Thor: Tales of Asgard

By Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, George Roussos, Don Heck, Paul Reinman, Chic Stone, Vince Colletta & Bill Everett, with Matt Milla & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-0-7851-5189-0

The Mighty Thor was the comic series in which Jack Kirby’s restless fascination with all things Cosmic was honed and refined through his dazzling graphics and captivating concepts. The King’s examination of space-age mythology began in a modest little fantasy/monster title called Journey into Mystery where – in the summer of 1962 – a tried-and-true comicbook concept (feeble mortal transformed into god-like hero) was revived by the fledgling Marvel Comics to add a Superman analogue to their growing roster of costumed adventurers.

That debut tale closes out this selection of mythic masterpieces collectively culled from Journey into Mystery #83, 98-125, and Thor #126 to 145 (August 1962 to October 1967), and available to you in trade paperback and digital formats and all fully recoloured and moodily remastered by hues-master Matt Milla.

Journey into Mystery #97 (October 1963) saw the launch of a spectacular back-up series to the ever-unfolding Thor sagas. Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby a vehicle to indulge his fascination with legends.

Initially adapting classic fables of the Elder Eddas but eventually with all-new material particular to the Marvel pantheon, the King built his own cosmos and mythology to underpin the company’s entire continuity. This first yarn, scripted by Lee and inked by George Bell (AKA old Golden Age collaborator George Roussos), outlined the origin of the world and the creation of the trans-dimensional World Tree Yggdrasil.

The next issue proclaimed ‘Odin Battles Ymir, King of the Ice Giants!’: a short, potent fantasy romp laying more groundwork for decades of cosmic wonderment to come, inked with brittle mastery by Don Heck.

The next peek at primordial prehistory details Odin’s war with ‘Surtur the Fire Demon’ and latterly (with Paul Reinman inking) crafted an exploit of the All-Father’s so different sons in ‘The Storm Giants – a Tale of the Boyhood of Thor’. As always, Lee scripted these increasingly influential comicbook histories…

JiM #101 shows Kirby & Roussos in epic form for another exuberant tale of the boy Thor. ‘The Invasion of Asgard’ sees the valiant lad fight a heroic rearguard action whilst introducing a host of future villainous mainstays such as Rime Giants and Troll King Geirrodur.

This is followed by a macabre Reinman-inked mood piece wherein ‘Death Comes to Thor!’, with the turbulent teen facing his greatest challenge yet. Two females who would play huge roles in his life debuted in this brief 5-pager; young goddess Sif and fearsome Hela, Queen of the Dead.

Kirby & Chic Stone next revealed ‘Thor’s Mission to Mirmir!’; disclosing how the gods created mankind. That led one month later to a new Tales of Asgard strand focussing on individual Gods and Heroes. ‘Heimdall: Guardian of the Mystic Rainbow Bridge’ was first, with Heck inking a dramatic recap of the sentinel’s astounding gifts…

Having set up the scenario, ‘When Heimdall Failed!’ (Lee, Kirby & Roussos) expanded the legend before ‘Balder the Brave’ (Lee, Kirby & Vince Colletta) further fleshed out the back-story of an Asgardian pantheon deviating more and more from those classical legends kids had to plough through in schools.

Then, next issue the seductive Norn Queen debuted as a reluctant ally to evil Asgardian Loki, in a quirky reinterpretation of the classic myth ‘Balder Must Die!’ illustrated by Kirby & Colletta.

‘Trapped by the Trolls’ showed the power and promise of tales set solely on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge after Thor liberates enslaved Asgardians from subterranean bondage.

In #109 the Young Thor feature ‘Banished from Asgard’ was an uncharacteristically lacklustre effort as Odin and Thor enacted a devious plan to trap a traitor in Asgard’s ranks but the vignette hinted at much greater thrills to follow…

The sequel was crafty vignette ‘The Defeat of Odin!’ with an old and silly plot sweetened by breathtaking battle scenes, after which another short fable co-opts a Greek myth (Antaeus if you’re asking) as ‘The Secret of Sigurd’ by Lee, Kirby & Colletta …

With Colletta firmly ensconced as inker, Journey into Mystery #112 offered an eagerly anticipated origin with ‘The Coming of Loki’, retelling Marvel-style how Odin came to adopt the baby son of Laufey, the Giant King of Jotunheim. One month later the creators exposed ‘The Boyhood of Loki!’: a pensive, brooding foretaste of a villain in the making.

JiM#114 adapted another Asgardian parable – ‘The Golden Apples’ – by way of a certain European fairy tale whereas #115’s back-up mini-myth detailed ‘A Viper in our Midst!’ as young Loki clandestinely cements relations with the sinister Storm Giants – sworn enemies of the Gods….

These one-off yarns are followed by stellar novellas ‘The Challenge!’ and ‘The Sword in the Scabbard!’ in which Asgardian cabin-fever develops into an extended quest to ferret out a threat to the mystic Odinsword, the unsheathing of which could destroy the universe…

In Journey into Mystery #118 the Quest further unfolds with verity-testing talisman ‘The Crimson Hand!’ before ‘Gather, Warriors!’ heralds the arrival of a band of hand-picked Asgardian “Argonauts” enlisting aboard Thor’s flying longship in a bold but misguided attempt to forestall apparently-imminent Ragnarok…

The next instalment of the godly sky-sailors’ voyage sees them all boldly ‘Set Sail!’, only to encounter an uncanny ‘Maelstrom!’ before ‘The Grim Specter of Mutiny!’ (invoked by seditious Loki) is quashed just in time for valiant Balder to save them all from ‘The Jaws of the Dragon!’

