Issue(s): Thor #272, Thor #273, Thor #274, Thor #275, Thor #276, Thor #277, Thor #278
Almost makes up for Roy Thomas! Naw, i'm just kidding...
It doesn't make up for Roy Thomas at all.
OK, enough gratuitous Roy Thomas bashing. Let's get into the justified Roy Thomas bashing.
Actually, the first issue of this arc is a nice one. It starts with Thor doing his "God of the people" bit, which i always enjoy, and telling a Tales of Asgard story to some kids who have bully problems.
In that story, a young Thor and Loki encounter a giant called Skrymir in the land of Utgard (it will turn out that Skyrmir is in fact the king of Utgard. An alternative name for Skyrmir is actually Utgard-Loki; he's not called that in this story, but that's the name used for him in the 1985-86 Balder the Brave series. The name doesn't imply a relation to the actual Loki).
Thor was arrogant then, and when the little gods couldn't open the giant's food bag, Thor attacked the sleeping giant with his hammer. Skyrmir barely feels the blow, however.
Later, Thor and Loki are subjected to a series of tests. Loki fails to win an eating contest.
And they fail the other four tests as well. This story is based on an actual Norse myth
The end of this issue kicks off Roy Thomas' False Ragnarok story. We're reintroduced to Harris Hobbs.
Hobbs was a character who, back in the Silver Age, kidnapped Jane Foster and forced Thor to reveal his secret identity. In return, Thor put the fear of God(s) into Hobbs by taking him on a terrifying romp through time and space, including a trip to Asgard. It was a weird tale, bizarre but acceptable in a Silver Age-y way at the time, but there was no reason to bring this character back. A letter in issue #277 says that Harris Hobbs is "a touch of Howard the Duck... ludicrous, funny, a little weird, and welcome". The Howard the Duck comparison is apt, except Thor isn't a satire book and Roy Thomas is not Steve Gerber. Throughout this story, Hobbs stands around in the background. At best he's a point of view character. He's not here to poke fun at anyone, he's just going to shout exposition to the reader.
This time Hobbs wants to do a news documentary in Asgard. Thor tells him to forget it, and you'd hope that would be the end of it. But Thor heads to Stark Industries to pick up the remnants of the adamantium super-computer FAUST. He intends to take it to Asgard (which is odd. You'd think Tony Stark might want to study it or at least use the adamantium for parts.).
But while Thor is carrying it out of the factory, the Midgard Serpent attacks.
It quickly fades out of existence.
And later, after Thor arrives in Asgard, it turns out that Harris Hobbs used the distraction of the Serpent to hide with his film crew inside the super-computer.
Hobb's crew includes cameraman "Red" Norvell and sound guy Joey Burnett.
Hobbs was helped by Loki, who is intrigued by the fact that Hobbs has been having dreams about Asgard. The whole dream sequencing part is told in a tiresome matter. First, Hobbs gives Thor, in painstaking detail, a recap of his first appearance, the memory of which has returned to Hobbs under post-hypnotic suggestion. Then when Thor leaves and Loki shows up, incognito at first, Hobbs reveals that he's been having another dream as well, and we get a mini-Tales of Asgard that we don't learn the significance of yet. Then Loki reveals himself (this is all a quick reversal of the fact that Len Wein had Odin leave Loki as a mindless derelict as punishment for his previous Asgard takeover attempt), and offers to take him to Asgard, and Hobbs agrees, not at all suspicious (even though we'll later learn that Hobbs has been "cramming on Norse mythology", so you'd think he'd think twice about an offer from the Trickster God). It's all very roundabout and full of exposition.
Loki arrives in Asgard soon after Hobbs' crew is discovered...
...and it's exposition city.
Even though Ragnarok has nearly happened several times in the past, this time he's sure it's going to happen soon, on account of Hobbs' dreams, and he's here to gloat about it (Nitpicky detail: part of the reason Hobbs' dream is supposed to be significant is that Hobbs is said to be the only mortal who's ever been in Asgard. But both Jane Foster and Bruce Banner have actually been in Asgard as well. It's not really important to the plot but i'm a geek and i'm required to point out such things.). So after a lot of standing around shouting about Ragnarok, Odin shows up. At least he's riding his awesome horse Sleipnir, who i know from the cool cover of 1st Edition AD&D's Legend & Lore.
