John Dunbar re-reads Thor (Journey Into Mystery 83 and up)

Thor debuted in Journey Into Mystery 83, cover-dated August 1962.  This was, of course, the very early days of modern Marvel.  The Fantastic Four had only 5 issues under their belts, and the Incredible Hulk had just 2.  JIM was a monthly title (FF and Hulk were bi-monthlies), so Thor was actually the first super-hero headliner to appear every month, beating out Ant-Man by a month.  Spider-Man also debuted in Aug '62, but would have to wait 7 months to get his own magazine.

Of all the Silver Age Marvel books, JIM/Thor seems to get a lot less love and respect than other creations.  That may be because Thor is not really a creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as it is their adaptation of the Thor of Norse myths.  There is one aspect of Marvel's Thor that is possibly borrowed from the Fawcett Captain Marvel, and in some of the early stories, Thor comes across as a poor man's Superman.

In the first year or so, Stan sometimes was credited as the writer, sometimes only the plotter.  It's debatable how much he did or didn't do - it always will be, I suppose - but one thing for sure, he very obviously didn't do the dialogue every issue.  Jack did the pencils on JIM 83-89, 93, and 97, and then was the regular penciller every month starting with 101.  Jack also did the backup feature, Tales of Asgard, starting in JIM 97, a very significant - and excellent - strip on its own.

Inspired by the Baron, I'm going to re-read the Thor stories starting with JIM 83 and give you my thoughts.  I may stop at Kirby's last issue, or I may keep going, I haven't really decided yet.  Like Bob, I'm going to try to be succinct, even though it's not my strong suit - I'm sure I'll be long winded from time to time.  I'm looking forward to what you guys think of these stories as well.

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TALES OF ASGARD - THE STORY THUS FAR ...

Tales of Asgard from Thor #140, "The Battle Begins!"

Mogul's slave, the gigantic Jinni Devil, attacks the Asgardians.  Thor retaliates by hurling his hammer and causing the Jinni great pain.  Hogun warns Thor that it must be he that draws first blood.  He smashes the Jinni with his mace but the monster laughs it off.  He grabs Hogun and threatens to kill him.  Fandral lunges at the Jinni with his sword, ignoring Hogun telling him to stay back.  The jab is painful enough that the Jinni releases the Grim One.

Thor warns his fellow Asgardians that the Jinni is enraged and is about to use his magic powers against them.  His attack staggers them but Hogun tells them not to despair ... "'Twill soon be dark!"

Far below the surface, Mogul is observing the battle on a monitor with some advisors.  He tells them the Jinni has made a fatal mistake by dawdling too long with the Asgardians.  Once the first shadow of nightfall is seen, the temperature changes the body fabric of the Jinni.  That one weakness caused all of the other Jinnis to perish, and Mogul's servant is the last of his race.  Mogul remains unconcerned, even if the Jinni fails, believing himself to be unbeatable.

Night falls, and the Jinni Devil indeed fades into nothingness when the first shadows appear.  The Asgardians head toward Zanadu to confront Mogul, and Hogun vows to slay his enemy.

TALES OF ASGARD (Thor 141 - June 1967)

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Led by Hogun, the Asgardians storm Mogul's kingdom.  Mogul's subjects are terrified and they scatter.  Thor warns that the villain may strike when they least expect, but Hogun vows he will never let down his guard.  Volstagg, meanwhile, sees two men carrying what appears to be a female in a litter chair, and wonders if Mogul is being crafty and hiding within the conveyance.  As his fellows charge forward, Volstagg turns to investigate.

Hogun, Fandral, and Thor soon find themselves confronted by a corps of sword wielding soldiers.  Despite being outnumbered, the Asgardians get the better of their opponents.  At the same moment, Mogul is in his castle, about to sentence Alibar the Thief to death for stealing food from the royal kitchen.  However, he stays the execution to make better use of him.  He knows the Asgardians are close and seek his life and his royal battle standard, and he has a plan.

