Advertisements

Blog Archives

The Mighty Thor: Mjolnir’s Song

Longbox Graveyard #172

Thor: Ragnarok is in theaters this week, and the movie looks a treat, full of Hulks and gods and laughs and action. Mostly, it looks … big.

But no matter how big this film may be, it can’t be bigger than this Thor story from thirty years ago …

Welcome to the Dollar Box, where I review comic book treasures with an original cover price of a dollar or less! For this installment I wanted to do something big … and you don’t get much bigger than Thor #380, where every page is a full-page shot!

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

The year was 1987, and Walt Simonson was nearing the end of his run on Thor. And not just any run — for my money, Simonson’s Thor is in the discussion for the finest comics run of all time. I’ve already enthused about the first issues of Simonson’s era over at Longbox Graveyard (in two parts — ONE, and TWO), but with this issue we are in Simonson’s late innings, and the shadows are beginning to lengthen. Simonson had ceded his pencilling duties to Sal Buscema after issue #368, but like one of his Norse heroes, the master returned to the page for one last epic adventure with the God of Thunder, doubtless feeling some pressure to top the stellar work he had done before. The result was this “all-splash page” issue of Thor, an attempt to tell a big story with the biggest possible images.

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

And this is a big story. Thor battles the Midgaard Serpent … the mythological, world-girdling wyrm destined to slay Thor at the end of time. Thor has always been a book heavy with mythological overtones, and never moreso than in Simonson’s run. When Thor takes to the field of battle against the Serpent, it is with the full, crushing awareness that this is a battle he cannot win, and that his death at the fangs of the Serpent — followed by the destruction of the Earth that he loves — is his inevitable fate.

But what makes heroes into heroes is how they face their doom, and defy the fates, and that is what we have in Thor #380. Weakened by Hela’s curse, and sustained only by his magic armor and the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolner, Thor faces long odds in this battle. The Serpent is well aware of Thor’s sudden mortality, and also knows that this strange circumstance may free him of the doom that binds him to Thor — if he can kill this godling now, weakened as he is, then he might re-write his own fate. After all, he, too, is destined to die on the last day in battle with Thor.

Big stakes, big pictures, and big storytelling, and it works (mostly), not so much as a stand-alone issue, but as a victory lap for the end of Simonson’s long run on this title. Telling a story in this format is epic, but not ideal. A comic story needs images of differing sizes to operate at best efficiency. When all panels are the same size, they are afforded equivalent visual weight, working against the emotional pace of a story. The absence of conventional panel structure is especially acute when showing rapid action, such as when Thor is swallowed by the Serpent, then bashes his way back out through the monster’s teeth, a sequence better suited to two panels than two pages. But as a once-in-a-lifetime event — and especially as a punctuation mark for Simonson’s stellar run — it is fun to see storytelling on this epic scale.

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

There’s that word again — epic. “Mjolner’s Song” is epic in more ways than one. Tying the whole thing together is an “epic” in a literal sense. Storytelling captions narrate Thor’s battle the way some skald might tell it in the mead hall. These captions serve to heighten the mythological import of the conflict, while at the same time offering juxtaposition for the dialogue of our combatants, who can be charmingly flippant at times.

Thor #380, Walt SimonsonIn the end this is a confident and fearless issue that echoes the confident and fearless approach Simonson took to his run on Thor. Throughout his time on the book, Simonson boldly reinvented the rich legacy of the stories and characters that had come before, and embraced the magical weirdness of his subject matter — Simonson confidently and unapologetically gave us talking serpents and heroes who were simultaneously bound by their fates yet also self-aware enough to note that they have an infinite capacity for stupidity!

Thor #380, Walt Simonson

In the end, it is that “capacity for stupidity” that may provide the most important secret sauce of all for these kinds of broad-shouldered, super-heroic tales. Simonson was a master at telling Silver Age stories in a modern style. He kept what worked of all that had come before, ignored what didn’t, and cheerfully reinvented comic book storytelling, leaving us work that still resonates three decades later. Since these stories were printed, Thor has gone on to become a major movie property (thanks in no small part to the foundation Simonson laid down during his tenure), but even the finest effects Hollywood can muster can’t lay a finger on the battle Simonson gives us here.

It’s big, it’s loud, it’s fun, and it may even be infinitely stupid … but it is also an example of what comics do better than in any other form of fiction. In the end, it is tales like “Mjolner’s Song” that keep us reading and collecting this unique art form. This issue is well worth tracking down, either in original form, in one of Marvel’s many reprints, or online (in it’s entirety) thanks to my fellow blogging pal, Mars Will Send No More!

