Monday, November 4, 2013

Tales of Asgard: Journey Into Mystery 102 and 103


Tales of Asgard -- Journey Into Mystery #102 (from the Tales of Asgard tpb)
"Death Comes to Thor!"

Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Paul Reinman

Doug:  Welcome to November, where our Mondays will feature a series of short stories from the back end of Journey Into Mystery.  Today we're going to check in on the Godling of Thunder -- that's right.  Today we'll review tales from Thor's youth.  Both stories are from 1964.

Karen: One thing I do wish the TPB would do is list somewhere which issues of Journey into Mystery these stories are from. You've done some work to figure it out but a line of text at the bottom of the first page would've been appreciated.

Doug:  I couldn't agree more.  I had to look through each issue of Journey Into Mystery via the Comic Book Database in order to match-up the titles of these little vignettes with their appropriate home issue.  It wasn't too tedious, but definitely unnecessary had editorial merely added a Table of Contents!

Doug:  As we begin our first story, Thor has sought out the three Fates.  He wants to find out if he will ever possess the hammer of Odin.  But the Fates are mysterious -- they answer the question before he asks it!  And they give him a condition:  he will possess the hammer, yes... if he meets Death first.  So the over-confident godling rides off to find his fortune.  Back in Odin's palace, Thor again approaches the hammer, but can raise it only slightly off the ground.  Suddenly Balder staggers into the chamber, nearly dead.  He reports that storm giants ambushed him, and captured his sister -- the fair Lady Sif!  As you might imagine, Thor ain't pleased!

Karen: You have to love the expression on Thor's face as he tries to lift Mjolnir -it's pretty funny! I notice that we never see Balder face-on, but what we do see appears different from how we know him to look (ex. clean-shaven). Now two web sources state that Balder first appeared in JIM #85, but I wonder if it was just a throwaway appearance and whether Balder as we know him had been established yet?

Doug:  As guards enter the room, Thor swears to Balder that he will rescue Sif.  And wouldn't you know it -- as his Asgardian adrenaline begins to pump, that hammer comes right off the floor!  But, was it his strength, or something more?  Remember -- "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor."  Let's find out just how worthy.  Claiming his steed, Thor rides right into the heart of the storm giant lands.  Two uglies come out to meet the Son of Odin, with one warning his comrade to beware.  By now Thor's got himself worked into a lather and strikes Mjolnir against the ground, splitting it!

Karen: That's a successful use of modern coloring there, with the blurring effect and the bright orange color, to really get across the power of Thor's blow as he breaks open the ground.

Doug:  The two guards fall into the chasm, and Thor rides off.  He recognizes his surroundings as the palace of King Rugga, and leaves a trail of bodies as he finally reaches the king's throne room.  Demanding that Rugga set fair Sif free, Thor instead is greeted with an almost apologetic cry from his adversary.  Rugga explains, basically, that he made a deal with the devil.  The Goddess of Death, Hela, had promised Rugga that she would make him immortal if he delivered Sif.  So he did.  Thor, now blind with rage, grabs Rugga and demands to know where he might find Hela.  Thinking the godling crazy, Rugga tells him -- and advises Thor to leave it alone.

Karen: So just who or what is Rugga? He doesn't look to be a giant. Hmmm....

Doug:  Thor finds and confronts Hela, and offers his own life as an offering in exchange for the life of Sif.  Hela is so taken aback by Thor's offer that she allows him to leave her dark realm -- and take the young Sif with him.  "...if he be worthy..." indeed!  This, then, is the tale of how Thor came to possess Mjolnir as his own.

Karen: I believe this is the goddess of death's first appearance. Her headdress is already quite complicated but the rest of her costume hasn't quite caught up yet. She's much more easily won over here than she would be later on. 

Doug:  I liked this story -- sort of simple, but that's what you get in a 5-pager.  I thought Jack Kirby did a good job of really getting us to believe that Thor was a youngster not yet fully into adulthood.  Sif looks even younger, which I suppose she was.  If Thor and Balder were contemporaries, then Sif must have been a younger sister.  She's nonetheless Kirby-beautiful.  Speaking of the art, though, I found myself missing Vinnie Colletta's familiar inks.  Feathery, yes, but Colletta's line is an integral part of Silver Age Thor mags!

Karen: Although I hate to say it, when it comes to Thor, I agree with you, Colletta did make a good combo with Kirby.

