I’m not 100% certain what made me decide to pick up this issue of THOR, a series I hadn’t previously followed. I had read one issue of THOR several years earlier and not found it to my liking. But in this period, I was beginning toe explore the assorted Marvel releases, and so it was natural that I would eventually dip my toe back into the Thunder God’s waters. And the very nice John Buscema cover promised that this was a new beginning of sorts. It could also be that I had an extra 35 cents that week, and was going to spend it on something.
It must be said that this is a good looking issue. Inker/finisher Tom Palmer was in fine form over his long time collaborator Big John. Palmer was always a strong inker–his hand was always apparent in the pages he worked on. But that was often a real boon, since palmer was himself a capable artist, and so whenever Buscema would go looser on what he was putting down in pencil, he could easily make up the difference in the finished product. It was a good pairing, one that would lend its artistic efforts to several years worth of AVENGERS stories.
This was also Roy Thomas’ beginnings of writing the Thunder God’s adventures, and he turned in a first script that very much played to his predilections: bouncing off of a few moments from the Stan Lee/Jack Kirby era, Thomas adapted one of the genuine mythological stories concerning Thor and Loki, much in the manner that he’d been adapting the works of Robert E. Howard in CONAN. I had no idea of this, though, when I first read this story, and was a bit stunned a few months later when we covered the mythological tale this story was adapted from in English class.
The issue opens with Thor happening on a smaller boy being bullied by some larger attackers and intervening on the younger child’s behalf. In the conversation that follows, Thor assures the kid that he too knows how it feels to contend with a foe that is larger and stronger than himself–and from there, we segue into the mythological tale as Thor relates it to his young listener. It’s a pretty basic fairy tale conceit: on a journey out into the larger world, Thor and Loki have lost their way, and wound up in a realm of colossal giants–they mistake the discarded glove of the first they come across for a cave.
Making their way to the colossal palace of the king of the giants, Thor and Loki are challenged to five contests to prove their prowess, or else they will be imprisoned in the giants’ dungeons indefinitely. The two Asgardians are up for anything, but their efforts are constantly stymied by their opponents: Loki can’t out eat one rival, nor out run another. And try though he might, Thor cannot drain all of the water from a gigantic water horn, nor lift the giants’ housecat off the ground. And he is brought to his knees by an aged crone who looks as though she’d break in two in a strong wind. It’s a poor showing for Odin’s sons.
Of course, this is the whole point of the exercise, and even after five defeats, Thor and Loki are unbroken And so King Utgard reveals the truth to them. It was no mortal beings Loki contested with, but fire itself, which consumes everything, and the speed of thought. The horn Thor could not drain was in fact connected to the ocean itself, and the housecat was really the Earth-girding Midgard Serpent. And the old crone was the personification of Old Age, and so withered and weakened Thor, unbeknownst to all. Despite all this, the two Asgardians terrified the giants by how well they did in each contest, and they sue for peace, allowing the brothers to go on their way unmolested.
It’s a good story, well-told and wonderfully visualized by Buscema and Palmer–even if Roy didn’t originate it. Back in the present day, as Thor bids farewell to his new young friends, he’s flagged down by a supporting player not seen in the series for many years. This is reporter Harris Hobbs, who had once journeyed to Asgard –and now he tells Thor that his next television special is going to be filmed in the Golden Realm itself! To Be Continued!