Thor ’77-’78:

On the Never-Ending Road to Ragnarok, Part 5

The Mighty Thor #266:

Neither Thor nor Sif realize Balder’s life force is powering the Destroyer, so they don’t understand why Karnilla has ended her attack on him. Thor continues the fight alone, but Sif reprimands Karnilla, telling her she must know nothing about love if she will not help Thor, Sif’s love. Her words hurt Karnilla, making her angry, for we know she deeply loves Balder. Karnilla disappears and we learn she is going to try to solve the problem at its source: with Loki. Meanwhile, The Warriors Three, still on the trail of Odin, battle Loki’s henchmen and quickly defeat them.

Karnilla finds Loki and battles him for the body and soul of Balder. She takes Balder with her after stunning Loki with a blast of powerful magic. However, before she can cast a spell to restore Balder’s spirit to his real body, which would simultaneously defeat the Destroyer, Loki recovers and knocks her out. The trickster god then gloats over the Destroyer’s impending victory over Thor.

However, though about to destroy Thor, when the Destroyer sees Loki, he stops. He turns his wrath on the scared god, forcing Loki’s next plan into action. He allows Balder’s spirit to leave the Destroyer and return to Balder’s body. The Destroyer stops moving, allowing Loki to inhabit the armor. However, Thor gets there first, infuses the armor with his own god-of-thunder-might to become the Destroyer. He is about to incinerate Loki with all his power when Odin appears. The All-Father commands Thor/the Destroyer to stand down and kneel before him. The command reaches the essence of Thor within the armor, and the Destroyer kneels and allows Odin to return Thor’s spirit back to his body. The Warriors Three had found Odin awakened from the Odin-Sleep just in time to end the battle without anyone being destroyed.

Two important points get raised in this issue, neither of which have to do with Thor. In Marvel Comics, the cast of characters create the true depth of the Marvel Universe experience. The supporting cast in the comics is exemplified by The Warriors Three, heroes without whose help Thor may have failed. Loki would be burnt to a crisp, giving Thor a complex grief for having killed his brother. But they also retrieved Odin after a relentless search and battle, and it is his awakening that ultimately saves the day. Odin’s omnipotence should have told him he was needed to save his son, but the Odin-sleep often makes him just a bit off his best. The Three are used as the catalyst for the happy ending this time – everyone has a role in the Marvel Universe. As we saw earlier, even the Voluminous Volstagg might save the day on his own, and here, all three come through.

In a religious mythology without a pantheon, the relationship of one god to one person gets magnified and becomes the major narrative. In a religion such as the Catholic religion, the story is about you and your relation to the god. The way to further develop that relation is through the interactions you have with others, but this can often get lost on some believers. The idea that all your misdeeds can be forgiven if you are true to the god on your deathbed seems less satisfactory than relying on, and contributing to, the strength of others throughout one’s life. Thor relies on The Warriors Three. He could almost rely on Karnilla as well. She is not quite a villain, though certainly not his friend. She does stop short of defeating the Destroyer, but continues to aid the cause and attempt to defeat Loki.

Karnilla is at the center of the second talking point. It is her love for Balder that leads her to aid the Asgardians but also causes her to stop and look for another solution. She is usually used as a villain in the Thor comic, depicted as ruling a dark land with dark, Norn magic. The norns in actual Norse mythology are varied in their characteristics, but generally are harbingers of fate, whether good or evil. Perhaps the most famous norns are the three that keep Yggdrasil, the tree of life, watered. When the tree begins to die, it is a sign Ragnarok is coming. Perhaps it is understandable why “fate” would keep the world alive – without a world, there is no fate for anyone anymore.

Karnilla has less to do with the behavior of these Norse norns; she has simply appropriated their name. However, though an opponent of Asgard, her true love for Balder stands out as a good example of how the antagonists in the Marvel Universe had real character traits – not all villains were completely villainous; often, a shred of humanity could be found. Karnilla’s role is difficult to find a parallel for inside the church – a woman who rules on her own, with power to back up what she decides to do. Though often conflicted, there is no doubt Balder returned her love. Karnilla was deemed a villain in this myth for ruling over a dark land and for loving someone presumably above her station. A sympathetic character, I’m sure you will agree.

On to the letters – ah wait… actually, there was no letter column in this issue, so we go right to the Bullpen Bulletins. A varied selection of news items this issue, but I will focus on the comments at the end of Stan Lee’s Soapbox. They still resonate with us today. Stan rather famously spent a lot of time trying to get Marvel superheroes on film, whether television or the big screen. He did not have much luck until the technology caught up with an ability to portray expected superhero action realistically. Just because you could draw something in a comic did not mean the film industry could reproduce it convincingly. In the ‘70s, Stan succeeded in getting some television projects going. Here he announced: “here are some of the mighty Marvel heroes which Universal TV is currently filming for prime-time showing – live action! – over CBS-TV this fall! The Incredible Hulk! Sub-Mariner! And, in preparation – Captain America, The Human Torch, and one of our fabulous females, as well. As soon as we decide which one she’ll be, I’ll clue you in!” The Hulk made it to the small screen most successfully, and Captain America had a TV movie or two, but I don’t recall a Sub-Mariner or Human Torch presence on CBS or any other network. And no Marvel female heroes made it to television in the ‘70s. (DC’s Wonder Woman and the Saturday morning Isis show are the only two I am aware of from that era.) Apart from this, we clearly see Lee pushing to get the Marvel Universe into new media. He eventually succeeded, as we know the mythology of the Marvel Universe has taken over cinemas today.

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

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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…” ( Check out his book “Everything I Needed to Know about Life (I Learned from Marvel Comics)” on Amazon. Email him at

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