Issue(s): Thor #345, Thor #346, Thor #347, Thor #348, Thor #349, Thor #350
The Casket of Ancient Winters saga is one of the coolest events in Marvel history for us continuity geeks. Not because it's a great storyline (it is!), but because of the way other books unofficially tie in to it. During the course of this story, a major blizzard occurs that affects the entire Earth, and several unrelated books depict the snowstorms, even though their characters don't directly get involved in the plot. It really reinforces the shared universe aspect of the Marvel universe, and makes the event seem larger - more menacing, more significant - even though crazy stuff like that happens all the time in comics.
But let's start at the beginning. Actually, the beginning was Simonson's first issue on Thor, where he investigated a distant galactic menace and found himself fighting demons alongside Beta Ray Bill. They attempted to follow the demons back to the source but were repelled. Since then, we've been getting scenes of a giant fiery being pounding away at an anvil (Doom! Doom!) and forging a Twilight Sword. Beyond that, when Balder made it to Loki's castle last issue, he saw that Loki was already conferring with a dark elf named Malekith on behalf of a higher power.
But issue #345 begins the saga in earnest, and in a very offbeat way. The story focuses on a Dr. Eric Willis, who force feeds his secretary a McBurger.
This causes her to disintegrate.
The police arrive and take him away. While he's being held there, a police officer feeds her fellows with cookies and then tries to feed a cookie to the doctor as well. He retaliates with a french fry.
This causes her to disintegrate as well. Before eating the fry, she was trying to get Willis to tell her the location of the Casket of Ancient Winters. Meanwhile, Willis' lawyer, acting on prior instruction, gets a package to an individual that he thinks is Willis' father, but the letter that is delivered is signed "your loving father". The lawyer also contacts Thor via Jarvis at Avengers Mansion, but Thor gets involved too late for Willis, who is pursued by more people and eventually seduced and killed by a woman who turns out to actually be Malekith.
Meanwhile, more Doom!
The end blurb says:
Confused? Bewildered? Afraid to eat a McBurger again? Don't be! All will be explained next issue (if we can figure it out in time)!
In the next issue, we see the father/son Roger Willis also being pursued.
Meanwhile, Thor arrives at the police station where Eric was being held. The police feed him a cookie, and they assume that he's now under their control. They reveal that they are faerie people and all who eat faerie food become thralls of Malekith, as they did. They also reveal that Eric is dead and that Malekith seeks the Casket. Thor, being an immortal, is actually immune to the food, so after hearing what he needed to hear he knocks out the police with lightning, noting that they aren't responsible for their actions.
Meanwhile Roger follows his fathers instructions and locates the Casket.
Malekith, however, is hot on his heels, leading "the Wild Hunt", a group of demonic dogs.
Malekith, Roger, and Thor all convene at the 59th street bridge. Using a gun with steel jacketed bullets, Roger is actually able to hurt the creatures, and when Thor remembers that the faerie are vulnerable to all forms of iron, he uses the bridge itself to fend off the otherwise overwhelming horde.
Having repelled Malekith for now, Thor reveals his secret identity to Roger and takes him back to "Melodi's" apartment, thinking that he can hide him there. Melodi/Lorelei has been scheming to get Thor to drink her golden mead all along, and this time he accepts. Worse, Malekith got to the apartment first, took Lorelie prisoner, and replaced her with an enchanted piece of wood.
Driven by the mead, Thor is forced to travel to Malekith's realm without any thought towards getting some help from Asgard or the Avengers.
The faerie are invisible to mortals, and even Thor can only dimly see them, but Thor is able to acquire some Oil of Vision from some of the faerie's human lackeys and apply it to Roger's eyes. Thor is able to fight his way into the dark elves' realm with relative ease, but he is driven to distraction when he sees Melodi/Lorelei in danger, and he is felled by a particularly big elf named Algrim the Strong.
But Thor rallies, and trash-talks Algrim a bit (You're not even as strong as Ulik the Troll, let alone me). But while they're fighting Malekith has both of them dumped into an endless pit, and Thor is without his hammer.
