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Days of Thunder – December 1963: Journey Into Mystery #99 part 2

Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods: Surtur the Fire Demon!

Presented with Pride by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby!

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Odin hears of an alliance between the Trolls and Surtur. In response, Odin invades the land of the Trolls, defies the Troll King and whups on a lot of Trolls.  We learn that Odin is the only force in the universe powerful enough to shatter the grip of a Troll. Odin plunges his sword into the ground, drawing limitless power. Cowed, the Trolls betray Surtur.

Odin and Surtur face off in a sea of flame. Surtur changes his hands into mighty serpents, but Odin uses the power of his sword to smash Surtur in the face with some icy planets. Surtur runs away, burrowing deep into the planet Earth. Odin creates Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge, and runs across it to the Earth, where his uses his sword once again, this time to make the Earth begin spinning around the Sun, the force of which traps Surtur in the center of the planet.

Hoping to appease Odin, Surtur gifts the godking with a pegasus, which flies through the mouth of a spouting volcano. Maybe one day Odin will forgive Surtur. In the meantime, he’s keeping the horse.

Days of Thunder – December 1963: Journey Into Mystery #99

The Mighty Thor! Battles… “The Mysterious Mister Hyde!”
Written by: Stan Lee/ Illustrated by: Don Heck

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Thor spends more time petitioning Odin for permission  to marry Nurse Foster and is again denied. Odin is outraged at the very notion of Thor marrying a mortal.  Rather than accept this,  Thor has a counter-proposal: Odin use his power to make Jane an immortal, just as Don Blake became an immoral by wielding Thor’s hammer.

Odin holds this notion in low regard but tells Thor that if Jane can prove herself to be noble, unselfish, fearless, and possessing virtues far in excess of those which the ordinary Earthbound human possesses, Odin will re-listen to Thor’s petition. Despite it being clear that Odin does not believe Jane to ever be able to pass such a test, Thor returns to Earth happy, filled with hope.

Meanwhile, A man named Calvin Zabo has invented a serum that can turn him into a superhuman brute of a man. Taken to calling himself Mister Hyde, Zabo has decided to rob the famous neurosurgeon, Donald Blake, and as Blake enters his office upon returning from Asgard, he finds Zabo terrorizing Nurse Foster.

Zabo tosses Blake out a window, and there is a great action sequence as Blake tries to strike his cane upon the side of the building before hitting the ground. He does so, turning into Thor, but by the time he returns to the Office, Zabo is gone.

The next day Thor robs a bank. To be continued.

First Appearance: Mister Hyde

Days of Thunder – November 1963: Journey Into Mystery #98 part 2

Tales of Asgard, Home of the Gods!: Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants

Written by: Stan Lee/ Drawn by: Jack Kirby/ Inked by: Don Heck/ Lettered by: Art Simek

jim 98

This is the story of Odin’s victory over the Frost Giants. Odin kills a bunch of giants, first with meteor bolts, then by splitting a mountain in two with his sword so that the giants fall into Surtur’ domain, where they become the prisoners of Surtur’s demons.

Finally, Odin faces Ymir, King of the Ice Giants. Odin does not kill him, but traps him eternally in a ring of fire. I bet that never comes back to haunt him.

Days of Thunder – November 1963 Journey Into Mystery #98

The Mighty Thor! “Challenged by the Human Cobra!”

Written by: Stan Lee/ Illustrated by: Don Heck/ Lettered by: Art Simek

jim 98

After Thor throws a violent temper tantrum over Jane Foster leaving the practice and being forbidden to pursue her, he ends up fighting The Cobra. The Cobra is just like Spider-Man only with snakes. And also, a villain. And also terrible.

The Cobra has Snake-strength conferred by a radioactive snake bite, but most of the rest of his gimmicks seem to be manufactured. He has Cobra Darts, capsules of Cobra Gas, and an unbreakable Cobra-Cord.

The Cobra somehow wanders into Doctor Andrews practice, and I am now starting to think that maybe it is  Nurse Foster who is the weirdness magnet, as she once again finds herself hostage to a random villain. Doctor Andrews cowers in fear while Thor saves Jane.

The Cobra escapes in the fracas, but hopefully he is too stupid to return any time soon. Meanwhile, disgusted with Andrews, Nurse Foster returns to Doctor Blake’s employ, which seems a wasted opportunity for melodrama. Even more frustrating is the fact that no one refers to Doctor Andrews by his first name at any time in this issue.

First Appearance: The Cobra

Days of Thunder – October 1963: Journey Into Mystery #97: Tales of Asgard

Tales of… Asgard! Home of the Mighty Norse Gods

Written By: Stan Lee/ Drawn By: Jack Kirby/ Inked By: George Roussos (credited as G. Bell)/ Lettered By: Art Simek

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Starting with this issue, in addition to the Thor main feature, Journey Into Mystery features a Tales of Asgard backup short. Some would say that this is the real start of Lee and Kirby’s Thor.

This month’s installment is an exposition dump. The Norse gods are known as the Aesir. At the end of the world from where they come sits Surtur, a demon with a flaming sword waiting for the end of all things. The first thing to crawl from the Well of Life on their world were the totally evil Frost Giants, led by Ymir the first and greatest of their number. Ymir had a gigantic magic cow.

