Folks, it is finally October, which means it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And, when it’s Halloween, you know what that means. It’s time to talk about some of the absolute strangest comics that Marvel ever produced. The saga of Rutland, Vermont. Now, this is the fourth time I’ve discussed these comics, but just in case this is the first time that you’re joining us for one of these, let me fill you in. The town of Rutland, Vermont once held an annual Halloween parade, which was largely ran by a local eccentric known as Tom Fagan. The parade really leaned into the world of superheros, often featuring elaborate costumes based on comic book characters, and eventually the folks who actually made the comics started hearing about it. And, when they learned about the parade, they decided to start attending, and after that, they decided to start slipping the Rutland Halloween parade into comics. And, if that isn’t odd enough, they also put themselves into the stories, visiting the parades. Plus, as an added cherry on top, these comics were almost always published months after Halloween, just adding to the surreal nature of the stories. And, it turns out I made a bit of an error. I’ve largely been sharing these Rutland stories with you chronologically, and last year I talked about a particularly odd adventure. Not really because of the story, it revolved around the Beast fighting Juggernaut in Rutland, but because it also was an unofficial cross-over with Justice League of America, which also had an issue taking place in Rutland, both of which contained a villain stealing Gerry Conways car. And, apparently, I missed something. Because, for some unknown reason, 1972 had two separate Rutland stories. So, I guess I should have talked about this last year. But, oh well, let’s take another weird trip to Rutland, this time featuring the God of Thunder!
The story begins in Rutland, where a couple of kids are fishing one evening, watching what appears to be a shooting star overhead. But, it turns out to be something far more ominous, and it ends up crashing into the woods outside their fishing spot. They go investigate the object, and find that it appears to be a bunch of shattered amber. And, if that wasn’t weird enough, they also spot a shadowy humanoid figure rising from the amber, and shambling towards them. So, obviously, they flee in terror while the figure wanders around. We don’t get a good look of the figure, and the kids manage to escape with their lives, but we do see the being hobble to a nearby cliff-side, where it releases a blast of magical energy which crosses the entire United States, eventually crashing into the deserts of Nevada, pulverizing a mountain. And, this wasn’t a random act of magical destruction, because this bolt manages to free someone from that mountain. Someone by the name of Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man!
Weirdly this is the first time that I’ve ever talked about the Absorbing Man here on the site, and that’s kind of shocking to me. In case you aren’t familiar, Crusher Creel was a boxer who became an enforcer for the mob, when he was approached by Loki and given magical powers in order to become a thorn in Thor’s side. Crusher can absorb energy from around him, draining power from attacks, and converting his body to whatever substance he touches. Which, is apparently how he got stuck in this mountain, merging with its atoms and then losing control of himself, becoming entombed. But, now he’s been freed by the mysterious energy, and before he even has time to consider how this happened, he finds himself being drawn to New York, with only thought in his mind. He must destroy Thor.
Meanwhile, Thor is moping around New York, after having recently been exiled to Earth along with a handful of other Asgardians, all because of Odin’s occasional petulance. The whole situation has made Thor really depressed, leading him to sadly sitting around the Avenger’s Mansion, watching TV with Jarvis, since apparently the Warrior’s Three and Balder are on a camping trip without him. The only other Asgardians are Sif and Hildegarde, who are currently looking over the Husdon River, also contemplating their time on Midgard. And, as they look at the presumably highly polluted waters, they are startled to find Crusher Creel plummeting from the sky, complaining about a raging headache and an all-encompassing desire to kill Thor.
Sif and Hildegarde seem familiar with Creel, and decide that they need to do something about him. They quickly get their weapons, and race after Creel, who has begun attacking random people nearby, absorbing some steel and making his body incredibly tough. Sif and Hildegarde begin attacking the villain as he goes into a berserk state, using his wrecking ball to destroy everything in sight, causing enough damage to quickly become news that’s able to reach Thor. And, when Thor hears that a former villain of his is causing problems, while also serving as a solution to his boredom, he flies from Manhattan as quickly as he can, crashing through the walls of the Mansion to get there as fast as possible. And, while he’s flying Creel begins proving himself too strong for even the combined might of Sif and Hildegarde, shrugging off their swords and even taking an entire steel girder to the face.