But Odin continues the talk-fest by telling a long rambling story about how he talked to Mimir...
...and Volla, and Hela about Ragnarok, and he also believes it's about to happen. On the way home, he runs into the blind God Hoder...
...and brings him back to Asgard, which, if Odin learned anything at all about Ragnarok after talking to all those people, you would think he would have avoided.
Odin also summons home all the Asgardian Goddesses, many of whom have never been seen in a Marvel comic before, or only in Tales of Asgard.
It's not said where they've been, but don't you worry. Roy Thomas will tie that in with his Eternals saga next year. We meet Frigga, but it's semi-confirmed that she's not Thor's mother.
Red Norvell, the cameraman, is immediately infatuated with Sif.
Next up, discussing Volla's Ragnarok prophesies, the gods all remember the part where they're supposed to throw lots of weapons at Balder since long ago Frigga got every living and unliving thing to promise that they wouldn't hurt him.
They must not remember the very next sequence in that prophecy, wherein mistletoe did not participate in the pledge and therefore Balder is killed by a mistletoe arrow launched by blind Hoder, kicking off Ragnarok.
Harris Hobbs (and maybe this is his Howard the Duck moment) even points out the absurdity of it all. There's no reason the Gods should be doing this. But Thomas actually handles this quite well, implying that the Gods are basically stuck in an inescapable cycle. Thor, perhaps because of all the time he's spent on Midgard, is able to agree with Hobbs and try to break the cycle, but he's unable to convince his father or stop the others.
The problem isn't so much Thomas' ideas, but the execution. We've got an entire issue of people standing around talking to each other, and not enjoyable, realistic dialogue, either; pages and pages of explaining the backstory for the upcoming plot to each other.
Odin sends Hermod to Hela's kingdom to see if maybe they can get Balder back.
This is the first we've seen Hermod in a Marvel comic (He's based loosely on Hermoor from the Norse myths). This is also, for all intents and purposes, the first appearance of Tyr. He had one off-panel appearance very early on, and another appearance where he looked nothing like what he looks like here and didn't say anything, but this is the first time we see him in a form that will stick.
Like with Frigga and Loki's wife Sigyn...
...Thomas is going back to the Norse myths and making the Marvel Thor book more like them. Which would be admirable if it didn't feel like i was reading a textbook.
It picks up a bit after that. Loki takes advantage of Norvell's crush on Sif and sets up a conflict with Thor in Jotunheim...
...where Thor needs to call upon his Belt of Strength.
The Belt winds up in Norvell's hands after the battle.
Meanwhile, the rest of the Gods are still stuck in their cycle, with Odin getting ready for the final battle.
He's also required to give up a portion of his soul to keep a glimmer of Balder alive, delaying Ragnarok.
Odin then declares a Trial of Loki.
While the trial is getting set up, Loki goads Norvell into putting on Thor's Belt of Strength. Then, after Norvell tries it on and gets a nasty zap, Loki reveals there's additional steps he has to take: he can only don the belt in the Temple of Bilskrinir, and he also has to wear the Iron Gloves, and bathe in the Fire of Gierrodur. This would make for a good Legend of Zelda game.
But what i hate about scenes like this - and i don't know if it's Roy Thomas' fault or if he's just working with the panels Buscema drew for him... no, i take it back, it's definitely Thomas' fault - is just the histrionic way all this information is delivered. Loki tells Norvell to try on the belt. Full stop. He's not cut off in mid-sentence. So Norvell tries it on and gets zapped. Then Loki starts screaming at him, calling him a fool, and then launches into three panels full (and i mean full) of additional instructions.
It would be so much better if Norvell tries on the Belt and then you see Loki grinning and he says, "Oh did I forget to mention that you also need to...". Playing on his Trickster God status. If not that, if you're stuck with a panel of Loki looking angry, at least show Norvell so eager to try on the Belt that he stops listening to Loki before he's finished. Instead you get the Roy Thomas Reversal. It happens all the time. Someone says something. Someone else responds. The first person then angrily shouts some new information.
