The Mighty Thor Epic Collection volume 6: Into the Dark Nebula 1972-1973


By Gerry Conway, Stan Lee, Len Wein, John Buscema, Don Perlin, Marie Severin, Sal Buscema & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-2248-1 (TPB)

With the constantly expanding Marvel Universe growing ever more interconnected as it matured, characters literally tripped over each other in New York City and its environs, but such was seldom the case with Thor.

The Asgardian milieu and the soaring imagination of Jack Kirby had long drawn the Thunder God away from mortal realms into stunning new landscapes. When the unthinkable happened and the increasingly discontented King of Comics jumped ship from the House of (His) Ideas for arch-rival DC in 1970 an era ended. Left to soldier on, Stan Lee called in top artist John Buscema to carry a seemingly unbearable burden and after initial loss of focus and impetus – a new type of tale began to emerge…

In case you came in late: 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.

This bombastic transitional compendium (available in trade paperback and digital formats) reprints Mighty Thor #195-216, spanning January 1972 to October 1973, with the puissant Thunder God going both forward and back between mortal and godly realms. By the time of these monthly episodes, the Thunderer and select Asgardian companions were slowly devolving into a muddled, self-doubting band of fantasy spacemen roving the outer limits of the Marvel Universe under the earnest governance of young science fiction novelist Gerry Conway and a dedicated, talented but still unsettled string of artists. Now, at last, a new path was being forged…

Illustrated by John Buscema & Vince Colletta, the action resumes with ‘In the Shadow of Mangog!’: the first chapter of another extended odyssey wherein Thor and friends are dispatched to the ends of the Universe. In another righteous rage, All-Father Odin had banished second son Loki to a fantastic world, momentarily forgetting that once there, the Prince of Evil might possibly awaken the most vicious, unbeatable monster in the Asgardian universe ….

Now the Storm God and Warriors Three Fandral the Dashing, Voluminous Volstagg and Hogun the Grim find themselves lost ‘Within the Realm of Kartag!’ and facing slug-men and bewitching temptress Satrina, even as the All-Father and the hosts of the Shining City struggle to hold the liberated Mangog at bay. Meanwhile, on planet Blackworld, Lady Sif and her muscular shield-maiden Hildegarde undertake another Odinian quest and find themselves caught up in a time-bending nightmare…

Thor #197 witnesses the heroes overcoming all odds to find ‘The Well at the Edge of the World!’: meeting the conniving, all-powerful Norns and recruiting colossal former foe Kartag for their desperate return and rescue mission to shattered Asgard.

On Blackworld, Sif and Hildegarde encounter monsters and men making uncontrollable evolutionary leaps towards an unguessable future, but find an unlikely ally and guide in aged sailor Silas Grant

The male heroes return to find Asgard in flaming ruins and the cataclysmic confrontation with Mangog nearing its apocalyptic end, whilst on Blackworld, Sif, Hildegarde and Silas met alien Rigellian Colonizer Tana Nile and the horrendous creature behind the evolutionary jumps. Simultaneously, the battle in Asgard reaches a horrific climax when Mangog is at last defeated ‘…And Odin Dies!’

For #199, the ravaged home of the gods comes adrift in a dimensional void, allowing Thor – clutching to a desperate last hope – to cocoon his deceased father in a timeless force energy field. This prevents Death Goddess Hela from claiming his soul, but sadly, she isn’t the only deity hungry for the All-Father’s spirit. ‘If This Be Death…!’ sees Grecian-Roman netherlord Pluto invading the broken realm to take Odin into his own dire domain.

…And, on Blackworld, Tana Nile hints at the origin of the monstrous Ego-Prime, and how it can force such terrifying uncontrollable time-warps. Back in free-floating Asgard, things go from bad to worse as brave Balder’s beloved Karnilladeserts him, just as invincible Pluto bests Hela and aims a killing blow at Thor…

The denouement was postponed as anniversary issue #200 hit the pause button to flashback to an earlier age. Crafted by Stan Lee, Buscema & John Verpoorten, ‘Beware! If This Be… Ragnarok!’ spectacularly depicts the mythologised fall of the gods through the mystic visions of Volla the Prophetess, with only a bridging Prologue and Epilogue – by Conway & Buscema – revealing how the Norns save Thor’s life for the concluding battle against Pluto which resumes in #201 (with Jim Mooney providing lush finished art over Buscema’s layouts).

As Hela relinquishes her claim to the father of the gods and Odin enjoys a miraculous ‘Resurrection!’ on Earth, absentee Asgardians Heimdall and Kamorr seek out certain mortals for another Odinian master-plan, even before the battle with Pluto is fully concluded…

As they scour Midgard, on Blackworld Ego-Prime advances the in-situ civilisation to the point of atomic Armageddon. Sif barely transports her companions to Earth in time to escape thermonuclear conflagration. Luckily Thor, Balder, and the Warriors Three are in Manhattan to meet the refugees, since the deadly, now self-evolving, Ego-Prime has followed the fugitives…

Thor #202 boasts ‘…And None Dare Stand ’Gainst Ego-Prime!’ (Colletta inks) although Silas, Tana Nile and the assembled Asgardians try their best as the now-sentient shard of Ego, the Living Planet rampages through the city. As it makes monsters and shatters entire streets, Odin calmly observes the carnage whilst Heimdall and Kamorr gather their human targets for the concluding ‘They Walk Like Gods!’

