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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

X-amining Thor #427-429

"The Homecoming! (Or How DO You Spend the Night After You've Saved the Universe?)" / "If This Be Juggernaut" / "This World Is Mine"
December 1990 - February 1991

In a Nutshell 
Thor and Excalibur battle Juggernaut

Plot, Pencils & Words: Tom DeFalco & Ron Frenz
Finished Art: Joe Sinnot
Letterering: Heisler & Co. (issue #427), Mike Heisler 
Coloring: Yomtov & Rockwitz (issue #427), Mike Rockwitz
Editing: Ralph Macchio

#427: Thor arrives back on Earth after a lengthy time away, and begins reconnecting with the life of his alter ego, Eric Masterson. Meanwhile, Excalibur is tasked with recapturing Juggernaut, who was last seen battling Thor in New York. Just then the Wrecking Crew arrive in the city and begin a crime spree. Loki, worried about leaving the Wrecker's Asgardian power unchecked, tasks Enchantress and Ulik with capturing him. Using a psychic beacon, they lure the Wrecking Crew to the docks, just as Excalibur arrives, drawn to the beacon by Phoenix. The two groups fight, and when Thor arrives on the scene as well, the Wrecker casts a spell on him, making Excalibur view Thor as the Juggernaut, leading to Shadowcat trapping "Juggernaut" in the concrete dock. #428: A four way melee breaks out between Thor, Excalibur, the Wrecking Crew, and Code: Blue, the special police task force that deals with super-powered situations. When Lockheed discovers the invisible Ulik and Enchantress, driving them off, the Wrecking Crew soon follows suit, after which the illusion of Thor as Juggernaut ends.

Making amends, Excalbur tells Thor why they're in the city, and ask for confirmation that Juggernaut is indeed still on the deserted asteroid field where Thor left him after their last encounter. Thor agrees and uses his hammer to transport himself, Captain Britain, Meggan and Shadowcat to the asteroid field. Once there, the heroes are quickly captured and taken to another planet, where they are brought before the planet's leader: Juggernaut. #429: En route to holding cells, the captive heroes are rescued by rebels led by Prince Zalaski, the former leader of the alien world, who promises them their freedom if they defeat Juggernaut so he can regain power. Thor agrees, and the two behemoths battle until Thor is able to use his hammer to send Juggernaut careening off into space. As Juggernaut vows to find his way back to Earth, Thor and Excalibur return there, and bid farewell to one another.

Firsts and Other Notables
This story takes place during the DeFalco/Frenz run of Thor, in which Thor is sharing his time with architect Eric Masterson, transforming back and forth between Thor and Eric by tapping his cane/hammer on the ground (and reverting to Eric if he's separated from his hammer for more than 60 seconds), a nod to the character's original Don Blake secret identity from the Silver Age. As this story begins, Thor is returning to Earth after an extended absence in space, the "Black Galaxy Saga" story.

Excalibur's involvement in this story is triggered by Crossmoor Prison asking them to help retrieve Juggernaut, who was freed from the prison by Loki in Thor #411, during "Acts of Vengeance". 

Juggernaut turns up on the alien planet to which Thor exiled him in Thor #412, having spent the intervening time taking control of the planet for himself. He next appears in X-Force #2, and I don't believe we ever get any concrete explanation of how he made his way back to Earth (beyond "he made his way back to Earth, eventually").

The cover to issue #427 is an homage to X-Men #1, with the members of Excalibur taking the place of the original X-Men and Thor/Juggernaut standing in for Magneto.

The Chronology Corner
This story takes place after Excalibur #26, which in turn takes place after Excalibur #34, the end of the "Girls School From Heck" story.

A Work in Progress
Nightcrawler mentions his post-teleportation weakness.

Issue #427 ends with Shadowcat phasing Thor into the ground then leaving him there, fused with the molecules of the ground, something she says she's never done before. But I'm fairly certain she has, and when it happens it usually causes an explosion when the phased-individual's molecules solidify, thus forcing out the existing material.

Thor is able to use his hammer to create a mystic cone, inside of which Juggernaut is denied his magic-based abilities; I admittedly don't have an encyclopedic knowledge of Thor's history, but that seems like a convenient and one-off use of his hammer.

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
A testament to his increasing ubiquity around this time, Ghost Rider somewhat randomly appears in issue #430, in an Earth-based subplot.

Teebore's Take
Though Walt Simonson's run on Thor gets most of the acclaim and recognition (rightly and understandably), the DeFalco/Frenz run that followed it is highly underrated. Both creators bring a retro charm to the series, both in terms of the storytelling (returning Thor to the classic alter ego swap of the Silver Age, and fleshing out the book's supporting cast) and the art (which lacks the panache of Jack Kirby's Silver Age work but is still classically bright and surprisingly solid), and they manage to pull off the difficult feat of making each issue (or, at least, each story) stand on its own while also feeling like a part of a larger narrative, developing subplots over time then eventually bringing those subplots into the foreground. Their run isn't flashy or groundbreaking (which is probably why it gets overlooked), but it is solidly entertaining and consistent throughout, with a lot of throwback, retro charm.

In terms of Excalibur, their involvement in this issue smartly follows up on Juggernaut's escape from a British prison during "Acts of Vengeance", and they're positioned within this story as the British equivalent of the Avengers or X-Factor. Which, frankly, is the kind of thing that would be nice to see in their own series, as it gives them something of a focus and a narrative hook for stories. Not surprisingly, given that they're the guest stars here, it's ultimately Thor who gets the big confrontation and victory over Juggernaut, but it's nonetheless refreshing, even in a diminished role, to simply see Excalibur acting as straightforward superheroes, instead of being endlessly embroiled in self-referential alternate universe stories and navel-gazing or ultimately pointless fill-ins.

Next Issue
Claremont returns in Excalibur #32, followed by the beginning of the second Hama/Silvestri story in Wolverine #34. Next week, the final act of "X-Tinction Agenda" begins in Uncanny X-Men #272.


  1. The thing about the DeFalco/Frenz Thor is that it's so retro it almost seems like a pastiche. Frenz is notorious for using stock Kirby poses (I remember one drawing of the Enchantress, a DeFalco favorite, is copied from the first story she appeared in) and DeFalco imitates Stan Lee's '60s style right down to ending every sentence with an exclamation point.

    (Many older writers hung on to the all-exclamation-point tradition even after it was no longer necessary, because they'd been trained that way; DeFalco is a younger writer who seems to have taught himself to write like that because that's how Stan did it.)

    It's still a fun read, certainly much more fun than a lot of post-Kirby, pre-Simonson Thor. But it does feel a bit like a cover band. It's interesting to me though that DeFalco's EiC tenure became famous for the gritty stories and the departure from the Shooter-era house style of art, when his own work clearly shows a preference for traditional Marvel stories and art. But then DeFalco doesn't seem to have stamped his own preferences on the line as clearly as Shooter did.

    1. I will say, I really appreciate that DeFalco brought back the full-fledged cod-Shakespearian Thor speak that Lee invented. In the '80s, writers toned that way down, and Simonson had him speak the way he usually does today: formally, but saying "you" and not "thee." And I totally understand why Thor-speak fell out of fashion, but I do love it and miss it whenever he talks normal. The current solution - have him talk normal but with a special font - just isn't the same. One of my favorite things about classic Thor is that Kirby takes it seriously and Lee, with that crazy dialogue, treats it as a spoof. That tension is delightful.

      (To tie this into the X-books: probably because of when he started at Marvel, Claremont kept on writing the Asgardians in full thee-and-thou mode even after most of the other writers had stopped. So in "Asgardian Wars" Loki and the Enchantress talk in Stan Lee style, rather than Simonson style.)

    2. I love lots of exclamation points in my comics. I don't think they're necessary for general conversations, but during fights at least, nearly every line should probably have an exclamation point at the end since the characters are most likely amped up on adrenaline at the time. I hate when I read a comic where a character says something big and urgent or momentous and it ends with a period.

  2. Wow, Frenz draws a pretty nice Dave Cockrum-esque Nightcrawler up there.

    I haven't read this story, but I'm with you that Excalibur's role here seems much a much better concept than what their own series is doing at this point. I don't see why they couldn't have been the U.K.'s version of the Avengers. I like a lot of what Claremont did early on with them, and I love the Alan Davis writer/artist run, but neither of those quite hits what I think the group could/should be.

    1. And that's totally Alan Davis' Kitty on the cover, but it wasn't his, right?

  3. "Who writes your dialogue -- some crummy Shakespearean wannabe?!" Even the fourth wall can't stop Juggernaut.

    Phasing "Juggs" into ground was harsh from Kitty. But HAS she really done that ever before at this time? I think I remember a scene somewhere where someone got a tiny bit of hair solidifying into wall and that was excruciating. Thor should be dead.

    Hey... the evil Nightcrawler of Belasco's, in MAGIK miniseries. The other her kilked him that way, didn't she?

    I like how Thor goes on about honor and then of course his oath to Zalaski, the Polish despot of space, doth not bind Eric Masterson. That's Loki sort of crap, Thor.

    With phrase like "Were going straight next to Cypress Hills cemetery" in 90's Marvel comic you don't really need Ghost Rider's pumpkin on the cover to tell what happens next.

    The Wrecker's were amidst some serious internal usurpation business by Thunderball during the time. I've liked them since Secret Wars, which to me equals always. My big problem with the story was that the Wreckers are like they don't know Nightcrawler from the Battleworld, though Doom must've had made them read files on their enemies during their time there. Must've.

    Lots of lost potential for social commentary, what with people's hero Juggs telling he likes to put one up with the rich folks and 3/4 of the Wreckers being soo blue collar, and Thor's a filthy rich prince of a dynasty.

    "And that's what Phoenix does best!" The folks at Marvel seem to have been early onbin the loop about Rachel' real father.


    1. @Teemu: // Even the fourth wall can't stop Juggernaut. //

      Slow clap. Not sarcastically, either.

  4. A testament to his increasing ubiquity around this time, Ghost Rider somewhat randomly appears in issue #430, in an Earth-based subplot.

    I have to say it was an awesome use of the character still, as the plot evolves into Loki/Mephisto shenanigans effecting directly on Thor, and there was that Mephisto connection with Johnny Blaze, the original-ish GR. For a book this retro, that's some totally needed meta commentary on the character's pre-90's history. Plus it was somewhat a plot point in GR's own title that there is no Mephisto connection with this one, when Johnny Blaze shows up there. I don't know where we are chronologically, but it may be they are on to that here before his own title got to it.

    Anyway, at least it's not like he's fighting the Brood.

    The next Thor issue has a fun bit of Piledriver (?) shock-horrored after ripping off GR's leather jacket to reveal the actual skeleton. It's like a legally mandated guest star thing. Or, maybe market-departmentally, wink.

    1. Thor 430 was coverdated March 1991 and Blaze showed up in Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider 13, which was coverdated May 1991. So yeah, this was before Blaze showed up in Ghost Rider's book.

    2. Hmh. Comic Vine says JB first appeared in #10, which would be Feb, so the storyline was in the works already, but mire interestingly Mephisto first appears in GR #11, also of March 1991. So whatever the relative chronology of these issues, it looks like a case of Marvel intercontinuity made right and coordinated here. From his claimed non-interference here, Mephisto will soon enough go on to hassle GR with the most 90's concept ever, "Suicide", a dude lacking guts to kill himself, who makes a deal with Mephisto and gets the guts but also total invulnerability to everything barring GR's hellfire.

      You're in good company, Peter Parker.


  5. // #427 ends with Shadowcat phasing Thor into the ground then leaving him there, fused with the molecules of the ground //

    I don’t recall Kitty ever doing it before, myself, but I feel like I do recall her saying that if she were ever to materialize herself or someone she was carrying inside physical matter that it would kill them, similar to Nightcrawler's predicament when teleporting. (Whether it would kill Thor is, no pun intended, immaterial, since Kitty thinks he’s Juggernaut.)

    // Thor is able to use his hammer to create a mystic cone, inside of which Juggernaut is denied his magic-based abilities //

    Although it does seem a bit convenient, Mjolnir can open dimensional portals — which in fact was my rationale for how Thor got out of the phasing situation — and it’s not a horrible stretch to have it create a barrier that filters out certain energies.

    // it's nonetheless refreshing, even in a diminished role, to simply see Excalibur acting as straightforward superheroes //



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