Issue #125 was the last Journey into Mystery: the following month saw the title transformed and re-titled The Mighty Thor. The Tales of Asgard carried on regardless as fresh chapters saw the Questers homing in on the cause of all their woes.

‘Closer Comes the Swarm’ pits them against the flying trolls of Thryheim, whilst ‘The Queen Commands’ finds Loki captured until Thor answers ‘The Summons!’ and promptly returns his crew to Asgard to be shown ‘The Meaning of Ragnarok!’

In all honesty these mini-eddas were, although still magnificent in visual excitement, becoming rather rambling in plot, so a narrative reset was neither unexpected nor unwelcome…

Before the next serial started Kirby pulled out all the creative stops to depict the ‘Aftermath!’ of Ragnarok: for many fans the first indication of what was to come in the King’s landmark Fourth World tales half a decade later…

The assembled Asgardians next faced ‘The Hordes of Harokin’ as another multi-chaptered classic began, after which ‘The Fateful Change!’ reveals how the young Thunderer trades places with similarly-visaged, Genghis Khan-like Harokin…

Tales of Asgard – Home of the Mighty Norse Gods gave Kirby space to indulge his fascination with legends and love of fantasy movies by providing complete vignettes or lengthy serialised epics – in every sense of the word. Initially adapted myths, these back-up yarns grew into sagas unique to the Marvel universe wherein The King built his own cosmos and mythology, which would ultimately become a keystone of the company’s entire continuity.

Now, as a band of assembled Asgardians face Harokin’s all-conquering army, Thor is exposed even as his colossal comrade Volstagg steals the enemy’s apocalyptic wizard-weapon ‘The Warlock’s Eye!’, heralding the eerie arrival of ‘The Dark Horse of Death!’

The apocalyptic steed is looking for its next doomed rider and will not leave until it carries him on one last ride to ‘Valhalla!’

Back in Asgard and some undefinable time agone, ‘When Speaks the Dragon!’ and ‘The Fiery Breath of Fafnir!’ then pit Thor and his Warriors Three comrades Fandral, Hogun and Volstagg against a staggering reptilian monstrosity: a threat finally quashed in #136’s ‘There Shall Come a Miracle!’

By this time the Tales of Asgard feature was winding down and wrapping up, but it still offered Kirby a place to stretch his creative muscles. ‘The Tragedy of Hogun!’ grants revelations concerning the gripping and tragedy-drenched history of the dour eastern warrior in an Arabian Nights pastiche which also introduces sinister sorcerer Mogul of the Mystic Mountain.

‘The Quest for the Mystic Mountain!’ finds Hogun and his comrades edging closer to victory and vengeance, culminating in a truly stunning Kirby spectacle in Thor #139 as the wandering warriors discover ‘The Secret of the Mystic Mountain!’ and are attacked by a devastating giant Jinni

In ‘The Battle Begins!’, Hogun and company defeat the mystic monster only to encounter ‘Alibar and the Forty Demons!’ before Kirby’s seamless melange of myth and legend leap into overdrive as ‘We, Who are About to Die…!’ depicts young Thor and the Warriors Three facing all the magical menaces mastered by Mogul.

Issue #143 (inked by the magnificent Bill Everett) declared ‘To the Death!’ as comic relief Volstagg takes centre-stage to seduce Mogul’s sinister sister only to be interrupted by Mogul triggering ‘The Beginning of the End!’ before wrapping up in spectacularly cataclysmic fashion with ‘The End!’.

The feature was replaced in the next issue with short tales of The Inhumans – but that’s a subject of a separate volume…

Filling out this mythic missal is the groundbreaking debut tale from anthological Journey into Mystery #83, which saw a boldly costumed warrior jostling aside the regular fare of monsters, aliens and sinister scientists in a brash, vivid explosion of verve and vigour.

That initial exploit followed crippled American doctor Donald Blake who takes a vacation in Norway only to encounter the vanguard of an alien invasion. Fleeing, he is trapped in a cave where he finds an old, gnarled walking stick. When in his frustration he smashes the stick into a huge boulder obstructing his escape, his puny frame is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder Mighty Thor!

Plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Lieber and illustrated by Kirby and inker Joe Sinnott (at this juncture a full illustrator, Sinnott would become Kirby’s primary inker for most of his Marvel career), ‘The Stone Men of Saturn’ is pure early Marvel: bombastic, fast-paced, gloriously illogical and captivatingly action-packed. The hugely under-appreciated Art Simek was the letterer and logo designer.

It was clear that they were making it up as they went along – not in itself a bad thing – and all that infectious enthusiasm showed over the following months and years.

Also on show are a wealth of hidden gems: 50 pages of “factual” detail material including maps and historical essays about Asgard; biographies of numerous Asgardian cast-members, infographics of The Nine Worlds; a gallery of the Eternal Realm’s greatest foes, an incredible double-page pin-up of downtown Asgard plus a cover gallery by Kirby and Walter Simonson, remastered by Milla.

The bonus bonanza doesn’t end there but also offers a selection of variant covers and a breakdown of the Thor: Tales of Asgard Cover Process from Olivier Coipel’s initial pencil sketches to published art, as well as a vast character key.

These early sidebar tales of the God of Thunder show the development not only of one of Marvel’s core narrative concepts but, more importantly, the creative evolution of perhaps the greatest imagination in comics. Set your common sense on pause and simply wallow in the glorious imagery and power of these classic adventures for the true secret of what makes Marvel’s most mythic superheroes such a unique experience.
© 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 2011 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.