• THOR #363:


    I liked the original Secret Wars "maxi-series." (I'll cop to that.) At the time, company-wide crossover series such as Secret Wars and Crisis on Infinite Earths were new and exciting. It is only in subsequent years I have come to see Secret Wars as little more than an excuse to promote a line of toys. But Secret Wars II was a steaming pile of crap from the get-go. No Marvel title was left untouched. Some omnibus editions reprint the individual pages of Secret Wars II which cross over into whichever series is being collected, but I'm glad the Walt Simonson Thor omnibus didn't go that route. Simonson's own recap was more than sufficient. Basically, the Beyonder empowered the deafeated Elf Algrim (from the Malekith storyline) to created the super-powered Kurse. He crossed over from Secret Wars II #6, through Power Pack #18, to Thor #363. And that's basically all you need to know.

    Thor returns to Midgard with the stolen souls and dispatches them to their proper bodies. Now that his task is complete, he grows weary and is contemplating the loss of this father, the death of the Executioner and his own scarred face, when he is accosted by two homeless men looking for a handout. when he tells them that he has no currency of any kind with him, they begin to berate him and ask what super-heroes have done for them. Thor loses his $#!t and removes the scarf from his face, revealiong his scars. "Openyour eyes in witness and tell me truly if you would carry the burden Thor bears." He probably wouldn't have done that if he hadn't been so tired and had been in a better frame of mind, but the bums run in horro from the sight of his face.

    While Kurse is rampaging throughh the streets in search of Thor, the Power Pack kids find Beta Ray Bill recuperating in an alley after his defeat by Kurse. In Asgard, Loki launches his latest attack against Thor by firing a magical bolt to Earth, which strikes an ordinary aproned housewife doing the ironing. Elsewhere, the Beyonder is observing from afar. By this time, Kurse has found Thor and they begin to fight. Back in Asgard, while playing near the Wild Area, Hildy and her friends discover the giant Sword of Surtur where it has lain since he and Odin plunged into the chasm back in #353. But someone else has found it as well, and is in the process of siphoning off its energy. They rush off to tell Heimdall. 

    Back on Midgard, Thor dons his seldom-worn mythic Belt of Strength (which he had stowed in a compartment on his chariot). The belt temporarily boosts his strength, but weakens him afterward. It does, however, compensate for Kurse's power. The Beyonder sees this and increases Kurse's strength even more. Beta Ray Bill and Power Pack join in, and Kurse is defeated when Energizer (the young Katie Power) draws the Asgardian energy of both Mjolnir and Stormbreaker and channels it directly into him. The Beyonder appears and, at thor's suggestion, sends Kurse to seek Malekith in Hel (because Thor knows it will cause problems for Hela). He then warns thor to "beware of kissing any ladies in the near future" and disappears. Beta Ray Bill plans to see the children home, but before he leaves thor invites him to Asgard for the Althing. Just then, the housewife who received Loki's blast appears from nowhere, kisses Thor and turns him into a frog!

    "Not a hoax! Not a dream! Not an imaginary story! NEXT ISSUE: Thor Croaks! (The story they didn't think we had nerve enough to tell!)"

    • Loved this story.  Kurse is at once terrifying and tragic.  Using Power Pack as guest stars is very difficult, but they pulled it off perfectly here.

      And Walt Simonson's Thor, here as ever, is at once very human and very heroic.  And following with the Frog of Thunder provides the perfect palate cleanser for such an impressive sequence of dramatic tales.

  • THOR #364:


    In Asgard, preparations of the Great Althing are underway. Word has gone out far and wide, but where is Thor? His mission to Midgard shouldn't have taken this long. Beta Ray Bill appears, but still not thor as the day grows nearer.

    On  Midgard, Thor has a series of misadventures as a frog. First, he leaps to Avengers Mansion in hope of securing aid. (He was wearing the Belt of Power when he was transformed and is, in fact, a super-powered frog.) He can think and he can speak to the animals, but human speech is denied him. After gaining access to Avengers Mansion, he spills some sugar and writes a message in it: "Help I'm Thor." Although Franklin Richards (who is staying at the mansion at this time) sees it, he cannot read, and Jarvis sees the frog and cleans up the mess without noticing the message. Thor is swept out of the mansion along with the sugar. 

