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The ’90s Revisited: Thor #500

90s_revisited

thor_500Sunlight and Shadows

Writer: Wm. Messner-Loebs
Artist: Mike Deodato Jr.
Lettering: Jonathan Babcock
Color Art: Marie Javins
Computer Separations: Malibu
Editor: Bobbie Chase
Editor-in-Chief: Bob Harras
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Date: July 1996
Cover Price: $2.50

I’ve long been "aware of" this issue. I vaguely recall seeing advertising for it–either in house ads, or Wizard Magazine, or both. And I’ve seen the cover image a number of times over the years. But somehow, I never before now actually got to READ the issue. I don’t THINK I’ve even owned a copy before now, as it’s not one that I "commonly" find in quarter bins and such. So when I recently came across it in a dollar bin, it felt like a no-brainer to pick up, to finally satisfy my curiosity at its content.

Plus, there’s the fact that it was "A Marvel 1st! Fantastic 500th Issue!" (as the cover proclaims). Back when Marvel titles had their LEGITIMATE numbering scheme, and many titles had high numbers, at that. This was Thor‘s 500th issue. Captain America was in the mid-400s; Fantastic Four had hit 400 about a year earlier, and Avengers had just crossed the 400 mark…and Uncanny X-Men wasn’t terribly far behind closing on 350ish, and I think even Incredible Hulk was somewhere in the latter 400s.

One of the more striking (for me) aspects of the cover is that THIS Thor has a rather savage look to him, and lacks really anything familiar-looking except the hammer. Wild, extremely-long hair, some sort of skintight costume that I would have sworn from "memory" was actually a shirtless-Thor getup (a trick of coloring, perhaps, given he IS shirtless within the issue, and the image for the next issue also shows him shirtless), and could almost be ’90s-Sabretooth’s brother quite easily by appearance.

As the issue opens, Thor is in the ruined city of Asgard, wondering what happened and where everyone has gone. He gets in a fight with some Trolls that have claimed the area, and eventually comes across several imprisoned/enslaved individuals…including Dr. Stephen Strange, aka Dr. Strange! Strange catches him up on a bit of recent stuff (presumably recounting the previous issue or few issues, if the reader–like myself–has not read them), and we head into the Enchantress teaming with a Frost Giant. When the Frost Giants attack Asgard’s ruins, they find Strange and Thor battle-ready; as well as a surprise "ally" in Ulik the Troll. Amidst the unfolding situation we learn that Odin had a plan to save the gods, involving their being sent to Earth as mortals with no memory of who/what they truly are. Thor regains his hammer, repels the invaders, and stands amidst his small band of allies as they realize their fight is not over, but must be continued on Earth!

Rounding out the issue, we have some pages of frivolous back-matter…a double-page quiz, a double-page primer of several of Thor’s looks over the years, a double-page ‘family tree’ of Odin; a double-page fact-sheet of Thor’s hammer, and two pages of letters (remember "letters pages"???).

The cover proclaims this as a "Double-Sized Issue!" but I only count 26 pages of story-content. I’m pretty sure–even in the 1990s–regular Marvel comics were NOT short 13-page stories! So that’s a bit misleading…at least if one (like me) counts an issue’s size on its STORY content, not so-called or frivolous "bonus content"/back matter (that if ever TRULY "bonus" would not be included in paid page count anyway). Including the backmatter and letters pages, I only count 36 non-ad pages, which still would suggest a non-double-sized issue would be only 18 pages. So while this might feel like a "bigger" issue (it does have "extra" pages/content), I don’t see that it qualifies as double-sized.

Then there’s the price of the issue: a big, round number 500, a Marvel first at the time, and the cover price was "only" $2.50 (at least the edition I have–if there were variant/other editions, I’m not aware off the top of my head) which is not MUCH more than the $1.50-$1.95ish I think most issues were at the time…while extra-sized issues tend to pose a better value as the extra pages don’t require an extra cover and separate physical production, I would expect a truly double-sized issue to have been in the $3-4 range in 1996.

