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Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Joyous Yuletide to One and All!

I'm taking a break from my traditional postings this week and next week to wish you and yours a very happy holiday season. Be back here on January 9th for more geeky goodness.  Wassail!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Podcast Round-Up

As those of you who read this blog regularly know, I have recently gotten into listening to podcasts.  I thought I'd share the list of those that I either am listening too or am going to check out, just in case you would like to take a listen for yourself.  Also, if there are any not on this this that you think I might like, please let me know.

I should point out two things.  First, these are in the order they appear on my player at the moment, not in any type of ranking.  Second, most of these contain some language that is not appropriate for the entire family.  You have been warned.

The Alton Browncast - Do you like Good Eats?  If so, this the podcast for you.  Alton Brown doesn't limit his topics to food, though.  He's talked about guitars, fashion, and other things that are of interest to him.

Fantastic Fourcast - Starting at Fantastic Four #1 and going issue by issue may seem like a herculean task, but Dave Elliot takes it on with a wry sense of humor.  These episodes are short, so you can catch up pretty quick.

From Crisis to Crisis: A Superman Podcast - Going from Man of Steel (the comic mini-series, not the movie) to Infinite Crisis, Michael Bailey and Jeffery Taylor are tackling my favorite Superman month by month.  I would recommend this to anyone interested in late '80's to '90's comics, whether or not they are a fan of Superman.

Radio Free Asgard - Tom Harris tackles my favorite super hero (you did see the name of this blog, right?) with his witty reenactments of the issues.  He also will occasionally take a bit of Norse Lore and act that out for the audience, which lends a nice background to the comic stories.

Fat Man on Batman - Kevin Smith interviews the people behind the Bat, including such greats as Paul Dini, Mark Hamill, Kevin Conroy, and Adam West.  Definately on the saltier side, language-wise, but worth it for the background on these people.

Taking Flight - A Robin and Nightwing Podcast?  How could I resist?  Tom Panarese has an interesting take on Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake.  If you have any interest at all on Robin or Nightwing, I would give it a listen.

The Fire & Water Podcast - Yeah, I've written about these guys before, but I'm going to do it again.  Why?  Well, it's probably because Rob and Shag have a great chemistry and do some great shows.  Not only about Firestorm and Aquaman, but also about Who's Who in the DC Universe,  the Super Powers toys, DC Superheroes Role Playing Game, and Power Records, among other things.  Give it a listen.  You'll be glad you did.

The Ninjaverse - I have only listened to one show so far, but I like the chemistry of all the guys involved.  Whether you're into movies, TV shows, video games, or other kinds of geekery, I'm sure you'll find something you'd like here.

The Unique Geek - I haven't had a chance to listen to any of these episodes yet, but since Shag (of #fwpodcast fame) is involved, it should be good.

Views from the Longbox - Michael Bailey's flag ship podcast has a little bit of everything, comics, TV, personal history, Movies, comics, Con reports, comics.  You get the idea.  Very entertaining and usually informative.  Whether Michael is going solo or has one of his frequent guest hosts, it's well worth your time.

Mission Log: A Roddenbery Star Trek Podcast - John Champion and Ken Ray are going through ALL of the Star Trek episodes and movies one by one, starting with The Cage.  Highly entertaining and very informative.  While I don't always agree with some of their conclusions about certain episodes, they will definitely give you something to think about.  I would recommend it more for people that are current Trek fans, as there is a lot of detail being thrown around that might have new fans a little confused.

Star Trek Monthly Monday - This is on my list to start listening to, I just haven't gotten a chance yet.

Star Wars Monthly Monday - Part of the Two True Freaks network, Scott Gardner and Chris Honeywell cover all things Star Wars, but my favorite part is the Marvel Comics coverage.  Highly recommended for any Star Wars fans out there.

Bailey's Batman Podcast - Michael Bailey covers various parts of the Batman universe on this show, which comes out when it comes out.  It was originally an issue by issue show, but has turned into whatever topic Michael wants to cover.  Since he does so many other podcasts, I'm pretty sure his time is at a premium and this one will be back when life let's him do it again.

Green Lantern's Light - This one is on indefinite hiatus, but Michael Bradley, Jeffrey Taylor and J. David Weter were doing a great job of examining Green Lantern from the late Bronze Age on.  I would love to see it come back, and I would recommend any Lantern fans out there give it a listen.

Tales of the Justice Society of America - Michael Bailey and Scott Gardner tackle the Justice Society.  The last episode was posted in February 2012, so I think this one is done for the foreseeable future, but it's still well worth the listen.  If anyone has an interest in Earth 2 or World War II era superheroes, I would recommend going through these episodes.