    Leaping to Central Park he funs afoul of a rat named Southside. He fights him off and is befreinded by a frog named Puddlegulp, who tells him of an ongoing war between the rats and the frogs which has recently escalated. He leads him to the frogs settlement in the Reservoir, carefully avoiding the Great Lawn. A fireworks display recently opened up a series of tunnels beneath it, and the tunnels are said to be filled with "dragons." Before they arrive, though, they come upon a pack of rats attking King Glugwort and his party. Gullywhump, the king's bodyguard, is fighting off one of the rats, and Thor drives off the rest, but it is too late to save the king. With his dying breath, King Glugwort asks Thor's help. Back at the Reservoir, thor meets Princess Greensong, Bugeye, Dewlap and others. 

    Meanwhile, back in Asgard, Hildey and her friends discover that Surtur's sword is covered by some sort of cloaking field (which accounts for why Heimdall has not seen it) that can be seen through only in close proximity. On Midgard, a drunk has a comic encounter with Thor's goats, but they and the chariot are covered by Loki's cloak of disruption which prevents them from being detected in  Asgard.

    Word comes that Southside and his forces are massing for an attack. They have gathered rat poison from around the in a bag and plan to dump it into the Reservoir (which, Thor knows, will affect humans in New York City as well). It is imperative that Thor return to Asgard for the Althing, yet is is drawn to help these frogs who have taken him in and shown him such hospitality. Hea sks to be taken to see these "dragons." 

    In Asgard, the first order of business is to choose the Lawgiver who shall govern the Great Althing. Loki nominates the Grand Vizier to rousing applause. There are no other nominations, so the Grand Vizier is chosen to act as Lawgiver. Heimdall doesn't know quite what Loki is up to, but is obviously suspicious nonetheless. Just then, Hildey arrives and tells Heimdall about the cloaked sword. He still can't see it, but know that he knows it's there, he does notice the field of distortion surrounding it. He sends Hildy to fetch the Warriors Three on the QT. The Grand Vizier calls for the sons of Odin to step forward. Loki does, but after three calls, thor has still not shown himself, causing a great murmur among the crowd. Suddenly, much to Loki's surprise, Thor does arrive!

    Back below the surface of Central Park, the real Thor learns that the "dragons" are, in fact, alligators (just like the urban legends have always said). they are apparently being controlled by a man who calls himself the Piper. When he spies a frog dragging several rats by the tail, he calls out to it, but Thor slinks away. Then the Piper begins playing his flute and, quite against his will, Thor finds himself leaping to the alligators' mouths!

    This issue is dedicated to Carl Barks "and all the other heroes and villains of Duckburg." the tongue-in-cheek "next issue" blurbs continue with "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner or It's Not Easy Being Green!! (with apologies to the movies and the Muppets!)."

    I was surprised at the time I first read this story how much I enjoyed it. I am usually not a fan of anything even remotely silly (such as every "Mr. Mxyzptlk" story ever written), but Thor #364 never crossed that fine line between tongue-in-cheek and outright silly. I didn't think about it at the time, but I'm sure Luis is correct that this three-issue "frog" story was presented as a counterpoint to the two-issue "Hel" story.

    • I was on a decade long break from comics when Walt Simonson produced this classic run of Thor. I began catching up twenty years after the fact reading the stories as I found them through back issues and various collections. My perception of the various storylines has been affected by this haphazard reading. For example, I read the Thor-frog issues long before reading the Hel story. Seeing the frog storyline as a relief from the previous darker story was lost on me. 

  • THOR #365:


    SUMMARY: Thor leaps across the backs and snouts of the alligators toward the Piper and purposefully slams into him hard enough to cause him to drop his flute. Now out of his control, the gators rush to attack the Piper. Thor grabs the Piper's flute and lures the gators to the surface (not by playing it; they're just chasing him). Topside, the frogs are massing to attack the rats, who are in the process of poisoning the Central Park Reservoir. Puddlegulp makes a reference to the Steelers vs. the Rams in Superbowl XIV (Huh?!) 

    In Asgard, when Loki sees that "Thor" has somehow managed to attend the Great Althing, he suggests a recess so that thor may recover from the wounds he received in Hel, which the Gran Vizier grants. "Thor" goes to join Heimdal and the Warriors Three. Loki tries to eavesdrop. After a brief conversation, the Warriors Three depart, and "Thor" accompanies Heimdal to his home. Loki turns into a fly so that he may spy on them. He successfully follows them into Heimdall's house, but when they withdraw to Heimdall's private chambers, he uses his Uru sword to set up a barrier, keeping Loki out. 

