Review:Journey into Mystery #97

“The Mighty Thor Battles the Lava Man”,“Tales of Asgard”Published: August 1st,1963
Writer: Stan Lee,Penciler: Jack Kirby,Inks: Dick Ayers,Letters: Art Simek

This is a super special issue. I know this because it says so right on the cover.

As modern readers,we’re trained to quickly scoff at any comic that proclaims its own virtues so boldly,but the truth is that history actually bore this one out. It is a super special issue that really kicks off the rest of Thor’s history. Stan Lee took over full-time writing duties,Kirby’s back for this issue (&will return for a long run soon),and there’s the little matter of a backup story,“Tales of Asgard” that was even more enjoyable and promising than the decent Thor story that preceded it.

Thor's newest weakness:claustrophobia.

This issue felt different to me almost right away. It even made me feel a bit unsure about writing this article. Could I approach this issue in the same format that I’ve been using? (I’m still not sure,so we’ll see how this goes.) This issue goes largely without funny plot holes or contrivances and instead feels like a “getting to know” Thor issue. In the first half of the story alone,we see Thor stop a plane from crashing into the city,we touch on his feelings for Jane,and are treated again to Odin’s refusal to let her in on the secret,and we even see a bit of Loki’s obsession with Thor (he’s manipulating Thor into a conflict with the Lava Man from the cover).

The biggest change though is in the Thor/Blake relationship. In the issue it sounds and feels like Blake is merely a front for Thor (much as Clark Kent is for Superman). To be with Jane he must “disavow his heritage” and “become truly human”. What’s more,he’s not talking about just telling her his feelings – they both are aware by this point – but flat out marrying her.

'Petition Refused' makes me laugh. And you just
know that if Odin were to let him marry Jane,
the next thing he'd want to marry is his hammer...

This is a complete role/reversal. Thor dials up Odin and asks if it would be possible for him to marry her,but Odin strongly rejects the notion. In issues prior to this one,the solution is obvious – stop being Thor. Odin has no business telling Donald Blake what he can and cannot do,right? But suddenly,stopping being Thor is a much bigger problem because he seemingly is Thor.

If that whole mess is somewhat distracting to you,you’re not alone. Readers are treated to the cover problem – an invading Lava Man – almost right away,but Blake is too busy to notice. We actually get through over half the story before Blake even becomes aware him. The plot is more about his feelings for Jane than it is fighting the Lava Man.

Apparently,he fights... like Spider-Man?

On page seven,the Lava Man makes his presence known by appearing not too far from Blake. I really appreciated this particular sequence. Blake sees the military take on the Lava Man and a few panels later Thor shows up to combat him one-on-one. No commentary. No stamping the hammer transition. Just Blake sees a problem and Thor shows up. I found that refreshing.

The battle itself is a little weird though,mostly because of Thor himself. The Lava Man runs off instead of taking on Thor directly. Lame! And Thor starts babbling on about Loki – hearing his laughter,knowing he’s watching,etc.. Sure,we know that Thor is right. Loki is watching,probably laughing,and Loki even does actually jump in with some commentary for one panel,but the whole thing still comes across like Thor being a stark raving lunatic.

If he really can't be with her,he should really take
this opportunity to get an old,mean,frumpy nurse.

The battle between Thor &the Lava Man is one of the better battles we’ve seen right up until the end. Both of them are more or less at the mercy of the other’s power and we see some creative solutions to get around that,but the ending is still lackluster. With the final page fast approaching,Thor simply stuffs the Lava Man back into the volcano from whence he comes and plops a boulder on top for good measure. And,of course,he’s just rambling on to Loki the entire time. I hope the Lava Man comes back because we really could use a rematch on this one.

Thor,again showing more straight-forwardness and determination than we’ve seen in past issues,flies back home to set things right with Jane,but he’s too late. The issue ends with her leaving Blake to take a job in another office. No trite last panel this time.

A little Fire &Ice to... uh,help lubricate the mythos.

The biggest adjustment I had to make for this issue was probably the dialogue. Stan Lee handling all the writing duties (perhaps ironically) really helped the plot along and the Lava Man never came across as a “freak of the month” despite essentially being a Mole Man analogue. The added drama of Jane and Blake’s relationship causing the issue to end in a cliffhanger was also particularly satisfying,but some of the dialogue did leave me a little cold throughout. I’ll get into it though;Stan Lee will be the writer I’m talking about for the next three months after all.

In the opening,I mentioned the Tales of Asgard backup story. The best thing I can say about it is that it was awesome. It was a mere 5 pages,but it serves as the cornerstone for the world Thor hails from. It starts out beautifully with Norsemen,Vikings,telling the legends of their Gods before dovetailing into the stories of the Gods themselves. And while you take that in,you’re quickly introduced to Surtur,a magic cow,Frost Giants,the Yggdrasil,and Buri the first of the Æsir (&Thor’s great grandfather). Yes,it was all really heavy exposition,but the images were so fantastic that the five pages were over before you even noticed. I’m really looking forward to these backups.

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As we close,here’s a bigger look at the cover of #97 along with some selected panels.

The Cover,and a few panels from Thor's fight with the Lava Man.

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