Having already witnessed the shocking scene where the mighty Thor committed the unpardonable sin of slaying his evil half-brother, Loki--an act which caused Thor to be summarily banished for all time--it's time to follow up on that story and not only discover the fate of Thor but also the many hidden truths which writer Tom DeFalco would reveal, one by one, which allowed the mortal Eric Masterson to assume the identity (and comic book) of the Thunder God for the next 25 issues. As we can see, artist Ron Frenz has given a sense of symmetry to the cycle, commemorating the points at which the "new" Thor made the scene and when the original Thor would reclaim the book.
It was a generous two-year period which allowed a brand-new and more mortal point of view of the God of Thunder to play out, though there were likely more than a few readers who may have been drumming their fingers on a hard surface while waiting for this storyline to run its course. And run on it did, stringing along fans of the original Thor with one red herring after another that might reveal Thor's true fate and thus would give the impression of the book circling back to restore the character. In the meantime, DeFalco was pursuing an intriguing (if at times interminable) story where an ordinary human suddenly found himself to be, for all intents and purposes, Thor--someone whom the average reader could hopefully identify with and get behind. The flip side of that coin was that the character no longer carried the sense of grandeur and nobility of the original--no longer set apart from the likes of Spider-Man or the Avengers or Daredevil or other human super-heroes on the comics shelves, regardless of how many Asgardians DeFalco would pack his stories with to compensate.
If you'd prefer to take each of these issues in turn and follow DeFalco's intentions for portraying Masterson as well as the many diversions that teased the possible return of the true Thunder God, that's certainly a valid and perhaps even rewarding option available to you; and of course now you wouldn't have to spend nearly as much time doing so or waiting a month between issues. But for those of you who want the answer without reading through twenty-five issues of preamble, or for those who have already read the entire story when it was published but just want to refresh your memories, the PPoC promised earlier to cut to the chase and put it all together for you, and we aim to please.
Speak for yourself, Odin! Some of us non-immortals aged two years to finally get this info!
The big revelation as to Thor's fate starts, oddly enough, in the realm of Mephisto--a being who excels in the practice of deception, but who will this day be brutally honest with the three people who have ended up at his throne for information. This entire sub-story has revolved around Mephisto's "soul shroud," a tapestry designed to contain the souls of deceased immortals he's able to acquire--with this particular shroud taunting us with the image of Thor displayed on its outer covering. And it's on that point that the lady Sif, Balder the Brave, and Eric have confronted Mephisto, having once again run into a dead end in their search for Thor.
You can no doubt imagine how trivially Mephisto regards any threats hurled against him; but in fact he is indeed going to give Eric and the others the information they desire. Mephisto's endgame has yet to be revealed in this entire affair--but it's safe to assume that these three are going to unwittingly help him achieve his true ends.
To learn the catalyst for what befell Thor after he killed Loki, we have to return to a story where the so-called "Thor Corps" were battling Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man, and Zarrko was forced to retrieve Loki from the timestream in order to set him against Eric and the others. It's at a crucial juncture in this battle where we learn that Eric himself sets in motion the events that lead to Thor's banishment.
With Loki now revealed as the mastermind behind it all (while receiving technical assistance from Mephisto), Eric and the others make plans to confront and deal with "Odin"--and just in time, too. In his deceptive rule in Odin's guise, Loki has typically let the rush of power go to his head and become a ruthless dictator in imposing his will on Asgard--and while Loki resides in Odin's body, there is no one with the power to challenge him. Yet while Sif and Balder rally the Warrors Three (Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg) to their side, and with the Enchantress also mounting a resistance against Odin's despotic rule, Eric buys them all time by attacking Odin directly. In doing so, he unfortunately learns a humiliating truth as to why he was "chosen" as the new Thor.
Odin is indeed overwhelming in this fight, dealing with all of the foes assembled against him--eventually turning his attention to Sif, who has brought with her the soul shroud containing the true Odin's essence. Seeing that Sif is threatened, Eric regains Thor's hammer and stuns Odin long enough for Sif to put her part of the plan into action--and in the end, Loki's final fate brings the plan of Mephisto full circle.
The resulting face-off between Mephisto and the true Odin is one that DeFalco handles adeptly, giving Mephisto his due as a master manipulator who is well-practiced at turning circumstances to his advantage--while Odin, clearly realizing he's been outmaneuvered, still manages to exit the confrontation saving face. It's a brief but splendid scene for both of them.
That leaves us with the final matter left on our plate. With Thor's banishment revealed to be part of a ruse crafted by the one he supposedly killed, it only remains to locate and retrieve him so that he can reclaim both his power and his hammer. But where has he been all this time? The answer brings even more dejection Eric's way, with its implications that whatever strength of character and acts of heroism that Eric achieved during his time as Thor may not have been genuine.
(It's curious to hear Odin regard his creation of Donald Blake as "arrogant folly," since that act has been repeatedly shown to have been beneficial for Thor, with no repercussions to speak of. It wouldn't be until over a year later, during the "Blood And Thunder" storyline, that we'd learn of Odin's true "folly"--of how his creation of Blake inadvertently created an imbalance in Thor's soul which eventually drove him insane.)
With the way to Thor revealed, it only remains to enlist Eric's cooperation in exploring his own subconscious and retrieving his friend, with DeFalco adding dramatic flourish to the process by invoking dreaded tones of "the Grim Guardian" and the "gauntlet" that Eric will have to face to prevail. Funny how the Asgardians know all about this procedure, yet ran around clueless all this time as to what might have happened to Thor.
For Eric, the gauntlet he faces involves challenges and perceived failings on his part, with a mocking facsimile of himself as a boy serving as a guide to and interpreter of what he encounters along the way. That includes the many super-powered threats he faced while acting as Thor...
...to how he believes he was regarded as Thor's "substitute":
...to those whose lives were impacted by his struggle to maintain his life as Eric Masterson while leading a life as a super-hero.
At last, though, he faces the final hurdle--the Grim Guardian of the citadel where Thor is being held. We'll have to assume the Guardian is known as "grim" because of his nature, considering that his expression is hidden from us; but Eric discovers one important aspect of him that doesn't remain hidden for long, and enables him to realize that what's driven him to pursue his identity as Thor has been kept in check by his own bolstered traits of responsibility and conscience.
As a result, once Eric reaches Thor, it's not just the latter who is ready and willing to return to his life.
When we leave things, Thor has decided against returning to Earth in order to remain in Asgard, as well as to marry Sif--while in order to fulfill Thor's wish that Earth have a guardian in his place, Odin leaves Eric with a parting gift in the form of a cane that resembles the one he used to transform into Thor. Eric at first regards it as a memento; yet upon his return to Earth, he discovers that the cane can still transform him into a version of Thor, while the new weapon he holds is now an enchanted mace that's inscribed with the name "Thunderstrike."
This story also marked the end of the run of both DeFalco and Frenz, who shifted over to the new Thunderstrike mag; but with thanks to both Frenz and Geof Isherwood, we're left with some nice work that brings some closure to their epic.
(This post covers issues 441-457 of Mighty Thor, plus extras.)