Monday, April 5, 2010

Essential Thor Volume 3

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Essential Thor Volume 3 (Marvel, 2007)

About 18 months ago, with one eye skeptically wavering, I sat down to read the second volume of Marvel's Essential Thor, knowing that I really didn't like the character when I was a kid and read some his overblown and stilted late '70s adventures, but also knowing that the original '60s material by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby was certain to be different and superior. I had no idea what a trip I was in for. This stuff was completely wild and wonderful, absolutely one of the best two or three comics of the 1960s.

I elected to save this book for a rainy day, so to speak, and savored the anticipation, and am glad that I did. What a thrill this book is. It's 500 pages of beatdowns and wildly escalating, insane cosmic threats. It's every bit as long as a proper rollercoaster should be, especially one of the great wooden ones like the Georgia Cyclone where you have no idea where in the ride you are or what you can possibly expect around the next bend. Lee and Kirby just kept ratcheting this mad book up, with one unbelievable threat after another for thirty issues without a pause. There's Ulik the troll and the Wrecker and Karnilla the Norn Queen and a war between Galactus and Ego the Living Planet and Greek deities and Mangog and every so often, you just have to put the book down and rest for a little bit.

In the stories reprinted in the second volume, the format was a 16-page lead story and a separate five-page backup by the same team called Tales of Asgard where Thor and some of his adventuring friends had wild tales set in some nebulous, glorious past. Those backups reach an end after about ten of the 30 issues here, and I kind of missed them, though I was pleased that Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg were incorporated into the main storyline, expanded to twenty pages at a time, a little bit. They're present when Mangog, sole survivor of a race of billions who got on Odin's bad side some millennia previously, decides to attack Asgard while Odin is in his cannot-be-awoken-lest-the-universe-end "Odinsleep," leading to the cast's most desperate battle yet, until the next one, anyway. It's a book that writes its own hyperbole. Sheer, unadulterated bliss.

Also, at one point, Thor is flying around New York, realizes he's thirsty and gets himself a chocolate ice cream soda. He salutes the soda jerk's concoction and cute girls swoon over him. If that doesn't make you smile, you're hopeless.

There's a fourth Essential Thor available which takes the story into the early 1970s, and sees Kirby, whose art in this book will separate your jaw at least once every ten pages, stepping down, replaced by John Buscema and Neal Adams, and Lee handing the reins to Gerry Conway. Those men are all fine talents, but a big part of me doesn't want to see the saga end that way. In a perfect world, Thor is so much more than a simple character within the big, bulky Marvel Universe and a cog in that machine, he's the lead character in one of the most consistently entertaining comics that anybody's ever made. Very highly recommended.

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