Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Comics of the 90s: If Someone Asks You If You’re a God, You Say Yes!

Superhero comics have a nasty tendency to eat their own. New titles have a hell of a time gaining traction, but the old titles face boredom and staleness. What’s a comic company to do?


The Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz team on The Mighty Thor did their best Lee/Kirby homage for years, but the stories had grown stale. (I’m pretty sure sales weren't great either.) Thus came…Reinvention!

First, they "fused" Thor to a human host, an architect named Eric Masterson, thereby returning the old “alter ego” problems of yesteryear.

The fusion (and accompanying rules about transformation) brought back fears of the Thunder God reverting to “normal guy” at bad times: “Forsooth, if I cannot retrieve mine hammer before sixty seconds elapse, my form will revert to that of a mere mortal!” It also allowed the writers to indulge in a bit more soap opera: Masterson had to explain absences, romance the ladies, and keep a job.*

This bit didn’t work all that well—the godly romping of Thor didn’t really affect the human host, aside from messing up his schedules. The human host’s life didn’t affect Thor overmuch either.

So the Reinvention kept on rolling.

As punishment for killing his evil stepbrother Loki, Thor was banished from Earth forever. (Or as long as “forever” lasts in Marvel Comics.) Rather than leave the world defenseless, the gods bequeath Thor’s powers to his human host.

This was groovy.

Thor is often a lame superhero. He’s tremendously powerful but lacking in personality. He’s not science-fictiony, he’s not much for soap operas--he’s a big ol’ monster-basher.

The two great runs on The Mighty Thor, the Kirby era and the Simonson era, didn’t treat him like a superhero with a weird speech pattern. Instead they played up Thor’s godhood and farted around the Fabled Halls of Asgard, throwing Frost Giants and oddball magic at him. And yea, those stories did rocketh.

DeFalco and Frenz applied this knowledge and jerked the formula around a bit.

The Eric Masterson Thor had two engines driving it: the plot, Quest to Find the Banished Thor, and the recurring theme, Eric Ain’t a God. The book not only had Hoo-Hah Action a-plenty, it had the contrast between an ordinary man and the role he’s forced to play. Not only did this make the character of Thor more interesting, it enhanced the stature and exoticism of the Norse Gods. The towers of Asgard seem taller and the gods more impressive when there’s a lone human in the middle of it all.

Wisely, DeFalco and Frenz didn’t string out the storyline too long. Eric was able to defeat a revived Loki, save Asgard, generate a bit of romantic tension with Thor’s longtime goddess girlfriend, and finally rescue the long-exiled Thor.


Since this was the nineties, they couldn’t let the storyline rest. Oh no no. The Powers That Be gave Eric Masterson a newfangled magic mace, the ability to transform into a Thor clone, and a new series: Thunderstrike.

Thunderstrike was okay, but lacking the contrast between the mortal man and the god whose shoes the man has to fill, it wasn’t nearly as much fun.**

*An odd footnote to comic history: DeFalco and Frenz made Eric Masterson a little different than the normal would-be superhero alter-ego. Masterson was in his late thirties, divorced, and had a son. He had to deal with his ex’s second husband, custody issues, and running his own architecture business. For a superhero comic, that’s a bold departure.

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Blogger Bill Reed said...

Dammit, I was gonna do a bit on the DeFalco/Frenz Thor/Thunderstrike!

Eric Masterson is the best character Marvel ever had. I adore that run.

9/21/2005 12:51:00 PM  
Blogger Harvey Jerkwater said...

Crap. Sorry, dude.

The DeFalco-Frenz Amazing Spider-Man run in the mid-eighties was also freakin' great. I would have written about that, but it was the wrong decade.

9/21/2005 02:15:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

It's not like mine would've been much different, and this way, I have to do less work now. Therefore, I win!

Now if only they'd bring back wacky guys like the Mongoose.

9/21/2005 03:17:00 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

The Eric-as-replacement-Thor storyline was the only time in my life I bought Thor on a regular basis (I was a shade too young to appreciate the Simonson run as it was happening, and I missed the beginning of it, anyway, so Beta Ray Bill confused the hell out of me). What a great run that was.

9/21/2005 05:09:00 PM  
Blogger Peter Hensel said...

What issues are in the run? You've piqued my interest

9/21/2005 09:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

DeFalco and Frenz did from 386 to 459, give or take a few fill-ins. Also, Thunderstrike #1 to 24.

Yeah, long run. I've got almost all the Thors, though, and then I'll be moving onto the Thunderstrikes. Hahahahaha!

Eric Masterson appeared circa 391, merged with Thor in 408, and *became* Thor in 432. He left the book with 459, and got his own spin-off, which lasted two years before it was cancelled for, apparently, being too popular.

9/21/2005 10:02:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Reed said...

Er, and by 386 I meant 383. :)

9/21/2005 10:03:00 PM  
Blogger kelvingreen said...

The Defalco/Frenz ASM issues were among the first superhero comics I ever read, and were what got me into Spidey all those years ago.

I just had the opportunity to read them again for the first time in twenty years and they stand up quite well, especially Frenz' art.

Missed their Thor run though.

9/22/2005 12:04:00 PM  
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