Tales of Asgard
I have been revisiting my copy of Tales of Asgard, and it is such an unusual beast.
Firstly, for context it is a collection of backup stories from Journey into Mystery in the days when it was beginning to lock in on the character of Thor.
I really like the idea of the backup stories. They explore the deep background of the characters, and establish a solid mythology to work from instead of having to rely on the often contradictory mythology.
At times they even self-consciously do this. If Stan Lee could foresee that we would still be reading about this character this is probably the best thing he could have done to ground him in a fully realized world.
The first few tales are very specifically creation myths. We are not talking simple origin tales here, we are talking substantial world building. We get a creation myth, stories that touch on the cultural founder figures and stories that help define the main characters as archetypes.
The problems are in the art work. For a start this isn’t a unified story, these are separate 5 page stories. They work really well as a vehicle for Stan Lee, you can see him pitching the ideas to Kirby, telling him how he wants Baldur to be, or espousing on Sif as a potential love interest.
But, I also get the feeling that Jack was sitting there without enthusiasm thinking how he can knock out these self-contained and undeveloped stories quickly and get on to more interesting things.
Let’s face it lesser Kirby art still has flashes of inspiration but apart from some interesting splash pages at the start of each tale the art feels a little rushed.
Then, as Stan runs out of simple mythology and starts to tell longer tales you can see the Jack Kirby we love suddenly emerge. No doubt the idea of longer stories and probably more vague direction from Lee allowed Kirby to really get his teeth into it.
'Maelstrom!' for example has a jaw dropping multi-plane perspective splash page of a ship crew manning the sails. The whole five pager covers very little plot, but the visual story-telling is epic.
This particular collection was coloured in a modern style by Matt Milla. I was initially intrigued by the prospect of modern colour work on classic art, but the palette choices are very strange. The overall effect is a very brown looking book, with many of the background colours effectively flattening out some already quite flat art early on.
I found myself checking out the original pages whenever I came across a page that impressed, and being torn between the 4 colour originals and the remastered version. Overall the colour work feels like a missed opportunity. It could have made the art come alive but instead makes it strangely muted and works against the epic tales.
As a trade paperback, I really love the content, but the execution has flaws, both in the classic art and it’s more modern treatment.