Anyway, on to the trial. Thor is the prosecutor, and he simply points out that Loki is a bad guy. Loki's defense is that he's just playing his part in the Ragnarok prophecy, which is a good defense, actually. But this whole trial is ridiculous. Asgard is an absolute monarchy. Odin has sentenced Loki, and Thor, and others many times before, usually without listening to any evidence first. So why a trial this time? And a western style trial-by-jury?
The trial is broken up by Red Norvell, who has completed his quest and now has the power of Thor.
The Iron Gloves let Norvell hold Thor's hammer.
What follows is a major beat-down of Thor, and aren't we glad to have Buscema on art?
The rest of the Asgardians are absolutely useless.
Odin sits the fight out (which is leading up to one of the best things about this arc). Sound guy Joey Burnett gets in the way of one of Norvell's blasts and gets killed.
Finally Sif agrees to be Norvell's girlfriend if he'll quit fighting, which is such an awful use of Sif.
At least we had some forward action and a nice fight scene in that issue (#276). Issue #277 returns to an ambling pace.
Ragnarok is coming.
Mostly the Asgardians spend a lot of time talking about what will happen once Ragnarok comes. Then some time is wasted with Loki escaping captivity and then getting recaptured a few pages later.
Loki is sentenced to lie in a cave and have a serpent drip acid on his face, like in the myths.
And as in the myths, Sigyn tries to keep the acid off his face but every once in a while has to stop to empty her plate (i don't know why she has to walk so far away to dump the acid).
Again, you get the feeling that this was done because it makes the comic more like the myths, not because it adds anything to the story. Even Thor losing his hammer to Norvell is because in the myths, Thor uses a sword during Ragnarok. (But as we'll see, this is all part of Odin's scheme as much as it is Thomas').
Red Norvell proves to be a real bully...
...but the real sticking point for me is Sif's helplessness.
At one point she tries to take off Norvell's belt while he's sleeping so she can "force him to restore me to Asgard, ere it fall". Sif has the power to transport herself through time and space! She doesn't need Red Norvell to take her anywhere.
Finally, at long last... Ragnarok.
Loki is among Hela's hordes, which is a surprise to Thor since he's supposed to be locked up.
It turns out that the Loki Thor is fighting is actually a doppelganger created by Odin; the real one is still imprisoned (and i love the little dinosaur Buscema randomly threw in there).
But Thor has bigger problems. The Midgard Serpent has arrived.
The Serpent was prophesized to kill Thor during Ragnarok. That's where Red Norvell, finally convinced by Sif to join the battle, comes in.
Poor guy doesn't even get to die on panel. But don't worry. Red Norvell will come back in the 90s.
With the Serpent having fulfilled the prophecy by killing a Thor, the real Thor is free to defeat the creature.
That turns the tide of battle, and Hela's forces retreat.
The whole thing turns out to be a ruse set up by Odin.
And i think it's really clever. Every time you read a story involving a prophecy, the characters always work to prevent it from happening, but their actions always ironically cause the prophecy to occur. What Odin has done here is to ensure that the prophecy does occur, but in the most harmless way possible. Brilliant! A good resolution by Roy Thomas. It's even good characterization of Odin, who is a cold "greater good" type of guy and doesn't mind manipulating his fellow gods or sacrificing a few mortals to prevent or delay Ragnarok.
Thor, however, is a super-hero in addition to a god, and he is less pleased with this outcome. He gets into a fight with his father, and things escalate and he winds up renouncing Asgard and leaving for Earth.
So i've been hard on this arc, but it ends on a high note. We'll see in future issues that Ragnarok has not been avoided forever, but the introduction of the idea that it's a cycle that the gods can't avoid taking part in is cool, and later writers will expand on it. This saga definitely had its low points, but at least, unlike a lot of Roy Thomas epics, this one doesn't take a tangential detour half-way through. His upcoming Celestials saga, for example, will be all over the place, but this is very straightforward, albeit long and often slow. John Buscema's art is great throughout.
