BHOC: MARVEL SPECTACULAR #18

Now that I had begun to buy THOR regularly, the next time I was in our local drugstore I took the opportunity to go digging around in their Big Bin of Slightly-Older Comics for any THOR releases. I didn’t come up with any issues of the eponymous title, but I did find what turned out to be the final two issues of MARVEL SPECTACULAR that reprinted earlier THOR stories by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. And that was a better find all around. One of the real benefits of growing up in the 1970s comic book-wise was the fact that, at one point or another, Marvel fielded a reprint title for every one of its key properties, which made catching up on past events a whole lot easier.

Secrets behind the comics: today, Joe Quesada owns the original artwork to this splash page from THOR #147, and so I was able to study it up close when attending a party at his apartment once. Like the rest of the book, it suffers a bit from the heavy handed and reductionist inking of Vince Colletta, who tended to simplify and even eliminate background details so as to make his job go faster. I could never put my finger on why Kirby’s work on THOR never looked as good to me as what he would do in FANTASTIC FOUR or CAPTAIN AMERICA or wherever, but Colletta was the culprit.

Here’s a quickie comparison between the penciled page that Kirby drew and what ended up printing after Vinnie got finished with it. It seems like he didn’t go to town too badly on this page–all I see with a cursory glance is one cop in the lower left of the first panel who has been scrubbed out of the final product. Other sequences wouldn’t be so fortunate. Of course, this was a reprint, which meant that the reproduction on the story was crummier than the original printing to begin with. But still, while there are some who absolutely love the effect, I feel like even when he was trying to be faithful to what the King was putting down, Colletta tended to blunt the effectiveness of Kirby’s work big time.

So what’s going on in Asgard? Well, Thor has once again pissed off Odin, who has removed the Thunder God’s godly powers and exiled him to Earth. There, he fell in with the Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime, whose leader hypnotized Thor into aiding with their attempt to make off with a gigantic golden bull which was then on museum display. But Thor comes to his senses in mid-heist and foils the plan–but the authorities still think that he was in on it. With no other choice, the law-abiding Asgardian ex-pat surrenders himself to the police. In Asgard proper, Sif and Balder plead with Odin for mercy against his son’s sentence, but cunning Loki, just returned from his own exile, sees an opportunity to finish of his hated half-brother. And so he transports himself to Earth.

There’s a page cut out of this reprinted issue here thanks to the shorter number of pages available for story in the books of the 1970s. But Loki shows up at the Police Precinct incognito and he bails Thor out. The unsuspecting Thunder God goes with his benefactor–but it isn’t long before Loki’s ruse stands revealed, and a donnybrook breaks out between the two. Thor still possesses his own natural strength, but not his godly powers–he can’t fly, can’t summon the storm, and he’s not quasi-indestructible and filled with boundless energy. So Loki has the upper hand, and for the most part it’s a physical hand, as Kirby gets to cut loose with the kind of balletic action that was his stock in trade. Long story short, Loki makes a meal of Thor here.

But before Loki can lower the final boom on his defeated rival, his hand is momentarily stayed by the surprise appearance of Sif and Balder, who have followed him to Earth. They’re still gods, albeit the level of gods that Loki doesn’t have much to worry about from, but they turn his attention away from Thor for a critical minute. Unfortunately for everyone, at this point Odin decides to check out what’s going on with Thor, and he’s steaming as he discovers that Loki, Balder and Sif have all journeyed to Earth in defiance of his edict making the place off-limits. And so he strikes down at the trio with a godly bolt of Odinforce–and that’s where this particular adventure is To Be Continued.

The back-up TALES OF ASGARD story was from an earlier issue than the lead tale, and it was somewhat confusing to me. I didn’t realize that it was the concluding chapter in a long serial (although there’s no reason why I shouldn’t have been able to dope that out–I was just dumb) and so this yarn about the defeated Harokin being taken to Valhalla by Hela after his defeat confused the hell out of me. In particular–and I suspect that this was in deference to the Comics Code of the 1960s–nobody ever quite comes out and says that Harokin is dead (or at death’s door at the least), so this story felt to me as though Hela was showing up from down the block to carry Harokin to live in her own domain for some reason. The subtexts of what was going on eluded me. Harokin did look cool as hell on that splash page, though.

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