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