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.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thor’s Day – Thor #342

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

Series:                               Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                 342
Title:                                  “The Last Viking”
Pencils & Story:                Walter Simonson
Inks:                                   Terry Austin
Colors:                               Christie Scheele
Lettering:                           John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                               Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:                  Jim Shooter
Cover:                                Walter Simonson

In Asgard we see the glittering halls of Valhalla, where the honored dead are taken by the Valkyries.  As is his habit, Odin is in attendance, toasting the heroes, but he is apprehensive as he feels a great confrontation is approaching.  The woman Saga brings him his refilled cup and she comments on Odin being distracted.  He explains that he feels that the only remaining empty seat in the hall is about to be filled, but he doesn’t know precisely what that will lead to.

In Manhattan, Thor is still on the destroyed construction site in his Sigurd Jarlson guise.  He muses with Jerry, the foreman, about Thor being back in New York when he had moved to Chicago.  They are interrupted by a worker who tells Sigurd that the lady he rescued is asking to see him.  She is on a gurney, ready to be placed in the ambulance.  They have a brief moment where she promises to repay him for her rescue.  Sigurd leaves after the ambulance leaves and changes into Thor, ready to investigate the voice that he has now heard calling for him three times.

Returning to the smith, we see him standing before a vast assemblage of beings and he calls for silence.  Using the sword, which nears completion, he banishes the darkness that is hiding Hugin and Munin.  He strikes at them, saying “Let this, then, be the first blow against the power of Asgard!”  Yet again, “Doom!” rings out.

On Earth, Thor has travelled all the way to Antarctica, where he finds a hidden valley, heated by volcanic vents, where there is an old Viking village among green fields.  He investigates and, while there are no people in sight, there is a fresh, but cool, pot of soup.  He continues on and finds a Viking grave yard, where all of the stone ships are pointing to a cave entrance.  Thor enters and is immediately caught in a spear trap when a door slams shut behind him.

In the woods of Nornheim, Balder has set up camp for the night when a stranger asks for hospitality.  This stranger turns out to be Karnilla and she provides him with provisions as well as an offer to seek her out should he ever need a friend.

Back in Antarctica, Thor avoids a series of traps and eventually meets an armored warrior.  The foe throws his spear at Thor and misses.  Thor takes him down with a single blow of Mjolnir and removes his helmet, and is shocked by what he finds.

Elsewhere, Fafnir realizes his mistake of fleeing before Thor, since he wasn’t really being hurt.  The dragon bursts from his hiding place below the river and demands that Thor be brought to him.  Across town Lorelei is brewing a love potion that, once Thor has drunk it, “…will insure that he’ll never think of anyone else again.”

Thor has revealed an old man, Eilif the Lost, in the armor.  After Thor carries Eilif out of the caves, we get the story of how he happened to be there.  Eilif’s ancestors we part of King Harald Hardraada’s army, which invaded England in 1066.  After their defeat, they fled in long ships, which were scattered by a storm.  One ship managed to make it as far South as Antarctica, sailing into a fiord that ended in a cave, which led to the valley that Thor first arrived in.  The ship was wrecked on a submerged rock and the survivors settled in the valley, building the village and turning the cave system into a training ground for warriors.  Eilif was the last chieftain of the tribe and, now that he is old and alone, he wished to call on Thor and die in battle.  He put Thor through the traps to enrage him so that he wouldn’t look too close at his opponent.  Thor claims Eilif’s life as his own and refuses to let him into Valhalla by treachery.

Where it comes from: I find it rather obvious from this issue that Mr. Simonson was (and possibly still is) unaware of Ásatrú, or Norse Paganism, which has been around in the United States since the 1970’s.  By placing Eilif in the role of “The Last Viking”, and by stating that Thor hasn’t heard this call in many years, it is implied that there are no worshipers of the Norse Gods in the Marvel Universe.  I find that pretty hard to believe, since Thor and Hercules are obviously real in that universe, that there wouldn’t be any Pagan groups worshiping those Gods.  Heck, Superman inspired a religion in DC, and he isn’t even a God.

King Harald was the king of Norway for 20 years (1046 to 1066).  He invaded England in 1066 in an attempt to take the throne from King Harold Godwinson in September of 1066, but was killed at the Battle of Stamford Bridge.  After this victory, Harold Godwinson had to force march South to meet the forces of William of Normandy.  Many attribute Harald Hardraada’s invasion with ensuring that the Norman invasion of England was a success.  Harald did bring women and children along with his army, so Eilif’s ancestors could have made a life in that valley for 900+ years.  The family tree, however, would have resembled a trunk and the amount of recessive genetic problems that would have resulted from so much inbreeding probably account for a single old man being the only survivor.

I should point out that Valhalla is not the end-all, be-all of the Norse afterlife.  Many Heathens, then and now, would not have died in battle and, therefore, not have had the opportunity to go to join the Einherjar.  Most of the dead would simply journey to Hel and join their ancestors, where death continues pretty much how life did.  In fact, the fighting all day and feasting all night aspect of Valhalla would seem to some, myself included, to be much less desirable than being reunited with their family and watching over their decendants.

Next time the final fate of Eilif and Fafnir.