Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tales of Asgard Tuesday: Journey Into Mystery #97

From the Tales of Asgard trade paperback: Journey Into Mystery #97
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Jack Kirby and George Bell

Karen: Recently both Doug and I picked up the Tales of Asgard trade paperback. Marvel recently re-published all of the Tales of Asgard back-up stories from Journey Into Mystery and Thor in a regular comic format, although recolored by Matt Milla using modern techniques. Although we've both had issues with such recoloring of older comics in the past, we both agree that in this case, it really works. The almost-painterly style gives the art a real depth and a timeless look.

Doug: Agreed on everything you said! I was very, very skeptical about this book and the re-coloring, until I saw all of the splash pages showcased on the Grantbridge Street blog a few weeks ago. Seeing all of them in one place really made it grow on me. In fact, I guess I'd liken it now to taking Kirby's powerful stories and giving them a high-quality "children's book" illustrative quality. The colors are lush, and do create a real mood for these tales.

Karen: Before we get to the first tale, I want to mention some things about this paperback. Besides all of the Tales, it has a nice section in the back that includes the first Thor story from Journey into Mystery #83, plus Marvel Universe entries for Asgard and its various gods, expanded entries for Balder, Odin, Loki, and a few others, and of course one for Thor. There's also the double page spread by Jack Kirby of Asgard from Journey Into Mystery Annual #1. To top it off, there are several covers from various issues, as well as a pullout gatefold section of all the Oliver Copiel-penciled covers for the redone Tales of Asgard reprints, and a guide to all the characters on those covers (63 characters all together). So some very nice extras.

Doug: Yep, Karen bought this first and to
ld me I was in for a pleasant surprise with all of the add-ins. She didn't lie!

Karen: The first story is from Journey into Mystery # 97. Titled simply "Tales of Asgard," it opens with a depiction of the hard life of the Norse people, having to battle elements, beasts, and outsiders simply to stay alive. The Vikings are the bravest of all, taking on the threats of the sea. We are told about the myths they created, and the birth of the gods. I used to read a lot of mythology as a kid, and this all seems pretty accurate as far as I can tell. The frost giant Ymir is born from the ice, along with a gigantic cow (while Stan doesn't name her, I believe her name was Audhumbla). They travel about a desolate plane of ice until something begins to appear from the frozen ground. It is Buri, the first of the gods.

Doug: It's just your basic creation story, isn't it? I also read some of the Greek and Norse myths, and the creation tales were always interesting as a contrast to the Judeo-Christian telling. Kirby, although for the most part pretty straightforward, does manage to convey a majesty and a mystery about this section of the story. By the way, this is retold by John Buscema in Thor Annual #5, which has been on my to-do list forever!

Karen: Buri marries (where did his wife come from?), and they have a son, Borr. Borr also marries and has three sons, one of whom is Odin. A panel depicts Odin in all his glory, sword in hand, fighting frost giants. We are told that Odin and his brothers loved Earth and planted the gigantic magical tree Yggdrasill on the planet, so that its limbs could protect the young world. Just an aside: I thought the tree was actually like a universal column and the worlds laid around it in stacked planes, but whatever. The tale ends with a promise that next time we will see Odin's battle against the frost giants.

Doug: Your comment on Buri's wife gets to the root of why, despite my faith, I can't be a biblical literalist. There are just too many holes in stories like this. But I guess that's what faith is in the first place, isn't it? Most stuff like this is beyond human comprehension! But it's a decent backstory, and looking ahead necessary to frame what's coming up. And you mention the tree -- I thought the graphic toward the back of the tpb was better.

Karen: This initial start was very promising, bringing some actual mythology to Thor. Some of the early Thor tales in JIM seem to have little basis in the Norse myths, but with this new back-up, we'd get a real feel for Asgard.

Doug: Thor has always been a character who existed in two worlds. While I love him as a superhero, and especially as a part of the Avengers, I really look forward to reading the stories set in Asgard.

Karen: It'll take a few more issues, and then we'll get to Thor's childhood -and Loki's as well!


Don Alsafi said...

YES! Agreed on all counts. I was actually just extolling the virtues of this remastering myself, including a three-panel sequence comparing the original comic, the Marvel Masterworks edition, and this new reprint. I really do think the new version is the best it's ever looked!

Doug said...

Don --

I'd missed the post on your blog when it ran, but many thanks for posting the link here! I thought some of the comments you garnered from that were very interesting.

Personally, I generally don't care for the coloring in the Masterworks, as it is too bright on paper that is too glossy. I think something softer, along the lines of Alex Ross's painting, is where I'd like to be. I understand, too, the complaints about the overt use of earth tones in the Tales of Asgard collection. However, for some of the stories it seems wholly appropriate. I suppose the setting of the story should be a consideration.

Thanks for you comment,


Fred W. Hill said...

Based on the samples provided here, this new collection looks impressive! I have most of Tales of Asgard run from the 2nd & 3rd volumes of the Thor Essentials, but of course those are black & white and I'm missing the first dozen or so. Those ancient Norse myths really struck a chord with Kirby -- one of his late '50s DC short stories included a Thor story, and the New Gods and the Eternals were modern variations of the mythos he created during his run on Thor.
Interestingly (to me at least) Thor & Spider-Man were introduced in the same month and each have some clear inspiration from Superman, but with a touch of Batman in Spider-Man and a heavy dose of the Fawcett Captain Marvel in Thor. Most of those early Thor stories were awful, but once Kirby significantly increased the mythic elements in the main stories, so they had more of the flavor of those Tales of Asgard, it became one of Marvel's best titles during the '60s and one of Kirby's greatest achievements in comics.

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