So it’s taken me like a month to get around to writing this post. Taking a second read through Thor #175 reveals a probable reason: Loki gets his day on the throne through a plot contrivance that a moderately intelligent dog would consider unrealistic. Despite the fact that suspension of disbelief gets murdered on page 14, I think this is a pretty good comic. Let’s talk about why.
Date: April 10, 1970
Read on MU
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Jack Kirby
“The Fall of Asgard!”
We open with Thor playing backup for the New York State Police. He uses a half-strength Mjolnir blow to disarm some highway hijackers, earning the gratitude of the Staties he’s working with.
Off Earth, Balder and the Warriors Three are finally healed up after a months-long stay in Karnilla’s land of the Norns. Balder makes a few sad noises that demonstrate their mutual attraction before the Asgardians hit the road. On their way home, they stumble into an immense army of Mountain Giants. Loki has marshaled all the forces of villainy to assault Asgard as soon as Odin checks out for the Odinsleep. (Every Odinsleep – every time – leaves Asgard tremendously vulnerable. Why does the Allfather keep announcing them?)
There’s a minor plot hole here. Balder and co. say they need to fetch Thor at once, but when we cut to Earth that duty actually falls to Sif. Sif gives her beau a grim status update, and apparently, Thor is the very last person in all the nine realms to learn that Odin is taking a nap. The two of them blip back to Asgard and Thor immediately takes charge of an enormous army rallied to defeat Loki’s forces.
Sif gets dispatched to Odin-guarding duty while Thor mounts a horse and steams through three pages of truly epic Kirby Kombat. Frenetic combat is of course not to Loki’s taste. While the battle rages, the Lord of Lies sneaks away to enter a secret passage leading straight to Odin’s chambers. Loki himself directed its construction and then murdered its builders to keep it secret.
Here comes the bit where suspension of disbelief dies a tragic death. Loki announces his entrance by stabbing one guard. Sif and five other guards immediately surround the traitor. At this point, Loki points out that he is a prince of the realm and a blood relation to Odin (true at this point in Marvel continuity). This wins the guards over to his cause in a staggering display of anti-intelligence, and soon it’s Sif rather than Loki who is in custody.
Let me emphasize that for the cheap seats:
Five random Asgardians – about whom we know only that they were trusted to
guard the Allfather during the Odinsleep – immediately obeyed Loki’s orders while his army was attacking Asgard because he reminded them that he was a prince.
Once a rightly outraged Sif is carted away, Loki snaffles the “Ring Imperial” from sleepy Odin’s finger. This will become an important bauble. It’s renamed the Odin-Ring next issue, and it will crop up again and again in the future – usually in similar rock-stupid “Loki has a right to rule” plots.
The Warriors Three at last join the battle, saving Thor’s bacon and helping turn the tide. They don’t get a chance to really stomp the baddies because trumpets ring out from the palace. They’re announcing the ascension of Loki as Sovereign of the Realm. He’s got a sweet new set of regal green duds and the all-important ring on his finger.
Thor is, naturally, furious. It doesn’t help that most of the anonymous Asgardians around him immediately pledge their loyalty, and even the Warriors Three seem reluctant to continue the conflict. Loki drops the evil cherry on top of his villainous sundae by indirectly threatening Sif so that Thor will bow. At this point, we’re out of panels, and all Loki can say is that his rule will be an evil one.
Subsequent issues will prove him wrong, as Surtur wakes up in #176 and Loki loses the throne soon after. Man, the Odinsleep is always a disaster for Asgard. You’d think they’d prepare better, but every time Odin gets drowsy the place ends up turns into a trailer park in tornado season.
So, here we have one of Jack Kirby’s last hurrahs before he leaves Marvel. It’s a gorgeous display where both the foreground action and the backgrounds are overflowing with vitality and detail. The combat between Loki’s forces and Asgard looks and feels truly epic.
And sitting in the middle of it, like a rotten fish on a buffet, is one of the dumbest plot points we’ve seen in years.
My basic feeling is that as dumb as this plot twist is – and it’s extremely dumb – it doesn’t wipe out the rest of the awesome action going on here. It’s a testament to how cool that action is that the blithering stupidity of Odin’s guards can’t ruin it.
I even have a potential fix. I would say we can safely lose the highway hijacking scene at the beginning of the issue. I’d use those three pages to establish two things: First, that the Odin-Ring has some fearsome mind-controlling powers and that second, Loki sneaks in and snags it before confronting Odin’s guards.
Make that adjustment and I think you suddenly have a comic for the ages. The fact that the core problem is so easily resolved makes me think that it’s not a crippling one. It wouldn’t even cause any trouble with subsequent developments; in the next issue, we get a few suggestions (albeit subtle ones) that the Odin-Ring does have this sort of power.
It looks to me like the shortcomings of this issue are all down to Mr. Lee, unfortunately. Besides introducing this hopelessly dumb idea of Loki’s inviolate authority, he’s also in full-on “verbally describe every single action in case the art isn’t clear” mode. While there are certainly issues where this sort of narration is helpful, this is definitely not one of them. Mr. Kirby’s powers are at their absolute height, and there are multiple points where I’d love to see his art carry the narrative without the redundant speech balloons:
So resign yourself to the backstabbing dumbness of the plot and instead enjoy a full-on Kirby feast. In 1970 we don’t have many of those left to look forward to. Mr. Kirby even takes the time to redress some of his usual shortcomings. Drawing Karnilla gives him an opportunity to draft a distinctively different (and in my opinion dead sexy) female face.
Aside from the writing problems outlined above – the big huge lazy stupid plot twist and the tendency to narrate obvious action – Mr. Lee’s work isn’t half bad. His powers of Fauzebethan dialogue are at their height, and there’s even a little quality character development going on with Balder and Karnilla. (Mr. Lee is doing some quality foreshadowing: Balder has reciprocal feelings for the beautiful but evil queen of the Norns.)
Who Will Love Thor #175?
This issue is really a love letter to Kirby Kombat fans. Big dudes in wild armor clobbering each other with shiny exotic weapons? You betcha! We got that all day long! Don’t ignore the stupid plot twist, because it is epically stupid. But don’t skip the whole comic because it hinges on most of Asgard being struck with a potent case of the dumb. This comic is absolutely a visual feast, and besides the lazy plot twist, the balance of Mr. Lee’s writing work is pretty good.
Images snipped out of Marvel Unlimited by yours truly.