Monday, April 24, 2023

Essential Thor Volume 7 by Len Wein, et al.

A mighty bore, but the art is very good
Essential Thor Volume 7
reprints issues 248 to 271 of Marvel Comics’ The Mighty Thor title, as well as Thor Annual numbers 5 and 6. These issues were originally published from June 1976 to May 1978. As with all the volumes in Marvel’s Essential series, these classic comics are reproduced in black and white on newsprint paper.

As this run of issues opens, Odin has apparently gone insane. Thor wants to help his father but also must stand against him as Odin’s mania threatens the safety of Asgard. Then Odin goes missing, and Thor must search for him throughout the cosmos, accompanied by the Lady Sif, the Warriors Three, and the Recorder, an android visiting from a distant star. This quest occupies at least half the volume, with the Asgardians running into various villains along the way, such as Hela and the Grey Gargoyle. Thor’s love life is in a confusing state. Somehow the souls of Jane Foster and Sif have come to occupy the same body (usually she’s Sif). That actually makes things easier for Thor but less interesting for the reader as it eliminates the compelling dilemma of his romantic relationships with the two women.

Thor is not one of the more interesting characters that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created during the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. Though perhaps the most powerful of Marvel’s A-list heroes, he’s pretty low on personality. What makes him interesting is his supporting cast and the Asgardian world adapted from Norse mythology. The Shakespearean mode of Asgardian speech, laden with thees and thous, is appropriate for the setting and cast, but all the flowery soliloquizing does tend to slow down the pace of the stories. Thor was also low on good villains. Loki is his one big nemesis, but even he’s not anywhere near as interesting as a Doctor Doom, Magneto, or many of Spider-Man or the Fantastic Four’s frequent and flamboyant opponents (talking about the comics here, not the movies). Loki only shows up for a few issues in this run, while Thor spends most of his time fighting giants, trolls, aliens, and robots. With his own stable of decent villains so sparse, Thor must borrow bad guys from other Marvel heroes, like Stilt Man (from Daredevil) and Blastaar (from the Fantastic Four). As for crossovers, the Avengers appear in one or two issues, and Thor Annual #6 features a team-up with the original pre-Star Lord lineup of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

Since the stories are rather mediocre, the art is really the main attraction here. Roughly the first half of Volume 7 is drawn by John Buscema, probably the quintessential Thor renderer and likely the second most important artist (behind Kirby) in establishing the mighty Marvel visual style. Buscema is a virtuoso at drawing Asgardian scenery, costumes, and weapons. The second half of the book is drawn by Walt Simonson, another great Thor artist. Simonson had an epic run as writer and artist of the Thor title in the 1990s. Here in the 1970s he has not yet developed his idiosyncratic style of art, but his layouts are somewhat adventurous than the more classical Buscema. In both their capable hands, the Thor title looks like a million bucks, but one wishes Wein had given the thunder god more interesting things to do.
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