Thor ’77-’78:

On the Never-Ending Road to Ragnarok, Part 4

The Mighty Thor #265:

This one is truly an ALL BATTLE ISSUE! We left off with The Destroyer, a suit of indestructible-looking armor, powered by someone’s spirit force, crashing into battle with Thor. We find out Loki stole The Destroyer from Galactus, a cosmic giant who survives by eating planets. Galactus used him as a herald, looking for new worlds to eat. The Marvel editor notes, “Check FF #172-175 for details” because events involving the Fantastic Four distracted Galactus and gave Loki the opportunity to steal him. Even while Thor wonders whose spirit inhabits the Destroyer, he is forced to battle him. Meanwhile, The Warriors Three are tracking the stolen, sleeping body of Odin when they feel the earth quaking from the battle above. They return to the surface of Asgard to see what is happening. At the same time, Karnilla the Norn Queen, Sif, and the Recorder return to Asgard, requiring the use of Karnilla’s magic to turn Loki’s guards into toads to gain entrance.

The Warriors Three try to join Thor’s battle, but he rejects their aid. They resist but he insists they continue to search for Odin’s helpless body. They relent and return to their search for the All-Father. As they go below ground, they luckily spot Loki’s henchmen going toward where they have Odin hid, so the three follow them. Meanwhile, the Destroyer is besting Thor, almost to the point of drowning him. Karnilla arrives, and though she is about to destroy the Destroyer, she cannot when she learns that it is the spirit of her love, Balder the Brave, powering the armored suit.

In an ALL BATTLE ISSUE, there is little to discuss; cover-to-next issue blurb is end-to-end action, displaying visual images in a flow typical of the superhero comic, creating full colored, epic action. However, a key point arises at the very end: Loki has used the most beloved Norse god, Balder the Brave, sometimes known as Balder the Beautiful, to infuse the Destroyer armor with a powerful spirit. In Norse myths, Loki conspires to kill Balder because he knows his weakness. Everything in the world was made to promise never to harm Balder, except for harmless mistletoe. The gods then make sport of this, playing a game of throwing items at Balder, knowing these things cannot hurt him. But Loki conspires, giving the blind poet god Hodr a dart fashioned out of mistletoe. Loki tells him to join in the game; when he does, the result is Balder’s death. The gods try to bring Balder back from dead, but Hel, the goddess who rules that land, refuses (suggesting Karnilla’s characterization in the comics – and her love of Balder – though Marvel also has a more villainous Hela character). For his crime, Loki is held captive on a rock, under a serpent dripping poison into his eyes (though his wife tries to help by catching the poison in a bowl – which she must empty, so periodically Loki gets sprayed with venom). These events usually signal the beginning of the end of the Norse gods as they begin the events of Ragnarok, the Twilight of the Gods. However, in a storyline reverse, in this issue Loki does not kill Balder – he attempts to use him to kill Thor.

What do we find in the letter column, “The Hammer Strikes”? Mostly comments in praise of the new artist on Thor from Issue #260 – Walt Simonson. The narratives of comics become mythology through both words and visual art. Images, discussed in the Introduction, are the basis of the myths we create. They expand what we find within ourselves into metaphorical, mythological narratives. The importance of visuals to comic books means that the relationship between a comic book reader and any particular comic is often at least partly based on the artist who draws that comic. Walt Simonson is a famous and venerable comic book artist. His style could almost be called mythological, with sleek and powerful figure drawing creating classically styled (i.e. mythological in feel) characters. His depiction of Thor uses well-defined details to present numerous sequences capturing a full range of emotion. Expressions are always a concern in myth, as the characters’ unique ties to emotions (as the “god of…”) are keys to our resonance with them. Simonson’s lean, illustrative figure style began to emerge here, developing a perspective whose description as “mythological” seems appropriate now.

Five out of the six letters in Thor #265 are praise for Simonson’s work, suggesting he be allowed to stay on the comic for a long time. As a good example of a reader’s commitment to a favorite artist, as well as showing just how important the art is to comics, in the first letter a fan writes, “Having been a long-time devotee of John Buscema’s ‘Thor’, I never thought I’d say this, but Walt’s work with Tony DeZuniga is the best I’ve seen since the Kirby/Sinnott/Colletta collaborations. Of the 74 panels making up the story, at least 65 were ‘framabable’!!” The typo should obviously be “frameable,” but the reader clearly enjoys Simonson’s art. Even more, the writer invokes a history, perhaps even a litany, to create something approaching a personal myth here by calling out a list of favorite artists from past issues of Thor.

