thor faced an impossible task - defeating an evil being who holds the power of Odin! The All-Father had “loaned” his powers to a trusted advisor, only to be betrayed by him. The realm’s last hope is Thor, who returns from Earth to find his friend immobilized by the Odin Power. He must fight through an amazing gauntlet of threats, including enchanted flames, planetoids and power blasts. Thor’s steely determination and unique solution to the challenge leaves him near death - and gives us this iconic cover.


#1 - The Mighty Thor #126

   Hey, it’s another iconic cover - and my all-time favorite Thor adventure. Hercules visits the Earth for the first time in ages, and he has eyes for Jane Foster. Thor objects, and the fight begins - and what a battle it is! It rages virtually from start to finish, and shows Kirby’s mastery of super-hero fight scenes. The two powerhouses rampage through the city, smashing trucks, toppling buildings, trading Earth-shattering punches and wreaking havoc. Not to be outdone, Stan provides dialogue that raises the story above a mere slugfest as he paints two different heroes - both filled with determination and self-confidence, and righteous fury. Most amazing of all is the plot twist that brings about a shocking defeat. Simply masterful work all around by two of the titans of the comics industry!

    So that's my list! Yours may vary - heck, if I looked at them again tomorrow I might change my mind again (I do love the first Absorbing Man story, and then there's the "Trial of the Gods.). But it was great fun revisiting these stories - some of my all-time favorites from Marvel's Silver Age!


Anonymous said...

Happy Anniversary, Chuck! I haven't been around for the entire five years, but since Beau Smith endorsed your site, I've been a daily visitor. And THOR is a great and timely subject for a "best of" feature. So far I heartily agree with all your choices.

Sam Kujava

Anonymous said...

Congrats, Chuck! Bravo! And I appreciate your great list. Love those books!

Chuck said...

Thanks, Sam and Pete - much appreciated!

e1e2t3 said...

Those are some great choices, Chuck. With so many gems in the Lee & Kirby run, it's a tough job to narrow it down to ten!
The one big difference in my top ten would probably be that #130 (Thunder in the Netherworld) would have been at or near the top. The heroic ideal illustrated by Thor battling the forces of Pluto for the fate of Hercules probably thrilled me more than any other adventure of my favorite comic character.

#116 (The Trial of the Gods), which you mention, might be in there, too.

Some honorable mentions would include the storyline that found an unwitting (and powered-down) Thor working in the Circus of Crime, and his battles against Ulik, Magog, and Him.

I am always amazed by the nearly two year span of issues from #114 to #136. They do, in fact, make one long saga with no real break (for Thor) from one episode to the next. From the first appearance of the Absorbing Man to Jane's failed attempt to become an immortal, it was "To Be Continued" at the end of every issue! The only thing to ever match it (in my estimation) is a similarly lengthy batch of “To Be Continued” issues that was happening with the Fantastic Four, more or less during the same time-frame.

My first issue of Thor was #119 and what an introduction! Thrown into the very middle of the Destroyer epic and yet I was hooked, grasping everything I needed to understand what was going on and having an unconscious faith that I would get the rest of it as I continued to buy and read the magazine.

I was quite sad and upset when Jane Foster was written out of the comic (#136) but entirely won over by Sif by the next issue. What a smart (and daring) move on the part of Stan and Jack!

Chuck said...

e1e2t3, I can't argue with any of your choices - they were all on the stack as I narrowed down my choices (especially "Trial of the Gods"). I wasn't a big fan of the "depowered Thor" stories, though. But yes, that first Destroyer epic was wonderful - I couldn't read that issue fast enough!

El Vox said...

Congrats on your anniversary, quite the accomplishment. I look forward to your reviews on a daily basis. It's so good to have a review that doesn't spoil the story or give away plot by plot points of the story--why would you want to read or see a movie if that were done? Keep up the good work and best wishes.

Chuck said...

Thanks, El Vox! Totally agree about spoilers. Appreciate it!

Kyle said...

Belated congratulations on the Milestone Chuck! Hope you continue to get as much enjoyment out of writing as we all do reading your reviews!


Chuck said...

Thanks, Kyle! I'm certainly enjoying it on my end of things! ;-)