Monday, December 15, 2014

...To Rise Again!

Things looked bleak for the Asgardians last time, after Seth, the serpent-god of Death, had sicced his invasion forces on them. Thanks to the enslavement of Bes, the god of luck and probability, Seth was able to blunt any defenses the Asgardians could unleash--and when Balder, their King, was slain in battle in a one-on-one contest with Seth, his men had used the distraction of the fight to transport themselves within the city, taking the Asgardians by surprise and effectively securing their victory. And now, with Asgard fallen, Seth would soon proceed with his campaign to extinguish all life, in every plane of reality.

Yet, to the Asgardians, battles, no matter how decisive, don't necessarily decide the war--and, with Bes having been freed by the God of Thunder, Thor, they would now seek to regroup and strike back. And that reprisal is mainly what you'll see in the double-sized Mighty Thor #400 from early 1989, an excellent end to this saga by writer Tom DeFalco and artist Ron Frenz. DeFalco doesn't just let Thor carry the day in this story--this war with Seth involves all of Asgard, and therefore all of the Asgardians, and he appropriately gives equal time to just about everyone involved. As for Frenz, who appears to have co-plotted this series of stories with DeFalco, Joe Sinnott has the great timing to step aboard as inker with this 400th issue, and the end result from these two artists is just striking. Armageddon never looked so good.

So, where do things stand? Well, we know that Balder was slain on the battlefield by Seth. On the plus side, Odin has been found imprisoned in Seth's dimension of death and released by Thor (who had earlier also found Hogun the Grim, later marked for death by Seth), and now spirits to Asgard's aid. The Lady Sif had become a part of a contingent made up of Tyr, the God of War, and the Celtic gods headed by Leir. Volstagg had joined his comrade, Fandral, and the two were last seen engaging with a number of Seth's flying demons. The Black Knight, part of Thor's group along with Hogun and "Earth Force," a triad of mortals who had been empowered by Seth but who soon turned on him, is being overcome by a blood curse associated with his enchanted sword and finding it increasingly difficult to move.

And Thor?

Electing to remain in Seth's dimension of Death, Thor is charged with the responsibility of dealing with the reappearance of a demon who himself at one time launched a deadly war against Asgard and who came close to annihilating all life in the universe--an enemy who now searches for Odin, who held him trapped in the demon's home dimension for so many years. And it's Thor who leads off this story's concluding issue, in a sizzling splash page:

With Asgard fallen, this ancient foe couldn't have chosen a worse time to return.

Who else but:

The good news is that Surtur hasn't reclaimed his deadly sword, Twilight, and so he's no longer virtually invincible. The bad news is that Thor seems like a gnat by comparison, doesn't he? But that's about to change.

The ensuing trading of blows results in the destruction of Seth's "Black Pyramid," releasing energies which sweep both combatants out of Death's dimension and into a battle which takes them throughout the galaxy.

But, loath as he would be to hear it, Surtur doesn't take center stage in this story--so we'll have to table his fight with Thor for now while we return to the plight of the Asgardians. And one particular Asgardian we didn't expect to see again is currently recovering in a sanctuary that, for now, escapes Seth's notice.

Karnilla, Queen of the Norns, has no love for Asgard--but she has a great deal of love for Balder, and so she's been put into the difficult position of choosing love over her duty to her kingdom. As for Seth--to the victor, of course, go the spoils, and the serpent-god is taking his victory lap to the royal palace in order to claim the throne of Odin. But his reception will take the form of those still loyal to Asgard.

The letter "H" on Heimdall's shield (assuming it's not just a bizarre coincidence of the shield's front design) is rather conspicuous, its meaning unclear. A reminder that Hogun usually stands with the Warriors Three? Or some sort of indication that Heimdall is a worthy stand-in? Either way, things don't look good for these gentlemen. There's a lot of truth to Seth's mocking words, considering the victory that he's achieved this day. Fortunately for Fandral and his outnumbered group, Asgard's defenders exist in many parts of the realm, when there is a common enemy to unite them.

