This issue of THOR has a very nice, if somewhat generic, cover by the character’s co-creator Jack Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott. Kirby had returned to the Marvel fold at this time, and he was immediately put to use on covers throughout the line, as well as his own solo written and drawn projects. But I didn’t get an opportunity to appreciate this cover when I first laid eyes on this book. And if you’re guessing that’s because this was another comic that I got in those plastic wrapped bundles of books whose fronts had been stripped and sent back to the publisher for credit that were being sold through my local drug store chain, go to the head of the class.
In fact, this was one of three different issue of THOR that I got in such a condition, which says something about something. I’m not certain why there might have been so many issues of the title being returned at this point, apart from possibly a contraction in the marketplace for sword and sorcery comics hitting this series as well. Or it could simply have been the luck of the draw for me. either way, it served to fill in a hole in my Marvel knowledge. I had earlier read the opening chapter to this story, which featured a mysterious sluglike creature called Sporr abducting the Lady Sif when she and her Asgardian comrades (including the tagalong Rigellian Recorder) stopped off to investigate a seeming derelict ship in space. The ship, it turned out, was inhabited, but the remaining people were being preyed upon by the aforementioned Sporr.
The artwork on this issue was produced by the reliable team of breakdown artist John Buscema and finisher Tony DeZuniga. Buscema was one of the iron men of the period, an artist’s artist who would go on to write the book on drawing Marvel Comics–literally! He was such an adept storyteller that his skills were often put to best use in breaking down a number of comics in a given month. John liked to ink his own work–he was never entirely satisfied with what other inkers would do with his stuff–but he’d also get bored inking the same drawings that he’d already drawn, and it was more financially advantageous for him to do more breakdowns. So while he’d occasionally pick up a brush from time to time, his main focus in this period was in helping to set the visual tone for much of the Bullpen’s output. Tony DeZuniga was likewise an established artist with a strong style, who was often called upon to finish the work of others, since he could do it all. I tend to associate his work with those sword and sorcery titles that I mentioned earlier. In particular, he was often put to use on the black and white magazines, where his adeptness at adding texture wouldn’t conflict with the coloring. In his hands, THOR skewed to feel more of a piece with books like CONAN, rather than seeming like a super hero book. In 1976, when this issue first came out, that made good business sense.
As Thor and his companions regroup from the losing battle that cost them Sif, they learn more about the Levianons who inhabit the ship. Turns out they are the descendents of a civilization who escaped their doomed planet in this might ark, and they have been traveling for generations. The robots that attacked our heroes last issue used to maintain the great engines, until the knowledge of their construction was eventually forgotten and they began to decay and fail. Now the ship is stranded in space. And what’s more, the alien thing called Sporr has been attacking the remaining population, victimizing the oldest and most infirm among them. Even if Sif’s life didn’t hang in the balance, Thor and his buddies wouldn’t hesitate to help out the cause of destroying this monster. And so they head out into the bowels of the ship, accompanied by Relstor, the blue-skinned leader of the survivors.
It doesn’t take them long to locate their adversary. Up until this point in the two issues, we’ve only seen Sporr’s many tentacles. This was the first full-on shot of his massive self. And it weirded me out a little bit somehow. Clearly Sporr had been inspired by the sorts of shapeless Lovecraftian monsters from the world of pulp literature, but I’d never encountered any of those before. And I can’t put my finger on precisely what it was, but something about Sporr’s big, fleshy form made me feel icky. It creeped me out for some reason (to the point where I might try to avoid opening to this page when flipping through this issue.)
Writer Len Wein was also penning a tragic story here, the ending to which you can probably already guess. Thor and his fellow Asgardians throw themselves into battle with Sporr, backed up by the remaining Levianons. But they’re all hopelessly outclassed, for all that it’s relatively easy to get a hit in on Sporr thanks to its ginormous size. But hurting it is another matter entirely. As matters grow more desperate, the Thunder God unleashes the lightning that is his birthright, and succeeds in stunning the creature. In order that our heroes’ hands remain clean, it is the Levianons who kill the beast once it has been rendered incapable of fighting back.
But the question of Sporr’s victims remains, in particular that of Sif, the one that Hor cares about. There’s a doorway at the far back of the chamber Sporr was in, and crashing through it, Thor and the company find not only Sif but the rest of the missing Levianons, all alive and well and enjoying an idyllic environment. Sif explains that Sporr was the last of its kind as well, a peaceful being dedicated to doing good throughout the universe. Happening upon the disabled ship, it was compelled to ease the burden of those who had grown too old or sick tof end for themselves by creating a paradise for them in which they could flourish. This is why Sif was carried off last issue after she had been wounded. And, of course, by slaying Sporr, the Levianons have gotten a lesson in prejudice and mob mentality–one that Thor and his buddies can adroitly sidestepped since they didn’t actually deliver the fatal blow themselves. It’s a morality tale in the style of the Twilight Zone or a bevy of Stan Lee-scripted monster tales.
But before the issue fades out, we cut ahead, to where an interstellar pirate ship is roaming the stars looking for new victims. And they like the look of what lies ahead, presumably the flying viking ship of space employed by Thor and company in their quest for Odin. By the final panel, we learn that the captain of this pirate vessel is none other than the Grey Gargoyle, an old formerly earthbound enemy of Thor’s who has somehow lucked into a new gig. But that situation would reveal itself in the next issue–for now, things were To Be Continued!