Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Father, The Sons, and The Demon!

It's time for the blockbusting conclusion to the all-out attempt of the fire demon, Surtur, to destroy not only Asgard but all the nine worlds in a massive conflagration that will erupt when he brings his sword of doom, "Twilight," into contact with the brazier of eternal flame. In Part One of this story, we learned of the sacrifice of Odin's brothers, Vili and Ve, that sealed Surtur in Muspelheim after succeeding in destroying his sword, while Odin made off with the eternal flame and kept it secure in Asgard. But Surtur eventually reforged Twilight, and was able to escape his realm thanks to an alliance with Malekith and the release of the fierce cold from the Casket of Ancient Winters.

From there, Surtur attacked openly, sending his demon forces to Midgard (a/k/a Earth) in a strategem to draw the forces of Asgard to the planet's defense so that he could then isolate the golden realm and have a clear path to the flame he needed to ignite his sword. Thor, racing to the city's defense, was badly beaten, and the battle opened the door to Part Two--the confrontation of Surtur by Odin.

On Earth, the warriors of Asgard, commanded by Beta Ray Bill, Thor's brother-in-arms, wage an incredible battle against the near-overwhelming forces of Surtur--while a mortal, Roger Willis, who concludes that the battle may turn in their favor if the broken Casket of Ancient Winters is repaired, travels to its location with the Human Torch. Meanwhile, Odin fights a holding action against the powerful Surtur, though managing to sever the demon's link to the flame, a key source of his strength. To counter, Surtur summons the cold released by the Casket, and seals Odin in an icy prison, which will delay even a god of his might long enough for Surtur to reach the brazier of flame and thus bring his plan to fruition.

How's that for a condensed version of a story that, so far, has threaded together events from fifteen issues? Surtur certainly seems to understand the value of long-term planning--though even the fire demon must defer to writer/artist Walt Simonson, who set all of this in motion and nurtured it to the climax we now arrive at. And Surtur, indeed, seems poised to bring this affair to a close in his favor:

With Asgardian warriors waging a desperate battle against Surtur's forces on Earth, and with both Thor and Odin out of action, it appears there's nothing to prevent this demon from gaining the power to lay waste to everything!

But, haven't we forgotten someone?

Loki's rather self-serving rationale for intervening is certainly plausible for his character, as is his decision to wait until this moment to act--presumably to let Odin and Thor bear the brunt of the battle, while waiting to take advantage of the situation should Odin have prevailed. But his reasoning has cost him, for he's now forced to battle Surtur alone, when he might have been better served to join forces with his powerful step-brother as well as Odin. And while his mastery of spells allows him a certain confidence, he can only fight a delaying action against a being which held Odin at bay:

Throughout this story, one of Simonson's strengths has been to show the value of cooperation and forged trust--from Thor's eventual respect and admiration of Bill, to Asgard's diverse factions uniting in battle against a common enemy, to the role that mortals play and what they bring to the table in Asgard's conflicts. And in Roger Willis, who, merely on a hunch, has taken it upon himself to repair an ancient artifact such as the Casket of Ancient Winters with a simple tube of super-glue, we see how this story is elevated when even the most minor player can take action which may turn the tide in a conflict which involves beings of legend:

Johnny's question is answered in Asgard, where Surtur had drawn all of the Casket's released cold to imprison Odin, who, with the cold sealed in its container once again, now owes his freedom to the resourcefulness of a mortal do-it-yourselfer:

And so all the cards for the resolution of this conflict begin falling into place. On Earth, Bill and the combined Asgard/Earth forces wage battle at the main dimensional gateway where Surtur's demons have been flooding through--while in Asgard itself, Surtur finds the forces arrayed against him have become more formidable:

The battle see-saws, with Odin and his sons unable to gain an advantage but Surtur prevented from gaining ground. And so Surtur brings forth a new tactic, one designed to allow him contact with the brazier from a distance:

