This issue of THOR was another new book that I picked up on my outing to Heroes World with my grandparents. I didn’t do so because I was completely enthralled with the series so much as an overall “no comic left behind” attitude that I had towards books that I would typically have picked up a week or two later at my regular 7-11. I think this was perhaps the first Marvel issue I saw that had the cover date restored to the cover–for the previous three months, it had been excised, the issue number made larger. It was a change that I didn’t like, specifically because it was a change, so I was happy to see the status quo restored here. The cover dates were a bit of a mystery anyway–they were always three to four months ahead of when the book went on sale for no apparent reason. It was only later that I learned that they were intended originally to communicate to the retailer when to take that particular issue off the stands, and so publishers who were seeking longer display time pushed their cover dates forward by months.
This particular run of THOR is what turned me into a regular reader of the title, albeit one that would occasionally drop off when events grew too ponderous for my tastes. Roy brought what I can only describe as an approach similar to that which he’d honed working on CONAN to THOR, filling the series with not only characters and references to the past, but also in adapting a number of genuine Norse myths about Thor and the Asgardians, working them into the canon of the Marvel version. I had read a few of those myths in school, and so there was always a bit of delighted recognition on my part whenever Roy would recount one. I’m not sure quite why that was, but it worked, at least on me.
Roy was also wise to bring along human reporter Harris Hobbs and his small crew in order to provide a normal perspective on the goings on in Asgard. It was certainly helpful to me–whenever everybody was speaking in faux Shakespearian English for too long, my brain would tune out. The subject of this latest epic was the recurring threat of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods, which had been a recurring thread in THOR for some years, a sword of Damocles that hung over the Asgardian Gods at all times. It seems to me that Roy’s intention with this story was to finally bring about the predicted Ragnarok, and thereafter permit the series to grow beyond it–kind of like undoing the Adult Legion of Super Heroes stories that had hamstrung that title for many years. As things turned out, that didn’t really work, as later writers regularly turned back towards the threat of Ragnarok in subsequent storylines. It was a good try, though.
Anyway, after some preliminaries in which Thor and Loki joust a bit to provide some opening action, the story proper gets moving as Odin returns to the Golden City with dire pronouncements. Roy has taken the liberty here of having Odin match his mythological counterpart more closely by revealing that he had sacrificed his own eye to the flaming well of Mimir in exchange for foresight about Ragnarok. The info he gets sent the All-Father on a quest into Hela’s dark realm of the dead, to seek out the shade of Volla, the prophetess who had predicted Ragnarok in a pair of earlier stories. Volla’s shade tells Odin that the death of Balder will set off the chain of events that leads to Ragnarok, just as it did in the mythological tellings. Odin is a bit stunned by this revelation, as he knows that all things had pledged never to harm Balder, so much did they love the shining god. Roy squares a circle by indicating that this vow is only in force when Balder is within Asgard itself, allowing him to still be vulnerable elsewhere. Which shoudl be enough to justify Odin’s fears, after all Volla’s prophesy didn’t say anything about Balder needing to be struck down while at home.
But still, all of this prophesizing worries Odin, and so he races back to Asgard to share what he’s learned with his people, that Ragnarok might be forestalled or avoided entirely. As Odin relays what he has learned, there’s a gjallarhorn blast from Heimdall on the Rainbow Bridge heralding an arrival. It’s the goddesses of Asgard, returned after many years away. Roy has chosen to deal with the fact that, in most depictions of Asgard up to this time, there were precious few women in attendance. It’s revealed that Odin has dispatched them all on a secret mission led by his own wife Frigga, and that task now completed, they have returned home. It’s implied that, while she is Odin’s wife, Frigga is not Thor’s mother, but the matter is quickly put aside, foreshadowing for what Roy has planned down the line. One of Hobbs’ cameramen, Roger “Red” Norvell, takes an instant liking to Lady Sif–but, of course, she only has eyes for Thor, so it’s to no avail.
Reporter Harris Hobbs is particularly taken aback by all that he’s heard and seeing, confused by the manner in which all of the Asgardians accept that certain things are going to come to pass because they’ve been predicted, and doing nothing to prevent them from occurring. And he may have a point there. In order to test his imperviousness to all manner of fatal attack, Balder welcomes all, friend and foe alike, to take a shot at him with whatever weapon he desires, so as to prove that he is invincible. Hobbs thinks that this is madness, and he’s not wrong. But gods will be gods, and before long, everybody is throwing whatever they have to hand at Balder, and watching it shatter before it strikes him, or veer away, or otherwise fail to cause him harm. This is all in line with the Norse legend of Balder, and sequence of events that I recognized from those old stories.
Just as true to type, Loki will be Loki–and as these games play out, he provides the blind archer Hoder with a special bow and arrow, that he might also join in on the fun of shooting Balder. But Hoder’s arrow is made of mistletoe, the one substance that was overlooked when Frigga was extracting her vow from all things never to harm Balder. It’s his kryptonite, and the shaft strikes with deadly accuracy. Balder falls to the ground, dead, and the Asgardians are dumbfounded, proclaiming that they meant no harm. You morons! Either way, the score at the end of this chapter once all is said and done is Ragnarok: 1, Thor: 0. And with Balder’s death, the Twilight of the Gods grows inexorably closer. To Be Continued!