With the surge of this counter-attack, Seth comes to realize that the captive Bes may have escaped his control, and that things might have gone sour at the Black Pyramid--and so he flees the scene in order to reassess his options.

Which is precisely what other Asgardians are doing as they regroup. And they're about to discover that the ultimate figurehead for resistance to an invading foe has arrived in their midst:

And speaking of Odin, what of his son, Thor? Throughout these developments, the battle between Thor and Surtur has taken this gargantuan pair to various parts of the galaxy, as the energies of the Black Pyramid run their course.

In the meantime, Earth Force has intercepted Seth, and they mean to take him down for his manipulation of them. Yet Seth sees their attack as betrayal, and they pay the price that a death god is bound to demand.

Obviously, Seth hasn't yet lost control of the situation, and still remains a daunting foe, with or without the advantage of Bes. A fact made even more clear when the other Egyptian gods attempt to mystically subdue him:

Things also take a turn for the worse for the Black Knight, whose blood curse fully overtakes him and renders him immobile:

Clearly, things have come to a head, and each side knows it must go for broke. With Seth's forces occupied with the Asgardians (which presumably includes Karnilla), that leaves only Odin to deal directly with Seth--and even without his Odin-Power, he proves that he's every bit the god of legend in *ahem* rising to the task.

It's a crucial point in the battle--but at that moment, Thor and Surtur materialize in their midst, and the distraction to Odin gives Seth the upper hand. But Hogun, marked earlier for death by Seth, decides that this is his "going for broke" moment, when Odin's life depends on his intervention.

It's been gratifying to see the extent to which DeFalco has thrown the spotlight on Hogun during the past few issues, a character who has been underdeveloped due to the pass his "grim" facade gives him to remain aloof and unapproachable. We forget sometimes that such a deadly man must have an interesting backstory to have achieved his place at "court" as well as within Thor's inner circle. Here, we'll see that his role in this conflict is as pivotal as Thor's, since the dispatching of both of these powerful enemies must take place before victory is declared. Neither foe looks to be going down without a fight--and in this story's climax, both Asgardians make their stand.

In the Avengers plot where the Knight's curse first manifested, I was never a fan of that plot device; like the changes with the Captain Marvel character, I felt it was doing a disservice to Dane Whitman, who had been developed so well by Roger Stern and who had distinguished himself within the Avengers beyond the guest star role he had been stuck with for so long. Frankly, I didn't expect the Knight's appearance in these pages to go beyond being another sword in the fight (though I thought it would have been nice if he'd made some sort of tactical contribution as an Avenger). The fact that his curse was indirectly responsible for ending Seth's threat doesn't justify the "blood curse" plot for me, but I have to give a tip of the hat to DeFalco for putting it to some good use here.

Surtur, however--a more long-standing threat to the Asgardians--is another matter, and will take a bit more creative thinking to truly bring his threat to an end.

(I didn't say it was particularly good creative thinking. What was stopping Odin from absorbing Surtur's essence during their years of grappling in Muspelheim?)

Yet I'm not about to rain on this gorgeous full-page finale to such a well-done saga:

We know from doing the math on issue #200 that this wasn't technically the 400th issue of Thor--but as outstanding as it is, and as well as it synced with the entire Seth storyline, I'm willing to look the other way if you are. I was a little disappointed that inserts and fill-in stories were used to pad this "super-sized" issue, given that vital elements of prior unresolved segments such as Loki, Bes, the Enchantress, et al. were apparently set aside for the sake of expediency. (For what it's worth, Lorelei and the Enchantress would have fitting closure in a following issue.)

If you're interested in reading this story in its entirety, you can pick up the TPB from Amazon or other outlets for around $11-$15. There are many other aspects to the plot by DeFalco and Frenz that weave the story together more completely in a way these "digests" I've presented have bypassed, and which might make it a more enjoyable reading experience for you, as well as a fine investment of your comics reading time.

Mighty Thor #400

Script: Tom DeFalco
Pencils: Ron Frenz
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letterers: John Workman and Michael Heisler

1 comment:

Super-Duper ToyBox said...

Greatness! Read this one over the summer and loved it!

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