Later, the first Aesir crawled from the well. He was named Buri. Buri and his unnamed wife had a son named Borr and later Borr had some kids, one of them being Odin, and Odin grew up to kill all of the Frost Giants.

Some time later, Odin and his unnamed brothers decide they like the Earth and so the set a ring around the planet, from which grows Yggdrasil, a magic protective tree that awaits the coming of man.

The interesting thing about this telling is that while it is clearly backstory for a major Marvel Comics superhero, it is framed as a legend, a story told by ancient Norsemen. It’s tonally very different from usual Stan Lee material and it is great.

First Appearance: Surtur, Surtur’s flaming sword, The Frost Giants, Ymir, Ymir’s magic cow, Buri, Borr, Yggdrasil

Days of Thunder – October 1963: Journey into Mystery #97

The Mighty Thor Battles… The Lava Man

Written by Stan Lee/ Drawn by Jack Kirby/ Inked by Don Heck/ Lettered by Art Simek

jim 97

This is the first issue scripted by Stan Lee and shit gets real!  Loki lures one of the Lava Men that live within the Earth’s magma to cause trouble for Thor and Thor eventually tosses it into a volcano, whatever.  That is not what this issue is about.   The real action happens in the office.

Thor petitions Odin, begging permission to marry Jane Foster and is flatly denied. Blake decides to forsake his life as Thor and straight-up, I have no idea what that means, so poorly defined is their dual identity. I mean, presumably, he just has to give his magic stick to somebody decent, right?  That person will become the new Thor, yes?

This is all cut short because before Blake can tell Jane how he feels, she interrupts him and tells him that despite her feeling for him, she thinks he sucks and so she is quitting his employ to go work for Doctor Basil Andrews, that wolf who has always tried to date her who has never been mentioned in the comic before and who is called Bruce Andrews when he shows up at the end of the comic, leaving with Nurse Foster presumably forever!

First Appearance: The Lava Man, Doctor Basil or possibly Bruce Andrews

Days of Thunder – September 1963: Avengers #1

“The Coming of the Avengers!”

Written by Stan Lee/ Drawn by Jack Kirby/ Inking by Dick Ayers

avengers 1

The stories of Thor depicted in Journey Into Mystery have stood alone until this point. However, as of the publication of this comic magazine entitled  The Avengers, Thor becomes established as living in a overarching fictional universe shared by other heroic characters prominently featured in other comic periodicals published by what has come to be known as The Marvel Comics Group.

This story features several characters originating from other magazines. Ant-Man and The Wasp are two heroes capable of shrinking to the size of insects. Iron Man is a wealthy arms dealer wearing a transistor-powered suit of armor that secretly powers his crippled heart. The Hulk is mild mannered scientist that regularly transforms into a giant green tragic monster. Rick Jones and the Teen-Brigade are a bunch of teenage radio enthusiasts with affiliations with the Hulk. The Fantastic Four are the greatest superhero team of all time.

Despite the addition of all of these characters, this is essentially a Thor story. It begins when Loki tries to menace Thor by using Hulk as his catspaw. Follow the chain on Loki’s plan: In Asgard, Loki uses his magic to make the Hulk smash some things, which seems like the sort of thing that Hulk routinely does without divine intervention. In the Southwest, the newspaper reports that Hulk is at it again. Rick Jones reads about this in the paper and freaks out. He dispatches his Teen-Brigade to radio the Fantastic Four in New York, in case they haven’t read the paper. Loki diverts the message to Doctor Don Blake’s office radio but somehow it is also heard by Ant-Man, Wasp, and Iron Man, as well as the Fantastic Four. Mr Fantastic blows off the news, but all the other heroes show up.

Thor assumes that this must be the work of Loki because basically everything that happens to him is either the work of Loki or communists, so he heads to Asgard to confront his brother. He fights his way through a gauntlet before confronting Loki, who ambushes him with his troll allies. The trolls are apparently the natural enemies of the gods, and have an unbreakable grip. Thor beats the trolls and Loki runs away but Thor uses his hammer to soak up the strong flow of magnetic currents which apparently is what the Trolls eat, snaring Loki who is apparently magnetic. This probably has something to do with the mental link Loki shares with Thor’s hammer, established in Journey Into Mystery #85

Meanwhile, the Hulk has been hiding in the circus and we the readers are treated to maybe my favorite image that Jack Kirby ever drew:

mechano 2

The Hulk dressed as a sad clown, juggling a horse, elephant, and seal.
The heroes attack him in the middle of his act, surrounded by circusgoers. The Hulk, totally the wronged party, runs away.

As Hulk and his persecutors continue to fight, Thor returns to Earth with Loki to explain that this is the real bad guy of the story. Loki uses his magic to turn radioactive, but unfortunately for him, he happened to be standing on a trap door, which Ant-Man’s ants spring open, dropping him into a tank for storing radioactive waste.

Almost as an afterthought, the Wasp suggests that they form a team, which they do, Hulk inclusive. They call themselves the Avengers.

First Appearance: Trolls, The Avengers, Mechano

Days of Thunder – September 1963: Journey Into Mystery #96

The Mighty Thor! Defying the Magic of… “Mad Merlin!”

