Issue(s): Thor #367, Thor #368, Thor #369
It isn't Thor's beard, grown to hide the scars he received battling Hela. Nothing wrong with that.
But Malekith has been caught lurking around Asgard...
...and Balder's acting kind of funny. Nonetheless, everyone heads to his coronation.
Even beyond the mystery of Balder, the event isn't without its drama. Sif is considering going off into space with Beta Ray Bill...
...and more than considering punching out Lorelei.
And the Enchantress learns about the death of the Executioner.
She chases Heimdall out of the room with magic blasts, and gets Heimdall worried that she'll take vengeance on Thor.
But the real party crasher is Kurse...
...who arrives at the coronation and snaps Balder's neck.
With issue #368, Sal Buscema takes over as the regular penciler. Sal previously tried out for the part, so to speak, with issue #355 and more recently the Balder the Brave miniseries, and in my opinion did a really great job with it. There's no doubt he's mimicking Walt Simonson's style, but he's doing it well. Buscema has been improving himself; he had developed a reputation as a workhorse in the 70s but in the mid-80s he cut back on the quantity of work he was doing and improved his quality. It's hard to believe it today, but Thor actually a became a top tier book when Walt Simonson's run began, and it's nice to see Our Pal Sal getting to work on what was at the time a prominent series.
We learn that Balder was really Malekith and Malekith was really Loki. Now that Kurse has fulfilled his mission of killing Malekith, he has become inert. Loki got tricked by Malekith but turned the tables when Kurse came to attack him by showing Kurse that Malekith was disguised as Balder. Loki then departs from Asgard.
Issue #368 is the last appearance of Agnar, the Asgardian that has been appearing throughout Walt Simonson's run, first as a challenger to Balder and then a loyal sidekick. Nothing happens to him - he's left guarding Kurse with the Sword of Frey - but he just seems to have been forgotten.
Thor then sets out to find out what actually happened to Balder. He finds an old hag by the side of the road that describes a traditional fairy tale style quest. Look how happy Thor is to find some traditional adventure.
Earlier, Balder found the same hag and the same castle in the sky that she describes. He fought a troll...
...and then was seduced by the ladies of the castle.
Thor then comes along and discovers the skeleton of the troll Balder slew.
When Thor arrives in the castle, the ladies attempt to seduce him as well. But wary of such things after his recent experience with Lorelei, he avoids their lures. So they call upon Balder to fight him instead.
Thor manages to use his lightning to destroy the charms that the ladies used to control him, and then the ladies reveal their true forms.
Balder uses his newly gained light ability to defeat them.
Back in #367, we saw Loki deploying a troll mother named Uglitha.
And it turns out that she was the old lady that sent both Balder and Thor to the castle. So they have to fight her too.
Balder's light again tips the scales in the battle.
A fun set of adventures.
In issues #368-369, we also see a really old face. Thug Thatcher, a gangster that Thor put away in his earliest issues, is released from prison...
...and shows up at the house of his old girlfriend, Ruby.
The lettercol in issue #369 says that Walt & Louise Simonson are working on a series about Havok and Polaris that will feature "a sleeping giant who can be found snoozing his way though in the last few issues of the Eternals Limited Series" as the villain.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: This arc begins with a scene that is more or less a repeat of the end of Balder the Brave #4, with Balder kissing Karnilla goodbye after wearing her ring. For the purposes of placement i'm taking that as a flashback and pushing this arc forward to allow Thor to appear elsewere. Specifically... i have Thor briefly getting reverted to a frog in New Mutants #38 after appearing in Secret Wars II #9 (see those entries' Considerations sections for reasoning). Thor has a beard at the start of this issue so he shouldn't appear elsewhere without it after this. Next issue, Thor #370, is a fun fill in by Christopher Priest/John Buscema/P. Craig Russell, but it takes place entirely in Marvel's Western era and is out of the scope of this project. Thor #371 begins with Thor still in Asgard at Balder's coronation (which isn't to say he couldn't appear elsewhere in between).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAgnar, Balder, Beta Ray Bill, Enchantress, Gudrun, Heimdall, Hildy, Hogun, Karnilla, Kevin Mortensen, Kurse, Loki, Lorelei (Norse Goddess), Malekith, Mick Mortensen, Ruby Mortensen, Sif, Thor, Thug Thatcher, Volstagg
I'm guessing the "sleeping giant" was the Dreaming Celestial.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 11, 2013 7:23 PM
Silly thought considering you did take Storm's mohawk as a consideration but I do think the first "Bearded Thor" deserves one point of importance (especially since it is now his definitive appearance)
Posted by: Ataru320 | May 2, 2014 8:08 PM
I agree, Ataru. It's not as iconic as Storm's mohawk and doesn't come with a major change in attitude, but it's worth a Significance point.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 3, 2014 10:32 AM
I love that beard, a Thor without a beard will never sit quite so correctly as one with a beard.
Posted by: david banes | May 3, 2014 1:48 PM
It seems to me that Simonson and Buscema draw the "Troll Mother" very much like a female Dire Wraith...and this is a story about sorcerous shape-shifters.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 14, 2015 7:23 PM
That's a very interesting suggestion. It was Simonson who designed the second-style Dire Wraiths. His sketch was shown in MARVEL AGE #4, and there's an image of the item at http://home.hiwaay.net/~lkseitz/comics/Rom/comic/checklist.shtml .
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | October 14, 2015 9:32 PM
Agreed about Sal. I remembered reading Ann Nocenti say that, as an Editor, she had politely suggested to Sal he wouldn't be right for some of the more fan-favorite books as his style and storytelling was old fashioned, and he seemed to respond with, "then I'll show you what I can do" and started turning out even more dynamic and evolved work.
Posted by: Wis | October 24, 2017 5:40 AM
This is getting off-topic, but I loved Sal Buscema's work on Spectacular Spider-Man in the late 80s and early 90s. He was near retirement, but his art there had a dynamic style, and he developed a fine sense for telling a story visually, particularly when J.M. DeMatteis wrote the scripts (perhaps DeMatteis's stories inspired Buscema to push himself even further). At the time, Todd McFarlane and Erik Larson were the "hot" Spider-Man artists, but I thought Buscema was so much better.
Posted by: James | October 24, 2017 7:37 AM
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