BHOC: THOR #264

This issue of THOR was another book that came to me inside a plastic 3-Bag along with two other comics, likely ones we’ve already covered. I had started to follow THOR by this point, although I was still a bit ambivalent about it. As I’ve said before, it still felt too much like a barbarian comic book to me, too much like homework. It was Roy Thomas’ run in the present that fully brought me on board (at least up until he started to do things to integrate Jack Kirby’s Eternals into the Marvel Universe proper) so while this was a nice enough book to get, it wasn’t anything transformative for me. It was simply another enjoyable but forgettable and discardable issue of a comic book, like so many back in the 1970s when that was pretty much the goal.

This was another issue that was broken down by Walt Simonson, a creator who would go on to have a super-strong association with the character based on his later run. And you can see evidence of Simonson’s presence in the layouts and the design of some of the architecture and technology. Unfortunately, he was being finished by Tony DeZuniga, a strong stylist who tended to swamp the work of the pencilers over whom he toiled. It almost didn’t matter who penciled a DeZungia job, the end result would wind up looking like Tony. Marvel had a couple of folks like this in house at the time, inkers like Alfredo Alcala, Tom Palmer and Klaus Janson. DeZuniga, I expect, was a better fit for the now-dying Marvel black and white magazines, where his predilection for adding tone and texture could be shown off to great effect. On the color comics, however, his work often got muddy when it was colored. DeZuniga was also one of the reasons my association of THOR as a barbarian comic was so strong. That texture-laden detail-oriented approach was on full display in CONAN and RED SONJA and KULL and so forth, and seemed to be the preference of the genre. I’d imagine that it was a deliberate choice to try to give THOR that same look, as sword & sorcery was a popular genre throughout the 1970s.

Story-wise, writer/editor Len Wein was trodding over some very well-worn territory. Having just completed the latest in a long string of “Odin captured by space beings needs rescue by Thor and friends after a long search” sequence, he immediately pivots this issue into “Loki takes the throne of Asgard in Odin’s absence through a binding legal loophole.” These situations had both been done to death even by the 1970s, and neither one felt especially fresh here, even though I was encountering them without having experienced much that had come before. Having rescued Odin and returned to Asgard, Thor and his company are surprised (but really, they shouldn’t be) to find Loki sitting on the throne. This wouldn’t be a huge problem except that Odin has passed once again into the renewing Odinsleep following his ordeal, and while slumbering, his form was once again abducted; this time by the Enchantress and the Executioner working for Loki. Hopefully, somebody remembered this time to sew an “If found, please return to Asgard” tag into Odin’s shirt, for all that the supposed omnipotent All-Father kept getting abducted and spirited away.

Catching wind of Loki’s tomfoolery, Thor and his cronies set out on horseback to reach the kingdom of Karnilla, where their ally Balder is, thinking that he might be able to provide some clarity on matters. But before they can get there, they are set upon by Storm Giants also working in Loki’s service, as predicted on the cover. Thor isn’t having it, though, and he knocks the Giants around relatively quickly with his hammer. Reaching Karnilla, the Norn Queen tells them that Balder isn’t with her–he took off ages ago to safeguard the Golden Throne of Asgard with Odin and Thor not in residence. So now there’s yet another Asgardian missing–it’s like an Agatha Christie novel set in Norse Mythology.

Back at the homestead, the Warriors Three have set out in pursuit of Odin’s abductors, the Enchantress and the Executioner. They’re able to bring them to ground, and a fierce battle breaks out among them. But luck seems to not be with the latter pair, and they both wind up tumbling into a bottomless pit before they can reveal Loki’s involvement in affairs. This has all been arranged surreptitiously by Loki, who watches things from afar on Odin’s magic viewscreen and uses his magic to nudge events a little bit to keep them on course. The Warriors Three are triumphant but stymied: their enemies are all apparently dead, yet there is no sign of the All-Father’s whereabouts. I don’t know about you, but I found (and even find) all of these Asgardian political machinations exhausting. I wasn’t invested in any of this stuff.

We do get a look at Balder, though, who is languishing in one of Loki’s dungeons, and whose expository thoughts help to fill in some of the blanks in the plot. In a previous issue, He and Karnilla had been intercepted by what appeared to be Thor. In actuality, it was Loki’s minion Kroda the Duelist (whose full title was almost always invoked whenever he was mentioned–the better, it is presumed, to not mistake him for Kroda the Tailor or Kroda the Lickspittle) made by magic to resemble the Thunder God. He struck them both down, then the Enchantress used her sorcery to make Karnilla forget about these events. Why they didn’t do the same with Balder is anyone’s guess. For that matter, why not similarly ensorcel Thor and his buddies? Even if you had to do it one by one, nobody was apt to discover random Asgardians disappearing everywhere–that was a Tuesday in Asgard. In any event, Loki’s men show up to drag Balder off to a horrible undisclosed fate.