Mogul grants Alibar a pardon.  Alibar asks him why, but Mogul's only response is to garb him in princely raiment..  He also gives him a steed, saying a warrior must have one.  Alibar still doesn't understand, and Mogul replies that he respects his courage, and wants him to be a knight, to battle the enemies of the realm.  Alibar figures it out - Mogul wants him to fight, and die, in his place, especially after Mogul hands him the battle standard.  Mogul also gives him an army to lead.  It is an army of demons - Satan's Forty Horsemen!  They proclaim death to the Asgardians.  Alibar realizes he is still a slave, that he doesn't lead Satan's Forty, but is merely along for the ride, and that Mogul has doomed all who live!

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My rating: 9/10

The story has turned a corner, as Mogul's Jinni Devil is out of the equation, and Mogul's true colors are revealed - he is a coward.  The Asgardians are closing in, and Mogul knows he is doomed unless he does something drastic.  Alibar seems intriguing as soon as he is introduced.  He doesn't even pretend to be grateful to Mogul for sparing him but guesses - correctly - that the tyrant has an ulterior motive.

This chapter is a great display of the character of the Asgardians.  Hogun is completely obsessed with getting to Mogul and won't let anything stop him.  Fandral is laughing in the face of death, demanding Mogul's forces bring him a master swordsman to test his mettle.  Thor takes an uncharacteristic supporting role, backing up the others with his hammer and his fists; however, this is a wise course to take with Hogun being as single-minded as the story has shown him to be.  Volstagg seems obviously taken by a pretty face, but who knows where this will go?

Jack draws some terrifying looking demons.  Satan's Forty Horsemen should make for interesting opponents for our heroes in the next segment.

I like these Tales of Asgard in that despite the fact that Thor is clearly the star and by far the most powerful Asgardian, aside from Big Daddy Odin, Kirby lets Hogun, Fandral and even Volstagg have their moments to shine, even if Volstagg's moments are mainly for laughs.  It's a good mix of comradery, drama and humor that Lee & Kirby excelled at in these stories.



Fred W. Hill said:

I like these Tales of Asgard in that despite the fact that Thor is clearly the star and by far the most powerful Asgardian, aside from Big Daddy Odin, Kirby lets Hogun, Fandral and even Volstagg have their moments to shine, even if Volstagg's moments are mainly for laughs.  It's a good mix of comradery, drama and humor that Lee & Kirby excelled at in these stories.


Agree 100% with your assessment.

Now that they finally published Thor Epic Collection vol 3 I can follow along. They published vol 4 before vol 3!

I agree with your observations. Up until now Mogul's land was spelled "Zanadu." In the Alibar story it is suddenly "Xandu." Stan should have written more notes instead of trying to remember names.

Merely a variant spelling, like Peking/Beijing.

The Captain posted on the source of "Zanadu" p.95. "Xanadu" has its currency to English speakers from the opening the opening of Coleridge's great poem "Kubla Khan", which begins

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea...

Which we have no idea where it will go, since he couldn't remember the rest of it.



Richard Willis said:

Now that they finally published Thor Epic Collection vol 3 I can follow along. They published vol 4 before vol 3!

Hooray!  Marvel does tend to publish the various Epic Collections volumes randomly.  Here's how the chronological order went for Thor: Vol 16, 11, 1, 4, 12, 2, 17, 3

After a too long hiatus, this thread is back ... stay tuned!

THOR ANNUAL 2 (1966)
"If Asgard Falls .."

Scripted in Solemn Splendor by: STAN LEE
Illustrated in Idealistic Imagery by: JACK KIRBY
Delineated in Delicious Delicacy by: VINCE COLLETTA
Lettered in Living Luminescence by: SAM ROSEN
Unaffected by the Unabashed Utterances of: IRVING FORBUSH

Cover by Jack Kirby and Vince Colletta
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In Asgard, Odin announces a Tournament of Titans, open to every warrior from every land.  The winner will be awarded a suit of golden armor, proclaiming him a champion of Asgard.  He sends out torch bearers to light the Beacon of the Brave, which can be seen in every corner of the cosmos.  This is seen in a limbo called non-space by Loki and Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man.  Creel asks Loki what this all means but Loki dismisses him due to what he calls Creel's past failures.  Loki is upset that he can't be in the tournament, as he considers himself the craftiest champion of all.  However, he thinks to himself he will have the final victory due to the power of thought.

