Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at Hell Yeah '80s Marvel!]
I’ve decided to skip reviewing the fourth volume of Thor Visionaries: Walter Simonson for the time being to get to the run’s amazing grand finale in Thor Visionaries Vol. 5.
The majority of that fourth volume is the Balder the Brave mini-series, chronicling the future king of Asgard and his love interest, Karnilla the Norn-Queen, as they fight the Frost Giants. The three issues of The Mighty Thor collected in that book still had a lot going on, including crossing over with the “Mutant Massacre” storyline in the X-Men titles and Volstagg’s adoption of two orphaned human boys, Mick and Kevin, who play crucial roles in Volume 5; they save the day along with Hildy and Kurse, the amnesiac Dark Elf created in Secret Wars II. These characters have kept a fairly low profile since then, though Thor: The Dark World may change that.
Another slowly-building plot point is the Curse of Hela, inflicted when she fought Thor during his invasion of Hel. The curse is an anti-healing factor: any injury Thor receives will not heal and will cause extreme pain. Even worse, he can’t die, which is often how Asgardians get around curses. Loki, still smarting from losing control of Asgard, decides to pester Thor by sending fakes of the Super-Beast and the Wrecker after him, followed by the very real and very angry Absorbing Man. This was shortly after the Absorbing Man began his relationship with Titania, and the death of her doppelganger leads to one of the fiercest beat-downs Thor has ever received. Even if he wasn’t cursed, this fight would have been a close call; only a mistake caused by the villain’s blind anger ends it.
As the trade cover indicates, Thor gains a new costume here. This was actually his first new outfit since his inception, and its creation warrants a two-issue arc in which its forging apparently causes portals to the other Nine Worlds to shatter. In retrospect, the armor is a bit too ornate, and the asymmetrical arms, while sensible in context, look a little odd. (I still don’t get the frilly right arm cuff.) At least Thor supports a local industry by forging the armor in Pittsburgh. The dark elves, fearful of losing their passageways to other dimensions, summon an unusual champion: Grendel, of the epic poem Beowulf. The name is rendered “Grendell” in the comic and he has a wonderful Kirby-esque design, but the single arm definitely points to him being the real deal. It’s yet another excellent way that Walt Simonson folded real-world mythology into this title.
Much of the action throughout the trade is driven by the Frost Giants, whose loss to Balder resulted in their shrinking down to human size. They thrive on cold and in fact grow in the presence of snow and ice, and Loki is able to regenerate them by capturing Iceman. It might seem a bit odd to use an X-Factor member so soon after the big crossover, but I like that Simonson incorporated him instead of bringing out the Casket of Ancient Winters for such a minor purpose. After their next ignominious defeat, the Frost Giants unleash their most powerful weapon ... Fin Fang Foom! Actually the presence of the erudite orange dragon is the last thing they wanted; they were really looking for the Midgard Serpent, destined to kill Thor in the Norse Eddas.
It’s soon revealed -- after a long session of good-natured mutual trash talk between Thor and the dragon -- that “Fin Fang Foom” is actually Jormungandr, the Midgard Serpent. It’s a reveal that worked better in the '80s before Foom was reinvented by in John Byrne’s Iron Man run; Foom being back in his original orange was the big tipoff. The ensuing battle in The Mighty Thor #380 sees Walt Simonson return to penciling duties, with Sal Buscema remaining as a “finisher” until switching back to penciling for the final two issues of the run. This issue is told entirely in splash pages to convey the enormity of the situation, by which I mean that Jormungandr is approximately the length of New Jersey. Narration boxes done in the style of Norse epic poetry complete the tone.
Issue #380 is often considered one of the greatest battles in Thor’s history, even though it ends with him seemingly dead. In fact, he’s simply been reduced to jelly within his armor; his foe didn’t get off any easier, being shattered himself after Thor flew out through his teeth. It gets a little confusing in issue #381 as the editors try to reconcile this issue with Thor and the Avengers’ appearance in Mephisto vs. the Avengers. Exactly why the Avengers needed to appear back on Earth around the “dead” Thor while not noticing him at all is unclear, and as far as I know, the Mephisto mini-series has never been collected. It’s a crass tie-in maneuver which ends up making things needlessly confusing.
Any ill-will generated by the Mephisto “cross-over,” however, is wiped away by the double-length issue #382. This is technically Thor's three hundredth issue counting the original Journey Into Mystery numbering and it wraps up all of the major plot points. Thor gets his curse lifted, the Frost Giants are defeated, and Loki even gets a little comeuppance for all of the chaos he’s caused. It involves the greatest use of the Destroyer armor in comics, returning it to existence after the Eternals destroyed it. It’s not a full closure for the run -- Beta Ray Bill and Lorelei are notably absent -- but it puts things in order for the next creative team to come along.
I’ll have a full analysis of the run in a later post (possibly of the recolored trades). For now, I’ll close this review of Thor Visionaries the way I opened the review of Volume 1, this time with the final words of Walt Simonson’s The Mighty Thor.
“May his hammer ever strike in the cause of justice. So say we all.”