Monday, November 25, 2013
Tales of Asgard: Journey into Mystery 104 and 105
Tales of Asgard: Journey Into Mystery #104 (May 1964)
"Heimdall, Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: Don Heck
Karen: This time around, we're focusing on one of Thor's supporting cast, that far-seeing guardian of the Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall. You'll notice the inker on our first tale is Don Heck, and of the various inkers we've seen on these short stories, I'd probably place him in the middle of the pack. He's not bad but I still prefer Colletta far and away on Kirby when it comes to Thor.
Doug: Karen had mentioned to me in an email after she was done with the framework for this post that we were going to see a "new" inker over Kirby in this story. I was surprised when I opened the tpb for reading that Heck was on the assignment. However, after much scrutiny I declare that I really couldn't tell that it was the Dashing One doing the embellishing. In fact, I'll wager that I could have guaranteed that it wasn't Vinnie, but would have been hard-pressed to identify which of Kirby's other Silver Age inkers I was seeing. It's Vinnie all the way for me as well.
Karen: This tale tells us how Heimdall became the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge. It seems that the enemies of Asgard have been using the bridge to make their attacks upon Asgard, and Odin has decided he must appoint someone to guard it. Makes sense. But as with all things in the godly realms, rather than just look over resumes, Odin has selected three candidates and he summons them before him to make a case for themselves. The first, Agnar the Fierce, demonstrates his powerful lungs by blowing the enchanted dragon horn of Asgard. It's such a powerful blast that it sends the Asgardians running for cover. Agnar says he can warn all of the realm if any foes were to attack. The next candidate, Gotron the Agile, describes how he took down seven storm giants that attacked the realm the previous year.
Doug: The Asgardians have nothing on the Inhumans in the exploitation of other races department. As the Inhumans kept the Alpha Primitives as subservient, here the Asgardians have "a force of trolls" doing repair work on the damaged Bifrost, while in an earlier story we saw Thor journey to Mirmir to encounter a gang of dwarfs, who "forged all the enchanted weapons of Asgard". Now maybe these little dudes are just good at their various crafts, but it does look a little suspicious when the much-larger Nordic-looking gods are free to make use of the toil of these "little people".
Karen: It seems like Stan used the terms "trolls" and "dwarves" somewhat interchangeably for a while, but yes, your point is well-taken. In the myths the Dwarves did produce awesome goods for the gods but usually there was payment. Here it does have that uncomfortable feeling of the caste system -or worse.
Doug: I thought Agnar (at first I misread that, and thought I was getting Angar the Screamer!) and Gotron were typical blowhards, while Heimdall displayed a reserved nobility. Fandral's a blowhard, but he's not all about self-promotion. And think what these guys were applying for -- am I correct that Heimdall never leaves his post on the Bridge?
Karen: Finally, Odin turns to Heimdall the Faithful and asks him what he has to say. Heimdall removes his rather large helm and tells his sire that he can sense danger approaching before anyone else can. To prove it, he lies upon the ground and places his ear to the grass. He tells Odin that he can hear a tiny plant starting to sprout in the Hidden Hills. This outrages his two competitors, who accuse him of lying. Odin silences the men, and then sends his gardener out to the hills to check on Heimdall's claim. The gardener is rather rotund and reminded me of Volstagg -but of course he predates that mighty warrior. The gardener goes out to the desolate hills, which had been scorched by a dragon's breath, and is stunned to find a small plant just breaking through the soil. He brings it back to Odin and the All-Father is pleased, but remarks that he has heard that Heimdall has other powers still. The warrior says yes, he can see across time itself, and at this moment, he sees a war party of giants not two days out from Asgard. Odin sends a force of warriors out to check and they come back with the king of the giants in tow. This is all Odin needs to make his decision. He declares Heimdall guardian of the Rainbow Bridge "forever!"
Doug: OK, so I'm back to a question that I asked two weeks ago. Do all of the Asgardians have certain powers, and/or are they all the God of This-or-That? And I'm wondering if Odin was just being conversational when he said he'd "heard" that Heimdall had other powers. Ya think he'd know! Maybe omniscience ain't what it used to be... I really liked, though, this two page explanation of and display of Heimdall's powers. There have been times throughout comics history when creators have done a nice, yet subtle, job of bringing new readers along. This explanation fits very organically into the story. I enjoyed this one -- these short tales are fun. And I think we've heard some commenters voice concern over the Claremont/Bolton add-ons in the back of Classic X-Men as retconning the classics. I don't have that sense here -- this is more like an "untold tales" sort of deal, and in my mind does not offend the material either in the front of Journey Into Mystery or any Thor stories that had come before.