Art-wise, the issue is not bad. I recognize Deodato‘s name at LEAST from being aware of his Wonder Woman work. Overall, though, I can’t say this issue’s art really stands out in and of itself…what stands out is the "Savage Thor" look as a character design, not necessarily (offhand) the art as art. Presumably Marvel was really going for the changed-up look to Thor, getting away from the ‘classic’ look(s), infusing the character with the wilder ’90s sensibility, and Deodato brought that to this issue quite successfully! Whether its Malibu‘s coloring, the art itself, or other factors, this vaguely puts me in mind of some Ultraverse stuff, with Thor on the cover looking like a wild-haired Hardcase with a hammer. I think the main complaint I’d have with the art is the stupid ’90s trend of double-page splashes where you have to physically turn the entire issue 90 degrees to follow. I’m pretty sure that the same dimensions could fit proportionately on a single page without having to be blown up double-sized, especially when there’s little to no dialogue to be read!

Story-wise, I didn’t really "get" much out of this issue. Something to it felt rather repetitive, as if Thor is always finding Asgard in ruins, the gods missing, and having to seek them out. Or always coming across an unexpected ally in odd circumstances. Or always fending off/facing attacking trolls and/or frost giants or dealing with the Enchantress. I definitely got the sense that this was a latter chapter of a story, and suspect I’d appreciate it a lot more if I’d read the previous several issues. I also have the 21-years-later knowledge of the title running only to #502 or so before reverting to Journey Into Mystery again for about a year, while Thor was in the Heroes Reborn world, prior to the launch of the Heroes Return iteration of the title. That there are 2 more issues of this title AS Thor make this feel like a not-quite-penultimate chapter. Of course, having had only the initial "hype" around the time this issue was originally published combined with its continuing "mystery" to me for just over two decades, I cannot be too surprised that this failed to meet a thus-built set of expectations of grandeur and awesomeness.

Given the 20+ years since this was published, the 1998 reboot, the JMS reboot, the last few years’ Unworthy Thor stuff, and the new Legacy renumbering to #700 (200 issues SINCE this one!)…this doesn’t feel all that relevant nor particularly memorable or of any real significance…at least as a random, arbitrary single issue.

If you’re seeking it out already because of a personal interest, this is well worth the $1 or so if it’s in a bargain bin. I don’t recommend it just for the sake of reading a #500, or just to read an arbitrary anniversary issue or such. If you’re reading stuff from this period it’s probably more worthwhile, or as a focal issue to build a short reading-run around. Had I gotten this from a quarter-bin instead of $1-bin, I probably would have snagged from #490 or so through #502 and perhaps tried to read the run as a larger single story.

This issue leaves me curious as to the full "end" of the volume, and I realized I have the Journey Into Mystery run that followed as a collected edition, so if I get particularly ambitious, I can probably fill in context before and see where things go quite easily if I so choose.

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Siege #2 [Review]

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Penciler: Olivier Coipel
Inker: Mark Morales
Colorist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
Cover: Coipel, Morales & Martin
Associate Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics

This issue is largely a lengthy fight-scene. Ares vs. Balder. Ares vs. The Sentry. Dark Avengers vs. Thor. And while these battles are going on, Steve Rogers rallies the Avengers, with Nick Fury providing transportation. And the issue ends on a ridiculously annoying note.

While I like the visuals overall, something about the Sentry comes across like some totally ticked-off child, if not some sort of demon-possessed child. The other characters all look pretty good–and are quite recognizable. The only part where I really had any trouble following the action in the visuals was the most gruesome image of the issue–you’ll know it when you see it. Though the gore makes it clear the character has been killed, it seems to come out of nowhere. If the final page of actual comic store didn’t have “To Be Continued” I’d be asking why a page was left out–what seems to be done for cinematic/dramatic effect feels extremely anticlimactic, and does nothing to make me want to get the next issue. The sequence–in my eyes–should have been played out.