    Back in Central Park, Thor leads the alligators directly into the midst of the rats' ranks, more than decimating them. The threat of the rats is now neutralized... at least for now. The Piper then comes upon the scene and retrieves his flute. In a monologue, he reveals that he is a Morlock (which explains his powers). He is firmly on the side of the frogs at this point, and leads the alligators back into the sewers.

    Back in Asgard, Loki resumes human form and quickly determines that "Mjolnir" is a clever replica. He casts a spell on it and resumes fly form. Then Heimdall emerges from his private chambers with Harokin, who is a dead ringer for Thor anyway, except for his hair color. 

    Beneath the Gatehouse on the southern shore of the Reservoir, Puddlegulp proposes that thor marry Princess Greensong and become their new King, an offer which Thor graciously refuses. He takes his leave and rejoins his goats in the ally off Fifth Avenue near Avengers Mansion. The goats recognize him, bespite him being in frog form. He decides in order to  be restored to his proper self, he must return to Asgard. He endeavors to lift Mjolnir and stike in on the ground in a scene reminiscent of Spider-Man lifting that machinery in Spider-Man #33. The rats are attacking, seeking revenge, and Thor succeeds at the last possible moment, transforming himself into a man-sized frog dressed in Thor's costume. The "next issue" blurb asks the question: "What do you call a 6' 6" fighting-mad bullfrog?" (I'll let you mull that over until next time.)

    COMMENTARY: It was good.

    • Puddlegulp makes a reference to the Steelers vs. the Rams in Superbowl XIV (Huh?!) 

      Oh, crap! I just realized I neglected to post the payoff to this setup. It is revealed before Thor takes his leave that Puddlegulp was once a man who got on the bad side of a fortune-teller in Greenwich Village who turned him into a frog. Turns out he prefers the (relatively) stress-free life of a frog, and now strives to avoid being kissed by pretty girls.

  • THOR #366:


    Q: "What do you call a 6' 6" fighting-mad bullfrog?"

    A: "Sir!"

    SUMMARY: Without Bifrost in place, it takes the "Thunder Frog" days to cross the cosmic storms which rage between the realms of Midgard and Asgard. Loki confers with Malekith, who is guest in his castle, while Heimdall and the Warriors Three discuss the path forward. Hogun, for one, will no longer participate in the deception of Harokin masquerading as Thor. Hildy and her friends who discovered the location of Surtur's sword has all taken ill, and concern for his daughter has prevented Volstagg from pursuing the mater. But now it becomes imperative that the sword be located, espacially if Loki is behind the si[phoning of its power. So, against his wife's wishes, Volstagg takes Hildey from her sickbed, straps her to his chest, and the two of them set out in search of the Surtur's sword. (Kudos to Christie Scheele, BTW, for her coloring oof the feverish Hildy: pale with sunken eyes.)

    Meanwile, the Great Althing reconvenes. The Thunder Frog watches for a distance. Loki gives an empassioned speech as to why he should be elected ruler of Asgard. To puncuate it, he grabs the false Mjolnir from Harokin and lifts it high over his head, greatly impressing the crowd. Then he tosses it out of the arena, and the spell he cast on it last issue causes it to return. It is at this point the Thunder Frog chooses to make his appearance (in a fiull-page panel reminiscent of the pin-up Bill Seinkiewicz did for Superman #400, if you're familiar with that). 


    Thor is moving almost too fast to be seen, but he snatches Loki and the crowd thinks Thor is some sort of demon-thing. Heimdall tells Harokin to divest himself of his Thor disguise and everyone sets out in pursuit of Thor and Loki. Meanwhile in Hel, Kurse is running amock, decimating Hela's realm in the process. She orders her hordes to drive him toward the bridge across the River Gjoll and out of Hel, vowing revenge on Thor. On the outskirsts of Asgard, thor and Loki begin to fight. Loki casts spells to further devolve Thor into a frog-like state,  but Thor is still wearing his Belt of Strength and Loki is no match for him. Thor can no longer speak and his mind is now so animal-like he cannot hold himself back even if he wanted to.

