Thor Marvel Masterworks volume 14


By Gerry Conway, Roy Thomas, Bill Mantlo, John Buscema, Rich Buckler, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9188-9 (HB)

Win’s Christmas Gift Recommendation: Eternal Escapism at its best… 8/10

Whilst the ever-expanding Marvel Universe had grown ever-more interconnected as it matured through its first decade, with characters literally tripping over each other in New York City, the Asgardian heritage of Thor and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had most often drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning, unique landscapes and scenarios.

However, by the time of this power-packed compendium, the King was long gone and was in fact readying himself to return to the House of (mostly his) Ideas, and only echoes of his groundbreaking presence remained. John Buscema had visually made the Thunder God his own, whilst a succession of scripters struggled to recapture the epic scope of Kirby’s vision and Stan Lee’s off-kilter but comfortingly compelling faux-Shakespearean verbiage…

Once upon a time, disabled doctor Donald Blake took a vacation in Norway only to stumble into an alien invasion. Trapped in a cave, he found an ancient walking stick which, when struck against the ground, turned him into the Norse God of Thunder! Within moments he was defending the weak and smiting the wicked.

Months swiftly passed with the Lord of Storms tackling rapacious extraterrestrials, Commie dictators, costumed crazies and cheap thugs, but these soon gave way to a vast kaleidoscope of fantastic worlds and incredible, mythic menaces, usually tackled with an ever-changing cast of stalwart immortal warriors at his side…

Just prior to these monthly episodes from Thor #229-241 (November 1974 to November 1975, plus a bonus tale from Marvel Premiere # 26 – and all available in hardcover and digital formats), the Thunder God and his cosmic companions had become a quarrelsome, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen generally roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe, only occasionally touching base with Earth and Asgard, but that editorial policy had changed as more and more adventures began – and ended – in the troubled lands of Midgard…

With these sagas scripter Gerry Conway ended his long association with the Asgardians – fondly covered in his Introduction ‘Looking Backward 2015-1974 (with Apologies to Edward Bellamy)’ – and a brief period of instability but never a drop in quality ensued before a new regular scribe could begin…

“Homaging” Kirby, penciller Rich Buckler and veteran inker Chic Stone depicted the godly prince safely back on Earth and facing a new kind of terror in Thor #229 as ‘Where Darkness Dwells, Dwell I!’ sees fellow Avenger Hercules uncover an uncanny string of suicides amongst the mortals of Manhattan. After consulting the Storm Lord and his recently returned lover Sif, the Prince of Power is ambushed by a shadowy figure and himself succumbs to dark despondency…

Plucked from psychological catatonia by Iron Man and the recuperating Asgardian Krista, severely shaken Hercules recovers enough to lead Thor deep beneath the city to jointly confront and conquer a horrific lord of fear in #230’s climactic ‘The Sky Above… the Pits Below!’ (inked by Joe Sinnott).

Of greater moment is the revelation in hallowed Asgard that almighty Odin is mysteriously missing…

John Buscema returned in #231, inked by Dick Giordano to limn ‘A Spectre from the Past!’, wherein Thor learns that former true love Jane Foster is dying, another victim of the recently defeated fear lord. Whilst doting current paramour Sif fruitlessly returns to Asgard seeking a cure, the grieving Thunderer is momentarily distracted when Hercules is attacked by an unbelievably powerful anthropoidal throwback. Disembodied spirit Armak the First Man has somehow possessed the body of an unwary séance attendee and now runs savagely amok in the streets…

Since gaining his liberty Galactus’ herald Firelord had been aimlessly travelling the globe. Lured by Asgardian magic he now becomes wicked Loki’s vassal in ‘Lo, the Raging Battle!’

Heartsick Thor, meanwhile, will not leave Jane’s hospital bedside, prompting Sif and Hercules to travel alone to the ends of the universe to retrieve the mystic and fabled Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn. No sooner do they depart than the ensorcelled Firelord attacks and whilst incensed, impatient Thor is knocking sense back into him, his evil half-brother leads an Asgardian army in a sneak attack on America…

With ‘Midgard Aflame’ (Buscema & Stone) Thor furiously leads the human resistance and learns for the first time that his father is missing. Odin’s faithful vizier reveals that the All-Father has deliberately divested himself of his memory and chosen to reside somewhere on Earth as a hapless mortal, the better to learn humility…

With humanity preparing to unleash their atomic arsenal against the occupying Asgardians, the invasion suddenly ends with a savage duel between Thor and Loki in ‘O, Bitter Victory!’ (Buscema & Sinnott) after which the Thunderer returns to Jane’s side, unaware that he is being stalked by a merciless old enemy.