The story itself seems very simplistic…we see things going awry and Norman losing control of the situation as he’s closer to being exposed publicly. Characters fight, someone dies, etc. The fight sequences make the issue read far too quickly–there’s too much quick action and too little dialogue. I’d almost prefer to see a tie-in mini to flesh out the action, and let the main series involve more dialogue and interaction as the event goes down.

In and of itself, there’s not much of anything here to recommend this issue. Marvel only makes it worthwhile as it’s part of the story that ends the Dark Reign, and we’re almost–almost–to the point where Osborne’s gonna start to get some of what’s coming to him. This is an “event book,” and the “core mini” at that–this seems the bare minimum one should get if specifically following Siege. While there’s loads of other stuff surely going on, this has been doing a decent job–for what I’ve read–of having the main stuff unfolding here rather than in the tie-in/crossover issues.

Not wonderful, but there’s plenty worse out there to be read…plenty that doesn’t at least have as its end result a brighter tone to come for the Marvel Universe.

The text piece at the end held no interest to me–it may have some stuff for context, but I couldn’t even get through it.

Story: 3.5/10
Art: 8/10
Overall: 5/10

Siege: Embedded #2 [Review]

Writer: Brian Reed
Artist: Chris Samnee
Color Artist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer & Production: VC’s Rus Wooton
Cover: Adi Granov
Editor: Lauren Sankovitch
Executive Editor: Tom Brevoort
Published by: Marvel Comics

I think I read the first couple issues of Civil War: Frontline, and while I snagged an issue or two from a quarter bin somewhere, I don’t believe I’ve read any of the World War Hulk: Frontline. I also hate the $3.99 price point, but after growing so weary of even just the phrase “Dark Reign” and seeing that on comics on the shelves. That Marvel would actually do a 4-issue event in Siege seemed astonishing to me, and I’d decided to compromise my principles and buy the core issues despite the $3.99 tag–at least it was an ‘event book’ and not just another standard, monthly issue of an ongoing title. With the Origins of Siege freebie the week prior, and a small week of new issues, I decided to give Siege a bit more of a shot than I would otherwise, and not only bought SiegeEmbedded #1, but also picked up #1…and while I was at it, snagged the cabal one-shot from December.

With the second issue of both Siege and Siege: Embedded out this week, I again went ahead and snagged both.

This issue continues the journey of Ben Urich, his travel buddy Will, and Volstagg, in the wake of the “inciting incident” that allowed Norman Osborne the excuse to invade Asgard. Urich is interviewing people during the journey while stopped at gas stations, while his buddy tries to keep Volstagg from being noticed. When the group hits a traffic jam, things get bad pretty quick as Osborne’s people lock onto Volstagg’s Asgardian properties. While he fights the would-be captors, Urich and Will wind up in less than ideal conditions, where they must rely on one another without their Asgardian friend.

The issue’s art seems rather simplistic in a way…not really in a grim and gritty way, but just some stylistic thing. It’s not bad–but it’s nothing wonderful, either.

The story itself seems to have virtually nothing to do with Siege itself, other than Volstagg’s presence/situation. Siege sets the “environment,” but other than that, this doesn’t seem to add anything to the main title’s story. This is just its own story set within the event. I’m somewhat enjoying this story as–while it involves super-beings–the main character(s) are not themselves super-heroes/villains. They’re just people who live in a world populated by super-beings.

As said–this really adds nothing yet to Siege itself. But if you’re looking for a larger experience than just the main Siege book, this is worth getting, as it is also a 4-issue mini-series, and there’s the chance it’s not going to get you hooked on another ongoing title that just ties in to Siege.

Ultimately, a solid issue, but kinda take-it-or-leave-it. I’ll be interested to see how the series is collected–it’d be great to see this collected WITH Siege itself, though I’d be shocked to see that actually happen.

Story: 7/10
Art: 4.5/10
Overall: 6/10

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