    Beyond the city at the edge of the wilderness, the closer they get to Surtur's sword, the sicker and more feverish Hildy becomes. Volstagg is starting to be affected, too, and set Hildy down while he contemplates his next move. He becomes so dizzy that he stubles into a column of rocks. His sheer girth topples the rocks and causes an avalanche, destroying the device siphoning the power of the sword. Volstagg and Hildy recover immediately, and Volstagg pretends that that was his plan all along. Back at the battle between Thor and Loki, the destruction on Loki's power-siphon causes Thor to be restored to normal. Just then, the crowd from Asgard arrives. Relaizing that he has no proof of Loki's perfidy, he says that Loki's contact with the "demon-thing" has infected Loki with some sort of "sorcerous effluvia." To prove his point, he tosses Mjolnir to Loki, which of course he cannot lift.

    Thor then removes his scarf to reveal the scars he received in defense of the Realm. The crowd unanimously supports Thor as new their ruler, but Thor renounces his claim, explaining that his duty is equally divided between two worlds: Asgard and Midgard. He then nominates Balder the Brave, whom the crowd wholeheartedly approves. Then Thor sends Hogun off to the pages of Balder the Brave #4 (which we have already covered) to deliver the news. 

    COMMENTARY: This one was good, too.

  • THOR #367:


    SUMMARY: Balder the Brave returns to these pages directly from issue #4 of his own limited series. Karnilla will never forgive Thor for renouncing the throne in favot of Balder. In Bilskirnir (Thor's castle), Thor questions the wisdom of that very act. By this time, Thor has grown a full beard to cover the scars he received from Hela in Hel. I heartily approved of this new look and, for his own part, Walt Simonson said at the time that, as far as he was concerned, the change was permament (and, indeed, the beard stayed in place for the rest of Simonson's tenure). 

    Elsewhere in Asgard, Beta Ray Bill must rejoin his people in the stars and asks Sif to accompany him. She has already been thinking along these lines, but asks him for more time to think on it before answering. Just then, Hogun and Agnar arrive from the pages of the aforementioned Balder the Brave #4 to announce that the Frost Giants are on the march. Thor orders Heimdall to the High Seat of Odin to do a little recon work, where he learns not only that the castle of Utgard-Loki has been reduced to melted ice, but also that the giants themselves have been shrunk to the size of dolls. Privately, he wonders whether or not the friendship of Thor and Balder can survive after Balder is crowned king. Meanwhile, Loki contacts Uglitha (a Troll Mother) for help with his latest scheme. He rebuffs Lorelei and she runs crying to Malekith, who has a solution for her: a love potion. She serves it to Loki and has some herself, then they both fall to the ground unconscious.

    The great stage for Balder's coronation is nearly complete. Malekith sneaks in with enough explosives to celebrate the coronation in his own way, but is subdued by Starkad, on of the guards. Balder returns, but puts off having that drink to the Executioner's memory the and Thor promised to have. Thor private has the same doubts about his relationship with Balder going forward that Heimdall had, but he accepts the capture of Malekith as a good sign. At Volstagg's house, the tom-boy Hildy rails against her brothers for their teasing her about having to wear a dress to the coronation. Her anger is assuaged, however, when Hogun the Grim offers to be her escort. I n a full-page panel, Volstagg and his wife Gudrun walk to to coronation with their vast brood of children following behind. 

    The Enchantress expects the Executioner to ask to escort her to the coronation, and it falls to Heimdall to tell her that he was killed in Hel. Amora vows revenge on Thor, and Heimdall decides to attend the coronation by himself. In the dungeon below Asgard, Kurse breaks into Malekith's cell and apparently beats him to death. Then he sets his sights on Balder. Sif finds Thor and he again begs her forgiveness. Sif cannot bring herself to tell him that she has decides to go into space with Bill. Lorelei shows up and berates Thor, but it is Sif who punches her in the face and knocks her to the ground. Just as the coronation begins, Kurse appears and snaps Balder's neck! 

    The next issue blurb promises that "nobody dies next issue (well, almost nobody), but nobody comes back to life, either!"

    COMMENTARY: This is Walt Simonson's last issue as series penciler.

  • THOR #368:


    SUMMARY: Kurse stands over the corpse of "Balder." Agnar seeks revenge, but Thor bids him to merely touch the body with the Sword of Frey. The iron of the swoard disupts the faerie magic, and "Balder" is revealed to be Malekith. Now that Kurse has fulfilled his quest to kill Malekith, the force behind his will seems to have died. Because Malekith was an enemy of Asgard and Kurse's attack prevented him from being crowned king, Thor decides to simply keep an eye on him. Thor and the Warriors Three resolve to search for and find the real Balder, but Thor asks Agnar to remain behind with the Sword of Frey to help Agnar guard Kurse. First, though, they have to check on the cell where Malekith was supposedly being held. When they do, they find Loki chained in his place. Malekith put Loki under a spell and changed his appearance, then he himself took the place of Balder.

