This is another comic that I’m pretty sure I got from my grade school friend Donald Sims in some long-forgotten trade. We would often swap comics, and I got a number of books from his collection that I really wanted that way. He was pretty much the only other person I knew during this time that read and collected comic books (though there was a sub-strata of casual readership among a few of my classmates. But in their cases, it was something they did but really didn’t care about.) That’s a pretty good Jack Kirby cover on this issue, though the alterations to Thor’s face are unfortunate. Much like at DC, when Kirby returned to Marvel, for some reason his cover faces were often altered, ostensibly to bring them more on model with how the characters appeared then but also to hit the narrow range of expressions that the editors of that time felt were appropriate for a cover.
My memory is that this wasn’t an issue that I especially liked. It leaned very hard on Thor in Asgard, both in the lead story and the Tales of Asgard back-up. And so, it felt more like another Barbarian comic book to me than a super hero title, something I wasn’t at all interested in. I’ve said before that I suspect one of the reasons different creators would do this with THOR so often in the 1970s was because of how popular CONAN and the entire sword and sorcery genre had become in comics; it was a perfect crossover comic. But this made it less appealing to me, rather than more, and that’s even with Len Wein and John Buscema at the helm.
As was so often the case in this era, Odin was once again missing. In order to locate him, Thor had to retrieve the Ruby Eye, a massive gemstone, as an offering to Mimir, the flaming well of knowledge. But in his quest, Thor ran afoul of his old nemesis Ulik, mightiest of the trolls, who needed the Ruby Eye for his own reasons. As the issue opens, Ulik has the upper hand, having tossed Thor off a rock-bridge to his seeming doom in the fires below. This might have been a problem if Thor couldn’t fly–but he can, and so he’s able to save himself from immolation and return in time to prevent Ulik from absconding with the necessary gem.
Thor is able to wrest the Eye from Ulik’s possession–but he’s not a complete jerk. He asks his foe why the Troll needs the Eye so badly, and Ulik tells him of how the Trolls had been going about their business of digging deep into the ground when they disturbed a mighty creature slumbering there. This creature was mighty enough to scatter their armies, but they pinned it down behind a barricade for the time being. Only the Eye can seal this barricade permanently. In a fit of altruism, Thor offers to accompany Ulik back to his home and to help him in destroying the creature, called Trogg, in exchange for free passage with the Eye.
But Trogg proves to be much more formidable than Thor had anticipated in his arrogance. He breaks free of the barricade almost as soon as the pair arrives, and all of their efforts to bring him to ground are futile. At the climax of the battle, Ulik has forced Trogg back into the aperture of the portal through which he appeared, but only by sacrificing the Ruby Eye can he be once again sealed within. Reluctantly, Thor gives up his prize, hurling it into the portal and thus sealing Trogg away forever. But now Odin’s whereabouts are lost to him–and to make a bad situation even worse, Ulik and his fellow Trolls laugh at the Thunder God for having given up his prize to rescue his enemies. So it’s an angry Thor who stomps off out of the story and into the following issue, where his quest for Odin would continue.
This issue and the one before it featured back-up chapters of a Tales of Asgard story–a feature that hadn’t been seen in THOR’s pages since the mid-1960s. I’m presuming that the use of these back-ups were schedule-related, especially given that the next issue would feature the scourge of 1970s Marvel, the unscheduled emergency reprint story. This installment did feature some nice artwork from Pablo Marcos, and reads to me as though it may have originally been intended for the proposed Black and White THOR Magazine that had been worked on a few months earlier.
It’s a bit of a nothing story, though. Having first earned his enchanted hammer, Thor ventures out into Asgard and picks a needless fight with the first Storm Giant that he finds. The two mix it up for several pages spread across two issues until they’ve finally taken the measure of one another and realized that they’ve been fighting for no reason, at which point they go their separate ways. It certainly doesn’t speak all that well of Thor, who’s a bit of an arrogant lout as a young man in this tale, but it sure does fill up the back half of this issue pretty well.