This week brought out another issue of THOR, a title that I had only recently begun to get into and enjoy. New writer Roy Thomas had decided to lean into the genuine Norse legends for his first big epic, which saw the Gods of Ragnarok once again facing the approaching threat of Ragnarok, the end-of-the-world scenario that was predestined to wipe them all out. Ragnarok had been invoked a bunch of times already in the series, to the point where it could be difficult for readers to take the threat seriously. But this was my first brush with Ragnarok, and so to me, it seemed more dire and impending than ever before.
The big thing that made a difference to me, I suspect, is the involvement of those original Norse legends, which helped to give the story a greater feeling of legitimacy for me. So it was that last issue, Balder had been granted indestructibility from every substance in the universe apart from mistletoe. But cunning Loki had manipulated the sightless Hoder into firing an arrow made of mistletoe at Balder, and down the God of Beauty and Courage went, his death being the first presaged event on the inexorable march towards Ragnarok.
The artistic team of John Buscema on layouts and Tom Palmer on finishes really put the work in to convey the scale and the horror of Ragnarok, as on this early splash page where Loki reminds his fellow Norse gods what has been prophesied to Odin. But Big Daddy isn’t ready to throw in the towel just yet. A spark of life remains within Balder, and so Odin dispatches the swift Hermod to Hela’s realm of death, to determine if the Goddess of Death might be bargained with in this instance.
Meanwhile, the story’s focus shifts to Harris Hobbs, a reporter who has conned his way into having Thor convey himself and his film crew to Asgard, and who has been giving a human perspective on all of the godly business that’s been playing out. I found this helpful as a reader, as I wasn’t especially invested in the goings on in Asgard per se. Hobbs reveals to his crew that, according to the legends, Hela agrees to surrender her claim to Balder’s spirit if all things in the universe will weep for him. But there’s a holdout, of course–in some tellings, a giantess called Thokk, in others Loki himself–so the prognosis for Balder’s resurrection look dim. Also dim are cameraman “Red” Norville’s chances at wooing Lady Sif, something he takes an awkward shot at despite the dire situation that everybody is in. When Sif rebukes him, Norville stalks away–only to be called over by Loki, who offers him the power to stand toe-to-toe with Sif’s suitor, Thor.
The Gods begin to buckle down for the impending war–only for Odin to realize that Thor is nowhere to be found. Volstagg helpfully tells the All-0Knowing All-Father that Thor has taken off for Mimir’s well of wisdom and a side adventure in a THOR Annual soon to be on sale. Meanwhile, Loki has transported himself and Red Norville to the realm of the trolls, and has begun to try to convince them to attack Asgard. Thor conveniently shows up at this point, back from his errand in the Annual, and the two half-brothers begin to fight. Loki’s swiped the axe that Orin once used to fell the frost giant Ymir, which is good enough to go up against his brother’s hammer. What’s more, he’s woven enchantments to sap Thor’s strength as well.
But Thor still has a card to play–one straight out of the mythology as well as an early JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY story. The Thunder God summons his Belt of Strength, which can double his awesome power while worn. It’s a bit of a cheat, really, but given that it’s a part of the original stories, it’s perhaps more allowable here. With Loki’s diminishing enchantments thus nullified, Thor goes to town on him and the Trolls, wiping up on them all. His task finished, Thor tosses Loki over his shoulder to convey him back to Asgard and the judgment of Odin. Off-handedly, he hands his Belt of Strength to Red Norville to hold onto for him until he might need it again. Bad move, Thunder God. But a problem for next issue.
Back in Asgard, Odin has come up with a work-around to their Ragnarok problem. Using his almighty Odin-Force, he surrounds Balder in a nimbus of energy that suspends him in a state between life and death. But doing so takes up a considerable amount of his own energy and life force, so his power is greatly reduced by the expenditure. And now, should Odin die, the field would drop and Balder would truly perish as well, thus bringing about Ragnarok. And on that note of portent, the issue closes out with its To Be Continued!