    Meanwhile on Midgard, Thug Thatcher (remember him?) is released from prison and vows that when he' is through with Thor, he will never forget him.

    Thor and the Warriors Three come to a split in the road which diverges in four directions. They each follow one of the trails. Thor soon is greeted by an old "Granny" who tells him of three noble ladies being held prisoner by the troll Slaggnbir. Since he doesn't know where Balder might be anyway, he decides to investigate. He soon finds a skeleton recently picked clean by  scavengers and lying beneath a castle floating in the sky. Tjor speculates that the skeleton might be that of Slaggnbir himself. Meanwhile, Loki employs the Mystic Vapors of Urd to reveal what happened to Balder. As he was riding back to Asgard from issue #4 of his limited series, he meets the same "Granny" as Thor who tells him the same story. He climbs a rope ladder dangling from the castle and finds three women, Kossi, Unn and Gertha, tied to a tower. Slaggnbir appears and they fight. In the skuffle, Slaggnbir falls to his death from the castle.

    The women tell Balder that this is the castle of their father, whom Slaggnbir slew. In order to show their appreciation for being rescued, they ply him with gifts: a ring, a belt and a necklace. Soon, he loses his memory and they tell him he is Annar, their lord and master, and that the castle has always been his home. He is troble by the ring Karnilla gave him, however, and one of the women tosses it out the window. Malekith's machinations have undone  Loki's plots, and he no longer seeks Balder's death. With the flashback concluded, the action switches back to the present. Thor finds the ring and, recognizing it as Karnilla's, knows Balder must be in the castle above. He flies up to it and is greeted by the three women, but Balder is nowhere in sight.

    COMMENTARY: With this issue, Sal Buscema takes over as the series' new regular penciler.

  • THOR #369:


    SUMMARY: Thor is enticed by the three women to have dinner and to rest. He is mightily fatigued due to recently wearing the belt of strength, but not too fatigued to recognize sorcery when he encounters it. When he asks about Balder, the chair he is using propells him to be smashed against the ceiling, but he uses Mjolnir to smash through. When he re-enters the castle, Unn, Gertha and Kossi send "Annar" against him, but Thor quickly recognizes the fighting style and realizes the helmeted warrior is, in fact, Balder the Brave. When he notices the necklace, belt and ring Balder is wearing, Thor calls upon lightning to magically remove them and Balder becomes himself again. The three women attempt to woo him with a sob story, but Thor takes Karnilla's ring and places it on Gertha's finger, which breaks the spell concealing the fact that she is a Troll hag. The jig is up and the three sisters all revert to their true forms. Balder unleashes his new light power, stunning them, and Thor uses Mjolnir to destroy the floor beneath them, sending them plunging to their deaths far below.

    Back on Midgard, Thug Thatcher stops in to see Ruby, his former gun moll, but of course she doesn't remember him, having been mind-wiped by Thor way back in "The Thunder God and the Thug" (Journey Into Mystery #89). o0LjdYL.gif Ruby is a housewife now, the mother of two boys. she slaps Thug with the spatula she is holding, but he draws a gun on her. All we know about his plan going forward is that it has something to do with Jane Foster.

    Back in Asgard, Thor and Balder depart the castle and soon encounter the old peddler woman who sent them there. She claims to have been under a spell which compelled her to send unwary travellers into the hands of the Troll hags. She was once a beautiful woman but was transformed by the three sisters out of jealousy. She tells Thor how to break the spell and he does, but Balder is suspicious (partly due to the fact that the castle is still floating). He puts Karnilla's ring on the woman's finger and she thransforms into Uglitha, the Troll Mother, who is the widow of Slaggnbir and the mother of the Troll hags. At first she gets the better of Thor until Balder unleashes his light power again, giving Thor the opportunity to bring the sky castle down with his hammer, which lands on Ulgitha, killing her. 

    Thor and Balder resolve to have the drink to Skurge as soon as they return to Asgard, the last one through the Great Gate of Asgard shall pay for it.

    COMMENTARY: It is not often we see Thor kill an opponent.


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