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While there is progress, there's still some weakness
on May 2, 2015
While Thor battled against Mr. Hyde and Cobra, Donald Blake's assistant Jane Foster, was injured by a collapsing ceiling. Thor uses the powers of his magical hammer to stop time in the conflict in order to halt her possible death. Thor battles on in hopes of defeating his enemies and some how hopes to save Jane's life. - summary
It feels almost monotonous when talking about how shaky Stan Lee's writing was in regards to Thor, and the small baby steps he took towards progress around this time. Unfortunately, his writing still has some shaky moments, however it seems as if he found what actually works here. In this batch of issues it seems as if there was more of a focus on the adventures of Thor, and a lot less of his alter-ego Dr. Donald Blake; and thankfully this is the case too because Blake's life is too damn boring. There's more of an emphasis on Thor's heroics, and through flashback issues more background detailing Loki's jealousy of Thor, and his obvious path towards becoming the God of Evil. I will have to say this is by far the best volume at this point. Marvel Masterworks Thor Volume 3 collects Journey into Mystery issues 111 - 120.
The feud with Mr. Hyde and Cobra concludes quickly here and despite the interesting story elements going on involving their increased strength to perhaps equal Thor. It lacked that big slugfest feel and I also felt the outcome was quite vanilla. The stories begin to pick up when we witness the debut of The Absorbing Man, a villain that would go on to feature in some of my personal favorite clashes years later against the Hulk and the Avengers. He provides Thor with his toughest and most gripping battle at this point. It's something else to see how formidable he was in this initial conflict as his powers would receive a subtle downgrade over the years.
The action continues with a conflict plus first appearance against the Destroyer robot created by Odin himself. Plus two one on one encounters with both the Hulk and Hercules that would go on to become classics. These two fights were no doubt great for their era with the right amount of intensity and dialog to go along with them, plus many people praise them for their influence in regards to super heavyweight encounters; but I would definitely say they had better encounters, and several battles around this time were much better due to their intensity and sheer savagery: Hulk vs. Sub-Mariner in Tales to Astonish # 100, Spider-Man vs. Scorpion in Amazing Spider-Man #20, and Iron Man vs. Sub-Mariner in Tales of Suspense 79 -80, to only name a few.
The overall storytelling has some good moments with further development of Loki, and how he simply lives up to his titles as the God of Tricks, Lies, Mischief, & Evil. Plus I also like how Absorbing Man especially didn't come off as another stock guy with no depth at all. I loved the segment when he daydreamed on what to do with his new powers, because he truly felt there was nothing out of his reach.
The main gripes I have with these stories mainly involves the action. For a superhero whose strength is legendary, there just simply wasn't enough brutal fisticuffs involving Thor. He's treated with kid gloves most of the time and many of the fights are limited to almost non-brutal action. The people whom claim this shouldn't be an issue due to the time these stories were written are quick to forget that Captain America vs. Batroc, plus the battles I previously mentioned were high octane slugfest, and their stories were also well written with plenty of character development. I would expect that someone whom wields a hammer around as a weapon would actually use it to pummel his enemies into submission, especially when one of them is a robot. In addition, I'm very aware of the Vietnam conflict, but I think it hurt taking Thor out of his element to feature a quick battle taking place with a communist. I don't care what anyone says, I personally find Stan Lee to be among the least when talking about those whom had written Thor.
Once again Jack Kirby's artwork helps elevate Lee's writing. He was definitely able to put together some good action and settings. The moments on Asgard are indeed the best with various changes of clothes for some of the characters, and the backgrounds deliver some nice scenery. The character designs have very good moments with Loki appearing as if he was born to be evil, along with the creativity and imagination involving the Absorbing Man. Although some artist would go on to use him better; Kirby set the foundation on how this unique character could actually be used. It's no wonder he caught on quickly with readers. I always loved the Absorbing Man and even though Marvel has used him well at times; I still think of him as being quite underused.
In closing, despite its various weaknesses this trade is worth reading and it's the best of Thor at this point. If Thor already aroused one's interest before this then here's more entertainment for those readers. However, for those whom read the previous two books and had been wondering "what's all the fuss about?', then there really isn't much here to wow you. Especially if you had been reading the Spider-Man, Hulk, and Iron Man Masterwork lines. For those completely unfamiliar with this era of Thor, then I would advise to start here.
Pros: Kirby's pencils are the shining star once again
Cons: Lee's writing for this title took baby steps moving forward