Not dipping as far back this time, and revisiting a run I’ve previously posted on: the DeFalco/Frenz Thor series that followed the Simonson issues I got into too late. I recently dug through a pile of these to loan a sampling of this Lee/Kirby homage to Matt and got the notion to dust off this particular issue along the way. This title was one of a handful that kept getting better while everything around it went to hell in the late 80’s/early 90’s, so this run remains one of my all-time favorites to this day.
An odd appeal to me from this era as well: we’ve all heard of the nostalgic “feel” of old comics– the smell of those old pages when you crack open a back issue. For me, the books from this time carry that effect the heaviest. Silly as it sounds, whatever combination of paper weight, cover stock, and ink they were using around this time made the biggest tactile impression on me of any books I’ve ever bought new off the rack. It’s a pleasure opening most Marvel or DC books from this time period (I would have plucked this one from the shelf of Central City’s east side location in December of 1987, don’t ask how I know off the top of my head) for that effect alone, and I miss whatever combination of materials they were using at the time.
This issue is just a few episodes into the DeFalco/Frenz run. Ron is obviously starting to evoke Kirby with many of his layouts, but inker Brett Breeding is reining him in a bit, giving the pages a hint of a Buscema/Palmer look. These guys are actually among my favorite pairings of illustrators. DeFalco channels Stan Lee hyperbole with ease and knows how to write with a cosmic scope; the first several issues after Simonson included a three-part battle with the Celestials which was itself all kinds of awesome. In this issue, Thor is finally returning to Earth after the long absence begun in Walt’s series, and he finds a number of things have changed.
Most troubling is the appearance of Steve Rogers in an adsurd red, white, & black getup, answering simply to “The Captain.” The editorially mandated change in Cap’s title (black costumes, grey Hulks, blue & gold armored norsemen and Steely Dan-style Iron Men all happening at the same time) involved the government stripping him of the Captain America role and handing it to an unstable redneck. At about the same time, the “Armor Wars” story in Iron Man (which I still haven’t yet read) involved Tony Stark going all neocon for some reason and causing a rift between the two Avengers. Thor learns all this when he arrives at the Avengers’ hydrobase (the mansion having recently been wrecked by Roger Stern) and is troubled by things having become so darned complex whiole he’s been away, and even wonders if all that has happened is a result of Rogers himself becoming unbalanced and untrustworthy.
The rest of the Avengers depart, which is okay because this was one of the more oddball gatherings of Avengers ever (though their book at the time was excellent). Only the Black Knight and The Captain are still hanging out with Thor when a subplot resurfaces: an army of Egyptian gods seeking to invade Asgard crashes the Avengers’ HQ, seeking to take out Thor before the real fight begins. This is where things get really good, as the Black Knight and Cap strive to keep up in the middle of a battle with an army of actual deities. Actually, Cap fares okay for a while…
Things soon go sour, though, especially when Thor is separated from his hammer and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of his enemies. The thunder god is on the ropes, and a squad of super-beings bears down on Cap…
Remember a few posts back, when I expounded on the paradigm superhero scenario– that moment of facing down a runaway train with no apparent hope of victory only to miraculously find a way to beat the odds and save the day? That stuff gets me every time. Here’s another example:
That was so cool the first time I turned the page and found that surprising splash, and it has the benefit of making perfect sense. The magic behind Mjolnir isn’t that only Thor can lift it, but only those as noble and virtuous as the norse warrior god can (check out the inscription on the side of the hammer as seen in Journey Into Mystery
#83 if you don’t believe it); if Captain America doesn’t fit that bill, who the heck does? Our heroes rally, and Thor delivers one of those brutal one-sided villain thrashings I dearly love to see, paraphrasing Shakespeare as he deals the knockout blow. We’re treated to a touching farewell scene as Thor is reassured by his newfound kinship with Cap that his friend’s honor remains intact– and Iron Man must be a dick.