Odin’s complex machinations are finally exposed as Ego-Prime inadvertently creates a new race of 20th century deities. Sadly, the All-Father’s single-minded scheme appals his son and weary, war-weary subjects, and their wholly understandable rebukes lead to their all being ‘Exiled on Earth!’ in #204 (Buscema & Mooney) and immediately targeted by satanic tempter Mephisto

Soon, only the Thunderer is left to beat the devil: recklessly invading his private hell and gloriously liberating hundreds of demon-possessed humans from ‘A World Gone Mad!’ (Colletta inks). Their triumphant return, however, is merely to Midgard, not the gleaming spires of forbidden Asgard…

A new chapter opens when the Earthbound godling clashes brutally but inconclusively with an uncharacteristically out-of-control Absorbing Man Crusher Creel, just as Thor’s greatest enemy resurfaces in #206’s ‘Rebirth!’

After a destructive but inconclusive clash in the city, Thor tracks Creel to Rutland, Vermont just in time for the annual Halloween festival. Here Thor, Sif and Hildegarde clash with malign Loki and his all-powerful ‘Firesword!’ in an action-heavy duel elevated by a plethora of quirky comic creator cameos (thanks to the divine Marie Severin adding her caricaturing brilliance to Buscema & Colletta’s workmanlike illustration). Another extended sub-plot opens here as Sif vanishes, spirited away to the ends of the universe by lovelorn Norn Queen Karnilla …

Sci fi themes predominate #208 as ‘The Fourth-Dimensional Man!’ manifests, pilfering the Thunderer’s ambient Asgardian energies to save his own world from disaster. Sadly, they are insufficient and malevolent Mercurio is compelled to tap his source directly, resulting in battle without mercy as Thor’s noble spirit gradually gives way to the despair of exile and constant loss…

Ceaselessly searching for Sif, Thor stops over in London (albeit not one any Briton would ever recognise, though) in #209. It’s just long enough to accidentally awaken a sleeping alien dormant since the building of Stonehenge, and the resultant clash between Thunder God and Demon Druid devastates much of England in ‘Warriors in the Night!’, after which our globe-girdling hero is ambushed in Red China by Mao’s soldiers in #210’s (Buscema, Don Perlin & Colletta)‘The Hammer and the Hellfire!’

The People’s Army are merely the action appetiser, however, since ultimate Troll Ulik has decided to conquer both his own people and Earth: moving pre-emptively to remove his greatest foe from the equation…

With New York City invaded by Troll warriors, #211 highlights ‘The End of the Battle!’ as fellow exiles and the Warriors Three join the fray.

The fighting-mad Asgardians rout the underworld insurgents just as a now utterly insane Balder resurfaces, warning that Asgard has been conquered.

With the Realm Eternal emptied of gods and occupied by sleazy lizard-men, Thor and his companions are soon hot on the trail of their missing race. Guided by saurian rogue Sssthgar and his serpentine horde, the heroes undertake a ‘Journey to the Golden Star!’ in #212 to discover their liege and kin meek chattels on a slaver’s auction block…

Scripted by Len Wein over Conway’s plot, ‘The Demon Brigade!’ depicts Thor betrayed by the Lizard Lord and embroiled in a civil war between slaver races, before exposing Sssthgar’s secret and freeing his debilitated father. He also obtains a lead to the whereabouts of Sif and Karnilla, consequently plunging the dedicated band recklessly ‘Into the Dark Nebula!’ (Conway, Sal Buscema & Jim Mooney) to rescue the missing warrior maidens from asteroid miners who had purchased them.

They find their quarry besieged by the 4D Man and his army, who are intent on acquiring a malign, sentient source of infinite power, but events take an uncanny turn when ‘The God in the Jewel’ (John Buscema & Mooney) absorbs the women into its crystalline mass and flies off, intent on dominating all life in the universe…

Forced to become allies of convenience, the Asgardians and Mercurio strive together ‘Where Chaos Rules!’, resolved to freeing the captives and stop the rapacious gem god. Sadly, even after eventual victory leaves them all tenuous comrades, Thor’s trials are not done…

To Be Continued…

Also included is a lengthy gallery of original art pages and covers to delight and charm fans

The tales gathered here might lack the sheer punch and verve of The King, but fans of cosmic Fights ‘n’ Tights fantasy – whether graphic or cinematic – will find this tome stuffed with intrigue and action aplenty, magnificently rendered by artists who, whilst not possessing Kirby’s vaulting visionary passion, were every inch his equal in craft and dedication. This chronicle is an absolute must for all fans of the medium and far-flung fantasy thrills.
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