Our book today is the extra-sized deluxe treasury edition of The Mighty Thor that Marvel Comics put out way back in 1974, back before comic shops and mylar bags and collector conventions. The treasury edition (this is the first – there actually was a second Thor treasury edition, but it reprinted a story we’ve already examined here, so we can safely skip it) is an oversized paperback (the owner of Trow’s Variety, where I bought my copy, had no idea where to put the thing when he unpacked that week’s comics shipment … he’d ordered it thinking it was normal-sized and would fit in his metal spinner-racks; he eventually decided to put it in the normal magazine stand, nestled right next to Life and Variety and The Saturday Evening Post) featuring a gorgeous cover illustration by John Romita and reprinting the epic storyline with which Thor at last got his own title – the first issue reprinted here is “Journey Into Mystery” #125, and through a bit of comic book sleight of hand that has since become well-used, the second issue reprinted here is “Thor” #126 (it didn’t occur even to the enterprising brain of Stan Lee to goose sales by re-numbering “Thor” so it would begin with an oh-so-collectible first issue). Some of us had been sending letters for months back in 1966 urging just such a change, since Thor had been a star in his own right for quite some time already. Lee exercised his usual flair for showmanship by making the transition story one of the biggest and most robust he’d ever done: Thor versus Hercules! Thor Defeated! Odin Defeated! Asgard Betrayed! Hercules Betrayed! Rip-Snorting Battle on Every Page!
In 1974, reprinting the six issues of this story-arc in a larger-format treasury edition was a bit of a gamble for Marvel. After all, the original issues were only a decade old – it stood to reason most fans would remember how the whole thing turned out and likely still own the individual issues, and the $1.50 price-tag was astronomical. But Marvel went ahead anyway, trusting that the size of the stories would justify the size of the format.
We’ve seen some pretty big Thor stories in a few previous posts of Stevereads, and this one is no disappointment. The story opens with Thor in bombastic battle with a jumped-up mortal villain whom he easily dispatches (this is the recurring problem this character shares with a certain super-strong red-caped fellow over at DC: how do you keep him busy?). Thor then returns to Asgard where – surprise, surprise – his father Odin is furious with him for wanting to spend any time at all on Midgard (that’s Asgardian for Earth), especially hanging around an insipid mortal woman like Jane Foster (she’s just a nurse in these dark days of Thor continuity, not a mouthy scientist, as in the spec-tacular new movie). And Odin does here what Odin almost always does when he’s being written by Stan Lee: he goes absolutely psycho. He rants and raves at Thor, orders Balder the Brave to smite Thor, calls out the warriors of Asgard to pummel Thor, stations Heimdall the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge to stop Thor from leaving Asgard, then … lets Thor leave Asgard.
And leave Thor does. He returns to Earth, only to find Jane Foster getting all cozy at the soda fountain (you young people will just have to Google that) with none other than … Hercules! The son of Zeus is portrayed here as every bit as powerful as Thor but far more impulsive and conceited (shortly after this story, Lee would portray him the same way to extremely good effect over in “The Avengers”) – and nowhere near as bright. Hercules is miffed that Thor would so rudely interrupt his swaining of Jane Foster, and quick as you can say “Clash of the Titans,” the two of them are duking it out all over Lower Manhattan (the sheer amount of property damage Kirby so wonderfully draws them so negligently doing is justification enough for a dozen Super Hero Registration Acts from Marvel’s “Civil War” story of a few years ago).