Plot: Stan Lee/ Script: R. Berns/ Art: Joe Sinott

jim 96

Nurse Foster is understandably angry with Doctor Blake because every time he hears of an emergency on the radio, he blows off his patients and locks himself in his lab for hours on end. She tells him, “I kept making lame excuses to your patients!” which is in questionable taste given who she is talking to.

Later, Merlin wakes from a thousand year sleep and decides to become President John F. Kennedy’s adviser.  Merlin is not a real wizard, he is a mutant.  He challenges Thor to a duel because he believe the thunder god to be the only threat to his plan. Thor convinces Merlin that he is a shape-changer by turning into Doctor Blake. Cowed by this show of power, Merlin agrees to go back to sleep for another thousand years.

First Appearance: Merlin, John F. Kennedy

Days of Thunder – August 1963: Journey Into Mystery #95

The Mighty Thor! Faces the Menace of… “The Demon Duplicators!”

Plot: Stan Lee/ Script: R. Berns/ Art: Joe Sinott

jim 95

Another fever-dream of an issue, this one starts with Thor popping by Asgard to help Odin stop a drought. It is fairly clear in this issue that Thor has regained his pre-Blake memories. Maybe he regained them when his chromosomatic gland was tinkered with,  or maybe he has slowly been remembering his life as a god over the past year.  It is not explained.

After starting a week-long thunderstorm on Asgard, Thor returns to Earth where the might of Thor is needed at a scientists’ convention. Doctor Blake, in addition to being a general practitioner, genius surgeon, world-traveling philanthropist, and Thor, is also apparently a genius inventor, as previously hinted at in issue #93. Blake has invented an android that is not only self-aware, but capable of solving the world’s most complicated math problem and strong enough that it cannot be harmed by Thor’s hammer.

Thor and Dr. Zaxton, a physicist acquaintance of Blake’s, are showing off this new wonder, positing it as the first in an army of invincible ultra-intelligent androids. Forget poor benuked China, every nation on Earth must be in a panic to develop an-anti-Thor contingency. The demonstration ends when Zaxton accidentally sets the android to explode.  Naturually, Thor hurls him into the air where he safely explodes.

Later, Zaxton visits Blake, informing him that he has invented a small hand-held device that can create perfect duplicates of things from thin air. Zaxton is not satisfied with his mind-bogglingly amazing invention, he wants to also be able to duplicate life, specifically human life. Blake finds the idea of human duplication immoral but when Zaxton reveals that Nurse Foster has been kidnapped for hostage reasons, he agrees to help Zaxton.

A few hours later, they have succeeded, and while Zaxton is making a bunch of duplicates of a cat, Blake switches into Thor, only to be caught changing by Zaxton. Zaxton makes a duplicate of Thor, and reveals that his machine secretly creates duplicates with the exact opposite personalities of the original.

So Thor has to battle a Reverse Duplicate Thor, who quickly ends up with a second hammer, all the while dealing with additional complications caused by Zaxton’s duplication ray. At one point he creates a dozen duplicates of an airliner.

Eventually, er, the duplicate’s unworthiness to hold a duplicate hammer causes him to fade from existence?  I think that is what happens.  Meanwhile Zaxton creates a reverse duplicate of himself and then drops the duplication device off of a parapet and falls to his death trying to grab it. Thor decides to allow the reverse Zaxton to take over the original’s life, but nothing is revealed about the fate of all the duplicates of the people on the duplicated airliners. I bet that led to some complicated and tragic drama.

Thor hides the Zaxton corpse and then saves Nurse Foster.

First Appearance: Dr. Zaxton, Dr. Blake’s Green Android,Reverse Duplicate Thor

Days of Thunder – July 1963: Journey Into Mystery #94

The Mighty Thor! “Thor and Loki Attack the Human Race!”

Plot: Stan Lee/ Script: P. Berns/ Art: J Sinnott

jim 94

This is easily the greatest issue of Thor to date. While Thor is averting a rouge U.S. nuclear missile that Loki has magically hijacked, Loki uses his last ounce of magic to divert Thor’s attention just as his hammer is returning to him. The result is that the hammer strikes Thor’s head in the chromosomatic gland, the gland that determines and changes personality. This must be a gland that only gods have, because last I checked, humans ain’t got that shit.

With his chromosomatic gland altered, Thor’s nature becomes like Loki’s.  He heads to Asgard, punching Heimdall as he passes, so he can free his brother. Once free, Loki tells Odin that he and Thor intend to rule Asgard and that the two of them will cause terrible havoc on Odin’s beloved Earth, until Odin cedes his rule to his sons.

And then they straight up Mars Attacks Earth for three pages of a 14 page story. Thor smashes monuments with his hammer and with his weather, while Loki brings the Sphinx to life and reawakens dinosaurs in museums. And though the text does not really suggest it, it is hard not to see this as Loki’s greatest wish: His brother standing alongside him as they challenge Odin and cause chaos.

But all good things must end and Odin and the gods of Asgard, posing as U.N. experts on Norse gods, trick Thor and Loki and drop Thor’s hammer on Thor’s chromosomatic gland, reverting his personality. Once again, the day is saved by Odin.

