Sunday, February 13, 2011

Awesome Annuals: Thor Annual #5 “War of the Gods”

One of the great things about Thor is that he can find a role in so many stories. He’s at home with The Avengers, he can fight the Silver Surfer in the cosmos, and he’s got a place in the supernatural world of Asgard. This annual from 1976 is one of those instances where Thor demonstrates his versatility -- this time in the ancient mythologies of both the northern and southern European peoples.

(Warning: Spoilers Below)

And that is what makes this makes this annual a treat. If you’ve ever wanted to see gods clash, or wonder who would win between the Asgardians and the Olympians, this comic is a good place to start. In the story, two characters that eventually become staples in the Marvel universe, Thor and Hercules duke it out, along with their Norse and Greek worshippers. If it sounds a little anachronistic, you’re probably right – a quick Internet check will tell you that the vibrant and expansive Norse did expand through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, eventually finding their way to Constantinople. But this happened during the Byzantine Empire, by which time the Greek gods had gone dormant, awaiting their return to Earth via comic fiction. But don’t let historical or theological realities distract you. The premise of the story is still pretty cool.

The cover is classic Jack Kirby, owing to his return to Marvel in 1976. Steve Englehart is the writer and its interior artist is John Buscema. The artwork has a more contemporary feel to it than Kirby’s cover, and that works in this particular instance. The comic begins with the Norse creation story, which, at first, appears a little out of place, but is actually is quite helpful in placing all of the subsequent Marvel characters (ice giants, gods, mortals, trolls, etc.) that would appear in the Thor continuum. It also helps with the introduction of Thor, that sometimes hot-headed and always enthusiastic fellow we know him to be.

The story then moves forward to a battle between the Greeks and Norsemen “somewhere near the Arctic circle”. Both warrior groups invoke the name of their favourite gods, and this escalates matters considerably when Hercules and Thor show up. Of course, this isn't the first time they've fought in comics, but (to the best of my knowledge) it's the first time historically. Ultimately, the battle ends in a draw and the two groups decide to settle matter at a later date, returning to their respective abodes.

Once Thor and the lads head back and discuss this affront to their status as both gods and Norsemen, Loki gets it in his mind to stir things up and heads off to Olympus where he pushes the Olympians towards rash and violent action. There is then another battle and it eventually ends in a major win for the Northern side. Or does it?

And this is when we get to the crux of the story. After the battle, Thor and Zeus have a discuession about what happened. Unbenounced to Thor, Zeus and Odin found détente during a secret meeting as the battle raged. Afterwards, when the thunder god and his king are discussing matters, Oden says of gods and mortals: “While men of our lands believe we exist, our power and our lives are beyond the Olympians reach. Likewise they cannot end by our devices.” Clearly, Zeus understands that the Norse gods, like their Greek counterparts, are tied to the mortals who worship them and without, lose all power. That’s certainly an interesting commentary about belief, faith and the plurality of religion even in today's world, and it certainly gave this reviewer something to think about. Just as all good fiction should.

So all in all, Thor Annual #5 is a great comic book. It has great art, a good story and is well worth worth the couple dollars, pounds or euros you might need to spend. Pick it up if you can, and keep watching the stars!

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