Gimmick or Good? - Thor #500

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the gatefold cover of Thor #500...

Thor #500 (published July 1996) – script by William Messner-Loebs and art by Mike Deodato Jr.

While Marvel was moving away from the foil and hologram gimmick covers by 1996, the publisher, and the comic book industry as a whole, was still in the habit of embracing and celebrating its high-numbered “milestone” issues. The 500th issue of Thor was an especially big deal as it was the first Marvel series to reach #500. To commemorate this occasion, the comic featured a wraparound cover and very prominently displayed that this was Marvel’s “first fantastic 500th issue.”

But what about inside the comic?

I think a person’s opinion of this comic and the bulk of 1995-96 Thor comes down to his opinion about Deodato. His art – which is very much in the style of Jim Lee – is the clear-cut “star” of this series as William Messner-Loebs’ script suffers from being tedious and littered with some plot inconsistencies.

Prior to Thor #500, Thor had been “banished” by his father Odin to Earth and had been stripped of his god-like powers. Thor had been hired to protect union boss Victor Prazniki, who had come into possession of Raven’s Eye, a “cursed” sword created by Odin. When Thor’s half-brother Loki grabbed the sword, it created an alternative reality that featured, among other things, drunken Odin walking among the mortals – which is as funny as it sounds.

Thor #500 picks up with Thor at the steps of his home, Asgard, and finding the mythical kingdom under siege by warring sects of Trolls and Frost Giants. Despite not having his mighty hammer, Mjolnir, Thor is able to dispatch of the Trolls using rocks and his fists. This would be first instance of a few in this comic where the script wants us to believe that our heroes are in peril, but there’s little to any drama or tension in how they overcome the odds.

Case in point, a few pages after beating a Troll’s head in, Thor sees some of his fellow Asgardians enslaved until he witnesses something “a thousand times worse”: Doctor Strange is among the slaves. Thor quickly rescues Strange and some of the other slaves from the tolls, leading a moment of genuine comedy when Thor rallies the free men against their captors, only for them to return the favor by running in the other direction. But again, there’s little build or drama for this moment. Thor just meanders from tricky situation to tricky situation, flexing his muscles and saving the day.

And this phenomenon is not just reserved for Thor. After learning that Doctor Strange has been rendered powerless in Asgard, when he and Thor are attacked by a Frost Giant, he manages to pull out another spell – a “minor spell” as defined by Messner-Loebs’ script, but potent enough to knock the attacker back and give the duo a chance to escape.

The group then sets out to find Odin’s sword, which is believed to be lost and “stuck in a wall or rock somewhere,” in hopes that the weapon will restore Asgard. Like every other insurmountable odd in this comic, Thor finds the sword (stepping over his drunken father in the process), pulls it out of the Ash Tree, and is reunited with his hammer and his thunder god powers.

However, the one thing that is truly consistent throughout is Deodato’s impressive art. In the sword scene, the visual of lighting flowing through Thor’s body as he holds Mjornir again is great stuff. Of course, some of Deodato’s work suffers from the usual list of 90s comic book art flaws: primarily inconsistent and overly stylized anatomy, but there’s a dynamism to his battle scenes and his characters don’t come across as being as lifeless and posed as other 90s artists. Additionally, the overall mood he creates in a run-down Asgard would probably feel more dystopian and hopeless if the script could rise to the occasion.

Deodato’s art was almost enough for me to give this comic a positive rating, but after every subsequent read I gave this issue, the plot-holes and dullness of the script became an even bigger distraction for me. Still, it’s fun to go back to a time when comic book publishers viewed the longevity of a series as a selling point. Just recently, Marvel’s executive editor Tom Brevoort, while answering a question from a fan, said despite the “tradition” that comes with continuing the numbering for classic series like Thor or Fantastic Four, the public’s thirst for No. 1 issues and reboots has made 500th issues a thing of the distant past. That’s a shame, because even if a comic has some glaring flaws like Thor #500, for me, there’s still something really special about cracking open these landmark centennial issues.

Verdict: Gimmick

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