Thor #380, Walt SimonsonSO BE IT!

This column originally appeared at Stash My Comics.

 

Advertisements

Gamma Goes Grey: The Rampaging Hulk!

Longbox Graveyard #144

Once again, Paul has allowed me, your old pal, Dean Compton, to venture into the Bronze Age with you guys!  It’s funny, but I have noticed that whenever I get out of my 90’s comics bubble, (which all of you can read more about at The Unspoken Decade) and come here to chronicle some Bronze Age favorites, I only deal in the very bright (as my prior articles on SHAZAM! and All-Star Squadron prove) or the very seedy (Punisher, this article) elements of the age.  Just like Billy Joel, I don’t know why I go to extremes, but unlike Billy Joel, I allow characters like Hulk to take me to extremes.  Also unlike Billy Joel, I cannot play the piano.

Another thing Billy Joel and I do not have in common is the fact that he was a living, breathing being when The Rampaging Hulk debuted in 1977, while the world would have to wait with bated breath for two more years for me to emerge.  That’s just another reason for me to be jealous of Billy Joel.  I mean, he had a great career, he married Christie Brinkley, and he also had the chance to buy something as cool as The Rampaging Hulk right off the shelf.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #1 - Page 1

If your pulse doesn’t feel pounded after this first issue, you deserve your money back.

There’s no proof that Billy Joel frequented 7-11 after 7-11 while on tour, pushing back magazine after magazine until they were dog-eared so that he might find these Hulk comic books, but there really isn’t any proof that he didn’t either, and I prefer to think that we live in a world where the Piano Man demanded his tour bus stop at newsstands as he tried to find these.  I also prefer to think that his tour bus is shaped like a giant piano, so my thoughts are most likely not worth much.  Besides, isn’t that a funny image to have in your head now?

The images in The Rampaging Hulk usually are not so funny.  They tend to be somewhat visceral, as black and white does Bruce Banner’s green alter ego very well!  Of course, it does not hurt that we get some great art by several masters.  The first few issues are done by Walt Simonson in what i think may be his most underrated work ever, which is nothing short of a war crime in my book.

Before I show you any of that though, let’s discuss the magazine…I hear you whining,  Ok, one picture from Simonson, but then it is right back to the background behind The Rampaging Hulk!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #1 - Page 6

It isn’t just how beautiful the pictures look; it’s how magnificent of a storyteller that Walt Simonson is, and apparently always was.

Now that your appetite for Walt Simonson has been momentarily sated, let’s chat a bit about the background of this magazine.  It started in January of 1977, which is a good year and a half before Hulk debuted on TV. With issue #10 of the magazine’s run, the magazine will become full color and start to focus more on adventures like the ones TV Hulk would have, and it would also start to have lots of interviews with the cast and crew of the show. After those changes, I find myself disenchanted with the magazine.  I know this is probably blasphemous, but I have never cared for the Lou Ferrigno/Bill Bixby Hulk TV show.  Even as a youngster, I thought them to be cheesy and silly.  Later, when I saw the made-for-TV movies with Daredevil and Thor, I liked them more due to my penchant for crossovers, but I still hated the changes that were made to Thor and Daredevil.

That having been said, I wonder why this was launched when it was.  Was there an outcry for more Hulk material in 1976 and 1977?  Was this just added in anticipation of the TV show?  If it was added for the TV show, they did it in a rather odd way, as the first none issues deal with filling in gaps in Hulk’s history.

That’s right.  This title is set YEARS earlier than when it is released.  In fact, it is designed to fill in gaps between the end of Hulk’s original series (which only lasted six issues, believe it or not) and when he started appearing regularly in Tales to Astonish,so in many ways, this is one of the first “retcon” type of title.  Of course, it apparently caused more harm than good, and so later it was determined that these stories were all fake, told by one of the characters located therein. I find it sad that they could not work any of these into continuity (for whatever that is worth) because these issues are very fun and very solid.  Doug Moench writes most of them (Jim Starlin writes a GREAT issue) and while I do not think it stacks against his Master of Kung Fu or Moon Knight work, I still like it a lot, and it is probably unfair to make the comparison.  It is sort of like comparing albums by The Beatles.  I mean, Rubber Soul isn’t as good as Revolver, but they are both amazing albums by amazing creators.

