Issue(s): Thor #436
The story starts with the Absorbing Man's ball and chain, which was apparently being stored in an Avengers subbasement, suddenly coming to life and busting out of the building and flying away, despite the efforts of Captain America to prevent it.
Cap surmises that based on the Absorbing Man's past history, he'll probably seek revenge on Quasar and Thor. I don't know if i see the Absorbing Man as a vengeance seeking guy, really, and the story doesn't really confirm Cap's theory. But "Thor" is contacted by Cap, causing Eric Masterson to have to beg out of a meeting with a customer (Harley Kosinski, the same one that we saw was upset about Masterson's disappearances in the previous arc).
Eric tries to will the hammer to locate the Absorbing Man, and it works, although not without causing a cape malfunction.
I included the entire page in the above scan because the top three panels are kind of mind boggling. Eric has all sorts of questions about what he's supposed to do about the Absorbing Man. He was just talking to Captain America. Cap knows that Eric isn't the real Thor. Why didn't he ask Cap what he's expected to do?
Mjolnir flies Eric directly into the Absorbing Man.
The Absorbing Man figures out right away that Eric isn't the real Thor. He stomps Eric into the ground and then turns into water and flows away.
Eric manages to free himself, but he's late to meet his son Kevin. When he arrives, he's struck by his son's unconditional love. Meanwhile, the mystery guy that we saw last arc continues to lurk around.
Meanwhile, the Absorbing Man's girlfriend Titania saw a news report on his flying ball and chain, so she knows he's back in town. She twists a number of cars into the shape of a T to signal that she wants to meet him, and the Absorbing Man goes to a theater in Central Park to wait for her. But Eric gets there first.
Hero-Smashing 101 is exactly right, and is basically the point of this issue. We already had Eric's mishap with the cape. This issue is all about Eric learning how to be Thor. Absorbing Man is a good villain for that, because his powers are such that you can't just pound him with your hammer (Growing Man would have been another good choice).
The other nice thing about this is that we really get to show off what makes the Absorbing Man scary. All of Absorbing Man's regular sparring partners know what he's capable of and are able to avoid mistakes like these. We did have a similar fight against a newbie when Quasar fought Absorbing Man, but Quasar's powers are very versatile and Quasar is such a goody-goody that he already knew about the Absorbing Man, so Mark Gruenwald didn't really emphasize the learning aspect that we see here. Scenes like what we have in this issue are why Tom DeFalco thought it made sense to get rid of the Thor persona for a while. We get to see a new character learning the powers of Thor, and we get to experience the menace of Thor's villains from a fresh perspective.
While Absorbing Man is in lighting form, Eric realizes that as Thor he can control lightning, so he's able to blast Absorbing Man into the sky, and knock him out. But that's when Titania shows up.
Eric is still dazzled by the lighting display, so he takes a swing without realizing that she's a *gosh* woman!
This might have been an opportunity to challenge Eric's preconceptions about super-powered woman. Titania should be able to handle a hit from Thor. In fact she should have shrugged off that blow from newbie Thor and slammed him right back. But no: one hit and she's knocked out.
But, there is a final interesting idea here. It doesn't really work if you know Absorbing Man and Titania's history (which Eric theoretically doesn't). And you have to accept that Cap's earlier conversation with Eric was "Hey, the Absorbing Man is out there so you better take care of him" and not much else. But when Eric sees that Absorbing Man and Titania don't want to fight, Eric lets them go.
Eric does later kick himself, wondering what he's going to tell Cap and acknowledging that he's now morally responsible for whatever Absorbing Man and Titania do next. But he also thinks to himself that "everybody deserves a second chance".
It might have been interesting to go this route for a while, letting Eric slowly learn the ropes on his own. There are definitely some kinks in the execution, but the basic idea wouldn't have been too bad. Instead, Eric gets out of the shower to find that Hercules has moved back in.
Hercules will begin mentoring Eric (or trying to) next issue.
