Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #343

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

  Series:                                 Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                  343
Title:                                    “If I Should Die Before I Wake…”
Art & Story:                        Walter Simonson
Colors:                                 Christie Scheele
Lettering:                            John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                                Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:                   Jim Shooter
Cover:                                 Walter Simonson

In the South Bronx Fafnir the dragon is wreaking havoc, demanding that Thor come and face him.  The Eyewitness News chopper, carrying reporter Greg Glenn, follows Fafnir and broadcasts his rampage to the city.  Glenn gives voice to the question on everyone’s mind, “Where is the Mighty Thor?”  Among those wondering is Lorelei, who is lounging in her Central Park Penthouse watching the televised reports.
Thor is in Antarctic, where we left him last time, with Eilif the Lost.  Thor tells Eilif that only Odin and the Valkyries can grant access to Valhalla, but he will take Eilif’s fate into his hands.  Thor tells him to put his armor back on and follow him.  They climb one of the peaks surrounding the valley and wait for a sign.  After half an hour Thor’s Chariot and Cloudrider, the winged horse of the hero Valkyrie, whose real name is Brunnhilde, appear so that they can ride into battle together.

In Nornheim, Karnilla broods over Balder and how he sees only death around him.  She (rightly) blames this on Loki and swears to make him pay.  Haag, her servant/counselor, chides Karnilla for mooning over “a ruined warrior” and teases her about inviting Odin to dinner.  Karnilla throws her out and thinks how she wanted Balder when he was pure and unspoiled, and whether it would be worth the effort to try and bring him back to that state.

Back in Antarctica, Thor and Eilif prepare to ride, but Eilif complains that his old age has made him worthless in a fight.  Thor doesn’t like this and asks if he seeks “A cheap seat in the halls of Valhalla”.  Eilif is shamed into rising to the challenge and Thor blesses him with renewed vigor.  The mount and are prepared to leave when they see a stranger watching them.  Eilif does all the talking (as we and Thor know that this is Odin in his guise as The Wanderer) and gets his spear blessed.

Elsewhere, the smith is reaching the end of the sword’s forging and he is ready to name it.  “… and the name is – Twilight!”

In the South Bronx, Fafnir is tearing through the city, and the National Guard, when Thor and Eilif show up, giving the dragon a hammer to the head.  Using Cloudrider and the chariot, Thor and Eilif evade or block Fafnir’s blows.

We switch back to Asgard, where Heimdall stands on Bifrost and sees a darkness coming closer.  Out of the darkness comes Muninn, returned to his normal size, injured and carrying a feather in his beak.  Heimdall turns back the chasing darkness and dreads that this means some evil is awake.  And Odin is not in Asgard to help.

Back at the battle, we have the first appearance of Chuck Cherkle, giving us a play by play for On The Spot News.  Thor and Eilif are holding their own, but not making any headway, even when Thor hits Fafnir with a blow whose force is “…felt as far away as Pennsylvania!”  Eilif diflects the dragon fire, but is knocked off of Cloudrider by Fafnir’s tail. He falls to the ground with a tremendous “CRASSHH!”  Distracted, Thor is knocked out of his chariot and knocked away by the self-same tail.  Eilif emerges from the rubble, looking pretty bad off, but driven b y his duty to Thor.  He climbs, slowly, up above the dragon, spear in hand.  He dives off, using his weight to drive the spear into Fafnir’s hide, hurting him and getting swatted away for his trouble.  Thor seizes the opportunity and uses Mjolnir to drive the spear into Fafnir’s heart, killing him instantly. 

Eilif, however, is also dead and Thor is greatly upset by it.  Thor builds a pyre out of the rubble from the battle and lays Eilif on top of it, with Fafnir at his feet, like the dogs buried/burned with Vikings of old.  He then calls the storm and uses lightning to start the fire “and the pyre erupts in glory!”  The All-Father is then glimpsed with Eilif on Cloudrider being guided to Valhalla by the Valkyries.

Thor returns to him apartment as Sigurd Jarlson and has a visitor.  Lorelei, disguised as Melodi, has stopped by to thank Sigurd for saving her life by giving him a back rub.

Where it comes from: This is pretty much a straight up fight issue, with a few sub-plots advanced.  What I’m going to focus on here, though, is the worldview of the Norse when it comes to death.  There are basically three places that the dead go.  The most well-known is Valhalla, where the heroes of battle, such as Eilif, are taken to fight all day and feast all night.  This is a place of warriors and it is meant to gather an army to fight on the side of the Aesir during Ragnarok.  Another destination is Niffleheim, the primordial realm of ice.  This is where the dishonored dead; the murderers, oath-breakers and outlaws; go to have Nidhogg, who we’ve seen before, devour them.  The last place would be Hel, or Helheim, which is where everyone else goes.  I discussed Valhalla and Hel last time, so I won’t get into it again.

I would like to define some terms, though, for the non-Heathens out there.  In the Norse world-view, a “murderer” is someone who kills another human and does not take credit for it.  If you refuse this responsibility, there is no way retribution, be it wergild or some other punishment, could be rightfully leveled by the family of the deceased.  An oath-breaker is obviously someone who has gone back on their word, but when that is what holds the fabric of society together, it is a tremendous crime.  Lastly, when I refer to an “outlaw”, I don’t mean a Robin Hood type.  I mean Utgard, or outsider.  Someone who, for whatever reason, has been cast out or the tribe and is no longer considered a person.  What I mean by that is they can be killed without any retribution being taken on the killer or killer’s family.  They are called, and treated like, a wolf.

Next time we find out whatever happened to Balder the Brave.

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