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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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The ’90s Revisited: Warlock and the Infinity Watch #25

Blood and Thunder part 12: Raid on Asgard

Creator/Writer: Jim Starlin
Pencils: Angel Medina
Inker: Bob Almond
Letters: Jack Morelli
Colors: Ian Laughlin
Editor: Craig Anderson
Published by: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $2.95
Cover Date: February, 1994

It’s been years since I’ve read anything from this title; but when I originally read through what I had of the title–probably back in 2000 or so–this issue was not one of them. And, I haven’t read this Blood and Thunder story, either (other than having maybe read one or two other random chapters, but never have read it as a singular story or all the parts in order). Yet, I’ve had a vague concept of what the story was–Thor goes crazy and some of the cosmic characters had to team up to take him down.

That this had such a cool cover of Thanos, Warlock and a chained-up Thor piqued my interest such that I found myself reading the issue in its entirety despite lacking context of any recently-read earlier chapters of the crossover or any recent reading of any Infinity Watch issues for continuity reminders.

Basically, Warlock, the Infinity Watch, Dr. Strange, and the Silver Surfer show up on the Rainbow Bridge with Thor imprisoned in a stasis field of some sort. Odin sees this and assumes with Thanos in their midst that they’ve–despite proving their Character in the past–shown up with Thor as a hostage, and he sends the forces of Asgard against the group. After a lengthy battle, Odin wades into the fray himself before Sif and Beta Ray Bill intervene, finally putting everyone on the same page. Odin attempts to simply fix things, but it doesn’t work, and so he declares that Thor must die.

The story itself is pretty good–sufficiently “cosmic” for me, which makes sense given the characters involved. And this IS classic Starlin…and given his hand in Warlock and Thanos stuff through the years–particularly back in the early/mid-1990s when this issue came out–can’t ask for much better. I really like the way this plays firmly within what I recall of the ’90s Cosmic stuff–Warlock and his group, Thanos, Thor/Odin/Asgard, even the Silver Surfer is found here. Starlin‘s got a great grasp on his “usual” characters, and seems to do the same with the Thor characters–at least, they all seem within the characterization I’m aware of for them.

My main disappointment in the issue is with the art–for me, as a casual reader, it seems incredibly uneven. I really like the cover–it’s got plenty of detail, and the characters all look quite good–recognizable, detailed, etc.–and that goes for the outer as well as inner cover images. The art for the issue itself seems truly simplistic by comparison, though, with many panels having extremely minimalistic background if anything but solid color–and many of the characters (while they remain recognizable as individuals) are distractingly simplified such that they look ugly, rough, and unfinished or rushed–especially compared to the cover. This may be a stylistic thing–and doesn’t fail to get the story across–but it’s not exactly to my liking at present.

All told, though…this was a very welcome read as something I pulled from a bargain bin sometime in the last few years–I found it a few weeks ago while searching out other comics in my unorganized collection, and set it aside TO read. I’m not certain, but I think this issue and the Thanos/Odin battle may even have been referenced in the Dan Jurgens run of Thor, post-Heroes Return, which makes it that much more satisfying to (even a decade later) have finally read for myself.

Even with the cardstock, die-cut dual cover (you open the main cover to the same image of Thor, but surrounded by all the other primary characters involved in this story) and extra story pages, this issue was only $2.95 cover price–over $1 cheaper than a standard Marvel comic today. And with bargain-bin pricing–presumably 25-50 cents–if you’ve any interest in Thanos in particular–this is well worth the price of admission.

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