Thursday, January 23, 2014

Thor’s Day – Thor #344

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

Series:                           Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                             344
Title:                              “Whatever Happened to Balder the Brave?”
Art & Story:                   Walter Simonson
Colors:                            Christie Scheele
Lettering:                        John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                           Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:              Jim Shooter
Cover:                             Walter Simonson

We open at Nornkeep, Fortress of the Norn Queen, Karnilla.  A large wolf walks into the gates and the guards do nothing, since they recognize this wolf as Geri, one of Odin’s companions.  Geri has come to summon Balder, who apparently has accepted Karnilla’s invitation from issue 342, back to Asgard.  Baldur agrees to go back.

Meanwhile, Odin sits in silence on his thrown, looking at the injured Muninn.  Frigga, Odin’s wife, enters and lets him know that she’s been worried about him and she wants to help.  Odin hints at what he wants Balder to do, saying only that he may never forgive Odin.  Odin relates what happened since he returned from his visit to Earth, which included Heimdall showing him Muninn and Odin speaking with his raven for a long time.  He tells Frigga that “The danger is even greater than I feared.”  When Balder arrives, Odin tells him that he must deliver a message to Loki, the god responsible for Balder’s death (in Thor #274).  Odin convinces him that Balder is the only possible messenger, and Balder accepts.

Meanwhile, on Earth, Lorelei (disguised as Melodi) is giving Thor (disguised as Sigurd Jarlson) a backrub, where she pushes a little too hard in one spot and hurts him.  Apparently the backrub is so relaxing that Thor falls asleep!  This ticks Lorelei off but she leaves him a note about cooking him dinner on Saturday, and then goes back to her own apartment.

We join Balder as he rides, on his horse Silverhoof, out of Asgard and towards Loki’s castle.  He faces many dangers, such as the Living Landslide, Forbidden Forest and Deadly Desert, eventually making it to the Castle of Loki.  On the path up to the castle, he is attacked by what he believes are Trolls, but he recognizes them just before he is overwhelmed, but that remains a mystery for the reader.

The Smith has now completed forging the sword Twilight and he tempers it in lakes of brimstone.

Back at Loki’s castle, Balder is brought in, hands tied behind his back, and confronts the God of Evil with the accusation that he is harboring Demons of Fire.  Loki tells Balder that Odin’s rules don’t apply in his castle, and the demons aren’t his.  They belong to Malekith, The Dark Elf.  Apparently, Malekith and Balder are there to compete for Loki’s aid in the coming battle.  Malekith taunts Balder and the Bright One breaks his bonds and escapes.  The demons pursue him, and Balder begs Loki not to make him fight, as he has sworn to never do battle again.  Finally, cornered and desperate, Balder reaches for a dropped sword.

On Earth, Sigurd is back n the construction site, helping clean up in the wake of Fafnir.  Jerry, the foreman, is suspicious of Sigurd’s SHIELD connections and how he jumps around the site with little effort.  He finally pieces it together and realizes that Sigurd is actually Spider-Man.

Balder, now holding a sword, begs the demons not to make him fight, but they are intent on killing him.  They throw their spears and one gets a glancing blow.  This is Balder’s breaking point.  He leaps into battle and Kills. Them. All.  When he makes it back to Malekith and Loki, Balder stabs at Malekith and the Dark Elf vanishes, leaving only his robes behind.  With all that done, Balder delivers Odin’s scroll to Loki, who tosses it aside.  He tells Balder that he has already accepted Malekith’s offer, and he waited until k now to say anything because “…it was so delightful to watch a pacifist slay <Malekith’s> thousands that I simply couldn’t bring myself to mention it before this.”  This, along with Loki’s continued taunting, so enrages Balder that he cuts of Loki’s head!

In Nornkeep, Karnilla and Hagg are wondering about Balder’s fate when an alarm sounds.  Apparently, Karnilla keeps a watch for anyone leaving Loki’s castle.  This time it is Balder, with a look on his face that makes both of them realize that something bad has happened.  Balder is riding Silverhoof out into the expanses beyond Nornheim, to lose himself in the trackless desert.

Meanwhile, in the Castle of Loki:

Where it comes from: As those that have seen Thor: The Dark World will recognize Malekith, although he is dressed slightly more flamboyantly in the comics.  This is the first time we see him, although we heard his voice in issue 341, answering the call of the Smith.  Malekith, while a member of the Dark Elves of Svartalfheim, is an invention of Simonson.  This will not be the last time we see him, as he will figure prominently in the storyline we are currently involved in.

I must point out what I think is a coloring error, and that would be on Frigga’s hair.  In this issue her hair is colored black, but in subsequent appearances it is white, as is Odin’s.  I don’t know what color her hair was prior to this, as I have only read some of the pre-Simonson Thor (and now Tom Harris is yelling at me), but I want to chalk this up to a simple error.

Balder’s pacifist vow, which is broken this issue, is a direct result of his visit to Hel, which I discussed back on issue 340. He is still haunted by having sent so many warriors to Hel, and even though his opponents are demons he is treating fighting as an alcoholic would drinking, one is too many.  He falls completely off the wagon in this issue, though, and punishes himself for it by riding out into the endless desert in order to kill himself through exposure.  We will be seeing more of Balder’s fate in the issues to come.

Next time the action returns to Earth where some mystical dealings are afoot, and fast food is the ultimate weapon.

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