Back in Asgard, Thor listens while Odin is reminiscing on his glory days, lamenting that the old must ever give way to the young.  He keeps prattling on, forgetting Thor must stand at attention in his presence.  While Odin rambles, the Warriors Three are at the window, trying to get Thor's attention, so they can go carousing.  Eventually, Odin realizes what is going on and allows Thor to depart.

Thor and friends are discussing the upcoming tourney when suddenly they see a figure being thrown through a tavern window.  They go inside and see a very large man beating up on smaller opponents.  He identifies himself as Brok, and he is accompanied by his brothers Tyr the swordsman, Galp of the Steel Arm, and a troll named Drom, also known as the Spirit Weaver.  They are about to fight when Drom suggests they battle each other at the tournament, where he claims he and his brothers will win the suits of golden armor.  Tyr, Galp, and Brok challenge Fandral, Hogun, and Thor respectively.  Volstagg is almost giddy as he challenges Drom, who retorts:
"Think twice, buffoon!  Perhaps there be one yet smaller than I!"
Loki's body remains in the limbo called non-space but he is able to send a thought-image of himself to Earth. In this form, he journeys to Asia, and unearths and resurrects the Destroyer! The indestructible entity proclaims that Odin's life is now at stake.

Back in Asgard, the warriors have assembled for the Tournament of Titans.  They have been divided into two groups, each with their own pennant.  The first pennant to fall means that group is defeated.  Soon after the battle begins, Thor notices that for each warrior he knocks off their horse, two more appear seemingly out of thin air.  While Drom has used his sorcery to cause Fandral and Hogun to be defeated, and for Thor to be faces an unending number of foes, Brok, Tyr, and Galp have broken through to the rear.  Volstagg holds the pennant for the Asgardians, and he never sees the attack coming, until it is too late!

Just then, on the Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall hears a roar from the arena, signifying the capture of Volstagg's pennant.  Suddenly, Heimdall notices a figure approaching Asgard and then realizes to his horror that it's the Destroyer.  He tries to stop it but is quickly defeated.  The Destroyer declares before the day ends, Odin will be no more, the Destroyer will rule the universe, and Loki will rule the Destroyer!
Back at the arena, Thor and company regroup.  They issue a personal challenge in an effort to regain their pennant, and the battle is on again.  Volstagg charges at Drom, who transforms into a monster larger than Volstagg himself.  Volstagg cowers, but suddenly Drom flees the scene.  Drom was actually running from the Destroyer, and when Volstagg sees it, he thinks it is another one of Drom's illusions.  He tries to barrel it over by charging at it, but the Destroyer is unmoved.  He hurls a bolt at Volstagg and leaves him buried up to his chest in rubble.

The tourney is momentarily forgotten as warriors from all sides join together to try and stop the Destroyer.  A large group attack first, only to have all their swords shattered at once.  They realize the Destroyer is headed in Odin's direction and do their best to stop him, but fail.  Odin discerns that since the Destroyer has no will of its own, he must be being guided by an immortal, and states only Loki would dare to be behind this.

Thor and his chums end up getting the better of their tournament rivals and then turn their attention to the threat of the Destroyer.  They also remark (and totally out of the blue, really) that it's been a while since they have seen Balder.  Thor hurls his hammer and staggers the Destroyer, and then batters it with an awesome barrage of physicality until the Destroyer falls.  But the creature is far from beaten, and hurls a deadly blast at Thor.  Stunned by some rubble, Thor falters, and the Destroyer again targets Odin.  The All-Father and his creation come face to face, and the Destroyer prepares to unleash a fatal blast.  Thor pleads for his father's life to be spared, offering his own life in Odin's stead.

Suddenly a flying astral figure speeds towards Odin.  It is Balder, who had been sent by Odin to find Loki.  Due to Odin's power, Balder was able to locate Loki's spirit form even though it was a trillion thought years away.  Before the Destroyer can strike, Odin commands that time stands still.  He casts a beam of forgetfulness across the infinite void, and it closes Loki's mind of all thought and memory.  He is defeated, and without his guidance, so too is the Destroyer.