And the writer’s favorites are considered great by most other readers as well. Kirby is Jack “King” Kirby, acknowledged as perhaps the greatest superhero comics artist of all time. Even if one has a different favorite artist, it is hard to imagine, even today, anyone leaving Kirby off a list of the top comic book artists. Sinnott and Colletta were both inkers on Kirby’s art. John Buscema is almost as acclaimed as Kirby; in the era I am writing about, it was Buscema’s visual style that defined Marvel comics for me. I loved what I perceived as his realism, an approach to figure drawing that made the comics more real to me. His influence is acknowledged as widespread among many artists following after him. The letter writer calls out this procession of creators perfectly – from Kirby, to Buscema, to Simonson. To my eye today, Simonson’s early work on Thor is not too far off Buscema’s realistic style, though in his later run on the book, that more classical, leaner interpretation of the Asgardians shines through and Simonson cements his place on the roll call of truly great Thor artists.

In this issue’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, we encounter a side of the comic book business that stands in opposition to our discussions of art, narrative, and myth. Publishing is a business, and comics are products, and Marvel Comics are created and sold to make the company money. The Bulletins, and Stan’s Soapbox on the same page, are designed to announce and sell upcoming products. By describing what is coming out soon, basically “hawking” product using typical Lee hyperbole about being part of Marveldom Assembled, the Marvel brand grows. But for a young reader, it is a willing revel in products for sale; myths at any price are too inexpensive, by which I mean, they are worth more than anything to a fertile and growing imagination.

So it is worth examining that in this comic, dated November, 1974, the Bulletins end with this business note:

We hate to close on a solemn note, but by now you’ve been hit with the hard fact that the price of our regular color comics has risen to thirty-five cents […]. Naturally, we owe you an explanation […] the answer is already obvious. Ever-spiraling costs; ever-mounting inflation. Once again we’ve been faced with rising printing. Engraving, and paper prices, and once again we’ve reached the point where we’re forced to make our prices reflect those new costs. We’re sorry. […] Your loyalty and support in the past have made us the number one comic book company, and we appreciate it greatly. Now, we’re going to be working all the harder to keep that loyalty and support, to produce the very best possible comics available…at any price. And that’s a promise, pal.

The issue right before this one was thirty cents. To put this into the perspective of a 1977 twelve year old, if you were able to get a dollar, you could buy three comics at thirty cents each. At thirty-five cents, you would be a nickel short. That could be a big problem.

In today’s world, a Thor comic is $3.99. Comics were a huge part of my imaginative world, perhaps because they were relatively inexpensive. Because of their price, they were my choice of what to consume and spend my money on. First, I made the choice to buy comics, and then the choice of what comics to buy. To lightly connect this to my comparisons to Church and religion, as a twelve year old there was no choice to make in the Church. You were expected to believe, to go, and you did not have decisions to make (though I guess you were expected to decide to act nice…). There was no real responsibility for a child at church, other than to be good so you did not go to Hell when you died, or annoy others in church. Having no real options seldom resonates or creates excitement for anyone. Consumerism, one of the overriding myths in American society, offered colorful choices that made such actions as buying comics simply more appealing than trying to be a good Catholic boy.

Strangely, though it meant less comics, Marvel’s apology for raising prices – by a nickel – was welcomed. Though the increase functionally cut down the number of comics I could read, imaginatively it was a spur for finding an extra nickel to still get three comics. When Marvel wrote about loyalty and support, they fully had mine, no matter the higher price. I was “Marvel” even though I read my brother’s DC comics. Note, when discussing an overview of something with mythological importance to us, it’s hard to stay in one area, like, say, religion. Myths become important for us because they define relationships we have to the world, and this often includes every facet of that world, from religion to history, from consumerism to imagination. The importance of the narratives we connect with grows as we learn more about ourselves and the rest of the world.

Excerpted from “Everything I Needed to Know about Life (I Learned from Marvel Comics)” ©2017 Joseph P. Muszynski

Tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joseph P. Muszynski, Ph.D., is a managing editor at the University of Chicago Press. Joe earned his doctorate in Mythological Studies from Pacifica Graduate Institute with a dissertation titled “Structure, Form, and Content: Mythology and Comics.” He blogs on comics and myth at “Into the gap…” (mythandcomics.blogspot.com). Check out his book “Everything I Needed to Know about Life (I Learned from Marvel Comics)” on Amazon. Email him at joemuszynski@earthlink.net

See more, including free online content, on .

Leave a Reply