Just in time for both the Thor movie and the currently Norse-heavy Fear Itself, we take a look back at one of the relatively few major crossovers in Thor’s history. As shocking as it might seem that Thor has never really had that many Marvel-wide events focused on him, it might be moreso that the last major one (by my reckoning) was all about how Thor had turned into… well, a Sif-slapping psycho. Why? And how? And why and how did he change back? All that and more, after the jump.
In 1993, it’s fair to say Marvel had crossover fever. You could barely spit without hitting some book tying into some other book in a plotline that was often contrived at best, bafflingly opaque at worst. Also, in a slight precursor to the ritual “replacing everyone with younger, theoretically cooler versions” of the mid-90s, Thor was no longer Thor, son of Odin. After apparently killing his half-brother and constant foe, Loki, Thor was banished, and his mantle (and enchanted Uru hammer) given to Eric Masterson of Earth. He was a fish out of water and he had a beard; later, he would become Thunderstrike. Of course, Thor took his title back, but barely a year later, the question was: well, we’ve got the real deal back, so what do we do with him?
The answer: drive him crazy and make him fight a bunch of ridiculously powerful superheroes. Adam Warlock and the Infinity Watch held cache from being the focal points of the Infinity Gauntlet trilogy, as did the Silver Surfer for similar reasons. The Infinity Crusade mega-event had just wrapped up, and so here the characters who were nominal protagonists end up playing… well, protagonists, still. Thor is the antagonist here, which is doubly strange when one considers that Thor has never really had his own thunder-god-centric crossover till this summer’s Fear Itself. (Coincidentally, Thor has also never had a major motion picture till this weekend.) In the crossover-heavy climate of 1993, when everyone was pretty much guaranteed a spotlight in someone else’s book, Thor managed to be the villain in not only two other books, but also his own.
I might be wrong in asserting this as the only explicitly Thor-driven crossover in Marvel history, but I don’t think I am. I also draw a key line between “Thor-centric” and “Avengers-centric but featuring a bunch of Thor stuff.” Generally speaking, Thor stuff gets settled in Thor comics. If I’m wrong, though, feel free to correct me.
Anyway, as far as these things go, there’s actually a lucid plot in play — for once. Blood and Thunder’s narrative is straightforward (albeit bogged down with weird, twisty little details, fixed like barnacles to a ship’s hull). Thor has gone mad, and is seeing an illusory woman who compels him to trash Asgard and punch his friends. His friends and Asgard go “what, no,” and that is what we call a ‘conflict.’ There is also the question of what has driven Thor mad, and how he can be cured. All of this is a reasonably well-constructed premise; in act one, the madness of King Thorge; in act two, his friends’ efforts to both survive and find a cure; in act three, a big fight and what we in the comics business call ‘a curing.’ Then everyone has a Coke and laughs about it.
The catch is that Blood and Thunder is 13 issues long. Even with a cast of friends and well-wishers that numbers plenty (Adam Warlock, Pip the Troll, Moondragon, Gamora, Drax, Maxam, the Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Sif, Beta Ray Bill, Thanos, and not least Odin himself), there just isn’t enough to do to fill 13 issues, which means that there is some truly egregious padding going on. Thor all but disappears from sections of his own crossover while the Infinity Watch gets locked up in troll jail or whatever. It gives the characters something to do, but it doesn’t give what they’re doing any meaning, forcing the story to make sudden and repeated left turns into who-cares mediocrity. At half the size, it would be lean and sharp; as it was, it’s bloated and draggy, wheezing for air as it makes the slightest movement toward a conclusion.
The wildly inconsistent character of the story is matched by the wildly inconsistent character of the art. The ball gets passed between M.C. Wyman (doing a bizarre and sudden Andy Kubert impersonation), Andy Smith (Bart Sears’ evil twin), a very young Tom Raney, and Tom Grindberg, whose heavy style is absolutely unlike anything else going on. None of these artists are bad, and all of them are geared toward powerful figures committing random acts of violent cosmic action, but reading it all in one sitting, the transitions can sometimes be jarring. Even moreso when one takes into account that of the two double-sized issues at the end of the story, one is by Angel Medina, who appears to have done layouts thinking that they’d be embellished in the inking stage… only for them to, well, not be. There are definitely some cool images in Blood and Thunder, but they’re just moments, little glimpses or panels.
But once they get past all the filler, the conclusion must be pretty cool, right? With all those guys versus Thor, and the healing of his mind, and blah blah. When not veering off into troll jail or Dr. Strange’s wacky security system or a racist country & western bar (really), Jim Starlin and Ron Marz don’t focus on stretching themselves; instead, they do what they know, and it works perfectly on that level. Starlin in particular gives us moments that you never knew you wanted to see: Odin vs. Thanos, anyone? How about Thor jacked up on the Power Gem? And in the beginning of the story, DeFalco sells Thor’s hallucinations in a way that’d be bleakly funny if it wasn’t set to the beat of “Thor backhanding everyone he loves.” (He seriously backhands people like 90 times; “backhanding people” is like comic book shorthand for “mad with power.”) The ending comes down to Thor and Odin, father and son, grappling with the gnarled mental landscape within the thunder god — not bad, and it teaches you an important lesson about not listening to the insane voices in your head, no matter what kind of sexy Kirby bikini they’re wearing.
As far as having any kind of lasting effect on the Marvel Universe, Blood and Thunder didn’t do much. For most of the participants, it was a bit of a stopgap between engagements — the Infinity Watch and the Surfer went back to business as usual almost immediately after. As for Thor… well, same deal, really. He stopped being crazy, and from there it was maybe three or four issues before “onto the next big deal,” which was Thor getting a supremely awful costume. (Then, Warlock and Thor took part in Atlantis Rising, continuity-minded column readers. Excelsior!) The only truly important change — other than “Thor no longer being crazy, like he was for a month” — is that it set up the return of Loki from beyond the Asgardian grave or whatever the deal was there. Thirteen issues of fighting, and that’s it.
In the end, Blood and Thunder is something for the people who really, really want to know what it’s like when Thor fights Silver Surfer, but it’s different from all those other times they fought. It’s not a terrible crossover by any means, but it’s also a thoroughly undercooked one. Having two writers handling the entire thing lends it an unusual cohesion tonally (at least, by the standards of 1993 Marvel crossovers), but the mind-blowing amount of filler content makes that hard to realize. As far as being the only truly Thor-centric crossover of the 90s, it’s not incredibly compelling in terms of insisting he get more. So maybe that’s why he didn’t.