In 1994, the Avengers were struggling to find their place in Marvel sales. With X-Men and Spider-Man titles—bolstered by hype from their respective animated series—dominating the reader’s attention, other heroes were finding it harder and harder to maintain relevance.
Not for lack of trying. Books like Quasar, Wonder Man, She-Hulk, and a U.S.Agent mini were fighting alongside the long-running Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America books, weaving in and out of Avengers and West Coast Avengers. By the next year, all but four of the books would be canceled, and all of them were destined for the black hole of Heroes Reborn just a few years hence.
As was standard at the time, book sales were being bolstered by crossovers; in 1993 Spidey was diving headfirst into Maximum Carnage, the X-Men and company had just resurfaced from X-Cutioner’s Song, and the Marvel Universe as a whole was being swept up into The Infinity Crusade—the final cosmic tentpole event of the era.
The Infinity events had garnered enough profit to expand the lineup from the lone Silver Surfer solo book to a wider collection of titles primarily written by Ron Marz and Jim Starlin, growing cosmic seeds planted by Starlin two decades earlier. Led by Surfer and messianic allegory Adam Warlock, philosophical introspection was a hallmark of these stories, imparting to them a sort of existential superheroic spirituality.
One would think, then, that these stories would be the perfect port in which Thor—a literal god—might weather the coming sales storm. His own identity in question after a very convoluted period involving Thunderstrike, Thor might open an interesting avenue to probe the muscle-blanketed intellectualism in Marz and Starlin’s work.
Instead, Marz and Starlin all but refute the central ideology of the character, afflicting him with ‘Warrior’s Madness’ and dropping him into the center of their narrative as a sort of angry, Viking bomb. The unfortunate results, collected in Thor Epic Collection: Blood and Thunder, effectively cease any narrative motivation in the four ongoing series in which the event takes place.
That’s right, four; though this volume sports Thor’s name, over half of the event takes place in not one but two Adam Warlock-lead books. The reader might wonder what about Adam Warlock, in 1993, necessitated two ongoing titles, and they’d be surprised to find that the answer is absolutely nothing; Warlock and the Infinity Watch and Warlock Chronicles are effectively indistinguishable from one another.
Thor’s Warrior’s Madness is an impossibly flimsy premise upon which to hang a whopping 12 issues worth of narrative, and yet Marz and Starlin are compelled to somehow fill those pages. The combined effort of twelve cosmically-powered super-beings (as well as the combined military forces of Asgard) can do little to dissuade the near-mindless thunder god, armed with a stolen Power Gem and his madness (embodied, for unguessable reasons, by a scantily clad Valkyrie woman).
While it’s hard to deny the capabilities of the creators here, even the most enamored with the cosmic stories will be taxed by the tedium of the story. Small gems of entertainment—such as Marz and Starlin’s post-Gauntlet Thanos, who reads as a grumpy space bachelor with a begrudging respect for his nosy neighbors, Surfer and Warlock—sparkle here and there, but the story serves mostly to illustrate the failure of the forced Marvel crossover. Most damnably, despite the promise of several dazzling Ron Lim coves, the book suffers from half-hearted, inattentive pencils by a slew of guest pencilers, none of whom can quite live up to the style Lim had established over the preceding several years.
Blood and Thunder, then, is a volume haunted by all the company’s problems at the time. It can be read as predictive of coming troubles in character mismanagement, as well as an implication of mismanagement of talent. Thor would be shuffled off, two years hence, into the insufferable hands of Rob Liefeld and the Heroes Reborn debacle, Warlock’s bounty of titles would come to an end, and Lim, Marz, and Starlin would effectively step away from the corner of the Marvel Universe they all but crafted alone.
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