Review:Journey into Mystery #87

“Prisoner of the Reds!”,Published: December 1962
Writer: Stan Lee &Larry Lieber,Penciler: Jack Kirby,Inks: Dick Ayers,Letters: Artie Simek

Journey into Mystery finds Thor facing off against a familiar foe. No,not Loki… Communists!

This is the shortest Thor story yet,coming in at just ten pages with only nine covering the actual story. See,in these early stories,the first page is a splash page that acts like a second cover. I haven’t really paid them much attention,but this one set up some expectations that didn’t really play out.

It calls attention to one communist specifically,though he goes unnamed on this page. He’s boasting that many have fought Thor,but only he has defeated him. Well,who is this great red menace? We may never know…

I'm sorry... I didn't catch your name.

While Thor’s second adventure spotlighted the Executioner as a specific communist threat,this issue merely showcases a few unnamed communists that have the misfortune of Thor stumbling across their plot. Normally,I wouldn’t mind them all being nameless,unimportant red thugs,but that splash page made me think I was being introduced to a new long-term Thor villain,but alas,it wasn’t meant to be. I almost wish Gillen or Fraction would get on this and give Thor a villain in the vein of Hellboy’s von Klempt.

Anyway,despite being ten pages,this issue packed in a decent story. It opens with a young wife returning home to discover that her husband,a renowned scientist,is gone and has left a note indicating he’s defected to the Soviet Union. Through a news broadcast,we learn that he’s the fifth American scientist to do so in as many weeks. You might not expect it to be,but it turns out this is a job for Thor!

The government no doubt spent hundreds of
thousands of dollars on the fake scientific experiments.

Blake,watching the news,is perplexed by the missing scientists. I say missing – they’re not,they’re in Russia – because that’s how he immediately characterizes it. Unclear on why anyone would willingly travel to the Soviet Union,Blake heads for Washington to talk to an old friend in the military. They concoct a plan to make Blake communist bait by announcing that he’s come up with a new germ that would revolutionize germ warfare. This part of the story is rushed to get to Thor to the action,but there are some hilarious bits anyway. Blake packs a suitcase and flys by plane to Washington to meet his friend,but changes to Thor (and leaves his suitcase where?) to fly home. Sure,he’s excited to get started with his ruse,but what’s he really got to do? The next caption tells us –fake scientific experimentation.

The best part is that he doesn’t tell Jane anything. He just shows up from his trip without his suitcase,cancels all his appointments,and starts playing with chemicals for no logical reason. I can’t help but wonder what she’s thinking (as she touches her face). When the newspaper publishes that he’s created this revolutionary germ warfare weapon,what does she think then? We don’t know,we only see her briefly as she introduces the photographer communist that comes to kidnap him.

I'm not so much worried about the
dude's eyes,think of Thor's calluses!

After being hypnotized,ordered to write a Dear John letter to the USA,and a quick trip to Moscow,Blake wakes up to find himself among the scientists in a Moscow castle. Well,four of ‘em anyway. The news anchor said five,but only four appear in the castle. Blake immediately wants to save the scientists as Thor,but he can’t change since they’re all in the same room (it only took him five issues to realize he should probably stop changing in front of people!). Luckily,the communists take care of this dilemma immediately by deciding to move the scientists to separate cells.

Now alone,Black becomes Thor and starts wreaking havoc on the castle. He demonstrates a new power – by rubbing his hands on the hammer quickly,he can emit blinding sparks. When I read that,I realized something about Thor and his hammer. He never really hits anybody with it. I suppose that would be far more lethal than Thor would want,but it’s funny. It reminds me of Doctor Who’s screwdriver. It does all this crazy stuff,but you never see the Doctor needing to remove a battery cover or put together an IKEA cabinet.

After much berserking,Thor finds himself trapped in a hidden shark tank (this castle is totally awesome!). Don’t worry for Thor though,worry about the sharks! Thor deals with them by spinning around and creating a whirlpool to freak them the hell out. It also sucks them in closer – which you would think is counter-intuitive,but it could be worse. Thor spins to time travel remember? Those sharks could wake up in 2262…

Thor! He's touching his face!
You gotta get outta their man!!

