Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #340

Today we’ll be looking back at a classic comic from my collection.
Series:                               Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                 340
Title:                                 “Though Hel Should Bar The Way”
Art & Story:                      Walter Simonson
Colors:                              George Roussos
Lettering:                          John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                              Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:                 Jim Shooter
Cover:                               Walter Simonson

Out in space, Thor, Bill and Sif are flying down the line of ships where Bill’s people lay in cold sleep.  As they approach the end of this line they see that the demons have overtaken the last ship and are tearing it apart.  Sif jumps out of the chariot to defend the fleet and tells Thor and Bill to continue to the source of the demons while she defends the fleet.  Knowing that she is right, they obey and find a giant construct over the core of Bill’s galaxy.  Thor and Bill are attacked by the demons and we cut away. 

The giant is still forging a sword, and not it looks more like a sword, out of the star.  With each blow ringing “Doom”, monsters are awaking on earth.

Sif is fighting a losing battle as the number of demons attacking her continues to increase.  As a wave of them threatens to overwhelm her, they are hit by a broadside from the now repaired Skuttlebutt.  Sif boards the ship and they race away, trying to lead the demons away from the fleet and give Thor & Bill time to finish their task.

Back in Asgard we are treated to more of Balder’s story, as related by Volstagg to Agnar.  We are told of how Balder, once Asgard’s mightiest warrior, saw Nidhogg consuming the souls of cowards.  Among those souls are the warriors that Balder had slain over the course of his many battles, which drove him to reject his past life.  Volstagg gets off of Agnar and brushes him off, telling him that most of the Asgardians might forgive him if something were to happen to Balder, but there is one who would not.  Hogun the Grim “…would never forget … or forgive.”

Back in Bill’s galaxy, Thor and Bill position themselves on each side of the gateway.  The each aim at its center and throw their hammers, causing them to collide and destroy the structure.  Meanwhile, Sif and Skuttlebutt are losing their battle.  They decide that Skuttlebutt should self-destruct, killing as many of the demons as possible.  Just as the countdown begins, and a wave of demons overwhelms them, the demons disappear.  Sif realizes that Thor and Bill must have been successful and they have a talk while waiting for the boys to get back.

We then cut to a penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York City.  Lorelei and Loki are having a conversation regarding how Lorelei will try and seduce Thor on his return to Earth.  She asks the trickster what reward he will get out of helping her.  He responds, “It will amuse me greatly.”

Back at Asgard, the victorious warriors return to a cheering crowd.  As Bill and Thor refresh themselves, Odin and Sif have a private talk, where she reveals that Bill went through much more than he told them.  It turns out that there was a contest held to determine who would be the guardian.  Bill won out over thousands of others, then he and the rest of those determined to be physically strongest went through psychological examinations “…that left most of them dead or insane!”  The remaining candidates were put through tremendous pain when they were physically transformed into the hybrid warrior.  The only one to survive the entire process, which is irreversible, was Bill.  His new form was so hideous to his people that they could hardly bear the sight of him.  However, he would do it all over again in order to protect his people.  Odin takes all this into consideration.

At the feast later, Odin calls Thor and Bill up to the high table.  Odin makes a speech and asks them to cross their hammers.  He then performs an incantation, after which he instructs Bill to strike Stormbreaker on the ground.  Bill does and is changed back into his original form and Stormbreaker becomes a cane.  Thor realizes what has happened and that his ability to change into Donald Blake has been transferred to Bill.  Bill returns to his people and Sif, who has been restless, goes with him.  Thor and Odin discuss whether the original contest for Mjolnir was rigged, and Odin dances around an answer.

Back on Earth, a monster comes out of the sea and breaks an oil tanker in half.  The beast swears vengeance on Odin, saying “The life of your son is forfeit.”

Where it comes from: Let me get this out of the way first.  Walter Simonson, THANK YOU for getting rid of Donald Blake.  I realize that the concept served a purpose, but I never liked how Thor, mightiest warrior of Asgard, had such a huge restriction placed on him.  It was even worse that Kryptonite, really.  If he didn't touch his hammer within 60 second, he turned into a lame (and I mean the physical here) mortal.  How Blake wasn't killed in the 20+ years since his introduction I have no idea.  Getting rid of that part of the comics lets it get into some really sweeping storytelling that didn't require Thor to return to Earth every X days in order to see his patients.

One of the problems I have in this issue is with the use of Nidhogg.  While I agree with his eating the souls of cowards, I don’t agree with him being used to devour the souls of Balder’s foes.  If they were his foes in battle, then they were only cowards if they ran, but the inference here is that Balder killed them.  They shouldn’t be anywhere near Nidhogg, then, since they had an honorable death.  I think this story is just trying to shoehorn Hell into Hel.  The Germanic afterlife is not about bliss vs. torture, it is about continuing on after death and looking after your family still living.  Just because a warrior opposed Balder doesn't mean they should be tortured.  That is reserved for cowards and oath breakers.

Something else I’d like to get out of my system is the use of Midgard = Earth.  I have written before on how I read Midgard as being the dimension that contains Earth, not Earth itself.  The use in the comics, though, is that Midgard is Earth and only Earth.  While this works for kids, such as me when I discovered Thor, it’s a little too simplistic, and human-centric, for my Heathen sensibilities.  I’m pretty sure that in a universe that is known to have life on other planets, the Gods would have an interest in more than one world.  Earth may be where Bifrost opens, hence it is more important, but it wouldn't be the only place that Odin had his eye on.

Next time Thor fights a dragon, gets a new secret identity and runs into a red and blue clad boy scout.

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