Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #339

Today we’ll be looking back at a classic comic from my collection.

Series:                                  Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                    339
Title:                                     “Something Old, Something New”
Art & Story:                        Walter Simonson
Colors:                                  George Roussos
Lettering:                            John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                                Mike Carlin
Editor In Chief:                 Jim Shooter
Cover:                                   Walter Simonson

At the end of the last issue, Beta Ray Bill returned to Asgard carrying the unconscious Thor in his arms.  We open to find the victorious Bill collapse due to his injuries.  Odin orders the Imperial Guard (no, not these guys) to carry both warriors to the House of Healing.  The attendants find Bill curious, but Lorelei finds him repulsive, saying that she’d “… sooner kiss a dog than be in the same room with him!”  Sif enters at this moment, asking if her rival is “Recalling some past triumph?”  There is some catty back and forth, all of which is observed by Odin, Lorelei leaves and Odin goes to visit the injured.  He goes first to Thor, who is not happy at all, wanting to renounce his godhood in the wake of his loss.

Bill is of two minds about the outcome.  Where he is happy to have the hammer to defend his people, he is worried that someone else might come along and usurp his claim.  Bill also worries whether he has a right to the weapon that was made for Thor, and Thor alone, regardless of what the enchantment says.  Odin wishes to bestow a gift on Bill, in repayment for Bill sparring Thor’s life.  We now switch to Nidavellir, the land of the Dwarves.  A one-eyed wanderer greets a group of Dwarves, asking to share their fire for the night.  Eitri, the leader, recognized Odin immediately and asks what his people can do for the gods.  After a long night of talking, Eitri agrees to help Odin, but only if a woman comes to fight their champion.  Should she win, Eitri will help Odin.  Should she lose, she is to marry the champion and stay forever with the Dwarves.

Two days later Thor and Bill are talking in the House of Healing and Bill reasons that Odin fixed the fight, sending them to a hot realm that would give Bill, a denizen of “a galactic inferno”, a decided advantage.  Thor, knowing how sneaky Odin can be, vows to speak to his father upon his return.  They both see Sif, fully armored, ride off “…as though The Wolf himself pursued her.”  A nurse informs them that Sif has gone to fight the Dwarves champion on their behalf.

As she rides, Sif flashes back to Odin telling her about the offer and her volunteering for the mission, as well as her musing how Bill, despite his appearance, is as valiant as Thor.  Her thoughts are interrupted by Throgg the Dwarf, though he is the size of a small giant.  The fight begins and we change scene again to Volstagg, still sitting on Agnar, recounting Balder’s fate.  He tells how Loki crafted an arrow out of mistletoe and had another slay Balder, sending him to Niffleheim.

We now return to the giant, still forging something out of the star.  A host murmurs in the background, “The sword!  The sword!”

On Earth a lighthouse keeper in Quebec is cursing a saleswoman who talked him into buying a food processor, which he has no use for.  He hears a noise and thinks that she has returned, but then it grows louder and the whole lighthouse shakes.  He tries to get out, but the lighthouse splits apart and a monster rises from the earth crying for vengeance.

Back in Nidavellir, Sif and Throgg are still fighting.  She cuts his hand, causing him to drop his club and charge her.  She dodges and smacks him in the head with the flat of her blade, knocking him unconscious.  Eitri appears and congratulates her on defeating their tormentor.  It seems that Throgg used his freakish size to take over the Dwarf community, but now that he’s been defeated by a woman he’ll slink off and stop bothering them.  Eitri commands the other Dwarves to stoke the furnaces so that they can get to work.

Sif returns to Asgard and has a tender moment with Bill, who tells her that he longs to get back to his people.  Sif asks if he would ever return, but Bill says no, because when he was made a warrior he”… surrendered all my humanity and I have none left…for anyone.”  He could not bear the thought of returning to such a perfect world as Asgard, simply because he would always be an outsider due to his monstrous body.

The furnaces of Nidavellir are glowing with heat as the Uru metal is worked and poured into the mold.  Odin casts his enchantment and Bill, wearing a protective glove, reaches into the molten metal and pulls out a hammer, which changes him back into Beta Ray Thor!

 Odin asks if Bill will accept the burden of carrying Storm Breaker and Bill does.  Odin then returns Mjolnir to Thor and tells them to go back to Bill galaxy and destroy the source of the demons.  In order to travel as fast as possible, Thor summons his goat chariot.  Thor, Bill and Sif climb aboard and head out to battle. 

