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The World Still Needs Heroes

When I first read the June 2011 solicitations for Marvel Comics back in March, I was elated. Finally, after having lost almost all hope, the House of Ideas was finally creating not one but TWO trade paperbacks for Thunderstrike! Sure, it still wasn’t the exact trade paperback I’d hoped for, but it was as good as it got. You see, ever since I’ve started reading comics, I’d been a huge fan of the Everyman Avenger.

And now, finally, there’s finally a TPB that will hopefully lead to new fans of the hero named Eric Masterson and the mace called Thunderstrike.

Many know me as being a huge Captain America fan, but few know that even before I first started collecting comics religiously, one of my first introductions to comic books was an issue of Thunderstrike #12 that I picked up in a bargain bin at a small bookstore in Tanjong Katong Complex. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Anyway, despite the lacklustre villian he faced in that issue, I was enamoured with the Thor-like hero who had the powers of a god and yet still had problems just like a normal person. “The Everyman Avenger” as he was soon dubbed became one of my favourites and in the years that followed, I tried to look for as many issues of Thunderstrike as I could, finding an almost complete set at the now-defunct My Comic Shop.

The Thunderstrike series ended after 24 issues with the death of the hero, some 7 years after he was originally created in 1988. Unlike most comic book deaths, Eric Masterson was never revived, but his legacy was never far from the minds of creators Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz. In fact, when they created the alternate MC2 universe, which sprung out from the surprisingly long-lived Spider-Girl series, it was his son Kevin Masterson who became Thor-equivalent of this alternate future, also calling himself Thunderstrike and joining the team called A-Next. When A-Next got canned after 12 issues, there weren’t many references to the mace or the hero.

Which makes the announcement of a Thor: Thunderstrike TPB and Thunderstrike: Youth in Revolt TPB extremely surprising, but the cynical would say it was expected, considering the need for as many Thor-related titles to be on shelves to coincide with the recently released blockbuster movie.

Nonetheless, here is this fan’s take on the two TPBs – hoping to be as objective as I can possibly be, anyway.

Thor: Thunderstrike is a welcome addition to any Thor fan’s library, as it chronicles some of the adventures in Thor’s title that led to the creation of the hero Thunderstrike. The TPB begins with Thor #408, where architect and single father Eric Masterson is merged with Thor, replacing Donald Blake as his human alter ego. We then fast forward to #431-#433,  which takes us to yet another crucial chapter of the Masterson/Thor story, where the Thunder God himself is now replaced by Masterson, with the latter now fully conscious when in his Asgardian body. This leads to some hilarious moments when Masterson attempts to speak like Thor, getting worse with each attempt. But before we can even enjoy Masterson’s stint as a surrogate Thunder God, we move to the final arc of the TPB, #457 – #459, which sees the return of Thor, and an epic battle between Thor and Masterson, concluding with Odin’s endowment of an Asgardian mace called Thunderstrike, which allows the replacement Thunder God to continue his heroics in the Marvel Universe. This issue then leads directly to the first issue of Thunderstrike, which is a fitting conclusion for the TPB.

Clearly the agenda in putting together these issues of Thor were to flesh out the origin story of Thunderstrike and Eric Masterson, who went from being host to hero in the span of four years. Yet the reader feels somewhat shortchanged, because we don’t exactly get a chance to appreciate Eric Masterson the man due to the major plot landmarks in these stories. The irony of course is that it is Eric Masterson as a character that is truly the driving force of the story, and without sufficient buldup, one finds little reason to like Masterson, the well-meaning, loving single father who cares for his son, Kevin.

Still, the team of DeFalco and Frenz prove their ability to tell epic stories and tales of both Asgard and Midgard, and hopefully this is just the first of many TPBs featuring Masterson and more of their fruitful collaboration.

On the flip side, Thunderstrike: Youth in Revolt is a TPB featuring a complete 5-part limited series and therefore comes across much better. The all-star team-up of DeFalco and Frenz return to their beloved character but with a twist: the story is no longer about Eric Masterson, but about his son, Kevin, now an angsty teenager. It seems like a cliché, but Kevin Masterson, more than any other fictional teen, has every right to be bitter and angry with the world. After all, in a universe where dead heroes seldom stay dead, it has been almost a decade since his father died a superhero.

Collecting Thunderstrike (2010) #1 – #5, we follow as Kevin Masterson rediscovers his father’s legacy and finally sets aside his anger to become a part of the world that he’d once detested – by becoming the new Thunderstrike!

I will be the first to admit that I had my concerns when I heard that Kevin Masterson was officially going to become the new Thunderstrike. I remembered all to clearly the incarnation of Kevin Masterson in A-Next which deviated so much from the tried-and-true formula to horrible results. Fortunately, none of that happened in this series, and as origin stories go, this one harkens back to a Golden Age of Comics that sentimental ol’ me is happy to experience once again. After all, if you’re going to call post-Siege Marvel Universe “The Heroic Age”, you’d best get a creative team that really knows what that label means.

Thor: Thunderstrike is priced at US$24.99 and S$32.49 at Harris Planerds. Thunderstrike: Youth in Revolt is going for US$14.99 and S$19.49 at Harris Planerds. Flash your Planerdteer card and get 10% off all your purchases, or buy a VIP ticket for STGCC 2011 and get a 20%-off coupon for Planerds!

Peter Lin

His teenage years spent nursing a giant man-crush on Steve Rogers, the first Captain America, Peter naturally found himself drawn to many other heroes who depicted strong, manly qualities, including the honour-bound warrior Worf, first Klingon in Starfleet, and the muscular rock hard abs of The Thing.

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