Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hello Cosmic Part 15: Blood & Thunder

[In which I continue my look at Jim Starlin's cosmic work at Marvel with the winter 1993/94 crossover "Blood & Thunder," which he co-wrote with Ron Marz and spanned The Mighty Thor #468-471, The Silver Surfer #86-88 (both of those titles written by Marz), The Warlock Chronicles #6-8, and Warlock & the Infinity Watch #23-25. Posts in this series published Monday, Wednesday and Friday.]

Before I left Windsor for Christmas in London (and, just to remind everyone, this is Canada--specifically, Ontario--not England), I made up a schedule for GraphiContent posts, so that I would know what would have to be done while I was out of town. The schedule itself runs well into January as I figured out how long this series on Jim Starlin would run, along with the next title in the Joe Casey series (Automatic Kafka, just so you know). I had scheduled "Blood & Thunder" for two days because it's a 13-issue crossover and I figured it would warrant two days of discussion.

Um, no. No, it doesn't. I'm not sure it really warrants this day, but let's give 'er a go anyway.

"Blood & Thunder" is a story where Thor is insane. All of Odin's messing with his head with Donald Blake, Eric Masterson, etc. has taken its toll and now Thor is a little off his rocker. He sees a woman called Valkyrie and she tells him to destroy things. First, the Silver Surfer gets involved, then Warlock, then the Infinity Watch, then Dr. Strange, then Thanos and then, eventually, things get resolved. These are not good comics. The art is lacklustre, for the most part, the writing is poor, and the story is quite padded.

The ironic thing is that the last issue of the crossover, Thor #471 is the first issue of the series I ever got (for my birthday--because I had gotten Warlock & the Infinity Watch #25 with some Christmas money a few weeks previous) and it actually got me into Thor, a strange, irrational love that carries on to this very day. And now I see that the comic is horrible shit. Does that mean that Thor is horrible shit, too? Have I been wrong these past 14 years? Have I been living under an unhealthy dillusion that Thor was worth my time? Damn you, Ron Marz, for making me question myself. (Although, without this crossover, I would never have gotten my dad to buy the title for me, which meant I would never have read Warren Ellis' four-issue story on the title and may never have gotten into his work. Does that mean that reading bad comics can be good ultimately?)


The only art in this whole batch of books that doesn't disgust me is Tom Grindberg's work on The Infinity Watch #23 and 24, and Angel Medina's work on issue 25 of the same book. I mean, MC Wyman doesn't even draw the Power Gem correctly in his issues of Thor. He draws what looks like a more standard jewel with a square front and shit--instead of the round, jelly bean-esque look that the Infinity Gems have. These are just ugly comics, people.

As I said, the writing isn't much better. The only issue that kept my interest much was The Infinity Watch #24 where the entire group (plus the Silver Surfer and Dr. Strange) are captured by Trolls. Since Pip is a Troll as well, he isn't to be sacrificed like the rest without a chance to save himself through combat. According to custom, he can choose a surrogate to fight in his place and he chooses Warlock. The terms of the fight are that it is only strength against strength, which means no Soul Gem or anything like that. The opponent is the older brother of Ulik, which means a giant Troll that is all super-strong and looks like he will make short work of Warlock. Except Warlock beats the shit out of him, and anytime Warlock gets hit, it's because he meant to. Seems Pip has been freeing everyone else and Warlock was just buying time. In his own words: "I WAS AMAZED YOUR GOOD KING GEIRRODUR WOULD BELIEVE THAT I'D ACTUALLY GO ALONG WITH THIS RIDICULOUS SHAM! / NOT VERY INTELLIGENT, IS HE? / I SHOULD BATTLE A MAJOR SLAB OF BEEF LIKE YOURSELF--THEN, WIN OR LOSE, ALLOW MYSELF TO BE SACRIFICED TO AN OVERSIZED GARDEN SNAKE?? / YOUR GRAND RULER'S CROWN MUST FIT TOO TIGHTLY! / HE LACKS A FIRM GRASP ON REALITY! UNFORTUNATELY, OLIK, IT IS YOU WHO SUFFERS FOR HIS FAILINGS." Warlock's dialogue throughout the fight is in this bombstic, playful style and it works. You get the sense that since Warlock is just toying with Olik, he is almost having fun. Of course, it does make sense that the one issue that doesn't directly deal with the plot of the crossover is the one that reads well.

The basic idea of the story isn't bad and does work with Starlin's ongoing theme of mental stability and imbalance. He loves to have the real fight characters undertake be in their minds, but the execution here falls flat.

Issue 25 of The Infinity Watch features a die-cut cover that actually works. The primary image depicts Thor in chains with Thanos and Warlock as his captors. If you open the cover, Thor remains and we get him in chains in a great hall in Asgard surrounded by Odin, Sif, Beta Ray Bill, the Watch, Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer. It's the third special cover I've encountered in this journey into the '90s and it actually works. I never minded cool covers as long as they brought something to the table other than being different. As long as the enhancement worked with the cover and the story, no worries. Here, it does.

I also like the trade dress for this crossover. The left side and top of the cover are taken up by the design, which includes a hammer in the top left, the words "Blood and Thunder" across the top and whatever part the issue is in the top right corner. It looks alright and makes it easy to tell that the issue is part of the crossover--and what part.

I feel like I should discuss the story more, but I don't have anything to say, really. There are lots of fights and lots of pseudo-Shakespeare speak. Thanos goes toe-to-toe with Odin, which is a pretty decent fight.

The Count Abyss subplot in The Infinity Watch advances as he prepares to send Maya, his consort to meet with Warlock and fool him into drinking some spiked wine. But, more on that next time. Figured I'd mention it so it doesn't come as such a big surprise.

Next time, I'll look at the final issues of Starlin's run on Warlock & the Infinity Watch. They're not that great, either.