But, right as Creel is able to smash his wrecking ball into Sif and Hildegarde, Thor arrives, and comes crashing into the ground. He quickly establishes that Sif is okay, just a little knocked out, and begins attacking Absorbing Man as ferociously as possible. And, since this is apparently all that Creel has been wanting, he attacks him with genuine glee. And, while the two titans battle in the streets of New York, we quickly pan back up to Rutland, where we see the figure from the falling star shambling through the streets. He appears to be a gaunt, dark haired man, and he ends up reaching the home of Tom Fagan, seemingly at random. The man seems to have some missing memories, and asks Tom for assistance. And, being a class act, Tom agrees, and invites the man in.
But, we’ll see what that’s about later. For now it’s time to check back in on Thor and Crusher, which is getting pretty intense. Thor has quite a bit of experience with the Absorbing Man, and knows full well that if he actually connects the hammer to him, he’ll be able to absorb the power of Mjolnir, which would give Creel way more power than he’d know what to do with. So, Thor just kind of has to dance around, avoiding Creel’s blows and saving up all of his energy to land massive punches on the still steel-infused Creel.
But, since Thor is kind of fighting with one arm tied behind his back, that leaves him at a disadvantage. And, eventually, Creel is able to recognize this, and begins out-thinking the God of Thunder. Creel ends up fighting smarter, and uses his wrecking ball as a lasso, wrapping it around Thor’s legs, and knocking him to the ground. He then spins Thor around, and sends him careening off into a small bodega. But, while Thor is out of his sight, Creel finds that the terrible pain in his head is still going, but now he doesn’t feel the urge to destroy Thor, he needs to go north. So, while Thor is busy nursing his wounds with Sif, we see Creel launching himself north, eventually reaching Rutland. And, drawn as if by magic, Creel ends up at Tom Fagan’s house, where he finds the source of his magical headache. And it’s none other than the man who made him the freak he is today.
Yep. Big shock. That weird wiry guy was Loki. And, as you can tell from the horrified face of Tom Fagan, Loki is in rare form, ready to use Creel to help him destroy Thor once and for all, having a final stand in the grand realm of Rutland, Vermont. And, as an added cherry on top, it turns out that this night is Halloween. So, while Loki is preparing to bring Asgardian war to Rutland, the rest of the town is preparing for the Halloween parade, including Len Wein, Glynis Wein, Steve Englehart, and Gerry Conway, who are visiting their friend Tom. They wander around Rutland, looking at the parade while trying to find Fagan. And, they eventually end up at his home, which is full of people in costume ready to attend the parade.
But, the Marvel folks pretty quickly notice that something seems wrong with Tom and the rest of the people at the party. They almost seem dazed. But, little do they know, they’re all hypnotized. Because Loki, still in the form of the weird wiry guy, has been hypnotizing each member of the party, using them as his own little soldiers for the plan to come. And the next part of his plan involves sending Fagan and the rest of the Rutland citizens out to the parade, while leaving behind Fagan’s dogs, Diablo and Satan for his own purposes.
But, while we have to wait to figure out what Loki’s plan exactly is, we find that Thor, Hildegarde, and Sif have also reached Rutland, after having followed Creel there. The three land in the woods, and begin trucking through the forest, ready to find Creel and stop him. But, it turns out that Creel is waiting for them, having absorbed he wood of some of the trees so that he can blend in. And, when the Asgardians pass by his hidden frame, he brings his wrecking ball swinging around, smashing into Thor and sending him careening into the woods, and into a lake. Sif immediately tries to spring into action and save Thor, but Hildegarde grabs her from behind, stopping her from following through once Thor shouts out that they need to stay back, lest Absorbing Man absorb their power too.
So, Thor decides that it’s all up to him, and attacks Creel with all of his might. Which, turns out to be a really bad decision. Because in the process he ends up chucking Mjolnir into Creel, giving the villain the opportunity to absorb the magical properties of the Uru metal, making himself nigh on invincible. And, because Creel is a moron, he then begins swinging his now Uru wrecking ball around, and smashing it into the ground in front of Thor, not realizing that its new magical properties are so strong that it causes an earthquake, opening up a fissure that swallows Creel and Thor down into a rocky tomb. They both become trapped inside the hole, but Creel is able to pull himself out from the rubble, and prepares to smash Thor with his wrecking ball. But, thinking fast, Thor grabs a hold of Creel’s leg, and manages to straight up throw the villain out of the hole.
