Thursday, June 26, 2014

Thor’s Day – Thor #348

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

Series: Thor (Volume 1)
Issue: 348
Title:         “The Dark and the Light”
Story & Pencils: Walter Simonson
Inks:          Bob Wiacek
Colors: Christie Scheele
Lettering:         John Workman, Jr.
Editing:         Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief: Jim Shooter
Cover: Walter Simonson

We open mere moments after the end of last issue, with Malekith levitating the Casket of Ancient Winters into the air. He is preparing to blast a hole to the mortal world, specifically the Cotswolds of England, and then open the Casket, paving the way for his master, Surtur, to enter Midgard. Roger Willis, the mortal who accompanied Thor to Faerie, is starting to regain his sight after being blasted by Malekith. The Oil of Vision, the only thing that allowed Roger to see the Dark Elves, was wiped away by the spell, so all he can see if Melody (the disguised Lorelei) and the Casket floating in the air. Taking a chance that Malekith is directly below the Casket, Roger fires his pistol and wings the Dark Elf. Wormwood, one of Malekith’s minions, catches the falling Casket before it can shatter and freeze Svartalfheim. While the Dark Elves search for Roger, Thor, along with Algrim the Strong, is falling down a pit toward a pool of magma. Thor calls Mjolnir to him and the hammer rescues him in the nick of time.

Balder, meanwhile, is speaking with the Norns, weavers of the fates of all beings. They lament that he has lost the will to live due to his warrior’s prowess being at odds with his gentle nature. They hand him the only pure white strand on their loom, his own thread of life, and tell him to snap it if he truly wishes to die. Balder hesitates and the thread yanks him into the great tapestry woven from all of the life threads of all of the living beings in the universe. Balder is ensnared by his own life and he is able to see the results, both good and ill, of his actions or inactions. His decisions reverberate and affect all those around him. Not able to stand it anymore, Balder rips free of the tapestry, but this causes it to begin to unravel, dooming reality. Finally realizing that he cannot ignore his responsibilities, Balder seizes his thread, broken in his escape, in order to repair the damage. As soon as he grabs it, though, it becomes the reins of Silverhoof, his horse, and Balder is riding through the great dessert and back toward Asgard. He thinks that it was all a dream until he sees a ring made of pure white thread on his finger, reminding him of the lesson he learned. Balder then comes across Agnar of Vanaheim, who is recovering the sword he lent to Balder last issue. Balder swings Agnar up behind him and the pair ride to Asgard, with Agnar mentally changing his vow from one of revenge to one of homage.

 Back in Faerie, Thor and Roger are reunited and concoct a plan to deal with Malekith. The Dark Elf tracks Roger to the cave with the pit trap, and attributes the godly presence he senses to the death of Thor. He spots a figure and blasts it with a spell to make a mortal a slave, but it’s Thor in Roger’s jacket and hat.  Thor fills the room with continual lightning, preventing Malekith from fleeing into the shadows. Malekith transforms into a huge warrior and battles Thor, but the Thunder God is in no mood to mess around and quickly beats Malekith into unconsciousness.

In Asgard, the Warriors Three are assembling the Host of Asgard and Odin is preparing for the coming battle, but he is fearful that they will be vastly outnumbered. Still, he orders his armor readied.

Thor and Roger make their way to the main chamber, where Melody and the Casket are being guarded by only three guards. These are quickly dispatched and Melody is scooped up into Thor’s arms. Roger is not convinced all is as it seems, however, and throws his empty gun at Melody. It turns out that Wormwood was disguised an Melody and, since Roger couldn’t see anyone, he knew that something was up. Melody is found as the Dark Elves return in force. Thor blasts the ceiling, letting in daylight and driving the enemy back. Malekith, however, has regained consciousness and grabs Roger’s discarded weapon, throwing it at the Casket even though it causes him great pain since it is made of steel. The gun his the Casket, shattering it and releasing the elemental cold contained within. This freezes the sealed gateway before Surtur, which he shatters using the sword, Twilight. Surtur is free and in Midgard.

Where it comes from: This issue advances the Malekith/Surtur story to it’s climax, but that’s not what I want to talk about. What I think is much more interesting is the Balder subplot. In this issue we get probably the best summations of the Heathen mindset that I’ve seen. When Balder is trapped in the tapestry he sees the effects of his life choices. His line is: “For every action I take, I see the spreading consequences, the lives I have saved, the lives I have not. And to my left, where the white skein lies still, I see those people whom I have not touched, whose lives I might have changed but left alone. There, too, I see the consequences, the lives I have not saved, the lives I have! For I am bound within the great weave and everything that I do or do not do echoes throughout the fabric around me!” That, right there, is the mindset of a Heathen. We are the sum total of our lives, all of our decisions, actions, and even inactions are part of who we are, and send ripples out into the world to affect those around us. We are all 100% responsible for our actions and must, therefore, accept any consequences of our decisions. While others affect our lives as we affect theirs, no one else can take responsibilities for our lives. Heavy stuff, I know, but Simonson seems to get it.