Quality Rating: C
Chronological Placement Considerations: Thor annual #7 takes place during Thor #275; i've placed it directly after this arc. The MCP places this arc between Avengers #177 and Avengers #179 (Thor doesn't appear in Avengers #178). Odin has given up an eye in return for knowledge in these issues, so any two-eyed Odin appearances should take place prior to this.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (16): show
The Midgard Serpent looks way too much like a sock puppet in places.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 21, 2011 1:18 AM
Ragnarok, at this time in Thor, had become overused to the point where it just didn't impress anyone anymore, much like Steve Trevor dying repeatedly in DC's Wonder Woman. As Fred Hembeck said just after #274 got published: "Ragnarok! The end of the world! Oy vey! Chicken Little guest stars!"
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 24, 2011 1:04 PM
Around this time, Marvel announced a 2nd larger-size Thor title called "Thor of Asgard" and later "Hammer of Thor"; the first issue depicting Thor during the Trojan War. It never happened , but it's interesting to know that Marvel felt Thor could support a 2nd title.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 1, 2012 9:47 PM
What happens to Red Norvell
Posted by: doomsday | December 16, 2013 6:23 PM
Some of those stories scheduled for the Thor magazine showed up in the annuals.
Yeah, Ragnarok ended up being eye-rolling worthy. Although later explanations that the gods were stuck in a cycle for eternity was pretty neat.
Red Nor ell showed up a few more times in the early to mid 1990s issues of Thor. I think it was in Journey into Mystery during the period Thor was supposed to be dead with that Heroes Reborn debacle. I know it was some Tom DeFalco stories where he showed up.
Posted by: ChrisKafka | December 16, 2013 9:23 PM
Ah, Roy Thomas. Why write new stories when you can endlessly rehash stories already written by previous comic writers or existing myths, legends, and books! Usually with tons of exposition to show how much Roy likes to read.
Thomas has his moments, but I've never understood why he's considered to be in the pantheon of great comics writers. He's certainly been important to Marvel as a business and the comics industry, but as a writer he's average at best once you compare his strong points (and he does have them) and weak points.
Posted by: Chris | March 22, 2014 3:33 PM
I just did a search on the Midgard Serpent, and somehow when Simonson drew it, it looks amazing in its draconian/serpentine hybrid...whereas here we just get a sock puppet with button eyes and have to just cope with that being the bringer of Ragnarok.
Posted by: Ataru320 | April 5, 2015 10:35 PM
The Midgard Serpent also appears (in a vision) in Thor #127-128, with yet another appearance. I agree that Simonson's version is the best.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | April 6, 2015 1:17 AM
Not to beat a dead serpent, but yeah, sock puppet is the right description.
Still, I can't help wondering if all of this wouldn't seem as weak if Simonson hadn't come along and made us all realize how awesome it could be.
Still, the scene at the beginning is nice - it's always nice to see the heroes, especially the god heroes, interact with kids.
Posted by: Erik Beck | April 8, 2015 6:47 AM
You note that #272, which stands on its own, separate from this arc (except for the last-page segue) is based on an actual Norse myth.
Perhaps Roy Thomas encountered it, as many others have, in Thomas Bulfinch's "Mythology," a 19th-century tome that retold various myths and legends in an accessible style.
The terse ending in Bulfinch's rendition is quite wonderful. Skrymir, aka Utgard-Loki, confesses what the various illusion were. Then:
"On hearing these words Thor in a rage laid hold of his mallet and would have launched it at him, but Utgard-Loki had disappeared, and when Thor would have returned to the city to destroy it, he found nothing around him but a verdant plain."
The comics adaptation is pretty faithful to the original and quite enjoyable, too. Some details are changed or simplified: In the original, for instance, it's Thor's servant Thialfi who races against "Thought," not Loki. (Much later, Thialfi would be adapted as a Marvel character.)
But 273-78 are, in my book, valuable mainly just for John Buscema's mighty art. Okay, his button-eyed Midgard Serpent isn't great, but his Thor, Odin, Sif, etc. sure are ... and he does quite well with the serpent that drips acid on Loki's face.
Posted by: Instantiation | November 17, 2015 10:24 PM
one thing Roy Thomas does ALOT is use the "as so-and-so used to say..." and then go into a quote!! And this recap shows Red Norvell doing it *twice*!
Posted by: Brimstone | January 11, 2016 12:39 AM
Avengers and Conan are definetely Roy Thomas'stronger points.
Posted by: CaptainMar-Vell92 | January 6, 2018 5:33 AM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|