Simultaneously but far, far away Sif and Hercules have clashed with he ‘Who Lurks Beyond the Labyrinth!’ and secured a remedy for Thor’s mortal beloved…

Thor #236 opens as the Thunder God revels in furious combat with the Absorbing Man. Unknown to the blockbusting battlers, at that very moment Sif is expressing her own love for her wayward prince by using the Runestaff to fix Jane in ‘One Life to Give!’

…And somewhere in California, an imposing old man called Orrin ponders his strangely selective amnesia and wonders how he can possibly possess such incredible strength and vitality…

With battle concluded, Thor hastens back to Jane and finds her completely cured. His joy is short-lived however, as he realises that Sif is gone, seemingly forever…

Issue #237 finds reunited lovers Don Blake and Jane Foster cautiously getting reacquainted and pondering Sif’s incredible sacrifice when a horde of Asgardian Trolls led by ‘Ulik Unchained’ calamitously attack New York. Before long they have made off with the recently restored Jane under cover of the blockbusting melee that inevitably ensues…

Conway concluded his contributions with Thor #238 as the Thunderer capitulates to his hostage-taking foe and is taken below the worlds of Earth and Asgard on the ‘Night of the Troll!’

Ulik wants to overthrow his king Geirrodur and is confident his hold over his mighty arch foe will accomplish the act for him, but is utterly unprepared for the new martial spirit which now enfuses his formerly frail mortal hostage…

…And in California old man Orrin decides to use his power to help the poor, quickly arousing the ire of big business, brutal strike-breakers and the local authorities…

Writer/Editor Roy Thomas and artist Sal Buscema join Sinnott in Thor #239 as the Thunder God brutally ends his association with the trolls even as in California Orrin’s rabble-rousing civil unrest is cut short when a colossal pyramid containing Egyptian gods erupts from the ground in ‘Time-Quake!’

Thor knows nothing of the latest upheaval. He has returned to distant Asgard, uncovering a mysterious force draining his people of their power and vitality. Warned by duplicitous seer Mimir, the anguished godling rushes back to Earth to clash with the puissant Horus ‘When the Gods Make War!’ (Thomas, Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema & Klaus Janson).

The depleted Egyptian pantheon have desperate need of an All-Father and have conditioned Odin/Orrin to believe that he is their long-lost patron Atum-Re

Go-getting, proactively take-charge Jane is already waiting in California when Thor arrives and she is present when the elder deity devastatingly assaults his astounded son. Happily, her cool head prevails and soon the warring deities are talking. An uneasy alliance forms and the truth comes out. Horus, Isis and Osiris are in an apocalyptic battle with vile Death God Seth and need the power of a supreme over-god to assure a victory for the forces of Life. Sadly, that energy is being siphoned from Asgard…

The cosmic conflict concludes in #241 as ‘The Death-Ship Sails the Stars!’ (Mantlo, John Buscema & Sinnott) with the ghastly Seth and his demonic servants ultimately repulsed and Jane again playing a major role: even triumphally shaking Odin out of his compliant, mind-wiped state…

Also included here is a contemporaneous solo tale of Hercules, taken from Marvel Premiere #26 (November 1975), setting up his forthcoming role in new team title The Champions. Crafted by Mantlo, George Tuska & Vince Colletta – and sporting a new Kirby cover – ‘The Game of Raging Gods’ finds the legendary hero relocated to California on the college lecture circuit and targeted by old enemies Typhon the Titan and witch woman Cylla

Also adding lustre are the cover to all-reprint Giant-Size Thor #1, and original art covers by Gil Kane, Al Milgrom & John Romita and Kirby & Frank Giacoia.

The tales gathered here may lack the sheer punch and verve of the early years but fans of ferocious Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy will find this tome still stuffed with intrigue and action, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication, making this a definite and decidedly economical must-read for all fans of the character and the genre.
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