Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Thor #408 (October 1989)

Thor. The God of Thunder. In the Marvel Universe, this powerful Norse deity is regarded as one of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, even helping found the Avengers. Recently, Thor Odinson lost his worthiness to wield his hammer, Mjolnir. The hammer would end up in the hands of long-time Thor supporting character, Jane Foster. Response to this was...rabid. Many hated the idea of Thor's hammer going to someone else, but for was done before. I wrote a bit of history of Marvel's Mjolnir users here about three years ago.

I'm talking about someone who has also wielded Mjolnir and fought evil as Thor. Yes, Jane cold be considered the third Thor (Fourth if you count Red Norvell). As such, I thought a nice little history lesson was in order. As such, I thought it would be nice to give some focus to a character who got to wield Mjolnir for a significant period of time himself: Eric Masterson.

First appearing in Thor #391 (May 1988), Masterson was a single father and architect. During his time as Thor, he served as an Avenger (He was operating as Thor during the events of Operation: Galactic Storm), and eventually got his own powerful weapon: the mace called Thunderstrike. Sadly, Masterson's superhero career would end when he sacrificed his life to end the curse of a weapon called the Bloodaxe. However, the Thunderstrike legacy would continue on. The mace would end up in the hands of his son Kevin, who would go on to take up the Thunderstrike mantle. You can read more about him here.

And with that, let's look at Thor #408!

The cover is pretty awesome. Thor and the Mongoose are facing off, a fallen Eric Masterson in front of them. We got Odin in the background, clenching his fists. And Hercules looking like he's cheering Thor on. The cover promises the Prince of Power, a fateful decision, the Power of Odin, and the "stunning savagery of the Mongoose"! And boy, does this comic deliver on all of them.

"The Fateful Decision!"
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Artist: Ron Frenz
Finisher: Joe Sinnott
Letterer: Michael Heigler
Colorist: Tom Vincent
Editor: Ralph Macchio

The story begins with Hercules, Thor, Eric Masterson, and the High Evolutionary returning to Earth.

The party has returned to Wundagore after an adventure in a place called the Black Galaxy. Eric Masterson is excited to tell Kevin about it. The group of New Men warriors known as the Knights of Wundagore are happy to see the Evolutionary back home. The Evolutionary thanks Thor for rescuing him from the Black Galaxy. As a gesture of gratitude, he allows the heroes to stay and rest in Wundagore. Unknown to them, they are being watched by the Mongoose.

In Asgard, we got more drama. Odin is convalescing in his bed, and he, being an ornery old god, is rather unhappy about it. Odin's vizier tells him that he needs to conserve his strength, as it is waning. He could restore it if he goes into the Odinsleep. Odin refuses as in his current state, it could last for months...or even years. Odin can't afford it. You see, Asgard has ended up in the Negative Zone, which means they've lost any change of passage to Earth. And since there are a lot of dangers in the Negative Zone, Odin must remain vigilant.

There is a positive to least to Odin's perspective. Thor can cross over to Asgard one last time. Which means Thor will finally have to choose between the land that birthed him, and the world that he has spent years defending. Odin must be awake to hear Thor's decision. I know there was critism in Jason Aaron's work for Odin being portrayed as a jerk, but...yeah. Odin being a jerk is nothing new. Odin being a jerk goes far back as the Lee/Kirby days.

Back on Earth, Hercules is shocked that Thor decided to shave his beard. To the Vikings, facial hair is a sign of strength and least, according to Herc. Thor explains that it's not a big deal to Asgardians. Asgardians may have been worshipped by Vikings, but their traditions and beliefs didn't always line up. Thor accidentally cuts himself while shaving, but reassures a concerned Eric Masterson that he's alright. However, unknown to the others, Thor has been having dizzy spells on Earth.

An attendant takes Thor's shaving dish, presumably to clean it. But in reality, he hands it to another one of the New Men. Thor's beard hair contains DNA, which could be useful to the High Evolutionary in creating a new race of immortals.

The High Evolutionary provides Thor and his party with Atomic Steeds that will take them over to a nearby city, so they can head on home. Thor warns the scientific villain that if he meddles with human evolution again, he'll essentially get a great big kiss in the mush from Mjolnir. The High Evolutionary reassures Thor that won't happen. The lifeforms in the Black Galaxy has gotten the scientist's interest, and he wants to study them. The party leave, and Wundagore takes off into the sky.

Eric wonders if the Evolutionary is heading back to the Black Galaxy. Would make sense, as he has said he wanted to study it...which means Thor may have to pull his bacon out of the fire again. The Atomic Steeds get shot down. Thor is able to save Eric, but Hercules falls into a ravine. Thor isn't worried, as being a demigod, Herc is pretty darn durable. Thor tries to locate the party's attacker.

