Review:Journey into Mystery #117

“Into the Blaze of Battle!”,Published: April 1st,1965
Writer: Stan Lee,Penciler: Jack Kirby,Inks: Vince Colletta,Letters: Art Simek

Journey into Mystery #117 was a bit of a stretch for me. It’s not that Thor’s back to fighting Communists,as we can equate them with a modern day equivalent. It’s not that the story was heavy-handed or preachy on the evils of communism either,as I understand that sometimes comics get political. That’s just their nature.

I think it was just odd because the story elements seemed out of place. We’re in the middle of this epic Thor vs. Loki multi-part tale,that has Loki creating supernatural foes for Thor,has Thor traveling to exotic and otherworldly locations,and,overall,just has a very “Asgard” feel to the whole saga. And yet,here we are,somewhere in North Vietnam learning how Communism has destroyed a family (and Thor not really caring about it).

Just shut up and hit him already!

Maybe what jarred me out of the story was how deftly the last issue ended. Thor &Loki had to survive a brutal gauntlet at Odin’s behest. Thor fought valiantly and showcased plenty of ingenuity without his trusty hammer as a resource,but,in the end,he still lost. Loki had cheated and Loki won. That was a great conclusion and I was excited to see how this issue was going to follow up.

It opens immediately after. Thor has returned to Asgard just behind Loki and wants justice,but Loki has already disposed of the evidence that he’d cheated to survive the gauntlet. Odin,finally showing some awareness of how scheming Loki is,allows Thor one day to search for the norn stones and prove his claim against Loki.

I really wish we could've seen more of this fight.

Before he starts his quest,there is a quick aside to save Jane,who was under attack by the Enchantress &the Executioner last issue. Balder had jumped in to save her and,while we don’t see much of the fight,he appears to have at least held his own. When Thor appears,the villains simply run away,and Balder offers to return the unconscious Jane home so that Thor can start his search.

And afterwards,he just leaves. That's cold.

Of all the places the stones could have ended up,it turns out they are hidden on top of a large stack of ammunition in an underground tunnel in North Vietnam. Remember,this book is being published during the Vietnam War and thus Thor will have to battle Communists to retrieve the stones. I don’t think this was a bad issue,but it does turn a little too much into propaganda from here on out.

First,Thor is knocked unconscious by a mortar shell and saved by some local farmers so that we can see their living condition. This isn’t a bad thing,but Thor spends a couple panels lamenting their plight – famine,fear,hopelessness – and then immediately leaves and goes looking for his stones. Sure,he’s under a time limit,but c’mon…

Afterwards,he unfathomably decides that it’s better to search the Vietnamese jungle as Blake – better he walk around on his bum leg than be slowed down by cape catching on things. This,of course leads to him getting captured by the guerillas,specifically the brother of the farmer who had saved him earlier.

Yes,Thor,because Blake is so well suited to the Vietnamese jungle...

What’s worse,the family that took him in as Thor has also been captured and is likely to be executed. Blake escapes and becomes Thor,but then… goes back to looking for the stones. Hello,innocent bystanders in harm’s way? Sorry,Thor’s busy.

Well,the ending did leave me in awe.
Just not the right kind.

That turns out to be a fatal mistake,because the dispute between the two brothers escalates and the soldier kills his brother and his mother. Thor finds the stones,but returns only in time to save the sister. He does threaten the soldier,saying he’d return and deal with him after taking the girl to safety,but he could’ve saved all of them,so it seemed a little hollow. As Thor leaves with the girl,the soldier,full of remorse (and giving a speech about the evils of communism),detonates that cache of weapons – killing himself and destroying the base. Thor ends the book with a trite comment about how the soldier “died a man”.

The legendary Odinsword!

This issue just didn’t do much for me. Sometimes I’m curious about what was specifically in the news when these stories were being written. What motivated Stan to throw this exceptionally preachy story into the middle of this struggle between Loki &Thor? I can see some value in Thor surviving an exotic and far off trial last issue and now surviving a very real and concrete threat this time,but I didn’t much enjoy it. Luckily,the next couple of issues look really promising (the first appearance of the Destroyer!).

The Tales of Asgard backup kicked off in a new direction this issue. We get our first introduction to the “Oversword” or “Odinsword”,the giant sword Odin keeps in his armory. It’s said that unsheathing it will mean the end of the universe,so naturally Odin likes to play with it. Great. It turns out though,that there are some cracks appearing in the giant blade and Odin doesn’t know why. He tasks Loki &Thor to ferret out the evil force messing with the sword in the upcoming issues.

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As we close,here’s a bigger look at the cover of #117 along with some more panels from the issue:

One highlight of this issue was a brief spotlight on Loki. He's been reading Tales of Asgard and know his origin,but more importantly his goals have changed. No longer content with destroying Thor,he wishes to rule Asgard.

2 comments to Review:Journey into Mystery #117

  • This was a really interesting blog today.

    Like you,I didn’t grow up in this era —but I have read a LOT of these propoganda issues from the 60s (Iron Man,especially,was rife with them). This issue was a really really different experience for me. The thing that intrigued me about it was Thor’s seperation from the events.

    If it had been Captain America,Iron Man,maybe even the Hulk,he would have gotten POLITICALLY involved in the events unfolding —but Thor didn’t. He didn’t have a vested interest in the political aspects of the conflict. That really,really struck me when I was reading it,and made it a lot more enjoyable. It didn’t feel like the typical Marvel propoganda issue at all.

    Still,I can see how you’d find it jarring.

    I think the place that this story really finds in Thor,to really “fit”into the growing concept of the book is that it’s a story about family —and increasingly as the comic evolves,Thor is really a story about family. This story arc was one of the first times where that really really comes together —at least it was for me.

    Still,if I remember right I was still a little iffy at this point about the whole thing,myself.

    –Andrew S.

    • Daniel Lynch

      That’s really interesting! I read through it and saw it as odd that he wouldn’t interfere,but juxtaposing with the other heroes that would’ve interfered is smart thinking. I can definitely appreciate the political events being beneath Thor’s concern –his prior dealing with communists has been motivated by story-specific events,but I was still astonished by the deaths of the soldier’s family.

      I have really enjoyed the whole arc so far and looking at this as a counter to last issue –an earthbound gauntlet contrasting with the Skornheim one –I do appreciate it.

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