Back on Earth, Bill has a tactic of his own--using the timely arrival of the Norn Queen's forces to herd Surtur's demons toward the arch, and then calling on the Avengers to help him topple the gateway directly onto them, effectively sending them all back to Muspelheim. Once again, it's an example of action and reaction, as Bill's plan provides Thor with the distraction he needs to deprive Surtur of his greatest weapon, thereby giving Odin the means to put an end to Surtur's threat:

Odin's fate would be a turning point for The Mighty Thor. For the foreseeable future, Odin battles on another plane to keep Surtur in check, while the absence of the former Lord of Asgard creates an opportunity for Simonson (and future writers) to develop the story of Thor and the Asgardians without Odin's guiding hand or decisive measures. Odin wouldn't be brought back for another 26 years (our time) [Ed: see the comments section for clarification!]; whether Thor as a character flourished during that time or lacked the ability to chart his own course successfully (commercially or otherwise) was of course something for readers to ultimately decide.

If you'd like another perspective on this excellent storyline featuring Surtur and the Casket of Ancient Winters, you might enjoy a separate column by Chris Sims of the Comics Alliance, who notes the great care that Simonson took with the characters of Thor and the title itself in weaving together its various plots. Though if you truly want to experience Simonson's art, both written and graphic, be sure to read the story in its entirety, from its explosive beginning in issue #337. Given the chill of this time of year and winter just five weeks away, you might even take a leaf from Chris's book and dive into this epic when you're snowed in and have some relaxing time to kill. You'll bring a grin to Malekith's face, that's for sure.

As an epilogue, next time we'll take a look at some of the more character-based moments of this story which are so important in striking a balance with the rampage of Surtur and the battles taking place in both Asgard and on Earth--moments that are just as enjoyable and satisfying to a reader as the raising of a hand in victory.

Mighty Thor #353

Script, Pencils and Inks: Walt Simonson
Letterer: John Workman, Jr.


Scott said...

I enjoy your blog very much. Thanks!

Small correction, Odin actually came back during the DeFalco run, so i think it may have been more like 4 years than 26.

Anonymous said...

A great blog indeed.
Surter is interesting to me, because as Loki pointed out, he's not really a villain, or even an individual, but rather a primal force, who in Norse mythology was destined to close the final curtain on Ragnarok and set the Nine Worlds aflame, so that a new universe might appear and grow from the ashes.
It's interesting that Surter regards Loki as something of a threat. But, Loki is as doomed to play a part in the end of the world as Surter is, so there is a sense that these entities are destined to preside over the end of everything, sooner or later.
A wonderful run by Simonson, and another great post, C.F. mp

Comicsfan said...

Scott, are you perhaps referring to the two-part story by J. Michael Straczynski in 2007, where Thor found Odin alive in the netherworld (and battling Surtur) while undergoing his "Thor-Sleep"? If so, I really wasn't counting that instance as Odin being "brought back," since he chose to remain "dead" to prevent Surtur from returning to the land of the living. Though the story really does deserve a post of its own, given the light it sheds on Odin's father, Bor, as well as Loki, the human race, and Odin himself.

(And thanks for the kind words. BTW, I like the hat!)

mp, yes, I think I mentioned earlier that Surtur is one of those characters in Asgardian lore who indeed has a role to play, but doesn't care to bide his time until his moment is due to come. (Loki is somewhat the same, though to a much lesser extent.) IMO, though, Surtur has Odin and his two brothers to thank for that, as they took it upon themselves to move against him well before Ragnarok, as well as stealing what Surtur needed to fulfill that final role. Their rash actions pretty much guaranteed that Surtur would emerge as a threat before he was meant to.

Scott said...

No,I missed that one. I want to say it was issue 400 in 1988 or so, when Odin came back from this particular death. He had at least one other one since then. It's tough being a Marvel supporting character.

Comicsfan said...

Quite right, Scott--nice recollection! It's hard to keep the old coot down, isn't it?

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