Where it comes from: Bill, Odin and the Dwarves have now entered into a gift cycle, where anything someone receives requires reciprocation back to the other person.  This is commonly, in Heathen circles, defined as “A gift demands a gain.”  This is how mortals, such as yours truly, interact with Gods and Wights on a regular basis.  We leave them gifts and they must reciprocate.  Because Bill saved Thor’s life, Odin must give him a gift in return.  Not should, must.  In order to do this, he needs the help of Eitri and the dwarves, but they require a gift first in order to begin.  At the end all of the gift cycles are satisfied and everyone’s honor is preserved.  Eitri is a dwarf from the Lore, one of two that was responsible for the creation of Mjolnir, so he is the perfect one to go to if Odin wants another hammer of the same type created.

Balder’s history is told here by Volstagg, and it is a touch off from how the Lore has it.  Balder originally did not return until after Ragnarok, when the entire world was renewed by fire.  Here, however, he did come back early, through the mechanizations of Odin, but he did not come away unscathed.  Beyond his general rejection of life, we see that he has white hair.  Prior to this his hair was brown, so the stress of going to the land of the dead had a profound effect on him.

Finally, Thor’s chariot, pulled by Toothgnasher and Toothgrinder, is straight out of the Lore.  In one story, Thor visits a peasant’s home and kills his goats to provide food for dinner.  The next morning he puts the bones back in the skins and magically resurrects them.  These goats, as we will see later, are quite big, probably around five feet at the shoulder, and are quite intelligent.

Next time there’s a whole lot of demons and a lot of butt whupin’

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #338

Today we’ll be looking back at a classic comic from my collection.

Series:                               Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                 338
Title:                                  “A Fool and His Hammer…”
Art & Story:                      Walter Simonson
Colors:                              George Roussos
Lettering:                          John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                              Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:                 Jim Shooter
Cover:                               Walter Simonson

We are back in space and the giant has grabbed a hammer.  It pounds on the ingot of star stuff, ringing “Doom!” with every blow.

Back on Earth, Donald Blake is still attempting to call Odin back to help him.  He realizes that he’s probably going to be stuck as a mortal, with no way to contact Asgard.  Just before Blake slips all the way into depression, Nick Fury joins him on top of the crashed ship.  Fury explains that if it was Odin that brought Beta Ray Bill to Asgard, he won’t be “…happy to see somebody else wearin’ yer threads and heftin’ yer hammer.”

Elsewhere, in Asgard, those in Odin’s Hall realize that this isn’t Thor as Bill attacks them, calling them all demons.  Odin reveals himself, demanding to know where his son is.  Bill hurls Mjolnir at Odin, who catches the hammer.  All this attack does is really tick off Odin.

Odin uses his magic to seal Bill in a sphere while he looks for Thor.  This causes Bill to rethink his opinion that these are probably not demons he’s dealing with.  Odin manages to find Don Blake and brings him to Asgard via another storm.  When he arrives, Thor is in his own form once more.  Seeing that his son is unharmed, Odin releases Bill and apologizes to him.  Bill accepts Odin’s offer of hospitality and all three proceed up a mountain to Hlidskjalf, Odin’s High Seat.

We cut to elsewhere in Asgard where Lady Sif catches Thor and Lorelei kissing in the bushes.  She clocks both of the lovers and storms off.  Thor begins laughing and Lorelei is upset that she wasn’t told that there would be hitting involved.  Thor then changes form to Loki, hinting that she may have success “where your sister, the Enchantress, has ever failed.”

Back at the High Seat, Beta Ray Bill tells his story.  He comes from a race that lived in floating cities in the heart of a galaxy.  The core of this galaxy exploded, destroying much of their race.  In order to survive almost all of them had to be put in suspended animation and placed in starships to find a new planet.  So that they would not be attacked they created a guardian, based on a ferocious carnivore.  Bill’s soul was placed in this bioengineered body and he lead the exodus from their galaxy.  Soon after they left a race of demons came out of the exploded galactic core and attacked them.  Having fought them off enough to give the fleet a chance to escape, Bill and Skuttlebutt raced ahead to find a suitable sanctuary.  This is where Thor came upon them and lost his hammer to Bill, who wants to use it to protect his people.

Thor and Odin explain how the combat where Bill won Mjolnir wasn’t actually fair, but they all agree to another combat where the final fate of the hammer will be decided.  Odin does muse on how the source of the demons is hidden from him, “as few things are” but the more immediate need is to decide on who will have the power of Thor.  Both Thor and Bill are transported to Skartheim, a land of lava flows and geysers, to fight to the death.  The warriors fight, giving it their all, and we cut to Volstagg and Balder.