While this is going on, two sinister developments are taking place off-stage: Pluto, the nefarious god of the underworld, is planning to trick Hercules into signing a mystic contract that will consign him to the underworld forever, and Odin, still – surprise, surprise – fuming over Thor’s defection, is planning to strip his son of half his godly power, by way of punishment. Pluto has the decency to wait until the fighting stops, but not Odin, oh no! But at the last minute he finds he just can’t blast Thor right in the middle of his fight with Hercules – not because such rapid de-powering might get his son killed, but just because it doesn’t feel right. So Odin summons his Odin-force … and gives it, lock, stock, and sceptre, to his assistant Seidring the Merciless, who promptly fires off a bolt of energy that strikes Thor on Earth and instantly rips away half his power. Thor valiantly fights on against Hercules, who pounds the stuffing out of him and leaves him in a heap (in a truly psychotic twist, Odin telepathically contacts none other than Jane Foster and urges her to go and comfort his son! Yeesh).
After about fifteen minutes, Odin regrets his action and orders Seidring to give him back the Odin-force so he can make things right with Thor – and Seidring refuses (in his Introduction to the whoppingly huge new Thor Omnibus in comics shops now, Walter Simonson makes a good crack about how Odin probably should have been tipped off by the name “Seidring the Merciless”), blasts Odin into submission, and takes over Asgard.
Meanwhile, after some thought, Thor has decided to return to Asgard and confront Odin about all this banishment business. Only when he gets there (how he gets there, shorn of godly power as he is, we never learn), he finds the Eternal City frozen by unholy power, and when he confronts Seidring he once again gets the stuffing beaten out of him. In agony, he manages to make it to our old friend the Odin-Sword, the unsheathing of which would cause the entire universe to implode. Rather than face annihilation, Seidring restores the Odin-force to Odin and flees. Odin gathers his unconscious son in his arms and vows to be a better parent.
There follows a rather charming sequence (broken up with scenes of Hercules fighting for his life, since – surprise, surprise – he was indeed successfully tricked into signing that contract … he makes a thumb-print, presumably because, like Xena the Warrior Princess, he’s illiterate) in which Thor slowly convalesces in Asgard. At one point he and Balder bundle up in furs and go armored beast-fish-hunting on the frozen seas, but Thor’s still too weak to make his shot (Lee would have been bombarded with protest-mail if he’d done that scene in today’s more eco-conscious atmosphere; as far as I know, he only received one single letter protesting this armored beast-fish-harvest, back in 1967 – and that letter was probably from a crank).
He regains his full fighting strength just in time to save Hercules from being dragged down to the underworld by the forces of Pluto. There’s a neat little moment here too: as Thor is leaping into combat, Hercules, thinking his weakened state during their fight is normal for him, cries out a warning that said forces are too strong for the likes of Thor. And Kirby follows this up with a fantastic little panel that conveys speed and power without covering itself in either speed-lines or sound-effects. Little moments like that show Kirby as the absolute master of dynamic action-sequences – it’s a talent that’s all but missing from the latest crop of comic book artists, so it’s all the more pleasing to see it here.
Between them, Thor and Hercules manage to wreck enough of the underworld so that Pluto rather peevishly tears up the eternal contract and lets Hercules off the hook. The two heroes shake hands and go their separate ways, and so the epic ends, and Thor’s own titled comic is launched, and Marvel’s third deluxe treasury edition comes to an end. I’ve long since lost count of how many times I’ve re-read my own overized copy – but even after forty years, it holds up remarkably well. And true to form, Marvel threw in a little something extra: a two-page poster of the current, 1970s-style Thor cast of characters, drawn by the mighty John Buscema and available only in this volume:
The contrasts are unconsciously striking: this visual take on our cast (in addition to featuring poor Hildegarde, at the time being featured in Thor but soon to be completely forgotten)(and in addition to featuring Loki, even though the ‘Clash of the Titans’ story-line is one of the few Thor mini-epics that in no way involves Thor’s evil half-brother) is noticeably older – Buscema’s Odin is almost elderly, and his Thor shows no trace of the youth Kirby often gave the character. Plopped right in the middle of halcyon Lee-Kirby antics, it encourages the reader to speculate on how much different the saga of Seidring the Merciless would have felt if Buscema had done the artwork.
It’s a neat little addition to the volume, which is all-in-all a feast fit for the gods … and for lesser mythological creatures …