One big complaint that I have about the magazine is that it did not really take advantage of its medium.  When I did my Punisher article here at LBG, I noted that the black and white magazines put out by Warren, Marvel, Skywald, and others during the 70’s had a dangerous vibe to them.  Many of them were a little more violent and offered a little more sexuality than color comic books (regulated by the code) could.  I was not interested in the Cinemax adventures of The Hulk, but I would have liked to have seen this medium used more effectively, even if the storylines were a little more mature with some social commentary and whatnot.  This magazine cost a buck in 1977, which means that the people who could afford it not only wanted more for their money, but they also were almost certainly an audience of an older age, one who would have expected some meatier stuff than what they got.  Jim Starlin’s issue has some excellent death/outer space imagery (IMAGINE THAT) that fits into the grindhouse/nigh-seedy feel of 1970’s black and white magazines, but the rest of the series sort of falls flat.

That doesn’t make it a bad read though, and in fact, I highly recommend it just for the art of Walk Simonson, George Perez, Jim Starlin, Kieth Giffen, and more!  In fact, there’s so much incredible imagery that it is going to be beyond difficult to keep this article to a manageable level; some of you probably already find it too wordy, so here’s some more Simonson!!!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #1 - Page 12

It’s the most awesome drawing of a staircase you have ever seen.

 I also want to give props to Alfredo Alcala for his great inking job; he makes Simonson come alive in a way I think many others could not.  Alcala is a favorite of many pros I know, and this really makes one see why.

The basic story is that Hulk is thwarting a secret invasion of Krylorians.  He does this working alongside his pal and the mascot of the Marvel Universe, Rick Jones.  Of course, we all are probably aware of how intertwined Bruce Banner and Rick Jones are due to Rick basically being the catalyst for the chain of events that formed Hulk, but in case you didn’t know, Walt Simonson and Doug Moench break it down in a really cool manner.

The second part of the origin story is above; Breaking all the rules!

The second part of the origin story is what I gave you when you were clamoring for Simonson; Breaking all the rules!

We see very little of the traditional Hulk supporting cast.  After issue #1, there’s no Better Ross, Thunderbolt Ross, or Glenn Talbot.  Due to flying saucers being spotted over London, Hulk and Rick Jones head for Italy.  What I especially enjoy though, is how jingoistic Thunderbolt Ross is.  I mean, there’s certainly no surprise that a general in the U.S. Army is very blindly patriotic, but few would convey it in as humorous a fashion as good ‘ol Thunderbolt.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #1 - Page 14

He calls the wine of Italians cheap while smoking a 15-cent cigar.

I have no idea what a milksop is, but I am working that into my everyday insult collection.  Instead of hurling expletives at the drivers in Atlanta, I will shoot a milksop or two at them.  My road rage is becoming more refined, and I feel like that makes me a better person.  It doesn’t, but at least it makes me feel like it.

That’s really the last we see of the usual gang of Hulk Hangers-On! (Hello Stan Lee alliteration)  Instead, Hulk and Rock head for Europe, where they meet the Krylorian who is on our side, Bereet!

That name may sound familiar, because she was the alien Starlord forgot he had aboard in the incredible Guardians of the Galaxy movie.  She is a neat character, and due to her gentle nature, status as a techno-artist, and neat tricks like a spatial distorter and a banshee mask that doubles as a supersonic ship!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #1 - Page 28

I feel like if I could just find that crown and put it on then I would become Space Emperor.

Once this trio joins forces, they gallant all across Europe, thwarting Krylorian plan after Krlylorian plan.  Their adventures also lead them to meet The Uncanny Original X-Men!  I do not know if Walt Simonson ever got to do the original X-Men elsewhere (other than a stint on X-Factor, which only sort of counts in my eyes), but he does them justice here.  His Danger Room sequence packs in more excitement than many other artists rendition of the X-Men in action against actual foes!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #2 - Page 7

You say that Cyclops, yet it looks like you are just playing a giant video game.

The Danger Room sometimes seems like a false danger, in that they are holograms and the like.  I know that these holograms can be deadly, but there’s something much more viscerally satisfying about watching these young mutants dodge spiked balls and knives on poles.  The danger comes to life, as it does when Simonson draws the Hulk completely unleashed!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #2 - Page 2

If this were the 90’s, I could make a “Talk to the Hand” joke. As it is, I will just let it go.