With Thor gone, the elves are easily able to get the Casket from Roger.
Malekith chooses to let Roger live, but blind him so that "your eyes will never be sullied by lesser visions than the wondrous Land of Faerie!". What Malekith doesn't know is that Roger has a steel plate in his head from a wound in Korea that interferes with the faerie spell. He's still temporarily blinded, and Malekith doesn't have him pursued when he breaks free and wanders off into the caverns. Roger regains his vision, but no longer has the Oil that allows him to see the elves. However, he's able to guess where Malekith is standing based on the glowing light from the Casket and Malekith's evil eye. He shoots his final bullet...
...but only hits him in the shoulder. Still, it's enough to delay Malekith's ritual.
OK, Thor is falling to his death, and he doesn't have his hammer. Now i know that Thor nominally flies by spinning his hammer, throwing it, and then catching it. But i've always felt that Thor, being a weather god, should also be able to do anything that Storm can do. And that should include creating a heavy wind to hold him up. In fact, we'll see him do that to float not just himself, but Lorelei, Roger, and Malekith, at the beginning of Thor #349.
But i guess even there he's using his hammer to generate the vortex. So i'm wrong, and he needs his hammer. Luckily, he can summon it, and it heeds his summons. Instead of following him down the pit, it takes a more direct route and plows through solid rock to get to him. That is awesome, although i have to say it's not depicted in the art as awesomely as it could have been.
While Thor is able to save himself, Algrim the Strong falls into the lava at the bottom of the pit. He'll return during Secret Wars II as Kurse.
Once he's back on his feet, Thor unleashes his holy wrath on Malekith.
And hey, this line is a Star Wars reference, right? I'm not just a big geek?
Some last minute trickery allows Malekith an opportunity to shatter the Casket of Ancient Winters anyway. This wasn't quite what Malekith wanted, because the destruction while in the faerie realm means that it will be affected as well. But it still serves the larger purpose.
While all of this has been going on, the fire demon Surtur has been waiting for the Casket to be destroyed.
Now that it's open, he's free.
Meanwhile, Balder, dejected from breaking his vow of pacifism in issue #344, has decided to kill himself by walking into the desert. While there, he encounters a Sand Devil threatening a young woman, and he leaps to her rescue.
Balder is being stalked by Agnar, the young warrior who tried to challenge Balder some time ago but was stopped by Volstagg. Agnar helps by throwing Balder a sword while hiding behind a sand dune. After Balder kills the Devil, he's spirited away by the young woman.
We'll later learn that Balder is still in Karnilla's realm, and that Karnilla theoretically has control of all creatures in her domain, so this Sand Devil scenario may not be as random as it seems.
It turns out the woman is one of the three Norns. The Norns weave the Tapestry of Life, and they show him his strand and give him the opportunity to break it. When he hesitates, he is pulled into the Tapestry, where he sees how closely his life is bound with others, and this convinces him to go on living.
Issue #348 was the first issue of Thor i ever read (more on that later), and i have to tell you, this was a bit confusing to my 9 year old brain.
After coming to his resolution, Balder is returned to Asgard. He picks up Agnar and heads back to Asgard, because while in the Tapestry he also learned about the threat of a "burning shadow".
Meanwhile, Odin has been making preparations. He's had the Warriors Three rounding up his armies. He knew from his raven Muninn that something was up. And now Balder arrives with news, and Odin takes a peek at what Thor's been up to and sees that Malekith, long imprisoned, is now free.
Actually, the scene with Odin peeking in on Thor is pretty funny.
First, Roger has been suspecting something was up ever since Thor drank the mead. "Melodi" somehow knew Thor's secret identity. And Thor's been acting a little too single-mindedly. So when they get back to Melodi's apartment, Roger wants to speak to Thor alone. But Thor needs to call his civilian identity's boss Jerry Sapristi to apologize for missing work. Sapristi is Nick Fury's cousin and knows that something is up with "Sigurd Jarlson". He previously guessed that Sigurd was really Spider-Man. Now he's decided that Sigurd's Captain America.
