Issue(s): Thor #281, Thor #282
Considering the writers here, especially Gruenwald and Gillis (actually, the presence of Mike Catron, the co-founder of Fantagraphics, is a real oddity), it's not surprising that these issues read more like the Marvel Handbook entry for Limbo than a Thor story. That's not necessarily a complaint; it's interesting to see this sort of stuff laid out and there's a fine tradition of history lesson stories at Marvel going back at least to the Celestial Madonna saga.
Thor attempts to travel back in time (a power he definitely has but rarely demonstrates) to see the beginnings of the Celestials in order to drive them off Earth, but he finds himself stuck in Limbo without Mjolnir. He's greeted by the Space Phantom, who tells him that he can lead him to his hammer. As Thor walks through Limbo, we see images of Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Fantastic Four, and even Thor himself.
As they walk, the Space Phantom explains the reason for his previous attacks on Thor and the Avengers. The Phantom is part of a race that mastered time travel before space flight. But they were a "belicose" people whose meddling with the timestream in their constant warring amongst themselves caused divergent realities and other problems. One day, the Phantom got trapped in Limbo and became a servant of Immortus.
However, the Space Phantom still feels some loyalty to his world (in fact, he explains that while he was working for Immortus, he was also seeing if the Earth could serve as a replacement for his world once it was destroyed in "time-induced entropy"), and he tells Thor that he'll help him get his hammer back if Thor will save it. Thor forges a makeshift hammer to help fight his way through the various soldiers on the Space Phantom's planet.
He also uses his cape in a similar manner.
But the Phantom turns out to be lying, and he leads Thor to a vortex trap instead of his hammer. The trap leaves him in a half-Thor/half-Donald Blake state. That's the cliffhanger for #281 but it's actually inconsequential. Thor quickly escapes the trap and soon the Space Phantom is saying ok, ok, this time i'll really take you to your hammer. The Phantom's lack of ethics are confounding Thor, and the Phantom's duplicitous nature, as depicted here, is reminiscent of the fable of the scorpion and the frog.
It seems like it's actually possible to walk from the Phantom's planet to Limbo and back (it's at least leapable)...
...which i guess is appropriate considering the damage his race's time-traveling is meant to have done. The Phantom takes Thor to Immortus' castle, but first Thor has to fight his way past Immortus' guardian, who turns out to be Tempus.
Thor turns out to be immune to Tempus' aging ray...
...and, still hammerless, he defeats Tempus by bashing his face in with his own club.
From there, the Space Phantom leads Thor through Immortus' Escher-esque castle (note Immortus actually holding Thor's hammer).
As near as i can tell, Mjolnir was merely bait. He lured Thor there because he wanted someone to tell his story to.
Probably the key new information is the not-quite-revealed presence of the Time-Twisters (these will later be revealed to be the related Time-Keepers) that have trained Immortus so he can help them with their custodianship of the time-stream.
The other information, similar to what we heard earlier from the Space Phantom, is that time, and even Immortus himself, should be thought of as a tree, with many divergent paths.
Hilariously, Thor is about as interested in this as the school jock in a physics class.
Thor's promise to help the Space Phantom's planet now that he has his hammer back is wrapped up in a single hand-waving splash panel, and then after a non-thanks from the Phantom...
...Thor is returned, and to the present, not the past he wanted to go to. The time-traveling capabilities of his hammer have been removed. Which seems to have been one of the goals of this story.
I like these kinds of stories. Tying in Tempus and solidifying the Immortus/Space Phantom connection (we saw the Phantom working for Immortus during the Celestial Madonna storyline), trying to establish some ground rules for the way time works (which won't survive forever), and providing deeper explanations for the actions of past characters... it's all very cool. I like these stories better when they are done in conjunction with an actual plot and a good scripter, which isn't the case this time, but it's still an interesting read.
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP place this between Avengers #180-181.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Avengers Forever later retconned this into an elaborate scheme to remove Mjolnir's time-related powers.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 28, 2013 4:19 PM
I think Mike Catron had already left Fantagraphics by this time.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 28, 2013 4:20 PM
The "laborers" Rama-Tut is using to build his Limbo castle are Dr. Doom's robot guards from old issues of the FF. At this point, the Marvel editors were still toying with the idea that Kang might once have been Dr. Doom. John Byrne finally settled this question, in the negative, in FF 273.
Posted by: Andrew | January 7, 2015 7:35 AM
It's interesting, in light of Mark's first comment, to note that in the final panel of #282, Thor thinks, "I am gnawed by the notion that this was all a contrivance to cleave mine hammer of its time-spanning might!"
Posted by: Matthew Bradley | October 9, 2016 12:58 PM
And indeed, Kurt cited that panel when people criticized him online for the Avengers Forever retcon.
Posted by: Michael | October 9, 2016 4:58 PM
The fact that Immortus can pick up Thor's hammer is pretty wild. I take that as being evidence not that Immortus is more powerful than Odin, but that there's a time-related "bug" in the "code" of Odin's enchantment that Immortus is able to exploit.
Posted by: Andrew | October 13, 2016 4:45 PM
I agree. The idea that time doesn't exist in Limbo is probably also the reason why Thor doesn't revert back to Don Blake after 60 seconds. The 60s seconds cannot ellapse in Limbo.
The enchantment that enables one to lift Mjolnir is a function of worthiness, not of power. Immortus is able to lift the hammer because, according to Thor, it's "as if Odin's enchantments were absent."
Then Immortus replies, "The only enchantments here are my own," implying that Odin's enchantments won't work in Limbo. Notice also that the hammer doesn't seem to grant any of the Thunder God powers to Immortus, which should happen if the enchantment were in effect.
Posted by: Holt | March 26, 2018 9:26 PM
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