That fate, however, is only intimated, rather than directly shown, at least this month. Because Thor has stormed into Loki’s throne room, accusing him of perfidy as regards both Odin and Balder. But the God of Evil is of course ready for his half-brother, and he teleports away–but not before unleashing the greatest weapon in the Asgardian arsenal against him: the all-powerful Destroyer! Simonson’s hand is impossible to disguise here on this excellent final page splash of the Destroyer, in part because the thing doesn’t possess any facial features, which is one of the places where DeZuniga’s finish was the heaviest. Anyway, that’s the ballgame for this installment, as the story is To Be Continued!

ADDITIONAL: I heard from Walter Simonson, who had a few observations about working on THOR during this time period that he wanted to add:

Hey, Tom. You ran a column a little while back on an issue of Thor Len and I did back in the 70s. I meant to get around to posting a couple of thoughts about it, but can’t find that article now. So I thought I’d send my comments to you this way. Post them if you wish, or not.

The first thought – a short one – is about the last page with the Destroyer on it. I actually inked the figure of the Destroyer myself. Tony (or more like his background guys) did the backgrounds, and I thought some it – the flying bits of rubbish mostly – were so badly done (IMHO – I’m sure in print back then it wouldn’t really have mattered) that I grabbed the page in production, sat down at an empty desk, and redid some of them to the best of my ability with short time and few materials. They weren’t great under the circumstances but they were better. 🙂

My other thought is that back then, some of us weren’t too interested in adding to the Marvel canon of characters or concepts. We’d seen what had happened to Jack by then when he’d had so much to do with the creation of the MU and had left to go to DC essentially without benefits. So at that time, I was happy to play in the Marvel sandbox using the existing pieces in new combinations but wasn’t so interested in creating new concepts or pieces to add to the MU. Sometimes, you had to, but it wasn’t a priority at the time. Don’t remember if Len felt the same way, but we both had fun playing in the existing Thor sandbox. That wasn’t true by the time I began working on Thor as both writer and artist a few years later.

Best/Walter

6 thoughts on “BHOC: THOR #264

  1. Totally agree with your sentiment WRT the heavy, heavy inking hand of Tony DeZuniga. As a kid, when reading those issues as they came out, I absolutely hated his inking style. Issue after issue of DeZuniga “ruining” the art made the next issue of the series (265) revelatory, as the always superb Joe Sinnott did the interior inking, making Walt Simonson’s art (breakdowns) really shine and making me extremely happy (at least for that one issue, as DeZuniga returned the following issue, and thereafter, to close out Simonson’s initial run on Thor).

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  2. >> Marvel had a couple of folks like this in house at the time, inkers like Alfredo Alcala, Tom Palmer and Klaus Janson. >>

    All of whom also had extended runs over Simonson layouts, on HULK Magazine, STAR WARS and BATTLESTAR: GALACTICA respectively. And we even got an issue each of Simonson/Chan and Simonson/Nebres.

    No Simonson/Nino that I ever saw, though, and I’d love to have seen that at least once.

    I know you know this, but in case others don’t — around the time these things started, Walter was having trouble with deadlines because he was too slow, and he figured doing breakdowns, quickly, would teach him to speed up, to make his storytelling decisions more instinctively, rather then laboring over them. So they were never intended to look like finished Simonson art.

    I griped about them at the time myself, thinking, “Why are they putting inkers on these books that are burying the Simonson pencils?” without realizing that there were no full pencils, just fast layouts, and the embellishers were supposed to do finished pencils in their own style. Had Walter been full-penciling the books, more simpatico inkers could have been lined up, but he’d never have been able to do as many pages, nor would he have gotten the storytelling-at-speed experience he wanted.

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  3. The other two comics in that three pack were Captain America #214 (also from Oct 1972), and as far as I can remember, Amazing Spider-Man #151 (but that’s from Dec 1975. I would have been 4, so it still fits for me). Those comics in that three pack were the first I ever received- got them in the Easter basket that year. 🙂 -Chris Bishop

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  4. There’s no two ways about it: Tony DeZuniga was a “heavy sauce” as an inker. However, he was a fine artist in his own right, particularly on non-super hero projects. His style was perfect for Westerns – something he had little opportunity to do at Marvel – and he will always be associated with Jonah Hex for DC.

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