After last issue,it’s safe to say that I was ready for something completely different. I definitely got that – a fill-in artist,an alien invasion,and two one-on-one battles between our champion,Thor,and the best of the invaders. While I really enjoyed the fight sequence,it’s probably not a good thing when a fight scene is the best part of a book.
There were a few problems with this one. The fill-in artist wasn’t quite suited to the world of super-heroes (this is his only superhero comic amidst a healthy career) and the alien invasion rang just a little too familiar,though I do appreciate that Thor found a clever way to combat the deforestation the aliens caused when they landed.
The first thing you notice about this issue is the art,with Al Hartley filling in for Kirby. It’s surely unfair to ask any artist to fill-in after seven months of Kirby goodness. And while I think Hartley does a decent job,the art in this issue never quite draws you in. Hartley was a long-tenured artist on Atlas/Marvel’s romance line and,because of that experience,Jane has never looked better,but other aspects of the book – aliens,giant beasts,spaceships,and even Thor himself – look odd at times. It turns out that this is Hartley’s only foray into the superhero world before returning to the romance line and a long career with Archie and Christian comics.
The story starts with a quick teaser where a race of alien shape-shifters is preparing to invade the Earth. No,not Skrulls,Xartans. Think orange instead of green and you’ve got it. After the teaser,we jump to our lame protagonist Donald Blake. He’s standing around pining for Jane and after throwing a temper tantrum where he smacks his cane on the ground. This leads to Thor pining around for Jane (if she could only hear…)
Since we don’t fully understand the dichotomy between Blake &Thor,it’s amusing to note that,as Thor,he decides that he’ll tell Jane everything almost instantly. Gone is the wistfulness of Blake,replaced by Thor taking action. Only,it’s not meant to be.
Thor switches to Blake and goes to tell Jane about his dual identity,but a thunderclap interrupts him. In that instant,Odin commands Blake to never reveal his identity to any mortal. For his trouble,Jane thinks he was scared by the thunder and only views him as even more timid than before. Blake leaves,more defeated than anything Loki or the Carbon Copy Man could ever make him.
While he’s off sulking,he notices a bevy of strange things. By law,cars must now drive on sidewalks while people have to walk in the street,billboards must be on the sides of buildings,charity is outlawed – and stranger still,some folks are okay with it. When he returns home,Jane angrily agree with the new anti-charity policy – if people are too poor to pay they should remain sick! Mayor Harris,a friend of Thor’s,suddenly sees him as a costumed menace. Thor is puzzled,but finds an answer is something Odin told Thor long ago (Blake has access to Thor’s memories now?)
Odin’s advice basically boiled down to “the simplest answer is probably the best one”. Thor thinks on this and determines that the people not acting like themselves must… not be themselves!! That’s the simplest answer? Really? Wholesale impostors? Not drugs? A gas leak? Mind control? I’m pretty sure that Odin was hoping for better when he gave Thor that advice. Then again,it’ll be clear in a few moments that Thor has read Fantastic Four #2 and seen the Skrull invade Earth by impersonating Marvel’s first family. Maybe he’s thinking the same thing has happened here?
Thor’s suspicion is correct,of course. He quickly finds the ship and engages the Xartans. The leader of the Xartan’s son,Zano,challenges Thor to personal combat. This was easily my favorite part of the book. When the battle begins,Zano changes into a ice giant (ironic,huh?) and freezes Thor in a block of ice after he throws the hammer. The hammer returns,shattering the ice. Zano tries on a gladiator,but is easily defeated again. Ugarth steps in and takes his son’s place,turning invisible to fight Thor. Thor takes a few good hits,but triumphs and (I love this) throws Ugarth out of the solar system for his trouble. The invading fleet flees after their comet-like leader.
Thor allows all but five of the Xartan’s to leave Earth. The five,including Zano,are to remain behind as hostages. Hostages! Really? What will you do to them if the Xartan’s ever return? Kill them?
Jane quickly points out,we can’t just have five shapeshifting aliens running around,but Thor has taken that into account. Now we surely know he’s read Fantastic Four #2 (where Reed hypnotized Skrulls into thinking they were cows and left them on a farm),because he orders the Xartans to become trees. Thor states that since they take on all aspects of what they impersonate,they’ll lose the ability to even think after becoming the trees. Damn,he did kill ‘em! I guess two alien invasions was two too many and Thor had enough. On the other hand,Thor is showing some environmental justice. The aliens took out a few trees when they landed,so Thor is simply making them reap what they sowed! That said,he mowed down a few “plant-things”himself in past issues,so maybe not?
As I said,this issue does have its problems. The alien’s plan was to invade and create stupid laws? Impersonating the Mayor made sense,but why Jane? And the whole thing is really just Fantastic Four #2 with some details changed.
I’m not going to harp on this one too much though. While the art is not what I’ve become used to,Hartley did his best at a job that wasn’t suited for him. And I did get a kick out of the resulting confusion of those “crazy laws” and my favorite part of the book,the fight scene,comprised about forty percent of the book. The setup and resolution merely left a little to be desired in that respect.
And here’s one tidbit that I had to research. The Xartans never come back! The prince of this civilization is trapped as a tree on Earth and they’ve never returned for him. Ever. This ending all but calls out for a haggard Ugarth to return to Earth after years of searching for a way to save his son from his leafy fate. I’d love to see a modern take on the Carbon Copy Man!
I’m off to take a peek at #91. Here’s a closer look at the cover as well as the final fate of the Xartans.