Tales of Asgard -- Journey Into Mystery #103 (from the Tales of Asgard tpb)
"Thor's Mission to Mirmir!"

Stan Lee-Jack Kirby/Chic Stone

Doug:  Our second story is also from the era before Thor had become an adult.  Odin has sent Thor on a mission which he must not fail.  It begins in the Asgardian mountains, in the homeland of the dwarfs.  These strong little people forge all of Asgard's weapons, and Thor has come specially to see Sindri, the king.  Sindri commissioned the construction of a tiny Norse ship -- but one that will grow to be large enough to transport Thor and his mates to any place in the universe!  Using it for the first time, Thor sails through space to the Dark Sea which surrounds the land of Mirmir.

Karen: I really love that Kirby and Lee took elements from the Norse myths and built stories around them. I recall reading about the amazing ship Skipbladnir from library books on Norse mythology when I was a wee child. It's fun seeing those things depicted in comics form.

Doug:  Mirmir looks like a craggy, desolate version of Skull Island.  As Thor comes ashore, he's met by Skord the flying dragon.  With typical braggadocio, the young Thunder God whirls his hammer in the beast's face.  But as the dragon surely prepared to be hit, Thor instead struck the ground, projecting a large boulder up and into the lizard's mouth.  Moving along his way, Thor next encountered a giant anthropomorphic warthog named Gullin.  Armed with his own hammer, the boar attacked the Odinson with a fury fraught from his incredible mallet.  But alas, enchanted Mjolnir was superior, and Gullin was forced to allow Thor to pass.

Karen: Only Kirby could draw a giant boar in armor and make me believe it...

Doug:  At last Thor reaches the palace of Mirmir, where the king sits awaiting.  There is no animosity here, no aggression.  Instead, it is as if Mirmir has been expecting the Son of Odin.  Thor produces a large twig, allegedly plucked from the Tree of Life.  Mirmir takes the switch and dips it into an enchanted fountain.  Swirling it gently, some of the mystical water runs over the edge of the bowl and drips down through time and space to light on Midgard.  Falling onto an alder and an ash, the water transforms the two trees into human beings -- Aske and Embla, the first humans, made in the image of the Asgardian gods!

Karen: The second part of our tale though varies a lot from the myths as I recall them! "Mirmir" sounds like "Mimir," the well/being where Odin would sacrifice an eye for knowledge. And the creation of mankind (Aske and Embla) was different in the books I read, with Odin and his  brothers breathing life into tree trunks. But hey, creative license and all. It looks good in any case.

Doug:  Stan remarks at the end of the story that this plot was freely lifted from the Norse myths.  It's a nifty little story, and an interesting take on the Creation story.  I have enjoyed these Tales of Asgard thus far -- there really is a fair share of action and characterization packed into the five-page parameter.  I'm still missing Vinnie, though.  Maybe next week?

Doug:  In case you missed the news yesterday evening, longtime DC artist Nick Cardy passed away Sunday at the age of 93.  Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.  Thanks for some very fond memories, Nick!


Edo Bosnar said...

I have to say, the more I see this new, digital/computerized coloring on older material, the less I like it. With the exception of that hammer blow that Karen mentioned, I really don't see that it does any particular favors to the art. Indeed, I think the standard "flat" coloring would actually look better.

Otherwise, these seem like entertaining stories. I went through a big mythology phase (mainly Greek/Roman and Norse) for a few years in elementary school, so like Karen I really enjoyed it when mythical characters and even stories appeared in comics. And I was never bothered by the comics guys taking liberties, either. In Hela's case, especially the way John Buscema drew her, it was preferable...
And geez, Gullin the armored warthog is brilliant. Why didn't he become a mainstay in Thor (and the Marvel Universe in general)?

Doug said...

Edo, lately I too have had these same feelings in regard to the coloring. When I first saw pages from the Tales of Asgard tpb (and we can throw in the Dark Horse "Chronicles of Conan" series as well), I was put off. Then when I got the book and Karen and I reviewed the first four stories (this was about two years ago) we both remarked that the coloring gave the stories sort of a children's storybook feel. Now, however, that we're into the stories with Thor and Loki and the entire cast, I find myself longing for the original four-color look.

Jury's still out for me, I guess.


david_b said...