Tales of Asgard: Journey Into Mystery #105 (June 1964)
"When Heimdall Failed!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
Inker: George Bell
Karen: Another story, another inker! This time it's George Bell, aka George Roussos. I wasn't a big fan of his FF work, and I think his inking comes off a bit heavy here, particularly in comparison to Colletta's feathery work. Our story is another Heimdall-centric tale. It begins with King Brimer of the storm giants conspiring with Queen Nedra to attack Asgard. They know that nothing escapes Heimdall though, and must come up with a way to break the realm's defenses. Nedra is apparently some sort of witch or conjurer and she summons up and air elemental -a Vanna -to serve her. She says that even Heimdall will be unable to detect it, and it can move through Asgard, spying for them. The sprite-like creature agrees to serve (not like it has much of a choice) and goes flying off towards Asgard.
Doug: In the panel at the bottom of page 2, I thought we were seeing the return of the Impossible Man! The little sprite looked just like Impy! Are we to assume that Nedra is a giantess? If she is not, then there were some major problems with scale in the introductory scene. So we should assume that Heimdall is susceptible to magicks of concealment? I find that difficult to believe, since he can see across space and time, but I'll roll with it here.
Karen: The Vanna flies towards Heimdall as he stands watch on the bridge. Although he is unable to see it, the warrior feels something is amiss and even swigs his sword in the air, berating himself for acting so oddly. He's gripped with a sense of uncertainty. Meanwhile, the Vanna flies over Asgard, noting the weaponry and troops available to Odin. The little bugger gets so full of himself, he even flies into Odin's royal chambers, where the All-Father is holding a counsel. A messenger arrives and informs Odin that Heimdall says even though he has seen nothing, he feels the realm should be on alert. This concerns Odin, and he focuses his powers. As he does, the Vanna flies past him and the All-Father commands the creature to show himself. The lord of Asgard grabs the sprite in his gauntlet, astounding his men. The creature proclaims his innocence but Odin orders him to be silent. Heimdall is summoned to the chamber. The guardsman is dejected -he tells Odin he has failed and deserves whatever punishment Odin sees fit to give him. But Odin will have none of it. He tells him to rise -he hasn't failed! Even though he couldn't see the Vanna, he sensed the evil creature and risked the scorn and derision of others by reporting his fears to Odin. Odin tells Heimdall that he has a place in his heart second only to Thor. Wow - he really caught Odin on a good day! So Heimdall goes back to guarding the bridge and all is well with Asgard.
Doug: Is it just me, or did the Vanna look like a pink sperm making its way around Asgard? At first I was going to say "segmented worm", but upon further inspection... As I said last week, I'm always amazed at Kirby's juxtaposition of the archaic and the cosmic when depicting Asgard. Here we see beings of great power who dress in some stew of Greco-Roman/medieval garb and weaponry, but with these huge laser cannons. It's a weird sort of awesome.
Karen: I think that interpretation is all you buddy, but now that you mention it, I do sorta see it...OK, that's kind of disturbing now.
Doug: Then we have indeed crossed into new territory on the BAB, with the inaugural use of the word "sperm". I'm glad we've finally gotten that out of the way!
Doug: It would be difficult to decide who is the nobler soul -- Balder or Heimdall. Each is about as selfless as they come. I loved the depiction of Heimdall in the first Thor movie -- along with the Destroyer, he was one of the real bright spots in that picture.
Karen: Just as an aside, the final caption of this story is a "personal note" to the readers thanking them for their enthusiasm for these Tales of Asgard. I wonder if this was just more Marvel hyperbole, or if there really were a lot of letters written praising the series? I think these early stories are nice, but the later, continued ones, like the Harokin one, were really something. I'm sure we'll get around to reviewing those eventually. But I wonder now what the actual reader response was?
Doug: That is indeed an interesting query. We're troubled by our doubt of that due in no small part to Stan's unabashed promotion of himself and of the company, but we also live in a world where people can gain employment as "paid reviewers" of consumer goods. One does have to wonder. But, and I have no insight, my guess is that they did get a positive response to this series. I know that I really like it! I can honestly say that in books I read from the Silver and Bronze Ages, I do not at all mind when the feature is only 14-15 pages and a nifty little "extra" was tucked in the back.