Thor captures Loki and addresses the U.N., promising to use the combined supernatural powers of Asgard to repair all the damage caused by he and Loki. Mind you, this is one month after he nuked China. If I was planet Earth, I would be so very very scared of Thor.

First Appearance: The chromosomatic gland

Days of Thunder – June 1963: Journey Into Mystery #93

The Mighty Thor! Versus “The Mysterious Radio-Active Man!”

Plot: Stan Lee/ Script R. Benrs/ Art: Jack Kirby/ Inking: Dick Ayers

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At the start of this issue, Doctor Don Blake is out of town again. This time, Thor is helping the people of India fight the Red Chinese. Amongst his many anti-communists feats, Thor chains four Chinese tanks to his hammer than hurls the hammer along with the trailing tanks to a nearby Indian Army camp in a feat described by a caption box as “Stupendously epic.” It is almost as good as the time he used peanuts to capture pigeon-Loki.

Meanwhile, in Peking, Chairman Mao is understandably freaked out by the fact that a genuine thunder god seems to be single-handedly waging war against Communist China.  One of the CPC’s scientists, Chen Lu, has devised a counter-measure, which he tests on himself, not trusting anyone else. He becomes the Radio-Active Man, an amazing reservoir of radioactive power. Up and atom!

The Chinese government sends him to New York City.  Upon arriving, he challenges Thor to a duel on live television.

After performing a life-saving miracle surgery, Blake changes into Thor and meets the Radio-Active Man, where he is startled to discover that this villain can deflect not only his hammer but his lightning bolts (which he can now apparently shoot from his hands without tapping his hammer on the ground.).

Complicating matters further is the fact that the Radio-Active Man will apparently go off like an H-Bomb if he takes any serious damage. Also, he can hypnotize people with his radiation. So he hypnotizes Thor, making him toss his hammer into the Hudson River. Sixty seconds later Thor reverts to Blake, which as usual breaks the hypnosis.

Blake returns to his office where he invents a machine that can scan for his hammer within a 10 mile radius. Having found it, he swims to the bottom of the bay to retrieve it.  He then creates a giant tornado that sends the Radio-Active Man back to China, nuking it in the process.  I repeat:  In this issue,  Thor nukes China.

First Appearance: Mao Zedong, The Radio-Active Man

Days of Thunder – May 1963 Journey Into Mystery #92

 

The Mighty Thor! “The Day Loki Stole Thor’s Magic Hammer”

Plot Stan Lee/ Script by R. Berns (Robert Bernstein)/ Art by Joe Sinnott

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Thor is starring in a film about himself, currently being filmed in Norway.  Having a real god play himself lets the production company do absolutely amazing stunts.  At one point in the course of filming he throws his hammer but shockingly, it does not return to him!

The reason the hammer does not return is that in Asgard, Loki is bound by chains made of the same Uru metal as Thor’s hammer and Loki has magnetized them, pulling Thor’s hammer all the way from Earth, smashing the chains and freeing the trickster, now proclaiming himself to be a God of Evil, not just mere mischief.

Thor petitions Odin for help yet again, and is transported to Asgard, where the 60 second rule does not apply. Also, we learn that time freezes when Odin appears on Earth.

Odin has an emergency meeting of all the gods to discuss Thor losing his hammer. They conclude it must be on Asgard, although they do not explain how they have come that conclusion.  They also report that they are all much too busy to help Thor look for it.

As Thor searches for his hammer by wandering aimlessly around Asgard, Loki attacks him with enchanted trees, but Thor fashions a giant mallet out of other trees with which to smash his foes. Loki burns this mallet and then transforms clouds into snarling dragons to attack his brother. Thor gouges a new hammer out of stone with his fingers to fight the dragons. Thor really likes hammers.

It turns out that the stone Thor used to carved his new makeshift hammer contained Uru, and so it flies straight to the magnetized chains while Thor follows.   Thus, Thor gets his favorite hammer back.

Meanwhile Odin Heimdall and Fricka stumble upon Loki and re-capture him.

First Appearance: Neri handmaiden to Fricka, Fricka

Days of Thunder – April 1963: Journey Into Mystery #91

The Mighty Thor! Battles… “Sandu, Master of the Supernatural”

Plot — Stan Lee, Script — Larry Lieber, Art — Joe Sinnott, Lettering — Terry Szenics

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Loki gives super mental powers a minor psychic named Sandu, most notably telekinisis. Sandu starts stealing banks and jewelry stores, whole buildings at a time, taking the valuables and ditching the buildings on the moon.

Emboldened by his early successes, Sandu lifts the United Nations Building and threatens to kill everybody inside if they do no make him absolute ruler of Earth, which leads to the following delightful exchange:

“We haven’t the power to do that!”
“The man is mad! Humor him!”

Thor tries to stop Sandu, but the psychic ties him in chains, and drops a building on him. Thor once again begs Odin for some help. Odin sends some Valkyries to return to Thor his Belt of Strength. Two ethereal Valkyries wrap the belt around Thor, which gives him a major stat boost.

Sandu teleports Thor’s hammer to another dimension. There, Sandu tries so hard to lift Thor’s hammer, that he gives himself a mental short circuit, returning both hammer and villain to Earth.