The Mongoose is back, and he wants a piece of the God of Thunder! Thor easily destroys his craft. Mongoose strikes back, using his super speed to pummel the Thunder God. Thor is able to reach his hammer and use it to cause a rainstorm. The rain turns the ground to mud, making Mongoose slip and rendering his speed useless. However, Mongoose has a backup weapon. He blasts Thor with a mining laser. The uplifted primate keeps blasting the God of Thunder, much to the horror of Eric Masterson.

Masterson is understandably terrified. Can't blame him, really. Thor is one of the powerhouses of the Marvel Heroes. Seeing him getting blasted into submission with a powerful mining laser would send chills. Despite the fact that he knows he's out of his league, Masterson leaps on the Mongoose.

Mongoose bats him aside, and he lands near Mjolnir. A hand reaches out and grabs for the mystical war hammer. And the hand...

In the Marvel Comics mythos, in times of crisis, Mjolnir can be temporarily wielded by those who re worthy. Eric Masterson is part of an elite group, which included Captain America, and Superman. Yup, Superman used Mjolnir. JLA/Avengers. It is an awesome mini-series. However, Eric gets blasted for his efforts. Hercules shows up, and sends a bunch of rocks flying towards the Mongoose, which makes the New Man basically say "Screw This, I'm Outta Here!" It's kind of funny he fled, considering that he was armed with a mining laser that could harm a god.

Thor and Herc look over Masterson, and realize that he is dying. Eric tries to use his dying breaths to get Thor to watch over his son Kevin. Kevin Masterson would go on to become the second Thunderstrike in both the MC2 comics and the main Marvel Universe. But that's years from now. Thor realizes there's still a chance to save Eric. He uses his hammer to summon Odin.

Thor pleads for Odin to save Eric, and Odin says there is a way, but it's a costly one. He has given Thor a true reason to stay on Midgard. Odin had hoped that one day, Thor would take up the crown of Midgard, but he sees that Thor desires to fight for justice and truth. Asgard will endure without Thor, but it will be a lesser place without him. Odin then expresses pride in Thor's nobility. Mercurial, thy name is Odin.

Eric arrives at his apartment with Hercules and greets his son. With them is Susan Austin, who helps Eric out with his architecture business and babysits Kevin. Herc is introduced as Harry Cleese. Get it?

Kevin notices Eric's new walking stick, and wonders where Thor is, causing Eric and Herc to share a look. That night, Herc takes his leave, saying he and Eric have much to discuss. Eric Masterson thinks about his new status quo. You see...

Odin's idea for saving Eric's life was to merge him, body and soul, with Thor. In essence, Eric has become Thor's new secret identity. It's not quite Eric becoming the new Thor, but that's in the future. It's a step towards it. The story ends with Thor flying off into the night on his hammer, vowing to continue to defend the innocent and stand against evil.

This issue does have a backup tale, but unfortunately, I do not have it. You see, the scans I got came from my copy of the trade paperback The Mighty Thor: Thunderstrike. It did include Thor #408 in its collected issues, but only the main story. It's technically fine, as that was what I wanted to concentrate on here, but from a completion perspective, it's a bit annoying to me.

This was a very nice little done-in-one tale. We see a new status quo set in for Thor, some action, and of course, the ever-boisterous Hercules. I have read some of Tom DeFalco's work on Thor, and's criminally underrated. I do get why his time with the character is not talked about much. He took up the book after Walter Simonson. Despite the fact that DeFalco wrote the book longer than Simonson (DeFalco's time went for six years: 1987-1993, and Simonson's run lasted for four: 1983-1987), Simonson's run is considered more legendary. Heck, Simonson himself appeared in a cameo in the first Thor movie, and his work was homaged in Thor: Ragnarok.

It's kind of sad that DeFalco and Frenz's work on Thor doesn't get much attention, because they were a great team on the book. Ron Frenz's artwork is really enjoyable. During his time on Thor, his style seemed to incorporate aspects of Jack Kirby's work, especially in the way he drew faces and poses. You an see the Kirby influence especially in his interpretation of Thor. Certain panels in this book really show how convincingly he can imitate the King. There may be only King of Comics, but on Thor's book, Ron Frenz might as well have been named the Prince of Comics or the Heir Apparent.

I loved this issue. In fact, I enjoy DeFalco and Frenz's work on Thor, and it NEEDS more attention and love. Seriously. If you find it collected anywhere, GET IT. My highest recommendation? One of my favorite Thor sagas is their chronicling the war between Asgard and the Egyptian God of Death, the Serpent God Set. Amazing work by a team that deserves a lot more respect.

Next time, we travel to the DC Universe, and we look in on a team that is going to make their first appearance on this blog. All I have to say about it is simply...Teen Titans, go!

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