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CSBG Archive

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…

Thor500_cover

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.

Thor500_01

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.

Thor500_02

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.

Thor500_03

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.

Thor500_04

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

30 Comments

One thing I will say about Mike Deodato Jr is that you can look at his work over the years and see that he genuinely took the time to develop his style & refine his style. I mean, his early stuff was nice and had potential, but at the same time it was very exaggerated, and his women looked like porn stars. That’s definitely the case with Thor #500! I think I first started to see a real significant leap forward in his style when he drew the Tigra miniseries in 2002, and since then he’s done very solid, beautiful work.

Anyway, by the time Messner-Loebs & Deodato were working on Thor #500, they must have known that Heroes Reborn was right around the corner, and Thor was only a few months away from getting booted out of his own title. So you cannot help but wonder if maybe they were just killing time with this story.

Isn’t the porn-looking girl on the cover actually The Enchantress that Thor was somehow dating at the time?
I haven’t read that run except for #502 and maybe some random other I don’t recall, but that relationship to me was the stupidest part of it.

Big ole booty on the cover.

Elastic porn stars, maybe. That is some seriously implausible anatomy on that cover. Though in exactly the style that was in vogue at the time.

Man, Thor’s thighs are bigger than Enchantress’s entire body on that cover.

Captain Haddock

November 8, 2013 at 4:59 pm

I recall a story about Deodato, where while he was working on Wonder Woman, he got bored and the sales were low so he just started drawing her in a thong. And sales went through the roof, so he kept doing it.

This is why we can’t have nice things…

On a more serious note, his evolution is notable, because his modern stuff is still very much him, just better as if it all clicked into place.

Another note on that cover (neither positive nor negative, just interesting to me): I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mjolnir glint before.

Yo Mark, how about cover gimmicks in 2000s and above?

I just want to mention that deodato’s unpublished Miracleman/Marvelman issue had really beautiful pencils that are quite unlike the ones featured here, or his current style. They were much more natural and less obviously stylised.

That’s got to be the most hideous Thor cover I’ve ever seen, hands down.

What’s with all the Thor stuff going on on this blog? Is there some sort of major Thor-related release this weekend? I kid, I kid. I just hope the movie can capture Thor’s six beautiful feet of hair as well as this comic.

Deodado improved a lot, but his early art was painful, particularly on Avengers. Ouch.

As for readers wanting new #1s, how much truth is there to it? I can only wonder. Not much at all, I think.

“As for readers wanting new #1s, how much truth is there to it? I can only wonder. Not much at all, I think.”

New #1s always mean an uptick in sales, and at the end of the day sales is the only solid indicator of what fans actually want.

“New #1s always mean an uptick in sales, and at the end of the day sales is the only solid indicator of what fans actually want.”

Exactly, it’s all about instant gratification with sales, so any little gimmick that gets things sold will be done to death, usually to the detriment of the story. I’m sure new #1′s and variant covers sell well, but I’m also sure that consistently solid stories and art will also do the trick.

My problem with new #1′s for series like Thor or Spider-Man or the X-Men is that these characters are still the same ones from 1963, so even though the numbering is now low there’s still 50 years of continuity that has to be considered. I’m sure I could pick up the most current Uncanny X-Men #1 and still have no idea what’s going on because I missed out on AvX, Schism, Second Coming, etc.

[...] God of Thunder, check out my latest Gimmick or Good? column at the mighty Comics Should Be Good. This time around, I took a look at Thor #500, which is notable for being Marvel’s first 500th issue. It also marks some of artist Mike [...]

The 90s was ROUGH if you were a fan of any Marvel characters not named Captain America, Hulk, Punisher, or Ghost Rider. And aside from Hulk those were spotty at best. Thor had it as bad as nearly anyone (other than Spider-Man, of course). This issue was a pretty solid representation of Thor during the decade. And by that I mean that it was garbage.

What the heck is wrong with Thor’s jaw on that cover? It looks like he’s got a skull for a head. Don’t even get me started on the woman; apparently her intestines were removed at some point.

I’m so glad I skipped this era of comics.

I definitely agree with this being a gimmick, no question. In fact the mid-90s were an abysmal time for books. But I have to disagree and say that Deodato’s art is no where near Jim Lee’s art, and I doubt it was inspired by him. He seems to be more in the Liefeld camp with this issue. Jim Lee is actually a good artist, just had to put that out there.

I see very little Liefeld influence. The anatomy is suspect, true, but there are no pouches.

Why do people blame the entire 90S XTREEEEEEEEEEEEEEMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! style on Liefeld and Liefeld only? Jim Lee was a much bigger influence on that style than anyone else.

Not everyone can draw like Jim Lee. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can draw like Liefeld.

I love these columns, definitely keep ‘em coming. I think my all-time favorite “gimmick” cover is the die-cut cover to Wolverine #50, with the claw slashes through the Logan file. I just think that’s an incredible cover that used a gimmick technique to really effectively create story intrigue, and I’d love to see it analyzed in one of these columns. I also think it’d be interesting for you to do a series of these columns on the six Fatal Attractions comics in the X-titles, as some of them were good and some were not, but all were much-ballyhooed at the time. Same for the four Spidey Hologram cover issues.

Ooops, going back through the archive I see you already did X-Men #25 and Wolverine #75… not sure why I didn’t remember reading that column a few months ago. But it would still be cool to see the other four parts of Fatal Attractions featured here, as those are the parts where the story elements weren’t famous, so they might have more to live up to in terms of not being a gimmick.

I’d also love to see a few more early Image comics featured here, like WIldCATs #2, or the first issues of forgotten books like Tribe, Wildstar, and Shaman’s Tears.

Keep up the great work!

Not everyone can draw like Jim Lee. Anyone, and I mean anyone, can draw like Liefeld.

I used to feel that way until I saw bad Liefeld knockoffs. Then I realized that as bad as Liefeld is, there are actually people who are far worse and can’t match his style. See Marat Mychaels, Dan Panosian, and Mark Pacella. On the other hand, Jim Lee, even though he’s a slightly better artist, seems to be far easier to successfully ape.

Ironically, Pacella and Panosian are way better than Liefeld now.

I love these articles. They are fun to read, and great nostalgia :)

There isn’t a single foot on that whole cover. In fact, of all of the panels shown, only one shows feet not being conveniently covered up Liefeld style. My favorite one is the glint off Mjolnir blocking the foot of one of the oncoming baddies. God I hate 90s comics.

Wait, how was this Marvel’s first 500th issue? I would have thought that would have been Fantastic Four, or are they counting the original Journey into Mystery series as part of the count?

Yeah, it’s more gimmick than good. The story needed more meat, particularly considering it was a big anniversary issue. That said, I enjoyed it. Deodato’s art was certainly the best part.

“or are they counting the original Journey into Mystery series as part of the count?”

@Discord_Inc: That’s exactly it.

akkadiannumen

March 9, 2014 at 3:21 am

@:T. First, allow me to get something out of the way: “Jim Lee, even though he’s a slightly better artist” = BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!! Thank you for that. Simply hilarious. That alone tells me you don’t know shit about art but think you do. The worst kind of ignorant. Nuff said.

.

Timothy Markin

May 25, 2014 at 3:26 pm

Deodato kept me away from the Hulk for a long time, and I dreaded his entrance into the Spidey camp around ten years ago, but he actually made the “Gwen banged Norman Osborn” story bearable. His stuff now is quite good. (Didn’t he draw the late 80s Beauty & the Beast comic, based on the Ron Perlman TV series?)

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