Thor salutes his father for saving the realm, and Odin decrees the glory shall be shared by all.  He address everyone who participated in the tournament, thanking them for all raising their swords for Asgard when the Destroyer attacked.  He proclaims that every year at this same instant, their armor will glow bright gold for one full day.  The warriors salute Odin and Asgard as their battle raiments turn golden.  Even poor Volstage, trapped in the hole that the Destroyer had pounded him into, is adorned in gold, but the Voluminous One has to wait to be rescued from his predicament. 

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My rating: 7/10

A fun romp although a bit clunky at times.  The buildup of the tournament and the event itself are quite enjoyable, with a bit of comedy coming from the Warriors Three, especially the oafish Volstagg, who gets some good lines here.  I thought Brok, Tyr, Galp, and Drom would turn out to be agents of Loki but they just end up being jerks who cheated to win a pennant.  Thor and company get their revenge and were beating the tar out of these guys when the Destroyer showed up - so did Drom and company also get suits of golden armor at the end?

The only weakness of the story comes with the ending.  By the mid to late 1960's, we've seen a number of occasions where Odin's power seems almost limitless.  It feels unlikely that even the Destroyer could end his life, and I feel that Thor should know this.  Odin bestows enough power to Balder to enable him to find Loki even though the God of Mischief is a "trillion thought years" away.  To me, this was one of the clunky things I mentioned above.  Balder is neither seen nor mentioned until the last third of the story, when all of a sudden people are commenting they haven't seen Balder around, then a few pages later he appears!  I'm sure Odin could have used a spell or a doohickey to locate Loki rather effortlessly.  He stops time and then I guess mindwipes Loki.  It's quite a contrast to Odin earlier in the story, lamenting he is too old for things.  This story to me is a good example of Odin playing dice with the lives of others (to borrow a phrase), or being a puppet master if you will.  Odin enacts scenarios knowing what the outcomes will be, and Thor, Loki, the Warriors Three, Balder, and everyone else plays out their designated part.  Breaking the mental connection between the Destroyer and Loki will end up being the extent of the latter's punishment.  Loki will end up doing something similar in his next scheme.  We haven't seen the last of the Destroyer, of course; surprisingly the Absorbing Man won't show up again for a few years.  He'll fight the Hulk in 1970 and it will be 1972 before he encounters Thor again.

Jack Kirby delivers his usual powerful effort on the art, making the most of having 30 pages of story to tell.  He has fun with the Volstagg scenes - the expression on the face of Volstagg's horse as it tries not to buckle under all that girth is hilarious.  Jack also took his time and makes throwaway characters memorable, which was the case for the brothers from the Thousand Galaxies who got to be the opposite numbers for Thor and the Warriors Three.  They were there to help move this story along and never reappeared, but they were still richly fleshed out in this story.  Yet another reason why Jack was the King.

The whole "Hey, where's Balder?  Oh look, it's Balder!" bit aside, Stan Lee did a great job too.  He easily pulled off both majestic and funny in the dialogue.  I found the Thor series hard to get into in the late 70s and early 80s.  I found it stiff and boring; Thor seemed a bit less stuffy in Avengers.  One of the knocks on Marvel in the 70s was that creators were regurgitating the Lee and Kirby stories of their youth.  While that may not have been a fair assessment, one thing I didn't see was the comedy bits Stan and Jack pulled off well.  Thor was never a wise cracker like Spider-Man but in the 60s he loved life and adventure, and I think that was lost somewhat after Stan and Jack left the book.

I'll try not to be so long between re-reading reviews next time!

NEXT: THOR #142 - "THE SCOURGE OF THE SUPER-SKRULL!"

Great to see you back with this thread John. 

Agree with your comments both about this issue and Thor's joi-de-vive in this period  compared to future attitude.

I'm also glad to get back to this thread. 

I was struck by the beauty of the top panel on page 10, showing the four heroes facing off against the four, well, jerks. Their very different looks and sizes are very well defined. I've never really understood the objections to Vince Colletta's inks. IMO, he does a great job here.  

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