Next time we find out how Surtur was sealed away and how Odin lost his brothers.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Thor’s Day – Thor #347

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

Series:                                  Thor (Volume 1)
Issue:                                    346
Title:                                     “Into the Realm of Faerie!”
Story & Art:                         Walter Simonson
Colors:                                  Christie Scheele
Lettering:                             John Workman, Jr.
Editing:                                 Mark Gruenwald
Editor In Chief:                    Jim Shooter
Cover:                                   Walter Simonson

We open with Roger Willis hiding in the foliage outside of a castle in the Cotswolds of England, where there is an entrance to the realms of Faerie. He is worried that they are making a rash choice, bringing the Casket of Ancient Winters there, and worries that Thor has not been himself since drinking the Golden Mead. It appears that his fears were justified as he is attacked by three armored Dark Elves and seemingly knocked unconscious. When one of them gets close enough, though, Roger elbows him, even though they cannot be seen by mortals, since he has “fought in darker places than this.” All of this serves to distract the Dark Elves so that they don’t notice the approach of Thor, who knocks them all out with a single blow from Mjolnir. This attack is a little too forceful, however, as it breaks the vials of The Oil of Vision, which will help them see their enemies. Thor pours what little remains over Roger’s eyes, since Asgardians can see some of the Dark Elves, even if it is dimly. Once the Oil takes hold, the castle they are outside of now is shown as truly being ruins.
In Asgard, Balder the Brace is fighting a giant Sand Devil to protect a woman, and he is armed only with a stick of wood. He makes good use of his weapon, though, as he shoves it between the beasts armored plates, hurting it and causing Balder to be thrown to the ground. Impressed by his bravery and skill, Agnar of Vanaheim, who has been following Balder in order to kill him, throws his sword into the fray. Balder uses this gift to strike the Sand Devil inside its mouth, the only vulnerable spot, causing it to flee. The woman thanks him for rescuing her and promises a reward. She and Balder disappear, leaving Agnar alone in the dessert.

Back in England, Thor and Roger have entered the castle, which is the outer gate to the realm of Faerie. They head down a staircase and end up in an underground river, where they are attacked by Water Elementals. Thor creates a water spout by swinging Mjolnir and the entire river is transported away, revealing the great gates. Roger asks that they call in some reinforcements, but Thor is driven by the danger that Melodi (really Lorelei in disguise) is in. An army of Dark Elves waits on the other side of the gates, but Thor smashes through the wall next to them, catching the assembled group by surprise. All of this is being watched by Malekith and his lieutenant, Wormwood, who are planning on using Thor’s attraction to Lorelei to finally defeat him.

Somewhere beyond the great dessert, Balder finds himself in the entrance to a large cavern along with the woman he saved. She reveals that she is one of the Norns, the three sisters that control each individual’s fate, be they mortal or immortal. She and her sisters have been waiting “…since the dawn of time to speak to Balder the Brave at this time and place.” We will have to keep waiting, though.

Thor is so focused on finding Melodi that he gets far ahead of Roger, separating them in the battle. Thor enters a chamber and sees Malekith  throw Melodi to the Water Elementals. Roger calls to him that it is just an illusion, and that Thor had transported that danger away, but Thor pays no heed and charges in. He is attacked from behind by Algrim the Strong, a Dark Elf wearing ebony armor so that he could blend into the shadows. Thor is knocked to the ground, Mjolnir flying from his grasp.

Back in Asgard, Odin has summoned The Warriors Three to him. He commands that they gather and order the fighting men of the realm, so that they might resist the coming storm.

Meanwhile, Algrim has picked up Thor, getting ready to pull a Bane on him, when Thor punches him. At this development, Malekith gives the signal to open the pit trap, sending both Thor and Algrim to their deaths. Without any more support, Roger is captured and brought before Malekith, where he is relieved of The
Casket. Malekith then proceeds to shoot an energy beam at Roger, with the intention of blinding him, so that he will never have to see lesser visions than the land of Faerie. Roger flails around, bending over, and the beam hits him in the top of the head, where he has a steel plate. The plan doesn’t work, however, as he is blinded anyway. Malekith then prepares to open the casket while Surtur stands ready at a sealed gateway.

Where it comes from: The idea of there being access to other realms in England is in no way new. As far back as the tales of King Arthur there were instances of knights traveling to “the other side” in various enchanted forests. Cotswolds, England is actually in the Western part of the country, between Buckingham and Gloucester, pretty close to the Welsh border. Picture The Shire from Tolkien’s work and you’ve got the visual.

While the story is pretty straight forward in all aspects, one thing I have never understood was why the castle looks whole to mortals but is really a ruin. I would think that an intact castle would be far more interesting than a ruin, and I would think it would attract that much more attention.

Next time it all comes to a head as Thor and Roger try and prevent Malekith from opening The Casket of Ancient Winters!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Star Blazers

Those of you that know me personally probably already know that I am a HUGE Star Blazers fan, but I didn't know about the more modern versions of the show until recently. In case you're not sure what I'm talking about, here's the original opening to the show that was shown in the US from 1979 to 1984.

Relatively recently, this show has been redone in two forms. In 2010 a live action movie was released in Japan, under the series original name of Space Battleship Yamato. I have seen this twice in the past couple of weeks and I think it's great. They worked in stuff from the series that I never thought they would or could, and any changes to the characters works really well. You can see the entire movie on YouTube with English subtitles.

The other updated version of this is being done by Voyager Entertainment, the company that owns the rights in the US, and they are taking the original series and reanimating it using current techniques. I'm still looking for the episodes, you you can see the trailers and they look stunning.

Time to break out the DVD's and rewatch The Quest for Iscandar.