Re: Coloring.. I'm of the opinion that it's a nice, gentle way to retell these stories as essentially children's stories as Doug mentioned.

My personal preference..? The originals, but if you set these recolored deluxe format stories against the comics done these days, these are still miles above the current stuff.

Anonymous said...

Here is another vote against digital color. I don't read any current day comic books, but based on what I see here and there on-line, there is way too much photoshopping going on.

Garett said...

Nice review. Yes they pack a lot into 5 pages, and only 4 panels per page! I like the coloring here, for instance the forge scene to start the second story...nice lighting. I think the extra dimension added by the new shading/coloring adds to the simple art style, and isn't overbearing like it was in the Conan reprints. Also poor color choices in the Conan I like the earthy colors in the foliage, and also that they're varying the background colors.

I haven't seen much of Cardy's art, but I did enjoy his Bat Lash work in the TPB.

MattComix said...

On the subject of the recoloring I can really enjoy it when it's not overdone nor overly ashamed of the original colors. For example I understand not wanting buildings in a cityscape to be orange and green.

But at the same time, the red in Thor's cape should pop rather than be muted. Also not every daytime scene should look as though it's happening two minutes before sunset.

Anonymous said...

RIP Nick Cardy.

OK first off great review of a classic Thor tale. Stan and Jack were really into their stride at this point. The first tale recounting how Thor actually got Mjolnir was an eye opener.

As for the second tale, I really loved the giant warthog Gullin. As Karen said, oinky, er, I mean only King Kirby could give us Thor fighting a giant pig and make it an epic battle. Somehow Gullin reminds me of a later foe, namely Ulik the rock troll.

The creation story is different from what I've read before, differing from some that Roy Thomas would write later on. However, this was early Marvel, so you know Stan and company would take liberties with the source material.

-Mike 'shoulda been more Gullin stories' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Fred W. Hill said...

Curious that Sif was introduced as Balder's sister -- since a few years later, once Sif became part of the regular series, Balder was depicted as silently very jealous of Sif's & Thor's romance! I think by that time, tho', Stan & Jack had made Sif the sister of Heimdall and totally forgotten that she was also supposed to be Balder's sister as well. Of course, in the myths, Balder was Thor's half-brother and Loki was Odin's blood-brother. But then Stan never remembered that within the Marvel mythos, as established in an early Tales of Asgard, Loki was Thor's adopted brother, not his stepbrother or half-brother.
Anyhow, Tales of Asgard was a great little series, the real start of Thor's eventual greatness under Lee & Kirby. Prior to the greater integration of the Asgardian aspects into the main series, it seemed more the product of Brand Ecch comics than Marvel.

Doug said...

First, what the heck is Mike from T&T doing posting four hours early? That really threw me off my game this evening!

Fred, great synopsis of the all-over-the-place chronology that was early Marvel. I think what you wrote really sums up what we've all heard for many years: creators back then viewed their work as largely disposable, and probably didn't worry much about the inconsistencies.

One last thought -- Natalie Portman's certainly a beautiful lady, but Movie Thor best not ignore Movie Sif... I wouldn't!


Anonymous said...

BTW, speaking of Nick Cardy - today's post on The Middle Spaces is on New Teen Titans.

It may not really spend much time on the Cardy-era of Teen Titans, but figured some folks might be interested in it.

Titans Together! Superhero Sidekicks & The Anxiety of Influence

It is the first guest post over there (by a fellow academic buddy who grew up a DC kid as opposed to my Marvel-dedicated youth) - and we are not accepting submissions for future guest posts.

Anonymous said...

The above should read "we are NOW accepting submissions for guest posts." Ooops!

The Revealist said...

My two cents:
1) Re: Sif being Balder's sister. I think the actual mistake lies in Balder's identity. The guy has a mustache and horned helmet. He's meant to be Heimdall. And either Kirby (in his written notes in the margins) or Lee goofed up, something that happens even to the best. So the question is not whether she was ever supposed to be Balder's sister, but why consequent reprints never corrected what is simply an editing mistake.
2) Re: Re-coloring. I personally find it horrid, and here it also brings yet another continuity gaffe. It's been established in a later story that Sif's hair was blonde at the time. It became black only later as the result of a trick by Loki. The recent Epic Collections are the best way to enjoy these classics, warts and all. (Hela is supposed to be wearing a crazy cool violet outfit in these old yarns)

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