This issue of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY represents the beginning of the fully-formed period of Thor’s adventures. While launched over a year before in issue #83, the strip was swiftly handed over by editor Stan Lee to other creators to write and draw–Jack Kirby’s talents were needed elsewhere, it seemed–and consequently, the series wasn’t working as well as some of the other Marvel books. Eventually, Lee took over writing THOR himself, and introduced the running subplot of Thor wanting to wed Jane Foster but being rebuked by his father Odin to create some drama in the series. At the same time, Kirby had come back to inaugurate the TALES OF ASGARD feature in the back of the book, which at least initially focused on retellings of the genuine mythology on which the character was based. But it gave the series more of an epic flavor overall. And with this issue, Kirby returned to the strip full time and wouldn’t leave it until he was done with Marvel completely in 1970.
Lee had by this point figured out that part of what the new Marvel readership was responding to in the new super hero books was melodrama, and so he focused on that element, the contentious personalities of his various characters, far more than on plot or story incident. Under writers such as Robert Bernstein, the Thor strip had been just another hero strip in the vein of the Mort Weisinger-edited Superman. At the same time, having reclaimed the chair as the central driver of the narrative, Jack Kirby permitted his imagination to become more wild, combining the old world of Thor’s mythological homeland with crazy super-scientific wonders. It was a heady stew, one that soon became Marvel’s third most popular title, after only AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and FANTASTIC FOUR.
Since I happen to have them handy, here’s a look at Kirby’s pencils for this opening splash page. Jack was still having to produce rapidly during this period, so his style is a lot more stripped-down and spontaneous than what he’d eventually do when he could slow down and focus. But especially on splash pages such as this one, he put quite a bit of effort into things. The inking by George Roussos (credited as the pseudonymous George Bell as he was simultaneously working for DC/National) wasn’t especially polished, though it was very complete.
This story opens with Thor pissed off that Odin will not bless his relationship with Jane Foster, and in his anger causing a bit of a ruckus streetside. This causes his fellow Avengers to show up in response–both to plug their own series and reinforcing the sense that the Marvel titles all existed within the same cosmology. But Thor doesn’t want to be calmed down. He’d rather brood about his problems (though Iron Man does pay for the damage Thor has caused, possibly the first time that bit had been used.) In Asgard, Odin watches his son’s tantrum with disapproving eyes. Loki is there as well, pouring poison into the old man’s ears. He convinces the All-Father to halve Thor’s power as punishment for his ignoble actions.
This suits Loki just fine, and wanting to take advantage of his half-brother’s weakness, he mentally seeks out Zarrko the Tomorrow Man in his future era and restores the criminal’s lost memory of his defeat at Thor’s hand. Desiring revenge for the insult, Zarrko constructs a powerful futuristic robot and makes the journey back to the 20th Century. Meanwhile, with his powers halved, the Thunder God is unable to get past Heimdall on the Rainbow Bridge to plead his case with his father. Humbled, he returns to his mortal life as Doctor Don Blake–until he hears about the Tomorrow Man’s rampage downtown. Then it’s time for action. Despite his reduced power level, Thor hurls himself into the fray with his old enemy.
But courage enough is not enough to win the day, and Thor finds himself sorely pressed against Zarrko’s remarkably strong android servitor. In the end, Thor is beaten–but his humiliation is not over. Zarrko demands that the Thunder God return with him to the 23rd Century and aid him in the conquest of his native time. If he doesn’t, Zarrko will order his robot to obliterate the 20th Century (which would wipe out his own home era too, naturally, but who’s counting?) With no other choice, Thor agrees to Zarrko’s demands. It’s at precisely this moment that cunning Loki suggests to Odin that they should check in on Thor, and the All-Father is aghast that his son has surrendered to a mere mortal–conveniently forgetting for the moment that he brought the boy to only half-strength. ALl is going according to Loki’s plan, and as Zarrko’s time machine disappears into the future, the story is To Be Continued!
The opening Thor story only took up 13 pages in the issue, so the book still carried two other features. The second story was one of those generic suspense stories that had made up the bulk of JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY’s contents for many years. This one was both written and drawn by Larry Lieber, with strong-sauce inking from Matt Fox. Fox’s work over Lieber is divisive among fans–people either seem to love it or hate it, there is no neutral ground. The story is about two intergalactic races, the civilized Idylicans and the merciless Vulcans. When the Vulcans move to attack their world, the Idylicans alter its gravity, leaving their forces helplessly suspended in midair. Then, they simply migrate to the Vulcans’ now-abandoned homeworld. Easy peasy!
And in the far back of the book came TALES OF ASGARD, which by this point had transitioned into telling stories of Thor’s youth in Asgard, before he’d become worthy enough to lift his fabled hammer. In it, the enemies of Asgard are planning to attack the fabled city. Loki shows Thor an opening in the city’s defenses (which Loki has himself created, of course) and the young warrior is forced to fight a solo delaying action against a cadre of enemies until help can find him. But his single-handed defense and the courage he showed in facing down this more powerful enemy have proven his worth just a little bit more–and by the end of the five-page adventure, he can raise up the mystic hammer just a little bit further. The combination of these pure fantasy stories against the modern day-set lead Thor stories provided a sense of epicness to the series that no other Marvel book carried.