While Thor is talking with Jerry, Lorelei gets Roger alone, and gives him a kiss that prevents him from telling Thor what he suspects. It reminds me of Dr. Strange's origin story, except, for better or worse, Baron Mordo didn't kiss Dr. Strange.
Roger can't warn Thor, but he is able to dilute Lorelei's mead.
Now back to Odin. So he's checking in on Thor, and first he sees that Thor is dallying about with another mortal woman. And he starts to get himself all worked up. Then he realizes that it's really Lorelei. The fact that she's an evil seductress deceiving his son doesn't really bother him. As long as she's not a mortal. Hilarious.
When Thor arrives in Asgard, he learns from Heimdal that Odin pretty much knows what Thor is going to tell him. Thor's reaction is great. Humorous and just good characterization.
Much of the rest of issue #349 is devoted to a tale of Odin and his two brothers Vili and Ve. When they were younger, soon after slaying Ymir and making the world of his body and the sky of his skull and the clouds of his brains, they went for a ride beyond the edge of the Nine Worlds to the Gates of Muspelheim and encountered Surtur.
They heard his prophesy about how when the end of time is nigh, he will light his sword Twilight in the Eternal Flame of Destruction and set the Nine Worlds alight. So Odin and his brothers shattered his sword and stole the flame. Vili and Ve gave their lives to keep Surtur sealed in Muspelheim while Odin fled with the Flame. Before they died, the three brothers could combine their powers and become a single giant entity.
When they died, he received their power, the Odin-power.
And now, of course, Surtur has reforged his sword, and broken free of Muspelheim. The Flame is kept in Asgard, so the might of Asgard must be mustered to prevent Surtur from reaching it.
Odin calls in Beta Ray Bill and Sif for further help.
And he also calls on the darker powers of Asgard. Not all respond to the call (including Loki), but the Enchantress, the Executioner, Tyr, and another guy do respond.
Surtur's fire demons, the Hordes of Muspell...
...have opened a large portal in the Sahara Desert, so the Asgardian forces are sent to Midgard* to meet them. Odin is to stay behind, to be the final guardian of the Flame. Bill tries to suggest that Sif remain behind with Odin, but Thor and Sif inform Bill that it is the 1980s and we don't use that tired old device to keep the ladies out of the fight scenes anymore.
I love Thor's expression in that shot above.
A similar situation occurs when Odin tries to send the children of Asgard off with his wife Frigga. Hildy, who we'll later learn is a daughter of Volstagg, doesn't like being shoved to safety...
...but Odin is able to convince her that he's secretly putting her in charge of Frigga's safety, not the other way around. It's a cute scene and a nice break from the weightiness of the main plot.
The Asgardians arrive in New York City, which is apparently where the Rainbow Bridge leads to. Thor runs ahead to warn the Avengers, and from a chronological perspective, his appearance in Avengers #249 takes place after this scene.
And then the next few scenes are actually a condensed repeat of scenes from that book. Avengers #249 was published prior to Thor #350.
Now, when these books were first coming out when i was kid, i had Thor #348 and #350. The fact that i was missing #349 didn't seem to matter much; i was able to follow the story (it probably helped that most of #349 was a flashback). But i hated the art. Ugh! So scratchy and angular and so many lines! And i had Avengers #249. So i was able to compare the artwork and story directly. And the Avengers here just didn't look right. Again, sketchy. Not clear. Also, this book wasn't even getting the story right! For example, see that scene with Captain Marvel hitting the demon and saying, "No matter how powerful they are, a million kilovolts of electricity should slow them down!"? Well, in the Avengers book, it's a thought bubble, not dialogue spoken out loud. And she actually thinks, "They're still moving after taking a hit from a million kilovolts of electricity? What does it take to stop them?". And then she tries a couple different types of energy, trying to figure out what can actually hurt them. So why was this stupid book getting it wrong?! Beyond that, the story here was just a little too dense for the 9 year old me, and add to that the fact that everyone in the book was speaking in Thor-ese (i could handle Thor and Hercules individually in the Avengers, but every character speaking like that was a bit much), and i just didn't like these issue so much. I recognized they were important and that the Casket of Ancient Winters that was flowing into my other books was originating here. But it would be years before i picked up another Thor book, and at that point Tom DeFalco was writing it and Eric Masterson was Thor (I didn't really like that either). Later i went back to this stuff and realized it was awesome.