Moments like the X-Men’s arrival propel this title, but I think the best overall issue is the one Jim Starlin wrote and drew.  Jim Starlin has so much talent; I wonder if he could lend me some.  We often discuss Starlin and his greatness, and I think nearly everyone would agree that he is indeed one of the all-time greats, but I think we often overlook his ability to do good Hulk stories.  One of my favorite Hulk moments of all time happened in Infinity Gauntlet, where he and Wolvering are chatting on the roof of Avengers Mansion.  The dialogue is perfect, and the if the characterization where anymore spot on, Gordon Ramsay would be here to tell you all about it,

Jim Starlin also draws a tremendous Hulk, as evidenced by his bittersweet standalone story in The Rampaging Hulk.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #4 - Page 1 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #4 - Page 3 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #4 - Page 23

That’s some of my favorite Starlin work, and if that double-page splash doesn’t convince you of Starlin’s greatness, then I guess you only have about 439783498734983 other great things he did to convince you.  Something about the black and white of this magazine makes Starlin’s work sinister at the edges; that’s perfect for this book and the story he tells here, which takes Hulk away from the main tale of beating up Krylorians left and right.  Starlin does not ignore the main story though, as he bookends his tale of outer space and magic with how Hulk got there and how Hulk got home in one of those bittersweet tales that Jim Starlin is really good at doing.

The other two big highlights of the series are Hulk meeting people from the rest of the Marvel Universe before he “actually” would have met them.  His meeting with Namor, the Sub-Mariner is a 2-parter, and it is one of the highlights of the book to me.  Namor is a favorite of mine, and I love the line of nobility and savagery that he manages to walk!  Or is that swim?  OR EVEN FLY?  The possibilities remain endless!!!

A Hulk vs. Namor fight almost always delivers.  Namor’s arrogance and prodigious strength of his own almost never allow him to admit defeat in the face of a foe, even one as superior in strength as the Incredible Hulk, while Hulk, well, HUlk just wants to smash, of course.

I am unsure when Namor got all He-Man/Conan, but that is what he decided is necessary to beat Hulk on this cover.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #6 - Page 1

The Hulk in the corner box looks like he is trying to use Kung Fu on us. Wrong black and white mag, Hulk!

One thing is for sure, though; I have no problem believing that indeed, is the axe of Namor.  Look at how ornate it is.  Also, did they build a replica of the domed cities of Atlantis on his shield?  That seems pointless, seeing as how while it may look beautiful, that part of the shield is just gonna get crushed, unless you are fighting Hulk, in which case it will get SMASHED.

I especially like the post fight sequence where Namor sees off the Hulk and the Hulk’s pals.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #6 - Page 40

Namor has a friend-crush on Hulk!

Also, Namor obviously lays down his smooth game on Bereet, as they become smitten with each other.  I am glad Namor is not real, lest he would steal every single lady living on the surface…and some of the married ones too!  Just ask poor Reed Richards!  (By the way, I think there is no contest.  As much as I love Namor, Sue and Reed belong together.  Butt out Atlantean!!!!)

Also, isn’t it funny how Namor is talking up how green Hulk is?  I mean, we all know he is green and all, but it tickles my funny bone to see Namor refer to him as green when the comic book is black and white.  It shouldn’t, but hey, it’s a little pleasure, and if life isn’t about little pleasures, what do we have?  Maybe a Hulk vs. Avengers story?

The last two issues before the magazine went color featured Hulk taking on/teaming up with the original Avengers…BEFORE THEY WERE AVENGERS!  I find it a smidge surreal to see, but it gets pulled off fairly well, and if you say you aren’t intrigued by this cover featuring the funeral of crystal-encased Hulk, you’re guilty of perjury in the court of comic books, son!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #9 - Page 1

Thor is too cool to actually hold Hulk up, which is why I think Iron Man has that look of horror on his face; he is unsure how much longer he can support the weight of the Hulk. I see Wasp and Ant-Man back there, but no way they are supporting that weight very well. Quit being a dick and put your hammer in your other hand, Thor!

Sal Buscema does a great job on this issue, as we wrap up the retcon portion of The Rampaging Hulk (which would be renamed “HULK” with the following issue) with a bang.  The story starts in #8, and it is a really good example of the Marvel “when heroes meet” formula, in that when heroes meet in the Marvel Universe, they fight.

A lot.

One of those fights that I think we all love, is Hulk vs. Thor.  Thor, the noble warrior, the scion of Asgard, and the sort of arrogant prick, takes on Hulk, who is savage, unrelenting, and uncaring.  I think that on the surface, we are all required to cheer for Thor, but deep down, many of us hope Thor gets put in his damn place.  It’s sort of like watching a car chase on Cops.  I mean, we know that the people speeding away did something wrong and are causing problems, but man, those cops act so full of themselves and righteous that I’ll be damned if we don’t start cheering for the bad guys to get away about 3 minutes into the chase.

Unless you are me, then you are cheering for the bad guys the whole time (unless they murdered someone or are putting too many other drivers/people in danger).  But I am of the 90’s folks, when things were extreme and we loved “Stone Cold” Steve Austin for being the bad guy!  To the kids reading, I have two things to say:  Mine is not the example to follow, and also, go read an actual comic book!