Volstagg is chiding Balder for not truly understanding the philosophy of eating.  Volstagg explains how eating should be an affirmation of life, not an escape from it.  Their conversation is interrupted by a youth, Agnar of Vanaheim, who wants to test his mettle against Balder the Brave.  No matter how Agnar attacks, Balder easily evaded, saying that he is done with fighting.  Volstagg steps in, literally, crushing Agnar’s foot.  He carries Agnar off, dropping him in a glade, then sitting on him and beginning to tell him the story of Balder the Brave.

Back in Skartheim, Thor and Bill are still fighting.  They are very evenly matched and eventually there is a double knockout on a piece of obsidian which is floating towards a lava fall.  Bill manages to awaken in time to grab Thor, heedless of the conditions of the fight, and leap to safety.  They are both transported back to Odin’s throne room where Bill tells all, “The hammer … is mine!”

Where it comes from: Hlidskjalf is, in fact, Odin’s High Seat in the lore but it is located in his hall, Valaskj√°lf, not on a mountain top.  In both versions, though, whoever sits there is able to see into other worlds.

The Enchantress is an Asgardian sorceress, created for the comics, who became an enemy of Thor when she realized that she couldn’t make him fall in love with her.  Here she is given a younger sister, Lorelei, who seems to be going down the same path.

While Skartheim was invented for the comics, Vanaheim is the realm of the Vanir, who are also gods and opposed the Aesir of Odin way back in prehistory.  Freyr (or Frey in Marvel) and Freya are both Vanir who, along with their father Njord, were sent to the Aesir as peace hostages and welcomed into their tribe.  Now Freyr, along with Odin and Thor, is considered one of the most revered gods.

Next time we discover the final fate of Mjolnir.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #337

Today we’ll be looking back at a classic comic from my collection.

Series:                    Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                      337
Title:                       “DOOM!”
Art & Story:           Walter Simonson
Colors:                    George Roussos
Lettering:                John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                    Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:       Jim Shooter
Cover:                     Walter Simonson

We open in space with a star exploding.  The remaining core of the star, in handy ingot form, is grabbed by a giant with a set of ornate tongs and then slammed on an anvil, the sound of which gives us our title:

We then go to a park in Chicago, IL.  Doctor Donald Blake is walking through looking at the people and musing that he would like, for a day, to be human and not the disguised God of Thunder.  These thoughts are interrupted as the lame physician is hustles into a car by two rather large gentlemen.  In the car is Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and he’ got a flyting car and a problem.  On the way to the Helicarrier, currently over NYC, Blake changes to Thor and the light show dazzles Fury.

Thor and Fury are briefed by Stillwell, a S.H.I.E.L.D. Intelligence Officer, that their new warp probe has detected a ship on its way to Earth.  While the probe was recording it, the ship destroyed a star and sucked up the energy for fuel.  Once it was detected by the ship, the probe was destroyed.  Thor takes to the skies to attempt an intercept before the ship reaches earth.

Meanwhile in Asgard, Balder the Brave and Volstagg the Enormous are having a feast.  While Volstagg is enjoying himself thoroughly, Balder is less than pleased, just trying to lose himself in an activity, any activity, and thus forget his trip to Hel.  Sif enters and tries to tell her woes to Balder, among which are that Thor has forsaken her for Midgard, but Balder doesn’t want to hear it.  Sif then goes to see her brother, Heimdall, Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge.  Heimdall directs her to seek out Odin’s advice on the issue.

Thor has now almost reached an intercept with the ship and he is grateful for his mantle of the God of Thunder, as no human could sail through space and see the sights he has seen.  The ship’s speed is more than Thor thought it would be and it roars by him.  As he turns to pursue the sensors lock on to him and fire the guns.  Mjolnir it thrown against the hull, splintering it, and Thor himself opens the hole wider and enters the ship.  He is greeted by a crystal chamber with a figure inside of it.  When Thor gets close an alien hand bursts forth and grabs Thor’s face!

Back in Asgard, Loki is sitting in his tower, bored.  His revelry is interrupted by several warriors on a forbidden Troll Hunt.  The troll, a small, furry thing, hides in the high grass, where he sees a beautiful woman. This woman, Lorelei, persuades the troll that she will not hurt it, which turns out to be a lie as she grabs its tail and takes it to the warriors.  Loki arrives and offers her hospitality.  She accepts, despite the warnings of the others that “The open hand of Loki is not safe.”