For some reason, Thor does not keep the belt, and the Valkyries return to Asgard with it.

First Appearance: Sandu, Valkyries, Thor’s Belt of Strength

Days of Thunder – March 1963: Journey Into Mystery #90

The Mighty Thor! “Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!”

Plot — Stan Lee, Script — by Larry Lieber,  Art — Al Hartley, Lettering — Terry Szenics

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Artist Jack Kirby is off the book for a while, and his absence is felt.

Doctor Blake has finally decided to tell Nurse Foster how he feels and also that he sometimes turns into a thunder god. But before he can, Odin appears before him, commanding that he never reveal his dual identity to any mortal.

While limping around feeling sad about this, Doctor Blake notices that all sorts of crazy things are happening such as cars driving on sidewalks.  It all seems to be happening due to civic authority giving strange orders. Even crazier, Nurse Foster quits the practice because Doctor Blake is too nice! Thor decides to visit his good friend, Mayor Harris to clear up this mystery, but Harris tries to have Thor arrested.

Confused, Thor has an idea: he will send his mind back in time and space to when Odin gave him advice, something we mortals call “remembering.” What he remembers is Odin teaching Thor about Occam’s Razor, which is a pretty strange thing for the Norse Allfather of the Gods to be teaching. Of course, it is even stranger that Thor should be able to remember Odin’s counsel at all, given that his memories should all be that of Doctor Don Blake. Thor and Blake seem to be growing into distinct personae as time passes.

To Thor’s way of thinking,  the simplest explanation for the nuttiness is that everyone he knows has been replaced by doppelgangers. Which, after he stumbles upon the spaceship belonging to a group of shape-changing invaders from the planet Xarta, he discovers is correct. The Xartan leader, Ugarth tell Thor that they have been capturing and replacing people in key jobs throughout the city, even though the only two human captives they seem to have are Mayor Harris and Nurse Foster.

Thor fights a bunch of Xartans, eventually hurling Ugarth into space (where he presumably dies?). Remaining on Earth is Ugarth’s son Zano, and a bunch of other Xartans. Thor tells them all to turn into trees, which they do, which apparently makes them dumb as trees. They must have been pretty dumb to begin with.

First Appearance: Ugarth of Xarta, Zano of Xarta, Mayor Harris

Days of Thunder – February 1963: Journey Into Mystery #89

Plot: Stan Lee, Script: L. D. Lieber, Art: Jack Kirby, Inking: Dick Ayers Lettering: Ray Holloway

The Mighty Thor! The Thunder God and the Thug!

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This issue starts with some hilarious business wherein Thor steals a mannequin, dresses it as himself and then hurls it into the sea as part of an elaborate ruse to allow him to sneak into his office window undetected. Back in his office and back in human form, Doctor Blake pines after Nurse Foster while she pines after Thor. She imagines ironing his cape, cutting his hair, and, er, polishing his hammer.

All this daydreaming is interrupted when gangsters kidnap Dr. Blake, taking him to their hideout so that he can treat their injured boss, Thug Thatcher. Blake does treat the gangster,  and eventually extricates himself from this mess by telepathically messaging Odin in Asgard, who responds by shooting a force wave down to Earth, striking the gangster holding Blake’s cane.

Blake transforms into Thor, but Thug Thatcher escapes and ends up holding Nurse Foster hostage, the third time in six issues someone has done so to Jane. Thor takes out Thug Thatcher by distracting him with ventriloquism, and then kicking his hammer straight at Thatcher’s gun.

Thor captures all the male mobsters, but the one female in the gang, Thatcher’s girlfriend Ruby, is spared that fate. Instead, he uses his mental link with Odin to convince him to use his Odin powers to erase all memory of the man she loves from her memory, thus freeing her to attach herself to someone less mobstery. Thor and Odin may need to take Professor Xavier’s Ethics of Telepathy classes.

First Appearance: Thug Thatcher, Ruby

Days of Thunder – January 1963: Journey Into Mystery #88

Plot: Stan Lee, Script: L. D. Lieber, Art: Jack Kirby, Inks by Dick Ayers, Lettering: Art Simek

The Mighty Thor! Starring in: “The Vengeance of Loki!”

jim 88

Our tale starts in Asgard, where a seething Loki has been using his magics to spy on Thor, thus discovering Thor’s secrets.  Armed with this knowledge,  Loki escapes to Earth and confronts Thor.

Using Nurse Foster as bait, Loki maneuvers Thor into dropping his hammer, and one he does, Loki envelops the hammer in a force-field, thus causing Thor to revert to Don Blake with no way to become Thor again.

Loki goes on a mischief rampage throughout Earth, at one point screwing with a Russian bomb test, because even Loki hates communists. Eventually Blake uses the old-create-a-fake-Thor-plastic-replica-so-the-villain-drops-the-force-field-to-check-thus-allowing-the-hero-to-grab-the-hammer trick.

To escape, Loki turns into a pigeon and hides amongst other pigeons that are milling about. Not about to let Loki escape, Thor uses his superhuman speed to run to a peanut vendor, run back and hurl the peanuts at the pigeons so that the one pigeon that doesn’t love peanuts reveals himself and is thus captured and returned to Asgard. Thor’s peanut plan is easily the greatest thing to happen in this book so far.

Days of Thunder – December 1962: Journey Into Mystery #87

The Mighty Thor! “Prisoner of the Reds”

Plot: Stan Lee, Script: Larry Lieber, Art: by Jack Kirby, Inks: Dick Ayers Lettering: Art Simek

jim 87

The Russians are kidnapping American scientists and faking their defections so Don Blake goes undercover to rescue them in a largely uneventful story that does feature Thor falling into a tank full of man-eating sharks.

The highlight of this issue comes when a Russian soldier shouts “He carries a hammer, like our hammer and sickle emblem! Is he one of us??

Days of Thunder – November 1962: Journey Into Mystery #86

Thor the Mighty  “On the Trail of the Tomorrow Man”

Plot: Stan Lee, Script: Larry Lieber, Art: Jack Kirby, Inks: Dick Ayers

jim 86

Three hundred years in the future, (only 248 years from 2014) war and violence have been transcended as humanity has moved on to a world free from all conflict. But one human, Zarrko, is not content with contentment. And so he constructs a time machine so that he may travel back to the 20th century to steal a nuke, with which he can conquer the pacifist world of the 2262.

Meanwhile, in 1962, Thor is helping the United States army build better weapons. This is probably at the same army base where the Incredible Hulk was unleashed upon the world. I think Thunderbolt Ross is in a panel.

Today, they are testing something a cobalt bomb, which Wikipedia informs me is a nuclear weapon designed to salt the earth with particularly horrible nuclear fallout. This test involves blowing it up while Thor stands next to it so they can see what happens to him. Before the army can nuke Thor, Zarrko appears out of nowhere, snatches the bomb and before Thor can stop him, disappears again.

As an army scientist puts it: “He faded from sight,… as though moving into another segment of time! And since there was no Time-Travel in the past, he must have come from the future!”

Thor, that is to say Doctor Don Blake in the guise of Thor, petitions Odin for help. He asks the Lord of Asgard to give him the power to journey into the future. Odin (who has two eyes, by the way) is confused, because Thor seems to have forgotten that time travel is a power that Thor already has. All he has to do is spin his hammer so fast that he enters the dimension of time. Which he then does.

Thor arrives one month after Zarrko, who has already used the only weapon on the planet to enslave the entire world. Guards attack Thor because they are afraid of the only weapon on Earth, despite the fact that they have no weapons and Thor is holding a weapon.

Thor fights his way through Zarrko’s defenses, and when Zarrko sees which way things are going, he tries to use the bomb to destroy the world. Thor catches it, in the process injuring Zarrko so badly that he loses all memory of being evil. Thor returns to 1962, giving back to the U.S. Army a doomsday device capable of destroying the world.

First Appearance: Zarrko, The Tomorrow Man, Thor’s ability to travel through time

Days of Thunder – October 1962: Journey Into Mystery #85

Thor the Mighty “Trapped by Loki, The God of Mischief!”

Plot by Stan Lee, Script by Larry Lieber, Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

jim 85

We now turn to Asgard, citadel of the Norse gods, connected to Earth by the rainbow bridge Bifrost, where Loki, god of mischief and brother to Thor has been imprisoned in a tree for some time. Loki uses cunning to escape and his first order of business is to sow discord while seeking vengeance on his brother, Thor.

Using the mental link that Loki shares with Thor’s hammer, Loki determines that Thor is on Earth, and heads there himself, in the guise of a human, where he proceeds to cause random mischief Mxyzptlk-style. This, as he planned, does draw out Thor.

Thor, only having the memories of Don Blake, only sort-of knows why Loki is mad at him, based on what he knows of Norse mythology. Loki soon has Thor hypnotized into doing his bidding, but is furious that Thor will not give away his hammer, as per the will of Odin. So Loki tricks Thor into giving the hammer to an illusory Thor, before tasking the hypnotized hero with setting free all the animals in a zoo.

Fortunately for the zoo, after sixty seconds of non-hammer-touching, Blake reverts to human, which dispels the hypnosis. Thor retrieves his hammer from a crowd of people failing to be worthy of lifting it, and then tussles with Loki all over New York City.

Finally, Thor knocks Loki into some water, having remembered that according to legend, Loki’s powers do not work in water. Thor then takes the still-damp, Loki, ties him to the hammer, and hurls the hammer all the way to Asgard, where it arrives, somehow detaches from Loki, dumping him in front of a bunch of Asguardians, and returns to New York just before the minute time limit would have expired.

First Appearance: Loki, Heimdall, Odin, Balder, Tyr, Asgard, Bifrost, Loki’s mental link with Thor’s Hammer, Loki’s weakness to water

Days of Thunder – September 1962: Journey Into Mystery #84

The Mighty Thor vs. The Executioner

Plot by Stan Lee, Script by Larry Lieber, Art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers

jim 84

Doctor Don Blake returns to his private practice in the states, where he pines over his nurse, a woman by the name of Jane Foster. He believes that she could never love a man as lame as him. In reality, she is totally in love with him, and spends her days wishing that he could act like less of a pussy.

Soon, Blake again leaves the country, this time with Nurse Foster. They are part of an effort to provide medical aid to the tiny war-torn South American nation of San Diablo. San Diablo has been overthrown by communists and is now led by a warlord only known as “The Executioner”, who wars against the democratic resistance.

Naturally The Executioner is too communist to want the peasants to live, and so he orders that fighter planes destroy the ship containing the doctors. Naturally, Thor intercedes, smashing the shit out of planes with his hammer. Jane is mighty impressed. Blake continues to fight the commies on land both as himself and as Thor, until Jane is captured and used as a hostage. Blake turns himself in to save her, at which point The Executioner takes his stick and orders that Blake die by firing squad.

Jane offers to marry The Executioner in exchange for Blake’s life, and act that riles up Blake enough to get him to goad the warlord into beating the doctor with his own walking stick. This of course allows him to grab the stick, make the switch right in front of Jane, The Executioner and a firing squad, but the blinding flash that accompanies the change provides sufficient cover to muddle the issue.

Thor fights some more commies, and then the democratic faction shows up, and then Thor stamps his hammer four times, which is apparently the setting for volcano eruption, and then the rebels shoot The Executioner to death.

Blake and Foster help the refugees, and prepare to head home to America. Jane though balloons about what a wuss that Blake is, never mind the fact that he went into a war-torn land on an errand of mercy, and twice confronted a warlord to protect her. Jane Foster: Total asshole.

First Appearance: Nurse Jane Foster, The Executioner

Days of Thunder – August 1962: Journey Into Mystery #83

Thor The Mighty! and “The Stone Men from Saturn”

Plot by Stan Lee, Script by Larry Lieber, Art by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

jim 83

The first Mighty Marvel adventure to feature Thor was a straightforward tale. A lame American physician named Doctor Don Blake is visiting Norway, when the country is invaded by green rock-skinned invaders from the planet Saturn. Pursued by the invaders, Blake hides in a cave, where he discovers a secret chamber that contains naught but a gnarled wooden stick.

Still trapped in the cave and fearing capture by the aliens, Blake strikes the stick against a boulder in frustration. Upon doing so, he is transformed into a tall, muscular, becaped man, with long flowing hair and a helmet with wings on it. The stick has become a hammer bearing the following inscription:

“WHOSOEVER HOLDS THIS HAMMER, IF HE BE WORTHY, SHALL POSSESS THE POWER OF… THOR”.

Blake, startled to discover that he has been transformed into a Nordic thunder deity, begins experimenting. He soon discovers all sorts of complicated rules governing the hammer. If he goes sixty seconds without holding the hammer, he reverts to human form (wearing, for some reason, different clothes than he was wearing pre-transformation). He can create rain or snow, his hammer will return to him like a boomerang, and he can hurl it with so much force it will pull him through the air. The hammer does specific things when you stamp it on the ground as follows:

One stamp – Switch to human, or vice versa

Two stamps – Create storms

Three stamps – End storms

Blake uses his new abilities to beat the crap out of some Saturninans and their Mechano-Monster. They flee, assuming the Earth to be filled with muscular hammer-wielding defenders. Blake reverts to human, taking his new super-artifact with him by rite of finders keepers.

First Appearance: Doctor Donald Blake, Thor, Mighty Uru Hammer, Stone Men from Saturn

Atomic Robo #1-6

Atomic Robo is a comic book made for people who love funnybooks. Not for fans of graphic novels or sequential art. Forget subtlety and expression and well-crafted storytelling. Atomic Robo is going to beat up some Nazis and tell jokes while doing so. When he runs out of Nazis there will be a monster-fight that will probably end with explosions.

Before I get into the meat of the book, I want to note how well it has been put together. For a three-dollar comic, not only do you get twenty-two pages of full-color story, with all the ads in the back, but the book is printed heavy duty paper stock. Furthermore, each issue comes with between three to six pages of either pin ups or back up stories. The publisher, Red 5 Comics, is putting together a better-made book than anyone else on the market.

As for the actual content, creators Clevinger and Wegener have created a really fun book that happens to be totally unoriginal. It follows the exploits of Atomic Robo, an absurdly tough robot created by Nikola Tesla, a robot who’s life is dedicated to science and adventure andcracking wise. Since the forties, Robo has been investigating the paranormal as part of the Action Scientists of The Tesladyne Institute. If you read comic books, this probably sounds familiar, because the setup is almost identical to Hellboy, with a dash of The Five Fists of Science thrown in for good effect.

One would be doing themselves a disservice to dismiss this title just because it is wholly derivative. Even though the book is Hellboy-Lite, that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have its own merits and identity. While the subject matters of the two books are quite superficially similar, the tones are solidly different. Mignola’s Hellboy books tell stories of Gothic horror by way of Kirby. The boys making Atomic Robo, on the other hand, are creating brilliant adventure comedy, served straight up.

Clevinger comes from a school of writing that focuses on all the gleefully fun parts of adventure fiction, while minimizing things like plot, characterization, and exposition. In this book, the plot exists to do little more than further jokes and create situations for adventure. While there is enough characterization to invest one in the goings on, frankly, the narrative of the miniseries completely falls apart after issue four. I certainly don’t care. Robo goes to Mars. Robo fights Nazis. Robo beats up giant ants. Things blow up.