For the rest of you, here’s Thor and Hulk punching on one another.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #9 - Page 7

Hulk has some drawbacks, but man, is he loyal to his pals.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #9 - Page 8

If this happened today, that cop would have already tased Rick Jones.

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #9 - Page 30 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #9 - Page 31

So we get to see “The Avengers” team up and stave off a threat to the planet before they even existed!  I find great comfort in the fact that Hulk treats them about the same before, during, and after his tenure as an Avenger.  I like the world to be a simple place…at least sometimes.

The editor of the book provided an epitaph of sorts for The Rampaging Hulk era of this magazine:

Another of them?  The B & W mags must have been dropping like flies!

Another of them? The B & W mags must have been dropping like flies!

It is very true that some of the greatest artists stepped in to try their hand at Hulk.  I have already mentioned several of them, but I would be remiss if I did not show you some of what George Perez did.  Perez is, in my opinion, the best artist in comic book history not named Jack Kirby.  Controversial?  Perhaps, but no one makes the page live for me like him.

He never did a regular feature on The Rampaging Hulk, but he did do a pin-up gallery featuring the history of a few of Hulk’s associates and enemies:

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #8 - Page 37 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #8 - Page 39 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #8 - Page 41

One thing I found fascinating about this gallery (and there are a couple more Perez Pin-Ups in the book) is that one can see the vast impact different inkers can have on the same penciller.  That’s something that can be hard to notice for the artistically disinclined such as myself.  Here though, it’s as blatant as a bank robbery in broad daylight where the perpetrator is dressed like the Hamburglar and is carrying big sacks with “$” on them.  The Stranger looks mighty different than the Silver Surfer.  Kieth Giffen gets to do his own gallery in issue #4, and he channels his best Jack Kirby!

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #4 - Page 33 The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #4 - Page 35

I love Giffen’s work and how he has the ability to take on so many different styles.  Look at this next to his stuff from the 90’s, like Trencher, and one would be astonished to find out it was the same guy working on both.

The only other thing to really mention is the back-ups, but I won’t spend too much time on them.  For those picking up the magazine, like say, Billy Joel, they’d get treated to some sweet back-ups featuring Bloodstone, Man-Thing, and Shanna, the She-Devil, among others.

The back-ups are one of the most enticing elements to the black and white magazine boom of the 70’s.  I have heard many folks talk to me about Bloodstone.  I am not a huge fan, but just even just skimming through it made me realize that I will be back into these soon to learn more about this guy.  The Man-Thing stuff interested me a great deal, as Steve Gerber can really write that sort of character just so much better than anyone else.  Of course, it still could never live up to this pin-up:

The Rampaging Hulk Magazine #7 - Page 2

Woe to the lumberjacks to who have to cut down spiky trees for a living.

All in all, I’d say the series is solid.  I’d say it is must-read for Hulk fans, and a I would say the Simonson and Starlin issues (#1-4) are must read for any fans.  The rest is good, but one would not be missing out on something spectacular if one were not to grab them.  The series is a fun read, and the arch does definitively conclude in issue #9, so if you have the completionist bug and get #1, you will find it enticing enough to grab all 9.  I also think that these have been re-printed in an Essentials volume, which would be one of the rare Essentials that would not lose anything by now being in black and white.

I want to thank Paul again for letting me write about these Bronze Age gems!  I highly encourage you to check out all the cool stuff here if you haven’t, and when you are out of cool stuff here, come check out The Unspoken Decade!  JNCO Jeans are coming back, so why not check out some 90’s comic book action as well?  You’ll find it at The Unspoken Decade!  Let Paul and I know what you think below, and I am looking forward to my next article here at The Longbox Graveyard!  Hell, I am looking forward to Paul’s too!

NEXT MONTH: #145 Here Comes Daredevil!

Thor Returns!

Thor returns to cinemas this week with the premiere of Thor: The Dark World!

Hopefully you read Longbox Graveyard’s coverage of the film’s Parisian premiere, which included an impossible suave Tom Hiddleston wowing the crowd by speaking French!

Thor The Dark World

Get ready for the movie by reviewing my Thor articles here at Longbox Graveyard, celebrating the classic run by Walt Simonson. These comics were a significant influence on the cinematic version of Thor (including the first appears of Malekith the Dark Elf, who serves as this movie’s “big bad.”)

The Stuff of Legends

The Mighty Thor!

and

Catching Lightning

Beta Ray Thor!

(and don’t forget my Thor Pinterest Gallery!)

I will also have an original Thor article published at Sequart later this week — about which more on Monday!

%d bloggers like this: