A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Throwback Thursday – Gamera (1965)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Here’s another Throwback Thursday post from Progessor Damien which takes a look at what sometimes happens or at least used to happen) when foreign films are broght over to the US for popular consumption.

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“Oh, no! They say say he’s got to go! Go, Go Gammera!”

gammera2Yeah, it really doesn’t have the same panache as the Blue Oyster Cult original, does it, Kiddies? But that’s ok, because the giant monster in question today gets his own rock anthem right in the middle of his first movie. Even his giant lizard predecessor had to wait more than 20 years for that.

Daikaiju Eiga – that’s the Japanese term for the type of movie (giant monster) that we’re looking at today, and since that’s where the best ones come from, it seems only appropriate to give them their correct name. Of course, considering what we’ve done to the actual movies, simply ignoring the Japanese term would seem only a minor slight.

Toho films began the tradition, of course, with their 1954 release of the original Gojira, which came to America in the form of Godzilla. Unfortunately another trend was also begun once it reached our shores. Believing that American audiences wouldn’t want to watch a film either with subtitles or where there were very few American actors for them to relate to, the film was not only dubbed into English, but it was heavily re-edited, with scenes moved around, many of them pulled, and new scenes were added starring Raymond Burr. Unfortunately between bad translations and terrible editing, (and an attempt to both appease and appeal to American audiences) much of the original meaning and subtext of the film was lost. Still, it was a hit both there and here, and this treatment became the trend for all subsequent Japanese monster movies brought to America.

gammera3As noted, Gojira (or Godzilla) first appeared in 1954. 11 years later, when the daikaiju eiga craze was really hitting its stride, Toho’s film studio rival, Daiei, decided to jump on the bandwagon and create their own giant critter. Now I’m not going to speculate on what the person who first proposed that they combat the big G. with a giant turtle was thinking, but fortunately they figured out some pretty neat ways to trick him out so that he could become a formidable foe for the forces that would soon be arrayed against him. First off, instead of “Atomic Breath”, they gave him fire breath. But this creature not only breathed fire, he could eat it. As a matter of fact, as the movie progresses, we find out that he is made of different stuff than those of us with lungs, and the big lug actually needs the flames as fuel to survive. More than that, though, Daiei also provided their Big G with a power that Godzilla would never get. When he pulled his head and legs into his shell, the giant turtle was able to shoot flames from his “port holes” and fly! Certainly helpful for an animal that otherwise has no way to get off his back, as the military soon finds out.

gammaera1Of course, upon his arrival in the US, Gamera (the Japanese name) was given a pretty complete makeover. An extra “m” was, for some reason, added to his name. Another pretty atrocious dubbing job was done. And again, scenes were cut, recut, and added, so that the movie once again bore little resemblance to what it had once been. Nonetheless, the film proved successful in both its Japanese and American versions, and Daiei went on to bring him back in a film a year until 1971, when Daiei went into bankruptcy. (The first was actually the only one released to American theaters, the rest were packaged for Television by American International.) Since then, there have been a couple of attempts at revivals, though they have proved less successful.

Here’s a short clip showing the monster’s initial emergence from his icy tomb and a bit of the American footage that was inserted.:

(Just a note: it is only the American version which was never properly copyrighted and is now in the Public Domain. The original Japanese version is still under copyright, and Shout factory has announced that they have licensed it and will be giving the film its first American DVD release on May 18th.)

Now for the Skinny:
Title: Gammera the Invincible
Release Date: 1965
Running Time: 86min
Black and White
Starring: Gamera, Brian Donlevy, Eiji Funakoshi
Directed by: Noriaki Yuasa
Produced by: Hidemasa Nagata, Yonejiro Saito, Masaichi Nagata
Distributed by: Daiei

And as always, until next time, happy viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

A Couple Of Cuts Above – Barbershop (2002) And Barbershop 2: Back In Business (2004)

bs1In anticipation of seeing the newly released third Barbershop movie, Barbershop: The Next Cut, I decided to go back and give the first two entries in the series a re-watch. I remembered liking them when they first came out, and thought I’d see how well they held up over time.

The first film, simply titled Barbershop, was released in 2002 and was directed by Tim Story. Set in the south side of Chicago, the movie stars Ice Cube as Calvin Porter, who runs a neighborhood barbershop which was handed down to him by his father who opened the shop in 1958. Seeing being “just a barber” as a disappointment and wanting to better himself as he anticipates the arrival of his first child, Curtis decides to sell the shop to a local loan shark, the slick and greedy Lester Wallace, with the assurance that the store will remain a barbershop. When, immediately after the two have completed their handshake deal, Wallace reveals his real plan to turn the place into a strip club called The Barbershop, Calvin begins to have second thoughts and wonders if he has done the right thing.

Cube, who first came to prominence as a member of the gangster rap group NWA, but by this time had converted to Islam and had also proven himself not only a highly skilled actor, getting his first on screen role in John Singleton’s 1991 film Boyz N the Hood  but also a screenwriter, with his first script being 1995’s Friday, in which he also starred.

bs3Barbershop is very much an ensemble piece, featuring Cedric the Entertainer in what has to be considered his breakout role as the elderly barber Eddie, alongside Anthony Anderson, Sean Patrick Thomas, Eve, Michael Ealy, Troy Garity, and Keith David, among many others. Though the story centers around, Calvin and his efforts to keep the shop open, it really is the story of the shop itself and its place in the neighborhood, being the focal point where people can come together and be themselves, talk, share their stories, their concerns, and feel a sense of community. With sharp writing thanks to a screenplay by Mark Brown, Don D. Scott, and Marshall Todd based on a story by Brown, and Story’s directorial skills, it proves to be a movie which, though it could easily slip either way into the overly maudlin or too broadly comic, instead walks the line between the two quite nicely and proves itself to have just the right amount of heart amongst the comic shenanigans.

bs2Barbershop was followed up in 2004 with Barbershop 2: Back in Business, which saw the reunion of most of the original cast, along with a few additions, most prominently that of Queen Latifah as the owner of a beauty shop just next door to Calvin’s. Also, original director Tim Story is replaced on this one by Kevin Rodney Sullivan and the screenplay is by Don D. Scott.

This time around, the threat to Calvin’s shop is not so much internal, as it was in the first movie, as it is eternal, with the impending arrival of a rival upscale chain shop called Nappy Cutz which is planned to open just across the street. The rival store in to be the first in a series of new development deals aimed at gentrifying the neighborhood, and is backed by a greedy land developer and on-the-take alderman Lalowe Brown.

Again, this is very much an ensemble piece, though it does focus a bit too much on Eddie, which would not be too bad, since Cedric is very entertaining in the role, but it winds up taking away too much time from the other players. Also, there is kind of a been-there-done-that feel to parts of the movie, as it once again places its focus on the shop’s place in the community, which, while certainly important, does seem to slow it down at times.

bs4Nonetheless, the film does prove to be an entertaining enough return to the setting, and does make a strong statement about the importance of local institutions trying to fight for their existence against those who would try to replace them simply for the sake of money.

Taken together, I have to say that though I definitely think the initial outing is the stronger of the pair, both Barbershop and Barbershop 2 are very strong and entertaining comedies, and I’m looking forward to hopping into a chair and spending another couple of hours with Calvin and the gang down at the shop.

Here’s the trailer for The Next Cut:

Let’s Just Go Ahead And Declare Today Trailer Day – Here’s A Whole Crop Of New Ones

It’s always interesting to just let yourself fall down the rabbit hole of the interwebs and see where you wind up. This time, the first link was a note that I got about The Founder, an upcoming movie starring Michael Keaton as Ray Kroc, the guy who… well, he didn’t exactly start McDonalds, but he was responsible for it becoming the fast food behemoth that it is today.

At the same time, I noticed that a new trailer had also been released for the Independence Day sequel. Yeah, te original is problematic and full of plot holes, and the ending makes no sense whatsoever, but it remains just a fun turn your mind off and go with it movie, and if Independence Day: Resurgence can at least come up to that standard, I’ll be happy enough with it.

From there, it was on to another upcoming supposed summer blockbuster, the return of Matt Damon as the titular character in Jason Bourne.

Lights Out is one of those horror movies that looks like it could either be completely terrifying or completely crap. The trailer definitely shows some promise, though, so I think I’m willing to give it a shot.

New Woody Allen movies, it seems, have become an annual tradition, This year’s offering, represented by this international trailer (complete with, for some reason, French subtitles) is Cafe Society.

I’m not sure how Nine Lives snuck in here, except possibly for my love of Kevin Spacey, but here ya go anyway.

The next few caught my eye mostly because of the talent involved with them. First up, The Girl on the Train with Emily Blunt, whose work I’ve really liked lately

Next, The Infiltrator with Byan Cranston and John Lguizamo

And though I don’t like the term modern noir much, that’s the vibe I get from Manhattan Nights with Adrian Brody and Yvonne Strahovsky

I don’t know much about Chevalier, but the premise looks like it could have some promise.

The Last Heist is another one of those movies that seems like it could really go either way. The trailer doesn’t excite me that much, but the premise of one of the gang members actually being a serial killer seems as though it could add at least another level of intensity if it’s played right

Next, a couple of trailers that have me hoping we might see some smart science fiction movies coming out this year. First up, Equals with Kristen Stewart and Nicholas Hoult. I’m not completely sold on this one, because the trailer mostly makes it look like another romance just covered in SF trappings, but maybe.

Then there’s this little oddity called Ickerman

Next, there’s this odd looking gem which features Liam Neeson: A Monster Calls

And to wrap things up, here’s one that, like the Russian movie Guardians which I featured here earlier in the week, shows that America isn’t the only country that can make superhero movies. It’s from Finland as is titled Rendel.

So those are just some of the trailers that have caught my eye recently. If you’ve got some that you want to share, please do so either in the comments section below or over on the Facebook page. I’d love to see what has you guys (and gals) intrigued or excited.

 

Will It Be As Magnificent As Its Predecessors? – Here’s The New Trailer For The Magnificent Seven

seven1Considering that the original was an adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, one of the things that I’m kind of curious about is how much credit will be given to that movie when it comes to this modern remake of John Sturges’s 1960 movie The Magnificent Seven.

Another question that I have is just how much of the epic nature of both of the previous versions of these films this new movie will be able to capture. When you consider that Samurai clocks in at 207 minutes, and the 60s version runs 128, will the new version be given the same chance to breathe and take some time developing its varied cast, or will it be choked down to a shorter running time and simply be another action-filled modern retelling?

There’s obviously no doubting the strength of the cast assembled here, what with Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, and Ethan Hawke headlining in front of the camera, and I trust the skill of Antoine Fuqua to give us great set pieces of action, but I really hope he’ll step a bit beyond what seems to be his comfort zone and really take advantage of the opportunity to give us a newly legendary take on the tale.

Of course, we’re just going to have to wait until the movie actually hits theaters to get the answers to these questions, but in the meantime, I highly recommend while you’re waiting to see this, going back and taking a new look at both of the earlier versions. Especially if you’ve never seen either of them before. You’ll find them both worth the time.

Here’s the trailer:

Throwback Thursday – Django (1966)

Between this blog and my previous one, Professor Damian’s Public Domain Treasure Chest, I’ve been writing about movies for quite a while now. Because of that, there are a lot of posts that have simply gotten lost to the mists of time. So, I figured I’d use the idea of “Throwback Thursday” to spotlight some of those older posts, re-presenting them pretty much exactly as they first appeared except for updating links where necessary or possible, and doing just a bit of re-formatting to help them fit better into the style of this blog. Hope you enjoy these looks back.

Looking back to the early days of this blog – February 13, 2013 to be exact, and one of what appears to still be one of the most popular posts here. Not too surprising, I suppose, considering the popularity Tarantino and of Django Unchained. This post, however, takes a look at the original movie upon which QT’s movie was based (well, after which the main character of the movie was named), and at the negative effects that can sometimes come from a bad dubbing job.

As always, I’ve not made any changes to the original post, though in this case I really would like to have done some editing.

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Rechained By Dubbing – Django (1966)

***SPOILER WARNING*** In this post, I’m going to be discussing differences between the dubbed and subtitled versions of Sergio Corbucci‘s 1966 film Django, and specifically the ending of the movie, so if you haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend that you do) you might want to turn back now. You have been warned! ***END WARNING***

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Okay, I’m going to just go ahead and get this part out of the way. I absolutely loved last year’s Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino‘s “ode” to the spaghetti western genre. Despite its flaws, obvious and otherwise – yes, I know, some say it’s too long, but to them I’d ask what specifically would you cut, and yes, we can all agree that QT’s “Australian” accent is a joke, but to me he’s earned the indulgence, and yes… and yes… – in the end, it’s exactly what it sets out to be: one film maker’s tribute to an influential genre that he obviously loves, and an entertaining afternoon or evening at the theater for the rest of us, and in the end, that’s enough for me.

But the biggest thing that I like about QT’s movie is that it has brought new attention to a genre of movies that I find is largely unfamiliar to a vast swath of today’s younger movie-going audience, the aforementioned “spaghetti western”, and the fact that it extends beyond just Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone. As a matter of fact, it’s because of Tarantino’s movie that my favorite place to watch films here in Nashville, the Belcourt Theater, was able to show a retrospective of films by one of the other great directors of the genre, Sergio Corbucci, which included his 1966 masterpiece, the original Django.

Now I could go into a lot of detail about Corbucci’s film and why I think it’s so good, but that’s another post for another time. Instead, today I simply want to look at one part of the movie, specifically the end of it, and to highlight what may be one of the greatest travesties of re-dubbed films ever.

You see, there are actually two versions of the film in circulation at the moment, one, the first one that I saw, is an Italiian language version with subtitles. The other, and the most commonly-found version on places like YouTube (as a matter of fact, the entire dubbed version is available there for streaming if you so desire), is the English language dubbed version.

dju02

Sometimes words like “compensating” don’t need any translation.

Now, you might think that in the process of dubbing a movie into another language the people responsible would try to stick as closely as possible to the original, and I’m sure in many cases that is true, and probably more so today than in the past. But there are other things which also have to be considered when movies are being dubbed. First there is the problem that both subtitlers and dubbers face – idiomatic language. There are simply some times that a direct translation, either because of cultural references or because the words have no direct correlation, just doesn’t make sense. (I was recently watching a subtitled version of a Japanese movie that attempted to use supertitles as footnotes to these kind of translation issues, but to be honest, that was truly distracting.) The other issue is mouth movements. One of the most often-heard complaints, especially back when I was growing up, about watching foreign movies was that the lip movement were so far out of sync with the words being said that it ended up being either incredibly distracting or downright humorous, and that’s why so many people said they simply couldn’t watch “furren” movies.

Now, it’s possible that if asked, the translators of the dubbed version of Django might claim either one of these to be the case in the defense of many of their choices throughout the film, and they may be legitimate claims. However, when it comes to the ending… Well, I’ll tell you what, before we go any further, why don’t we have a look at that ending? The part I’m specifically going to be focusing on is from about 4:00 to 6:20 in this clip, but go ahead and watch the whole thing if you really want the set-up.

Ok, so we have our protagonist at his seemingly most defenseless, his hands broken, trying to get off one last good shot, and being taunted by his greatest adversary, Major Jackson. And his cry of “Can you hear me ?!” is appropriate to the preceding lines about “You should start your praying.” and “I can’t hear you!”, which is fine as far as it goes.

However, if you watch the Italian version, you find out that the dubbing really diverges from the original in a way that not only lessens the impact of the scene, but also removes the ironic humor from it, a factor which goes a long way to making the entire film such a joy to watch. You see, in that scene the original version, which does have Jackson taunting Django about saying his final prayers, doesn’t have the inanities about his burial suit. Instead, Jackson emphasizes each shot by invoking a part of the holy trinity. So we wind up with “In the name of the father…” >BANG< “and the Son…” >BANG< “and the Holy Ghost” >BANG< to which Django then adds the capper, as during his final salvo which takes down the major and his men he shouts  “AMEN!!!

dju01

“What did he say?” I don’t know. do you know what he said?” “I got no idea.” “Hell, it all sounds Greek to me.”

Now some might argue that the change was made due to sensitivity to the religious imagery which it invokes, but considering that that imagery is not only a recurring thread throughout the movie, but at times already a large part of its humor, I can’t see that as a reasonable defense. Nor do the other two arguments I mentioned above work, as there is no problem with the language translating, and the original lines actually fit the mouth movements perfectly.

No, this simply seems to be a case of “change for change’s sake”, and it’s  one that, when I actually saw it while watching the dubbed version on the recent blu-ray release (both versions are on the disk, and I have to say they look gorgeous and it gets my highest recommendation) made me want to throw the box directly through the TV. Fortunately, I restrained myself, but really it was that bad a moment.

In the end, though, what it comes down to is this: if you have the option, you should definitely check out the subtitled version instead of the dubbed one, But if the latter is the only option available, then go ahead and watch that, with the caveat that there definitely is something “lost in translation” because despite those flaws, the strengths of the movie still largely come through.

So how about you? Have you seen either version? If so, which one and what did you think about it? And what are your thoughts in general about the argument concerning subtitles versus dubbing? I’d love to hear your comments, pro or con for either side. Just click on the comment button below and share your thoughts. Or head on over to the Facebook page and join in the discussion there.

Oh, and while you’re at it, why not click one of the share buttons below and bring your friends into the discussion too? The more the merrier! (Just please keep any comments civil, and respect your fellow commenters. After all, there’s no reason for gunfire here.)

And as always, until next time, happy viewing!

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Hope you enjoyed this blast from the past.

 

Did Someone Say “Werebear”?! Oh, Yeah, I’m There! – Here’s The Trailer For Guardians (2017)

rg01During the Cold War, a secret Soviet project created a group of Superheroes. Each of the heroes was meant to represent a different nationality of the USSR and the strengths and traditions of those people. However, with the end of the cold war and the Union on the verge of collapse, it is time for these heroes to come out of hiding and join together against not only threats both internal and eternal, but also supernatural.

That’s the premise of the upcoming Russian superhero movie Zaschitniki – the literal Russian translation is apparently The Defenders, but of course with Marvel/Netflix coming out with their own version of that title next year, that wasn’t going to fly, so for now at least, it’s being referred to in English as Guardians.

That’s right, it’s a Russian superhero movie! And from where I sit, looking at the trailer and a couple of short clips, it looks really good and has quickly flown to the top of my list of most anticipated films of next year. Of course, that’s assuming that we’ll get a chance to actually see it here in the states.

So who are these heroes? Well according to Wikipedia, they include:

rg04Arsus -A type of berserker or werebear, [who] has the ability to transform himself into a large bear, though he can control how much of his body is transformed and can transform partially if he wills it. This transformation ability can allow him to seamlessly alter his size, bulk and musculature and transform himself into a burly humanoid, as well as use his transformations to physically augment himself. He has multiple phases of transformation due to his ability to partially transform. He is armed with minigun in battle, which he carries on his back when fully transformed. He can also use his inhuman physicality to fight, especially when he is full bear form. Desperate, loyal and determined, he is known for his drive to “break the enemy into small pieces”.

rg02Khan – Masterfully skilled with all kinds of blades, as well as with many kinds of martial arts. Along with other blades, he is primarily armed with twin, crescent like blades, each of which resemble a scimitar, scythe or sickle and can be joined at the hilts to form a double bladed weapon. The strong blades, with enough force, can slice through entire cars without going blunt or being damaged. He is also physically augmented, possessing a degree of superhuman strength that allows him to smash through brick walls with a single punch and send men flying through the air with his attacks, as well as superhuman mobility that gives him acrobatic and gymnastic capabilities and the ability to effortlessly dodge and evade attacks, even gunfire at point blank range. He also possesses inhuman speed, enough that he almost appears to teleport. Using his speed requires him first to focus hard, achieving a meditative state that causes his eyes to turn completely white and allowing him to perceive faster than any human can. While in this state, he sees everything as being in slow motion while he himself moves at normal speed, or somewhat faster. Whenever he moves in this state, a black gaseous trail appears behind him outlining his movements. His strength and speed allows him to use his strong blades to slice a car and anyone in it in two.

rg05Ler – He is armed with all forms of earth manipulation abilities, and is able to control stone and soil, collect dust from boulders, stop falling rocks, and move mountains. He can cause the ground to break apart under his enemies feet with great precision in what parts break and what shape the subsequent depression makes. This allows him to form instant craters, canyons, ravines, and sink holes to fight his opponents, though these formations are usually small in scale. Being able to cause quakes and tremors in the ground beneath his opponents, such as making the ground under them erupt and explode. Along with his abilities, he is armed with a small chain with a large rock cemented on its end, which he can use as a type of flail.

and finally,

rg07Xenia – Flexible and agile, to a superhuman degree. She has the ability to move on water as if it were solid ground, as well as to seamlessly floating through it. This gives her higher mobility in water than the fastest, or most maneuverable sea creature. She cannot feel temperature differences and can survive in an airless vacuum, which allows her to survive underwater without any negative effects. She can also transform her body into clear, water like liquid and use it defensively or offensively. This ability allows her to become gelatinous and vicious, allowing her to flow like liquid and physical touch and interact at the same time.

Guardians is scheduled fr a February 2017 release in Russia. No word yet at least not that I’ve seen) on a US release, but I’m hopeful it won’t be long after.

Here’s the trailer:

and here’s a teaser showing Khan in action:

 

Covering Comics #15 – Walt Simonson’s Thor

I’ve often said that I miss the comics covers of old. Those covers were designed, unlike many of the ones being produced today which are merely mini-posters spotlighting the titular character without giving any indication of the story contained inside, to draw readers in and make them anxious about actually reading the stories contained therein. Of course, this was also a time when comic books could be found all over the place, from newsstands to the local drug store, as opposed to only in specialty comic-book shops, and they were largely focused on catching the eye of someone just passing by the comics rack instead of depending pretty solely on regular readers who are willing to go every Wednesday to get their weekly fix, but that’s a discussion for another time, I suppose. Anyway, “Covering Comics” is going to be a probably irregular series of posts where I take a look at various covers from the past, highlighting some of my personal favorites, or other covers of note for one reason or another.

This time around we’re going to begin a look at another game-changing run of comics, one which began when Walt Simonson took over the reigns of Marve’s The Mighty Thor.

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Though this run is less well recognized than those of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams on Green Lantern/Green Arrow or that of Frank Miller on Daredevil, it was no less ground breaking at the time, and no less influential even today, when, though most people may not realize it, a lot of the concepts that made up the last Thor movie and will likely do the same for the next one were either introduced or brought to the foreground.

Plus, they’re just one hell of a good read.

Again, much like when Frank Miller was handed the reigns of Daredevil, at the time that Simonson took over Thor -and I should note here that when I say Simonson “took over” Thor, I mean that not only was he the artist on the book but also the writer, so the artistic vision that it took for most of the run was almost completely his – it was a comic that had been in a downward spiral both creatively and sales-wise for quite awhile. Honestly, for those of us who were around at the time and still largely picking up our comics off the spinner racks or even at the local comics shop, it had become one of those easy to ignore, standard, pretty much the same month to month titles. Not that it was terrible, it just wasn’t particularly good either. Here are a couple of examples of preceding covers to give you an idea of what I’m talking about.

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thor336

Not too bad, in their way, just pretty standard for Marvel at the time. And the stories inside were unfortunately just as standard.

Now at the time (this was 1983) I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University, and the bookstore there stocked a fairly decent comics selection,  and I can remember being there with my comics-reading buddy “J” looking over the new issues, and suddenly, there was this cover screaming out at both of us.

thor337

Hokey smokes! Yeah, not THAT was different. Obviously, with the breaking of the logo, there was something different going on, and who or what was that swinging Thor’s hammer. Yeah, now this was an issue that we needed to check out.

And when we actually opened it up and took a look inside, it was obvious that a change from the standard house style was taking place. Here’s a look at one of those interior pages:

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And here’s the summary for the issue courtesy of the Grand Comics Database: [btw, from here on out, the summaries from the GCD will appear in italics, while my own comments will be in regular type]

Nick Fury asks Thor’s aid in investigating an alien ship heading for earth; Thor arrives and triggers the awakening of an alien protector, Beta Ray Bill; Bill bests Thor and takes up his hammer only to be accidentally summoned to Asgard by Odin who thinks he is summoning Thor.

The issue ended with this splash page/cliffhanger:

thor337b

Yeah, obviously we were going to be back for the next issue. And sure enough, when it hit the stands, it was with a cover that shouted “Things have changed!” Not only did it follow through on the breaking of the old logo from the one before with an entirely new one, but there was the old Thor fighting that alien in the Thor get-up, but you have the emphasis on the inscription on Thor’s hammer, suggesting that somehow this horse skull-faced guy was also deemed “worthy” to wield it.

thor338

Again, here’s the GCD synopsis for the issue:

Bill and Thor fight in single combat for the honor of wielding Mjolner and the alien bests the god of thunder.

Yep, you got that right. “Bill” (so dubbed because his real name is unpronounceable by the human – or Asgardian – tongue) beats the original Thor and wins the right to wield the hammer. So where does that leave Odin’s son? Obviously, that’s a question which will have to be answered in the next issue.

thor339

Obviously with Thor 339, more changes were coming, and sure enough…

Odin has the dwarves create a hammer for Bill and sends the alien and his son into space to rescue Bill’s people.

This, of course, leads to an epic fight, which would take place in Thor 340.

thor340

Thor, Sif and Bill save the latter’s people from alien demons; Odin gives Bill a civilian identity when he strikes his hammer on the ground.

That “civilian identity”? Yeah, not exactly human looking, but civilian enough for Bill to fit in with his own people and to not stand out too much should he ever need to return to earth.

Of course, that still left open the question of what to do about the “civilian identity” of the original Thor, a question which would be addressed in the next issue.

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Thor loses the Don Blake identity and gains secret i.d. of Sigurd Jarlson courtesy of Nick Fury (his disguise being, you guessed it, a pair of glasses); Sigurd gets a job as a construction worker but the site is wrecked by Fafnir looking for the god of thunder.

Oh, it should also be noted that Thor no longer has to strike his hammer on the ground to change back and forth. Also, when he is in his Sigurd Jarlson identity, he has his hair pulled back into a pony tail. You also have to admire Fury’s reasoning when it comes to figuring out how to disguise Thor – basically “Hey, it works for that other guy” – a point proven when Sigurd bumps into a certain reporter later in the issue and neither quite recognizes the other.

So, now we have completely transitioned from the previous “same old same old” status quo for Thor, and it’s time to move on. However, for Simonson, “moving on” actually means beginning to explore Thor’s Norse heritage, and bringing in what would eventually become one of the hallmarks of this run: the connection between Thor’s past and his present-day adventures on Midgard. The emphasis on this connection became clear with the very next issue.

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Thor is called to an old viking village in the arctic wastes where an old viking, last of his people, tries to trick the thunder god into killing him so he can enter Valhalla

And that’s a pretty good summary of the issue. Again, though, what makes this issue stand out is that it cements Thor as a god of two worlds, both Asgard and Midgard and what will become one of Simonson’s major themes, the idea that what transpires on one has a definite impact on and connection with the other, mostly because of Thor’s love for both of them.

Oh, and at this point I feel like I should note one other feature of Simonson’s run, and that is the obvious long-term planning that went into his plotting. For instance, from the very beginning of his takeover of the title, there were indications that something mysterious was happening that would have a major impact on Thor and his world(s). Just what this was was kept shrouded in mystery, but there were indications. At first they were just perhaps single panels sprinkled maybe one per issue, or even full pages that would pop up mid story to remind the reader that something was happening involving a mysterious sword, it’s forger, and, well, as this example shows, a sound effect which was also a prophesy:

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Anyway, let’s move on. Issue 343 saw the conclusion of this two-part story and cemented the connection between  Thor’s Norse heritage and his current incarnation:

Eilif is granted strength by Odin so he can assist Thor in fighting Fafnir. (Eilif, btw, is the last Viking that was introduced in the last issue.)

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The next issue, #344, began the next phase of the rehabilitation of the title, as it introduced another of the themes which would be a hallmark of Simonson’s tenure on the book – the re-envisioning of Thor’s supporting Asgardian cast. Actually it may not be fair to say that that phase began here, as it really was something that began as soon as Simonson took over the reigns, but it definitely brought it to the forefront with – as we see reflected in the cover, a focus on Thor’s perhaps most stalwart companion, Balder the Brave.

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Balder is sent by Odin to make the perilous journey to Loki’s realm to ask the god of mischief for aid in combating an ancient evil. Malekith makes it there first and sways Loki to his side. Balder, forced to break his vow of non-violence by a taunting Loki, cuts off the schemer’s head and wanders into the desert to die.

Of course, Balder doesn’t die, nor does Loki – as a mater of fact, he actually seems to make it to the end of the issue more intact than Balder.

Okay, so if you saw the second Thor movie then you will already be familiar with the name Malekith mentioned above. As a matter of fact, much of the material for that film was taken from the next part of Simonson’s run.

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Yes, that is the comics version of the evil elf-lord depicted on the cover of #345, which the GCD summarizes thusly:

Lorelei continues her seduction of Thor. Malekith and the Dark Elves try to capture the Casket of Ancient Winters from its keeper, but the Casket is passed on to his son for protection.

 

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At this point, the Dark Hunt (which is what you see depicted on the cover where Thor is not the hunter, but the hunted) was on.

The Dark Elves try to capture the Casket of Ancient Winters from its new guardian, Roger Willis. Thor helps out. Malekith captures Thor’s true (or at least enchanting) lover, Melodi, and threatens to kill her if the Casket is not given up.

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“Melodi” is actually the Asgardian villainess the Enchantress’s sister Lorelei who has managed to bewitch Thor into loving her. Meanwhile, other forces also have their sights set on Earth:

Thor and Roger invade the realm of Faerie to rescue Thor’s love while keeping the Casket of Ancient Winters out of Malekith’s hands. They don’t quite succeed. Balder has a chat with a Norn. Odin prepares for battle. Surtur prepares to invade earth.

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Yep, Surtur, the mysterious forger of that Doom sword that we saw earlier, is on his way. But first there’s a more immediate threat:

Thor and Roger save Lorelei, but fail to keep Malekith from opening the Casket of Ancient Winters. The Norns convince Balder that life is better than death. Surtur begins his advance.

However, before the actual showdown with Surtur begins, it’s time for a history lesson in issue #349

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Thor returns to New York and reunites with Lorelei, but Roger smells an enchanted rat. Thor later brings Malekith to his father in Asgard and Odin tells all the tale of how he and his brothers faced and defeated Surtur when the world was young.

Now you might think that issue #350 would be a good place to wrap up some of these story lines, but not for Simonson. Nope, he still had a lot more story to tell at this point.

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Odin alone stays to guard his realm as all of Asgard travels to earth to battle Surtur in New York.

Hmmm… Odin standing by himself to defend Asgard? That might not be the best idea at this point, as we see in issue #351:

On Earth, the Asgardians and heroes try to stem the tide of Surtur’s demons. Surtur, meanwhile has made it to Asgard where he shatters the rainbow bridge before taking on Thor.

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Btw, you may note that that description mentions “the Asgardians and the heroes”. This is one of those times when the integration of the Marvel Universe works very well as the story crosses over into concurrent Avengers stories, and even other Marvel titles reflect (at their discretion) the effects of the opening of the Cask, even if it’s only by noting a very odd snowstorm in the summer. This integration is reflected in the cover of Thor #352:

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And, of course, in the story contained therein:

Odin faces off with Surtur in Asgard. The heroes of Earth and Asgard try to figure out how to close the gateway to Surtur’s dimension and stop the ever increasing number of invading demons.

That, of course, brings us to issue #353 and the finale of this epic tale

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With Odin and Thor both down in the battle against Surtur, it’s Loki to the rescue?! The heroes of Earth and Asgard stem the tide of Surtur’s demons. Roger reconstructs the Casket of Ancient Winters, ending the chilly enchantment. Odin and his sons have a final showdown with Surtur.

And just where does that finale leave us? Well let’s just say that there’s an echo of Simonson’s first issue with this final page:

 

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So where does Simonson’s Thor go from here? Aaahhh… that, I think, we’ll save for next time…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By the way, I should note that although I wrote about Mr. Steranko and his art in the past tense above, he is still alive and well, and does still produce a piece of artwork every now and then. I simply used the past tense because that’s when the artwork I was focusing on today was produced.

http://www.comics.org/issue/39014/