The action is well paced and filled with expertly timed jokes. Just as importantly, the art is gorgeous. The characters are expressive and funny, while the action is fluid and explodey. Scott Wegener’s art is so good, I expect that soon he’ll be paid tons more money to draw much duller books for a major publisher. In the meantime I’ll relish what he’s doing on this book.

This book is special. While these stories of a robot punching things may seem like unnoteworthy fluff, I believe good fluff is priceless and totally worthy of note. Reading this book never failed to a big grin on my face. By the time I got to the third issue, where Robo spent the whole story beating up a pyramid, my mounting glee burst forth as I shouted to the world, “Holy crap, I love comic books!”

Books like this are why I read comic books. The greatest strength that a comic book has is that the creators can put anything they can imagine on the page, no matter how bizarre or impossible. A good comic book is one that presents a world more exciting and fun and magical than our own. By this definition, Atomic Robo is a very good comic book indeed.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.

Gargoyles: Clan Building Volume 1

When I first heard that Slave Labor Graphics was going to publish new comics stories featuring Disney’s Gargoyles, and that these stories were going to be written by series creator Greg Weisman, I could scarcely believe my good fortune. This was going to be no mere licensed derivative work. I was confident that this was going the greatest superhero comic on the market.

How did I come to this conclusion? Well, in 1994 my favorite television show was an action cartoon by the name of Gargoyles, and for a children’s action drama, it was far more sophisticated than it had any right to be. It chronicled the adventures of Goliath, a noble warrior of a race of monster-men known as the Gargoyles. He led a small clan of what were presumed to be the last of his people. Warriors from medieval Scotland, they found themselves living in modern-day Manhattan, protected and befriended by a police detective named Elisa Maza.

I was twelve when the show came out, and I was highly impressed by the material. It was filled with gun fights, and sword fights, and robots, and monsters, and magic, basically all the stuff I, at that age, felt a good story should have. While I loved all the explodo, what really blew me away was the fact that the stories were never “The good guys fight the bad guys because the bad guys are bad”. All the supposed bad guys had complicated reasons for their gun battles and their robots and their magic. Even more impressively, everyone’s actions had consequences that carried over from one episode to the next.

I had never seen a show like this before. Beneath the action was a story about learning to trust after being betrayed and about how actions have consequences. As the show progressed, all the characters, major and minor, changed as a result of the choices that they made. Although a children’s program, it offered more dramatic punch than most shows for adults.

The show was canceled in 1996 after 65 episodes, but it stuck in my brain. There was so much left to explore. The series had ended at several turning points for the characters. The clan had been outed to the public. They had formed an uneasy truce with their greatest enemy. Best of all, Goliath and Elisa, our star-crossed protagonists, shared an interspecies kiss. It was an ending, but an ending that left many fans hungry for more.

One would usually expect a ten-year defunct kids’ show to stay dead and buried. In this case, however, Greg Weisman, the show’s executive producer, has spent the past several years actively searching and campaigning for a venue to tell more stories about his Gargoyle characters. The fact that his characters are wholly owned by Disney has made this a difficult task.

So now that we’ve got the first six issues of the series collected in Clan Building, a new trade paperback, the question remains, are the new stories any good? If you are already a fan of the cartoon the answer is unequivocally affirmative. They have everything one could want in a superhero story: fights, scheming, mysteries, romance, character development, evil twins, clones, and, of course, flying electric cat-men. This book is an immensely satisfying read. Of course, to any new readers that are not well-versed in the cartoon, it is almost impossible to follow.

During the final scene of the cartoon one of the characters quipped “And so it begins: Gargoyles Chapter Two. Or is it three? I’ve lost count”. Starting cold with the comic book is very much the same as trying to start a novel in the middle. To frustrate matters further, only 60 percent of the program has been released on DVD, making it hard for those interested to get all of the backstory.  Weisman, mindful of the complicated backlog of the series’ history, tries to provide plenty of recaps and flashbacks. However, a new reader won’t have a solid understanding of the characters’ complex relationships and equally complex motivations.

Frankly, at points it almost feels as if Weisman is taking the book’s impenetrability and rubbing it in the collective face of the readership. The story in this first volume heavily involves the most complicated of all secret societies, The Illuminati. Several members of the books’ supporting cast are members of this society, and their handlers within The Illuminati are playing them off of each other. With all this cloak and dagger, most of our characters are lying about their goals or lying to further their goals or both. This is engaging, satisfying stuff, but only if you have a good gauge of what their goals actually are. It is all frustratingly unclear to the uninitiated.

At one point in the comic, Elisa and Goliath are unexpectedly saved by a guy named Vinnie who seems to have a relationship with Goliath. In fact, Vinnie’s life has repeatedly intersected with Goliath’s, but when Elisa asks Goliath who he is, Goliath can only answer “Honestly, I was never quite sure”. That’s what Gargoyles, the comic without Gargoyles, the cartoon feels like. The theme of Gargoyles is making choices and dealing with the consequences of those choices. The consequence of making such a complicated piece of serial fiction is that no one is going to want to start in the middle.

Originally published at The Triangle. You can comment here or there.