By Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz
Published By Marvel; $19.99 US
Collects Thor #s 395-400
I can't say I remember what attracted me to the issues collected in Thor Vs. Seth, the Serpent God as I was rarely a regular collector of Thor, but I did pick them up when they first came out on the stands. It may have been because the Black Knight appeared on one of the covers and I wondered about a possible connection to what was going on in Avengers at the time (if memory serves, this storyline came out around the same time as a temporary disbanding of the Avengers). I may have been curious about the Egyptian-themed Earth Force on the cover of Thor #395. It may have been the picture of Daredevil battling Hogun the Grim on the cover of the slightly earlier Thor #393; the pairing seems so mismatched that maybe I had to pick it up just to figure out what those two had to argue about. It may have been that I just noticed the issue numbers were creeping towards 400, which meant some big double-sized issue full of revelations and epic battles was on its way and I needed to get in as close to the ground floor as possible. Or maybe, like the bored girlfriend of the football captain flirting with a computer nerd, I was tired of of reading nothing but Incredible Hulk and wanted to check out some of the guys he liked to smack around.
And while this may be starting to seem like an annoyingly recurrent theme, not unlike my surprise about the Namor collection I reviewed yesterday, I had no idea these issues were being collected until I walked into the comic shop and recognized the cover from Thor #400. I really had no choice once I saw it, flipped it open, and confirmed it was the same story I thought it was: I had to buy it. It certainly wasn't a storyline I ever found myself pining over. As I said, I've never been a regular Thor reader. But it was one of those stories that would occasionally pop up in my head and I'd think, "Yeah, they should put that in a trade," but I never thought they would. I don't generally look at sales numbers, but I've never had the impression that Thor was a big seller. Not to mention that when I watch a behind-the-scenes feature for the Incredible Hulk movie and the creator they interview is Jeph Loeb, the Glen Gary Glen Ross line "You've got the memory of a fuckin' fly" comes to define, for me, Marvel's approach to its rich history, and I tend to doubt anyone at Marvel would even remember a story like this much less think to reprint it. But obviously I was wrong, and no doubt the imminent movie and a (what seems to me at least) big push by Marvel to reprint its late '80s/early '90s stuff, designed to wrench the aforementioned I-have-no-choice-I-have-to-buy-it response from readers my age helped refresh Marvel's memory.
Thor Vs. Seth, the Serpent God is the kind of big, sprawling war of the gods that Thor is so well-suited for. Having stolen the power of the other gods in his particular pantheon, the death god Seth has his sights aimed for Asgard. With the rainbow bridge between Asgard and Earth severed, Thor cannot easily return to his homeland. Seth throws his armies against Asgard while putting plans into motion on Earth to make sure Thor cannot return to aid in its defense. He bestows two men and a woman near death with super powers and lies to them, telling them Hogun the Grim (who journeyed to Earth to tell Thor of Seth's invasion) must die or else Earth is doomed. The Egyptian-themed Earth Force battle Thor but eventually realize they've been duped. Once they figure out a way to leave Earth, the ragtag group of Thor, Hogun the Grim, the Earth Force, and the Black Knight storm the battlements of Seth's dimension and tear through his green hordes of snake-headed soldiers (and it's really tough to not think of G.I. Joe's villains while you read this, by the way).
I'm not sure why but I find the group that accompanies Thor into Seth's dimension so appealing precisely because it's such a ragtag, unlikely team. It wouldn't be as fun if Thor had just, for example, brought the Avengers or the FF along with him.
Unfortunately for everyone involved, Thor and his group are out of contact with Balder the Brave, the Lady Sif, the remaining Warriors Three, and the other defenders of Asgard. With no other recourse left to him, Balder recalls the power of Thor he desperately needs to protect his home. Thor is left with only a fraction of his super strength and none of his hammer's legendary powers. Defeat still seems nearly certain for Asgard, in spite of Balder's increased power and the surprise appearance of Leir and his Celtic pantheon of gods who were introduced a year earlier in Thor #386 (and refreshingly, wear hardly any green at all) to aid in fighting back Seth's hordes. Practically every figure of Thor's mythos throws himself against Seth: Heimdall, Loki, the Enchantress, Karnilla, the trolls, the giants, and more. Eventually, and I'm pretty sure this is legally required for any Thor storyline deemed important enough to the character's history, Surtur gets involved and he and an Odin-ified Thor battle while flashing through some of the more fantastical Marvel-specific landscapes like Namor's Atlantis and the Inhumans' home on the Moon.
When these books first came out I don't think I had a particularly good idea of who Jack Kirby was, why he was important, and I certainly didn't recognize how Tom Defalco and Ron Frenz were paying tribute to older stories in both words and images. Sure, the dialogue style was a bit dated but Thor with its Thees and Thous and Thys always seemed a little more old fashioned than other superhero comics. I think I recognized that Frenz was reaching back to an older style, but "older" was all I knew about it. Reading Thor Vs. Seth, the Serpent God with slightly more educated eyes is interesting, and it makes me hungry to hunt down as many Kirby books as I can.
Thor Vs. Seth, the Serpent God is a fun war epic and from start to finish it feels like an instruction manual on how to do a great Thor story. While you read it, it feels like it's the last, greatest Asgard war story even though you know there's no way that's the case. In particular, I found it refreshing that it was so packed with action and drama that unlike a lot of more recent superhero trades, I couldn't get through it in one sitting even though it only reprints 6 issues. Or at least, I didn't want to. It's not that it gets tedious; far from it. But Defalco and Frenz deliver enough per issue that you're content to put it down. The book will last for a while. If you love Thor, or beautiful fantasy battle scenes, or evil villains with arms in suggestive shapes that I've been mature enough to not make a joke about until now, go buy it.
The "ragtag" God element that made it so fun is why I enjoyed when the main Hulk title became "The Incredible Hercules" and Hercules assembled a God Squad during Secret Invasion. If that stuff comes out on trade you should check it out; you'd love it.
That first panel you posted (with the dude with wings fighting alongside Modok Jr. or whomever) is a visual love letter to Kirby.
Ron Frenz has always combined the dynamism of Kirby with some of the finer elements of craftsmen like John Buscema and to a point John Romita Sr. I remember meeting him around the time these stories were published--he lives in my native Pittsburgh, PA and we have friends in common. He had an exceptionally long run on Thor with Tom DeFalco, from #383, right after Walt Simonson left, through about #459, at which time the duo migrated to the spinoff title Thunderstrike, which itself lasted two years (and there's a sequel miniseries also by Tom & Ron, on sale now). Their stories may never have equaled the brilliance of Walt, but they were never less than fun. Good stuff, this.
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