Stan Lee returns to script Thor #600—can “The Man” still put the hammer down?

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

Stan Lee's a little like Odin. Just when you think he's edging toward Valhalla, he comes back and fights another one for the cause.

His latest comeback appearance is a backup story in Thor #600 (written by J. Michael Straczynski, Stan Lee, Chris Giarrusso; drawn by Olivier Coipel with Marco Djurdjevic, Jack Kirby, Chris Giarrusso, Marvel, $4.99), an extra-sized anniversary issue of the Marvel comic he and Jack Kirby created more than 40 years ago.

It's less a story than a series of scenes that wouldn't have been out of place in those thrilling comics of yesteryear: Vintage Avengers fighting giant robots, an attack on Asgard led by Thor's evil stepbrother Loki, angst-ridden soliloquys over an unwanted heroic destiny, sound effects like Thwakk and Whmpp, a romantic interlude with Sif and a medical emergency handled by Thor's mortal persona Dr. Don Blake. (The whmpp comes when Thor's hitting a dragon, not when he's kissing Sif. Just in case you were wondering.)

In any event, that's still an awful lot to pack into 11 pages, especially in these days of "pacing for the trade." Compare it to the lead story, the latest installment of the series currently written by Straczynski, in which Thor spends twice as much time trading hammer blows with just one guy, a figure important in Asgardian history whom Loki has brought back from the dead and sent against Thor for the evil purpose of making the thunder god look bad. It doesn't end well.

Folks who haven't been following Marvel Comics lately might have trouble figuring out why Loki is now a woman, or why the Avengers (actually, the Dark Avengers, led by Spider-Man's perennial nemesis Norman Osborn), are suddenly bad guys. Trust me. The backstory ain't pretty.

Who wins this clash of narrative styles? Well, Lee's tale owes more to formula than inspiration, and Straczynski's not even close to the best jumping-on point for the incarnation he's writing. Both are disappointments. So it's tempting to call the duel a draw.

Except that the issue also includes five, count 'em, five vintage "Tales of Asgard" stories reprinted from Lee's glory days collaborating with the great Jack Kirby. Gee, Stan. You could almost call that cheating.