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Tuesday, August 26, 2008


After being completely underwhelmed by last year's well-drawn but utterly turgid relaunch of THOR, I countered the gushings of comics geeks some twenty years my junior by stating that back in the days when I was a religious reader of the Thunder God's adventures, his monthly comic was the one Marvel book where you were 100% guaranteed, no matter what, dynamic, bone-crushing action and superheroics (okay, there is a case to be made for the Hulk), and by comparison the new series has spun on for just over a year in which virtually nothing has happened (sadly, a common trait in many current Marvel books). I gave up on the new THOR after the first issue but I was pursuaded to read the whole run to date by a friend who swore by how good the new stuff is, and having read it I stand by my initial judgment. It's sure purty, but it's fucking boring (female Loki notwithstanding)!

In an attempt to wash the fetid taste of the sleep aid that is the current THOR from my mouth, I recently got my hands on the two collected volumes of the classic run from the late-1970's that somewhat successfully fused Jack Kirby's THE ETERNALS series with the rest of the Marvel Universe at large, stuff I hadn't read in nearly three decades but remembered fondly. Well, let me tell you that the memory is not always to be trusted, and if anything the Roy Thomas-scribed Eternals Saga is the polar opposite of the new stuff in that it's got far too much going on and is bolstered by art that's good but merely passable.

Volume one: proof that there can be such a thing as too much ass-whuppin'.

Spanning an annual and eighteen (!!!) monthly issues, The Eternals Saga can be summed up thusly: the Mighty Thor, during an idiotic self-imposed exile from Asgard, uncovers repressed memories of having encountered the Eternals, Kirby's CHARIOTS OF THE GODS?-inspired extraterrestrially-created pseudo gods, a millennia ago and becomes aware of the gigantic Celestials' intention to pass final judgment upon the Earth, all of which is somehow tied to clandestine machinations of his dad, Odin the All-Father (who, while not a bad guy, is by far Thor's most implacable foe). His quest for answers is filled with a literally dizzying number of guest stars, hero-versus-hero fights, Asgardian-versus-monster fights, Asgardian-versus-Celestial fights (although, to be fair, it isn't even a fight thanks to Thor being overmatched to a ludicrous degree), Asgardians-versus-Eternals-versus-Greek Pantheon fights, and even a brief sojourn into a super-powered version of Lucha Libre, and that's just volume one, for fuck's sake!

Volume two: in which we basically get to see Thor watch TV for 143 of 213 pages.

I actually got a headache reading the first volume, but the ante is upped in volume two when the story suddenly more or less forgets the impending threat of the Celestials until the final two chapters and instead ventures even further into the past, recounting the origins of the Asgardian gods, Thor's previous mortal incarnations as Siegmund (who, in a move common in world mythology, knocks up his twin sister, a surprising development for a Marvel Comics story, then or now) and Siegfried, as well as managing to work in THE RING OF THE NIBELUNG, all of which is imparted to Thor by his father's now-gigantic and somewhat malevolent plucked-out right eye (now imaginatively going by the name of "Eye"). Oh, and the long-wondered-about mystery of Thor's birth mother and his previously inexplicable bond to the Earth are answered as well, all of which adds up to perhaps the single most dense piece of Marvel Universe epic storytelling on record. Seriously, if anyone else out there has a candidate for a monthly Marvel story more vast in scope than this one, please write in to remind me of it.

The Eternals Saga is by no means bad, but it is a textbook case of why it's never a good idea to allow a writer to edit his own book; Roy Thomas both wrote and edited all save four issues of this run (the rest being penned by Ralf Macchio and Mark Gruenwald; I'd bet Roy was taken off the book) and it just goes on and on and on, all the while obviously crying out for some judicious pruning. This lack of editing is pretty forgivable in volume one, but once we get to the ancient history of the Norse gods the story could fairly be described as Thor hanging around watching a PBS documentary about his ancestors for nearly nine chapters. By my estimation this whole doorstop of a Thor story could have been told in eight or nine issues instead of over twice as many, and as I read it I realised I'd only read maybe three of four scattered installments when it came out, thus me having no clue at how goddamned long it was. As I said, it's not bad, but it's just so much stuff to process when you're looking for a diverting superhero yarn — including the sometimes three-page recaps of stuff I'd just read in the previous issue, for cryin' out loud! — that by less than halfway through volume two I only continued reading solely to find out how the bloody thing ended. There are many epic-length Marvel stories and I would happily read several of them over and over again, but I cannot say the same of The Eternals Saga. I'll keep it on my shelf for posterity, but if I need to immerse myself in long-assed Norse sagas I'll stick to Snorri Sturluson and THE PROSE EDDA, or THE SAGA OF THE VOLSUNGS.

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