Anyway, the rest of issue #350 mainly focuses on the battle in New York...
...but we also see Balder trying to recruit Karnilla and the Enchantress trying to recruit her sister Lorelei. In this issue, neither has much success.
Then Thor screws up big time. The fire demons were, of course, causing fires as they attacked. So Thor summons a big thunderstorm to drown the flame. When the fires die down, he clears the sky. And that causes a rainbow, which reveals the Rainbow Bridge to Surtur.
We'll pause here for now, and see what's going on in the other books. But i mean, great stuff! And it's worth noting that, despite what 9 year old me thought, there's a lot of levity to this story despite the fact that it's pretty heavy. Simonson is great with dialogue and he's able to do a lot of humor and character development while also moving the mythological plot along. And of course, the art is fantastic. Yes, there's a sketchiness to it, but it's filled with frantic energy. There's so much to pack in to every page; of course the hordes of demons and soldiers are going to get a little less detailed in the backgrounds. And there's plenty of pin-up moments as well. So it's just really good.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Avengers #249 takes place mostly during Thor #350. There's really a continuous chain of events beginning in #350 through Thor #353, but i'm breaking up the arc so that the other books that participated in this "event" can take place during the actual story. There are events in Uncanny X-Men #188, the Kitty Pryde & Wolverine mini series, ROM #60, Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #96, and Amazing Spider-Man #258 that take place concurrently with the events in this arc. And since Spider-Man also his own dependencies (because Reed Richards determines that his alien costume is actually a living symbiote right before the blizzard breaks out), we've got annuals and issues of Marvel Team-Up in this break as well. The lettercol for Doctor Strange #72 kind of jokingly says that Strange wasn't around for this event because he was snowed-in in England, putting this between Doctor Strange #68-69.
Crossover: Casket of Ancient Winters
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (24): show
The guy on the right of the panel with the Executioner, Enchantress and Tyr is Hermod, the God of speed and messengers. Not really an evil character, but it's definitely his costume.
Posted by: James | May 21, 2012 12:30 PM
Thanks James. Looking at Hermod's other appearances, you're definitely right and i've added him as a character appearing.
Posted by: fnord12 | May 21, 2012 12:36 PM
I have a theory that the sand wyrm and the child are both actually Norns. It puts an interesting spin on their appearances.
Posted by: Jay Demetrick | May 21, 2015 6:14 PM
Fnord, like you my younger self wasn't that impressed with these issues. They were simply the storyline that intruded on in issue of Avengers (and seemed like they would wrap up in the big Avengers #250, when in fact they finished up in Thor #350). Not only that, but I was reading many of the other comics where winter suddenly exploded (ASM, KP&W, X-Men) and it all seemed cooly inter-connected, but also annoying, as I didn't read Thor and they all seemed designed to makemake me read Thor. But now I can look at this storyline as a whole and see how incredibly awesome it is.
The character of Hildy is really one of the best ones that Simonson would write. She could just be another annoying child character if not for 1 - her ability to beat the living crap out of her brothers, and 2 - her massive crush on Hogun, who clearly adores her.
Posted by: Erik Beck | May 23, 2015 10:06 PM
I think one of my favorite elements of Simonson's art is the way he integrates his word balloons in the panel borders, instead of having them overlap the art. That truly makes his words an integral part of his pencils, as it should be in comics. Same thing with the sound effects. I doubt anyone can ever parallel his run on Thor. I would most compare him to Don Rosa channeling Carl Barks in the manner he mixes epic with funny. Truly someone who should have been treated beter by Marvel at the time.
Posted by: PeterA | November 14, 2015 4:24 AM
Man, the MCU version of Malekith was so lame compared to this. Even the Warhammer version is much better. I felt Sorry for Christopher Eccleston.
Posted by: CaptainMar-Vell92 | October 16, 2017 3:49 AM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|