BHOC: THOR #256

Another book I got out of a 3-Bag during this time. I had only just started reading THOR and I was still on the fence about it. In part, this was because, during the 1970s, while it carried some of the trappings of a super hero title, THOR was being skewed to appeal to the sword-and-sorcery marketplace, which had become a strong part of the overall market since CONAN launched in 1970. But as I’ve said in the past, as a kid, I had no more interest in sword-and-sorcery comics than I did war, western or romance ones, and so none of that appealed to me. And this made THOR one of the toughest titles of the era for me to get into and to remain gotten into–I would drop off of following it once or twice then pick it up again on slow weeks when fewer books came out that I wanted than I had available money on hand for.

This was another book written by Len Wein, though it wasn’t one that would have focused me on his talents. But as he always did, he crafted a solid issue here. The artwork consisted of breakdowns by John Buscema, meaning that the storytelling was exciting and action-packed in the Marvel house style. But finishes were provided by Tony DeZuniga, an inker with a very heavy hand who was no doubt brought on board to make Buscema’s work look less slick and super hero-y and more rough-hewn and textured, like a barbarian comic book. DeZuniga was quite a good artist in his own right, but as a boy, I preferred the slicker inks of somebody like Joe Sinnott.

So the story opens with our prime cast of Asgardians flying through space on what looks to be an old school Viking longboat. It was this mix of elements–and characters who battled outer space menaces with swords hand-to-hand–that made for a strange fit for me. As had become de rigueur for the series, they were searching again for the missing Odin who had vanished, following a clue towards an unknown “Doomsday Star.”. They are joined in this story by Thor’s old ally the Recorder, who was dispatched to the Thunder God’s assistance by its masters, the Rigellians. Along their way, they come across a huge starship almost the size of a planet, and decide to investigate.

As Thor and his buddies begin to make their way inside, we cut ahead of the Asgardian party, where we find a group of alien refugees fleeing from some unseen tentacled menace. One young alien gets away after his grandfather sacrifices himself for the boy. Meanwhile, Thor and company have breached the outer area of the World Ship, and so are set upon by automated defenders in the form of killer robots. There were a lot of disposable killer robots in Marvel Comics in the 1970s. These guys are called Securitrons, and they give our heroes a good fight until they’re called off from a voice from off panel.

The speaker is Relstor, first citizen of Levianon, the World-Ship that our heroes have stumbled over. But before Thor can question Relstor about the Doomsday Star and potentially learn the location of his missing father Odin, Sif collapses from the wounds she sustained in battle with the Securitrons. Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Balder the Brave has been left to guard the Throne of the Golden Realm–a throne his paramour Karnilla, the Norn Queen, wishes that he would take for his own. But that’s not in Balder’s nature. What is in Balder’s nature is to get stunned by some upcoming threat that Thor will need to deal with in a few issues–such a threat is whispered to him by a dying sentry from the northernmost gates. But we don’t get to hear who did this guy in, all we have to go on is Balder’s shock and horror to know that Thor and company will be mixing it up with something else soon.

Back on the World-Ship, Relstor has brought Thor and his friends back to their encampment, where Sif can receive medical treatment. There, he tells the Asgardians of their ongoing problem: his people are being picked off and carried away by a thing they know only as Spoor, a gigantic tentacled Lovecraftian mess of a creature. Having seen the Asgardians fight, Relstor is hoping that they can be called upon to help wipe out Spoor. Meanwhile, because she’s a weak and stupid and helpless girl, Sif awakens from her sickbed and goes stumbling through the corridors in her stupor. And of course, she is instantly set upon by the tentacles of Spoor. It was hard to have any liking for Sif in this story (and in stories like this in particular.) There was always a lot of talk about her being a “warrior born” but she’d inevitably wind up being more trouble than she was worth time and again. So I never really warmed to her, and I certainly never saw what Thor saw in her.

The macho Asgardians, hearing Sif’s shrieks, come to her defense. But even their swords and maces and Thor’s hammer can’t slow down Spoor, and he departs with Sif, collapsing a portion of the ship to cover his escape. And the issue ends with a pissed-off Thor swearing to hunt down Spoor and to end its life, or die in the attempt. To Be Continued! For all that it was set in space, this all felt like another barbarian comic book to me, and so I wasn’t really into any of it. I didn’t really care whether Sif was rescued or not–Spoor could have her! And everybody speaking in the Asgardian old English was really off-putting to me as well. There would be times in the series when I would really enjoy THOR, but this period wasn’t one of those times.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: THOR #256

  1. I liked seeing DeZuniga’s inks over Big John Buscema’s pencils. It did add some grit, and also a different sense of naturalism to the naturalism inherent to BJB’s pencils. Complimentary, I’d say. Similar, but less abstract, as Klaus Janson’s.

    Volstagg could be annoying, but his safeguarding the corridor where there wasn’t a fight was funny. And so were Thor and Fandral’s reaction.

    Melodramatic dialog at it’s extreme. Yikes. Every sentence an exclamation. Almost interchangeable with a dozen other writers of the same time period. Kurt Busiek followed their example decades later in his “Conan” at Dark Horse.

    I don’t know if Len wrote Conan, but I think he’d do it as well as anyone had.

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  2. Len wrote one CONAN story, for a Power Records comic, and it was reprinted several times. It was just fine, if a tad derivative — and it was drawn by John B Buscema and Neal Adams, to boot.

    I’m not sure what THOR was chasing here was sword & sorcery sales, so much as Len being enamored of the old “Tales of Asgard” epics, and wanting to do one of his own — had he been going for a Conan sensibility, I suspect we’d have had fewer robots.

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    1. I also think that getting DeZuniga might have been about giving the strip an illustrative finish, a la Vinnie Colletta’s inks over Kirby in the 60s, but with less corner-cutting. DeZuniga did do a fair amount of CONAN work, so maybe they were going for that look, but Buscema breakdowns did need a finisher, and DeZuniga was available and fast.

      Incidentally, I was not following this as an influence on the Dark Horse CONAN, and a quick look shows I didn’t make every sentence an exclamation. I was being as Robert E. Howard as I could, not as 70s Marvel.

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  3. I skipped this period of Thor. Len Wein’s writing, I thought, was simply not very good and the stories were not interesting. I have considered picking it up in collected form just for JB’s art but it’s not high on my to-do list.

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