With the inexplicable shark tank security measure defeated,the communists resort to their last recourse,threatening the lives of the other scientists. “Drop the hammer or they die”,says our nameless antagonist. This is actually the most successful way to (temporarily) defeat Thor at this point it series. Thor acquiesces and sets down the hammer. That means it’s Sixty Seconds to Blake.

In under a minute,the guards figure out they can’t lift the hammer,tie Thor up in “electronically treated” chains,and then… decide to leave Thor unattended. Thor’s just a lucky guy in this issue if you think about it. His plan to be used as bait works flawlessly in record time,the scientists are removed from his presence almost at his request,and here,at his weakest,they more or less leave him alone. He reverts to Blake,snags the hammer,and goes back to…tiptoeing? Learning from his earlier mistake,this time Thor chooses to not draw attention to himself until he’s found the scientists. Shhhh…

How long did Thor wander
around coming up with this 'plan'?

He saves the scientists by using the hammer as a giant drill to get them outside the castle walls. Then something cute happens. They won’t leave without Blake.

You can almost hear Thor cursing under his breath. He tells them to hide and wait while he goes back to recover himself. He appears to wander around the castle until he runs across our nameless antagonist again. There’s no real confrontation,other than embarrassing the poor communist in front of his commanding officer as he was boasting about catching Thor (I’m telling you,this guy would be great to have back). Anyway,Thor uses his hammer to create a giant hurricane inside the castle walls and brings the whole place down. Why do people even bother trying to fight this guy?

Is it best if we just don't ask
what happened to the fifth scientist?

Anyway,the issue ends in quick order with each panel jumping possibly days or weeks ahead. Thor,since he has to be Blake to chill with the scientists is forced to get out of Russia the hard way. They hide out in the homes of Russian’s sympathetic to them as they head for the coast,and then take a steam ship across the Atlantic to get back to the states. Sometimes it sucks to be Thor… er,not be Thor?

Finally,we close with Jane,as is becoming the norm. You might think she might be mad at Blake for the hell she surely went through – does she even get paid for the days while he was in Russia? But no,she doesn’t care one bit,she’s too busy pining for Thor as he relates his misadventures behind the iron curtain.

Despite it being a few pages shorter than the issues before it,this Thor story turned out pretty interesting. I do lament the unused potential for giving Thor a long-term communist/scientist villain,but the issue was a solid read unto itself. I poke fun,but I did enjoy Blake having to come home the slow way by traveling covertly with the other scientists. Was there any resentment on their part that Thor didn’t finish the job and take them home? What would Blake say to that? And what did happen to the fifth scientist? I know we’re not necessarily supposed to be asking these questions of these old stories,but I do enjoy reflecting on the possible tangents these stories provide. Since I spend a lot of time writing,I tend to focus on the writing in these old issues and forgetting to mention the art. It’s early Kirby and it’s looked great in every issue. I particularly enjoyed two separate panels that established the settings where the story primarily takes place and I’ve included them below). I took a peek at the next cover and it looks interesting. Another repeat villain –and yes,this time,it’s Loki!

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Look for Journey into Mystery #88 tomorrow! Until then,here’s a larger shot of the cover along with the cool panels I mentioned earlier…

The cover and two panels from when Blake was traveling. Great contrast.

2 comments to Review:Journey into Mystery #87

  • [...] aside,the main story started off poorly. Our good Doctor Blake,known for fake scientific experimentation and inventor of the “remote hammer finder”from last issue has formulated a new [...]

  • SilntAngl5

    I’m glad Blake had to take the long road home. I was ready to be supremely annoyed if everything just turned out peachy keen and everyone was suddenly home and safe. Sad that the one woman character doesn’t have much of a character…. but it was 60s…Can’t expect much there.

    Good review! I love your quirks about the things Thor can and can’t do. I never thought about him not hitting anyone with the hammer! I wonder what would happen….

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