For what it's worth, i bought this issue in realtime after not having picked up a Thor comic in a while. Because Absorbing Man and Titania were on the cover. I was immediately struck by the cover's very retro trade dress and the very cheesy dialogue inside. And i was really put off by the idea that some stranger was running around as Thor. Not what i wanted from a Thor comic. As i said above, i can see now why DeFalco was going this route, and there are interesting possibilities involved, but it's also clear why a lot of people would be against it.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Absorbing Man's appearance in Avengers Spotlight #29 is ignored for this story. Quasar #5 showed Absorbing Man imploding at the end of his fight with Quasar, basically disappearing. And this story has Absorbing Man blinking back into existence. But Avengers Spotlight #29 had Absorbing Man rounded up with the other Acts of Vengeance villains being taken to the Vault. This story also has Absorbing Man and Titania meeting again, seemingly for the first time since Absorbing Man thought Titania died in Thor #375-376 (although that's not explicitly mentioned). But Absorbing Man and Titania were both on panel together in Avengers Spotlight #29. The explanation must be that the Absorbing Man blinked temporarily back into existence, was captured and imprisoned, and then blinked away again, all the while too disoriented to notice Titania. I've pushed this entry back in publication time a bit because it still seems pretty early in Eric's time as Thor and should probably occur before Thor starts hanging out regularly in other books (e.g. Infinity Gauntlet). Hercules and Eric's training session at the beginning of next issue doesn't necessarily take place directly after the end scene here, so Hercules (and even Thor) is free to appear elsewhere between issues.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (4): showAbsorbing Man, Bloodaxe (Jackie Lukus), Bobby Steele, Captain America, Harley Kosinski, Hercules, Kevin Masterson, Thunderstrike, Titania
Eric's situation - Thor - is similar to Wendell's - Quasar. They both have day jobs that are constantly being put on the back burner for their super-hero identity. Also, Eric is like James Rhodes - Iron Man. They both took over for the original hero and learned how to fight while on the job. I guess Marvel had to make it fresh for the 90's with the "New Thor". They also gave James a title - "War Machine".
Posted by: clyde | September 30, 2015 11:16 AM
Nice nod to Kickers Inc. with Eric's New York Smashers hat (the football team from Kickers Inc.).
Posted by: Mark Black | September 30, 2015 2:29 PM
So Ron Frenz is imitating Sal Buscema now?
Posted by: Tony Lewis | September 30, 2015 5:05 PM
What is it with Titania and Absorbing Man having to fight Thor's replacements? Whoah boy though... If you thought their presence here was hamfisted, I'd think post-Original Sin Thor had a much more hamfisted encounter with them.
Posted by: Max_Spider | September 30, 2015 5:49 PM
Tony, probably something to do with Al Milgrom's contribution here.
Absorbing Man would appear again in DeFalco's work with Eric, both on this title and later with Thunderstrike. The issue of Thor that served as an epilogue to the Thunderstrike series featured Creel and was pretty good, as I recall.
Posted by: Robert | September 30, 2015 6:24 PM
Fnord, regarding the Absorbing Man's chronology, it's not so simple. The Absorbing Man appears in a backup story in Avengers Annual 20 by your favorite writer, Michael Higgins. It seems to take place after Acts of Vengeance since Creel references Hulk 348 and Avengers Mansion is shown (i.e. not just a subbasement) but Creel has his ball-and-chain.
Posted by: Michael | September 30, 2015 9:21 PM
We don't get readable Thor again until well after Heroes Reborn.
Posted by: Bob | October 1, 2015 12:00 AM
Fnord, you'd better orepare yourself for that Higgins Absorbing Man story. It's stupidity is in legendarily bad taste.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | October 1, 2015 12:40 AM
Aye Bob. This was another title I dropped in real time. I felt at the time that art was progressing forward in other titles with the Image crew, yet not in this title.
Posted by: Grom | October 1, 2015 6:59 AM
@Michael, obviously i'll adjust when i get to those issues. I'm not worried about Eric hiding his identity in front of She-Hulk, though. Hercules has known Eric all along, so it's natural that Eric would confide in him. And he confided in Cap specifically (plus, it's Cap!). If Eric still thought it was a good idea to keep his identity a secret in front of anyone else, that doesn't seem like a stretch to me. Cap might have even advised him to do so so that it didn't get back to Thor's old enemies.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 1, 2015 8:09 AM
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