Thor is then able to summon Mjolnir to him, and using the hammer’s power wrenches himself out of the rubble, and escapes the hole. And, while full of fury, he’s able to deliver a final blow to Creel, with his fists. The villain is literally lifted off the ground by the force of the punch, and he ends up landing into a nearby lake. Which, is a problem. Because this entire time Absorbing Man has been having some real problems, brought on by whatever spell Loki has woven to summon him as a champion. And, as a result of that confusion, Creel ends up losing control of his powers after that massive punch from Thor, meaning he accidentally absorbs the water in the lake, transforming himself into water, and becoming one with the lake, unable to reform himself back into a human.
And, while Thor watches on in horror, until he hears a voice behind him, mocking the whole scene. Thor spins around in confusion, and finds his brother Loki lounging in a tree with two hellhounds that most certainly used to be Satan and Diablo. And, as you might have guessed, Thor isn’t exactly happy about this familial reunion. But, he doesn’t really have time to think about it, because Loki ends up ordering the two dogs to attack Thor, and he quickly finds himself occupied with avoiding their magically enhanced teeth. Luckily, Thor is able to use his hammer to summon up a whirlwind, sending the dogs flying away in the sky, so that he doesn’t have to hurt them physically. But, before he can attack Loki, he finds that his brother has another trick up his sleeve. He has hypnotized the entire Rutland Halloween parade, and is using their collective energy to power a weapon known as the Firesword, which Loki believes can kill Thor.
The Firesword draws power from mortal souls, and Loki has super-charged it with everyone in Rutland, giving it the most strength that it’s ever had. And, sure enough, it starts to have an effect. Loki is able to get a few lucky shots onto Thor, and the power of the Firesword starts to tear into him, giving him wounds and burns unlike any he’s ever had before. Thor does his best to fight against Loki, but he’s pretty rattled from this entire experience, and pretty quickly starts to struggle. He falls to the ground, and it really does seem like Loki is finally going to get the win on this one.
However, while Thor is falling in battle, Sif is busy freaking out. She’s cursing to the heaven, and ends up gaining the notice of a very powerful friend. Karnilla, queen of the Norns. Now, I’ve never really gotten a good hold on Karnilla, but she’s a very powerful sorceress who is personally obsessed with Balder. And, because Balder is currently exiled to Earth with Thor, Karnilla has decided to aid Thor so that he can help get Balder back. And, she does that by summoning a massive rain-storm. And, utilizing his storm-controlling powers, Thor is able to wield the power of the storm, and send a bolt of lightning straight into Loki’s face. The God of Mischief is able to survive the blast, but it does appear to cause him to go blind. And, in a moment of pure panic, Loki flees from the battle, leaving the Firesword behind, and ends up running right past Gerry Conway’s stolen car, falling off a cliff. And, because Loki is gone, the Firesword releases the souls of the citizens of Rutland, and Thor is saved.
These Rutland stories are always some of my favorite ones to share with you. Because I frankly am shocked that they exist. I don’t know if editorial standards at Marvel were just low at this period of time, or if they just decided they could do whatever they wanted, because the idea that Marvel would publish, essentially annually, stories that took place in an otherwise random town in Vermont, featuring the actual people writing the stories is completely insane. Every year they found some reason to send the various heroes of the Marvel Universe to Rutland, usually while not commenting on the fact that weird shit apparently happens their all the time, and the lengths that they take to get there are delightful. There’s really no reason that Loki fell from space after a fight with the Mangog and ended up in Rutland, only to then choose that as the location of his final stand against Thor. But, I’m so glad that they did. Plus, now that I’ve realized that technically this story was taking place at the same time as the stories I discussed last year, we can tell that Halloween in Rutland, Vermont in 1972 was the absolute craziest place to be in history, featuring Juggernaut tearing up the parade while the Justice League fought zombies in the woods while Thor and Loki were dueling for the fate of the entire town. Eat your heart out Manhattan, Rutland is where shit gets real. And boy oh boy do I really wish someone would write a modern Rutland story.
Thor #206-207 were written by Gerry Conway, penciled by John Buscema, inked by Vince Colletta, colored by Glynis Oliver-Wein, lettered by John Costanza and Denise Vladimer, and edited by Roy Thomas, 1972.
Categories: Marvel Madness