Back on the alien ship, Thor has been tossed into a wall by the now revealed Beta Ray Bill., who refers to Thor as a demon.  The two battle, tearing up the inside of the ship, named Skuttlebutt, cause it to seek a planet to land on and make repairs.  The planet that Skuttlebutt find is Earth, and alters course to intercept.  As they approach Earth, Thor, who has dropped his hammer, turns back into Don Blake.  Beta Ray Bill uses this to his advantage and knocks Blake unconscious.  In preparation for the crash landing, Bill and Blake are encased in a stasis field, protecting them.  Major repairs are needed, which will take 40 hours to complete.  Meanwhile, Nick Fury and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. surround the ship in high tech tanks, demanding that the occupants come out unarmed.

Desperate, Bill looks for Mjolnir and finds the stick that it changed into.  He angrily slams the stick into the wall, changing into a Thor-ified version of himself.  Bill and Mjolnir wreak havoc on the S.H.I.E.L.D. equipment until a sudden storm turns up.  This storm has been cause by Odin, summoning his son back to Asgard.  Bill is taken and Don Blake finally exits the ship.  He can tell that Odin was there, from the storm bearing his magical signature.  He is confused that Odin did not take him and fears that he might remain a mortal forever.  All he can do is shout impotently into the wind.

Where it comes from: For those of you that don’t know, Dr. Donald Blake was a creation of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby when they created the character in the 1960’s.  This was done to give Thor a secret identity (creatively) and to teach Thor humility (in the story).  Due to this, Thor reverts to Blake if Mjolnir is out of his grasp for more than one minute.  This was Thor’s kryptonite and was used to great effect in the Silver Age.  In my opinion, once the lesson had been learned, this should have been done away with.  Thor is a god, a literal deity, and really doesn’t have a need for a secret identity, especially not one that hampers him from protecting Midgard.

Similarly, the inscription on the hammer “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor” is another Marvel invention.  In the Lore, Mjolnir is just so heavy that the only god that can lift it is Thor, and he originally need the help of his Belt of Strength and Iron Gauntlets.  This was also added as part of the humility storyline above, but it does serve a purpose in making Mjolnir, essentially, unable to be stolen again, so I like that addition.  It is this inscription that allows Beta Ray Bill to usurp Thor’s power and has Odin mistake him for Thor.

Balder going to Hel is the start of the Ragnarok story.  In the comics, as in the lore, Loki tricked Hoder (Balder’s blind brother) into throwing a mistletoe dart at Balder, killing him.  Unlike the lore, Odin was able to forestall Ragnarok, but Balder was still sent down to Hel from which he had to battle his way back.  We will learn more about that trip in future issues, but it had the effect of making him want only escape from those memories.

Next time we’ll see what happens when Odin learns that he brought the wrong Thor to Asgard.  I can spoil this part, he isn’t happy.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

My Comic Book Secret Origin

You probably are not wondering how I got into reading comic books, but the guys over at the Fire and Water Podcast are, so I’m going to tell you.  The first comic book I remember is Incredible Hulk #267, cover date January 1982.  This was a comic that was kept at my grandparents’ house in Fanwood, NJ, which means I only got to see it every now and again (since we lived about an hour away).  I have no idea where it came from, but I think that my grandfather bought it knowing that I was a fan of the TV Show.  In any case, this comic was kept in a dresser drawer in the room my sister and I shared when we would go to visit, so it got beat up real quick.

The interesting thing about this comic was that I was in kindergarten when it came out and I managed to read it 3 different ways over the years that it was there.  At first I liked the pictures.  I’m pretty sure I knew some of the words, but I was more into the pictures.  Then I started reading the dialog balloons.  For some reason I thought that the yellow narration boxes weren’t part of the story (I was a weird kid, OK?).  I eventually managed to read the whole thing, all text included, but I don’t remember how many years it took me to get to that point.

I never really thought about it but I think my grandfather was the one responsible for getting me into comics.  Not just for buying me this issue, but because he would tend to get me a comic when he would go to the newsstand/convenience store, even when I got into high school.  I don’t think he “got it” but he knew that it made me happy so he would get me what he thought I liked.  I didn’t think about it too much at the time, but I really appreciate it now, especially when I see what my dad is willing to do to make my daughter happy, even when I know he doesn’t really want to.