It’s an old trope in comics that a hero is only as good as his villain. Though it’s probably said a little too much,that doesn’t make it any less true. Doom. Joker. Magneto. Lex Luthor. Those villains all propel their heroes to greater heights. There are so many characters that I want to see do better in the sales charts,but their rogues’ galleries just aren’t cool enough to really sustain a title.
Now,the archenemies don’t always show up right away. Both Doom and Joker took nearly a year to show up and irritate their respective heroes. Luckily,Thor didn’t have to wait that long. He repelled an alien invasion and toppled a communist dictator in the first two issues,but he gets a proper “supervillain”in only his third appearance.
Even an exceptionally casual Thor fan,as I was just a few weeks ago,knows that Thor’s arch-rival is Loki. I’ve already become a quick fan of the character’s modern interpretation thanks to the two most recent Thor comics,but I loved his debut here just as much. While he’s not mentioned as Thor’s adopted brother in this issue,it’s clear that he and Thor have history.
The comic starts off with Loki (and we actually spend almost as much time with him as we do with Thor in this issue) imprisoned in a tree. It’s not specifically stated how long he’s been there,but “centuries”is banded about. He must remain trapped within the tree until “his plight causes someone to shed a tear.” That’s an awesome entrance for any character,but it gets better.
Over those centuries,Loki has come to have some measure of control over the tree and uses that ability to cause a leaf to fall into the eye of a passerby (a quick first appearance cameo for Heimdall). I shudder to think not only how long it took him to control the tree in such a simple fashion,but then to have to wait for some schmuck to walk by at just the right time! Anyway,a tear needed to be shed,but not necessarily one of sympathy. Since Loki’s plight caused Heimdall to shed a tear he wouldn’t have otherwise,he’s released. This is a fantastic introduction. Not only do we get some insight in to just how clever Loki can be,we also realize that he has absolutely no friends. Not one person in centuries gave two craps that he was stuck in that tree.
As a reader,you almost feel bad for him,but as soon as he’s released he’s only got one thing on the agenda. Revenge against the man that put him there – revenge against Thor. See,that sympathy you felt for a second? That’s just more of Loki’s treachery. Don’t let it happen again…
Anyway,Loki makes a quick hop to Earth and assumes the identity of Leonard Nimoy (I’d swear he was modeled on Spock… except this comic debuted years before Star Trek was on the air). He can’t find Thor at first,but remedies that by causing a scene – he turns people into…negatives! Basically,he inverts them in Photoshop,but I imagine that was a much more difficult special effect in 1962.
Thor arrives quickly enough since Loki happened to do this right in front of Blake (you gotta love comics…),but this scene again presents us with the unresolved dilemma about whether he’s Thor or Blake. Thor instantly knows what has happened,what to do to fix it,and while he doesn’t recognize Leonard Nimoy,he instantly knows Loki after he discards the disguise. On the cover,which I know doesn’t necessarily matter,Thor exclaims “It’s Loki. My sworn enemy! He has found me at last!” So,here we are again feeling like this is the Thor. Plus,that’s who Loki is looking for anyway. Blake doesn’t even register to him.
But on the next page,we revert back to Blake quoting ancient myth as the reason he recognized Loki. It’s enough to give me a headache and I while I’m hoping that it’s addressed in the upcoming issues,I simply don’t expect something that deep to be handled in this era of comics. I fear it’s just going to be ambiguous for quite some time.
Anyway,Thor and Loki get to battling (Thor confronting the antagonist in the first act? Amazing!). What’s most interesting about the battle between Thor &Loki though is that there isn’t a single punch thrown. It’s a game of wits and Thor doesn’t do that well. In fact,Loki would’ve won if he knew he was dealing with “Blake as Thor”instead of Thor directly.
Thor flies in this issue by means of “helicoptering” (hey,that’s what I’m calling it) the hammer over his head. He gives chase to Loki whose first tactic is to fly in such a way that the sun appears to blink at Thor through his whirling hammer and puts him into a hypnotic state. Damn.
With Thor at his command,Loki decides to err on the side of caution and get rid of the hammer. His first two tries fail because a) one cannot simply ask Thor if they can hold his hammer and b) the hammer always comes back when Thor throws it. Now,Loki should’ve known this,but he has been locked in a tree for a few centuries,so I’ll give him a pass this time. His third try,to create a duplicate of Thor for Thor to hand off the hammer too works briefly,but a minute later,while Loki isn’t paying attention,Thor reverts to Blake per the hammer’s rules. Blake,who’s not hypnotized,returns to pick up the hammer and Loki goes back on the run.
That’s basically the setup for the whole third act. Loki runs,Thor gives chase. Thor gets caught in a theater curtain,saves some people Loki threw in front of a subway train (inexplicably,he saves them by getting under the tracks and bending the rails over them as the train goes by),and ultimately catches Loki by throwing a steal pipe at/around him and causing him to fall into the water.
Water,by the way,shuts down Loki’s powers. We don’t know that,but Thor knew because of Blake’s amazing recall of ancient legends (i.e. not because he’s Thor and knows it). Thor saves Loki from drowning and uses the hammer to return him to Asgard. The cool part is we get our first look at Balder,Tyr,and Odin in a little cameo,but Odin is happy to see that his son has defeated Loki yet again (but it was Blake that did it,right?). Also,Loki noted that no one had seen Thor in ages at the beginning of the story,yet no one is really astonished to see that Thor has defeated Loki – then again,no one asks why he isn’t in the damn tree in that panel either.
The story ends with Jane Foster commenting on the romantic aspect of the whole story – yes,Jane is flush with excitement over the idea of two gods battling it out on earth. I don’t get it,but this issue wasn’t Jane’s finest hour anyway. She was horning on Thor when he saved the negatives and then was practically drooling over Loki after he took off his Spock costume moments later. Oh,and she appeared in only five panels yet managed to touch her face in three of them. I think she might have a problem.
The other thing I wanted to note is Thor’s power. It didn’t make it into the final cut for yesterday’s article,but remember that Thor’s hammer was introduced with a “stamping the Earth” control system? Once to switch identities,twice for storms,and thrice to stop the storms? Well,last issue introduced that a fourth stamp causes lightning that Thor can specifically aim (in that case,he caused a volcano to erupt with it. I’m no geologist,but…). In this issue,we thankfully don’t learn what 5 stamps on the ground do,but we do see Thor using the hammer like a rotor blade on a helicopter,using super breath,and we learn that he if spins it like a basketball,it creates anti-matter. Yep,anti-matter. Thor’s hammer could theoretically spin right round and destroy the universe. In this case,it was the anti-matter particles that he used to annihilate… I mean,return the Negatives to normal (if this were a 90s comics the Negatives would get their own title with four foil covers instead of being saved).
For me,the highlight of the issue was easily the first glimpses of Thor’s home. We see Asgard and the Rainbow Bridge for the first time. It’s almost like they were using Thor as a comic book character for a few weeks and suddenly realized,“hey! We’ve got this whole Norse mythology thing we can tap into. The stories will only get better with that aspect. Also,we get a ton of time with Loki,but the cameos of Heimdall,Odin,and the rest have me more excited for future issues than I was after last issue.
I also wanted to note that I’ve found myself wondering what I’m missing in the rest of the comics. These Thor stories are the cover feature,but those covers also tease the other stories. I’m here to read the Thor stuff,but I must know,what was “Filbert’s Frightful Future”??
I’m barely squeaking this article out before midnight,but we’re still on our daily schedule. My goal is to get Journey into Mystery #86′s article while the sun is still up tomorrow!