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Eric Masterson: Is a Thor by any other name still a Thor? – The Mighty Thor #433

July 10, 2013

thor433

Replacement superheroes — when new characters step like hermit crabs into the capes and togs of venerable icons — are a dicey business. In an effort to shake things up and stimulate sagging sales, you run the risk of alienating the core comic book readership that treasures the way things have always been. Comics are always about new and better, but they’re also about staying true to what has come before. It’s tricky. Hence, substitute heroes are usually here and gone before you know it, much like subs in elementary schools. The real deals are back in class to wipe the spitballs off the walls and scrub the graffiti from the chalkboard. They have all the staying power of character deaths, which is to say none at all (well, except for one). We want Bruce Wayne to be Batman. We want Steve Rogers to be Captain America, not U.S. Agent. We want our bacon to come from a pig, not this hippie vegan seaweed crap, thank you very much.

Enter the Eric Masterson Thor. He was here. Then he was gone. And this is where it all got started.  

Lest we forget, for a time Masterson had replaced Donald Blake as the always rather extraneous Earth-bound alter ego of the God of Thunder, a narrative boat anchor that was passé and useless when Goldilocks was still under the Journey into Mystery banner. Then Thor took the rather drastic step of killing (not really) Loki — an end a long time coming. For that sin he was banished from this plane of reality, and Masterson was suddenly not just a man who summoned a Norse god by banging a cane on the ground, or had the same bonded with his consciousness. Now he became the Norse god.

Issue #433 was his first solo day on the job, and he’d continue as Thor until #458, when the real McCoy took back Mjolnir and Masterson took on his long-term role as Thunderstrike. His run as the big guy was thus relatively brief, but it lasted more than a couple of issues, which meant that it was by no means the shortest of this sub genre — which in turn meant that it must have had something going for it. You can see some of that in this first New Thor installment, which, as the cover promises, is the beginning “of a stunning new epic!” It’s not all that stunning. It’s not all that epic. But it has a sense of humor about itself, and a sense of fun relative to the long and storied fictional career of the Thunder God. These are good things about something that’s distinctly not all that great.

Co-scripted by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, penciled by Frenz and inked by Al Milgrom, this new start has Masterson, understandably, brooding over this new boon/burden:

thor433a

There’s no time for ruminating on spectral window silhouettes of Thor, though. Ulik is in town, and he’s menacing New York (and Thor’s old law enforcement allies, Code Blue) in a most brass-knuckled, Uliky manner:

thor433b

Charming. To Masterson’s credit, he doesn’t hesitate to enter the fray, and oddly enough it’s verbiage that’s his first trip-up:

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This is actually the biggest problem with the Masterson Thor: you need the overblown wordplay. It’s a huge chunk of his charm. A “yon.” A “nay.” Maybe a “mortal ken” thrown in here and there. That sort of thing. Without that, you have Fabio in goofy clothes waving a hammer. (This applies mainly to comics. Movie Thor has largely eschewed the pidgin Shakespeare and has done just fine.)

Thor — it’s hard to call him that, but that’s what he is — isn’t just tongue-tied. He also, and more importantly, gets his ass handed to him, and heads off to lick his wounds (complete with an obligatory “not able to pilot Mjolnir” scene). His duds are all in tatters, so Masterson, who’s a graphic artist, sits down at his table, turns on his architect’s lamp and gets to designing a new look:

thor433d

(Note the KRAKABOOM. This comic is riddled with variants on the Walt Simonson KRAKATHOOM, always a nice Thor touch.)

A couple of days go by. What’s Ulik doing in this interim? Fine dining, of course:

thor433e

Then comes the big moment: Masterson — as Thor in street clothes — goes to the tailor to pick up his new costume (the one seen on the cover). Here he is suiting up, with an internal monologue that serves as a meta commentary on the comic book publishing biz:

thor433f

On we go to round 2 with Ulik, where our (least) favorite Rock Troll learns that THERE’S A NEW THOR IN TOWN, ONE NOT AFRAID OF EMPLOYING A PEURILE RUSE OR TWO:

thor433g

Would Ulik really be one to whip out the Marquess of Queensberry rules during a fist fight? Whatever the case, New-Thor whoops him, and though people seem to realize that he’s not the old model at story’s end, they don’t seem to care.

But we do.

This first baby step comic for the Masterson Thor is actually fairly well-done, with humor and Kirby-esque action that are a credit to DeFalco, Frenz, Milgrom and Goldilocks himself. It’s self-aware in a way that isn’t infuriating, which is often welcome when trying to shake things up. But from page one you’re wondering when the real Thor is going to be back. Indeed, at issue’s end Masterson proclaims finding the real Thor to be his first official mission as the Thunder God. Masterson was always doomed to one day surrendering his Asgardian powers, but this book throws in the towel at the very outset.

So this is all a big shrug of the shoulders. Nothing more, nothing less. Masterson would eventually get a mace called Thunderstrike and become a D-list hero of the same name, rendering this comic a footnote, not a stepping-stone. If we were desperate to discover meaning in the book itself, we might perhaps find some subtext about the affirmative power of just being ourselves and not conforming to what we think everyone else feels we should be. Or maybe it’s just a new Thor with a new costume, one who’s willing to throw his cape over a foe’s eyes and punch him repeatedly in the face. I’d go with the latter.

Again: nothing more, nothing less. A Thor by another name that isn’t quite still a Thor.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. m.l. post permalink
    July 10, 2013 7:03 pm

    I generally liked the Defalco-Frenz run on Thor. It had it’s high points and low points, but it did have a humor and charm about it. It was definitely a tribute to the 60’s Marvel, with a whole lot of irony thrown in. I liked their version of Ulik. Seeing him walk around in shades and a suit, talking about universal peace…great stuff. But it was also cool to see Eirk Masterson, Joe Average, react with terror and panic when facing the likes of Loki and Annihilus while pretending to be Thor. Sometimes it all worked, sometimes not, but worth a look, I think. Nice post.

    • July 11, 2013 3:06 pm

      I thought the star-struck aspect of Masterson wore thin rather quickly, but to each their own. Agreed that this run on Thor had more than its share of charm, though.

  2. July 10, 2013 7:50 pm

    It’s funny your mentioning Kirby, because I was thinking how the dialog in that panel with Code: Blue read very similarly to how I think Kirby might have scripted it.

    I liked Eric Masterson as a character, but I didn’t care to see him as Thor. In all fairness, maybe no one could have filled those shoes. Thor was a unique character among the other heroes in the Marvel stable, even standing out among his fellow Avengers. Yet, as Masterson, he became just another Avenger, if that makes sense.

    • July 11, 2013 3:11 pm

      Agreed on the similarities with Kirby – you almost expect Terrible Turpin to wander into frame.

      Perhaps the biggest fault of the Masterson Thor was that there can only be one Thunder God because, and there’s no better way to put it, Thor is Thor. There are no off-hours for him, as he’s a 24/7 man-in-full personality. There are no shoes to step into. Ergo, Masterson was forever condemned to impostor status.

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