Monday, March 23, 2015

With Hammers In Hand!


For a story that takes place after a major battle issue, Mighty Thor #339 might surprise you at how much of a page-turner it is. In the story thus far, we've been introduced to Beta Ray Bill, a bio-engineered alien being who has proven able to lift and use Thor's enchanted hammer, and consequently lays claim to it in order to use it to save his race from certain death. Given that the hammer already has an owner in Thor, Odin then stepped in to arbitrate, and decreed that the hammer would be won in final battle between the two, in the fiery realm of Skartheim.

Bill manages to barely defeat Thor, but chooses not to end his opponent's life and instead returns with him to Asgard. And while the two recuperate, Odin must decide what to do. It's an issue that expands on Bill's situation as well as his conscience, rather than his now-settled fight with Thor--and just as Odin must decide on how to proceed from here, Bill and Thor must each come to terms on how they should proceed in the aftermath of their match, a clash which they each find has settled little.

Over the years in reading Thor, we've all seen a number of stories where Odin invokes his wrath, or delivers his judgment on a matter, or rides into battle, or harshly disciplines his son(s), or carries out an elaborate plan that he tells no one of until its culmination--and since it's Thor whose name is on this title, we've generally been content with Odin in these roles. Yet we're nevertheless deprived of a great deal of his potential as a character, as both a father and a leader. Aside from what's been revealed in Tales of Asgard, we don't see all that much of Odin behind the scenes. Asgard, after all, is his realm--the Asgardians, his people--and given the fealty the Asgardians show him and the esteem in which they regard him, Odin must not only be a comrade in arms to them, but also accessible and approachable in matters other than battle.

For Odin is not simply their ruler--he is indeed their "All-Father." If we're to believe scripter Roy Thomas, Odin not only created Asgard, its foes, and the various beings who dwell in its regions--he also created its gods, who, while perhaps no longer retaining the actual memory, owe him their very existence:



As we'll see evidence of in a minute, writer/artist Walt Simonson, who has just begun his run on Thor with the Beta Ray Bill storyline, appears to subscribe to Thomas's interpretation of the origins of both Odin and Asgard, at least in these early issues. I would prefer it if he did not--because Simonson brings to both of them a sense of character and homeland beyond the obvious traits of pride, glory, and honor that other writers of the title tend to focus on. Simonson's Asgardians possess all of these fierce feelings; yet his Odin is possessed of a sense of history and legend that Thomas's god of creation would not identify with beyond shouted oaths and battle cries, while his subjects regard Odin as both ruler and kinsman.

(To muddy these waters further, Simonson would later give his own "origin" for Odin, which involves his brothers, Vili and Ve--a tale which directly contradicts Thomas's account. The discrepancies between the two would be settled in a later issue of Thor.)

And so, as the dust settles from the outcome of the match between Bill and Thor, Odin is assessing the situation on many fronts, as a god and ruler genuinely concerned with the well-being of all involved. And first on his list is his son, who, in defeat, requires his father's attention and perspective:



Thor's mood and disposition are clear to Odin--yet what of Bill, whose arrival set in motion this complicated series of events? Odin finds that he is also a wounded soul, in need of the All-Father:



(No one can punctuate a sentence quite like Odin.)


We don't know with any certainty what Odin has planned--but Simonson lets his intent unfold slowly, beginning with a visit to the land of Nidavellir, and a dwarf named Eitri:




In Eitri's story of ancient wrongs, we get a sense of legend that Thomas's Odin would have acknowledged in a role-playing sense but little more--certainly not as the supplicant that we see here on horseback and without airs. Yet with his words of "the gods gave us our form and our thoughts," we've seen Eitri seemingly fall in line with Thomas's interpretation of Odin's re-creation of this world of the gods--and so, while Simonson strives to give Odin and the Asgardians greater depth, one can't help but wonder how far that can truly go, given that Odin is omniscient as far as Asgard and the beings who populate its lands are concerned. At any rate, his thoughts on Eitri's proposal remain to be seen--but the fact that Eitri converses with Odin on all-but-equal ground speaks volumes as to how much attention Simonson intends to give Asgard and its people in his treatment of Thor.

What can be divulged about Odin's reason to confer with Eitri is that its purpose has to do with two men who meet again, this time to trade sympathies rather than blows:



Thor's glance has caught the sight of the lady Sif, who rides out from Asgard's gates following a decision made earlier in a meeting with Odin:



Sif's "reasons" have to do with Bill, for whom she begins to nurse a growing attraction:



And so Sif welcomes the battle with the the dwarfs' champion, Throgg, whose size, er, dwarfs Sif's. But you know what they say about "the bigger they are...", and this seasoned warrior-maiden of Asgard fully intends to see Throgg prove the truth of it:





With Eitri's bargain honored, the dwarfs set to the task of fulfilling Odin's plan--making use of the same ancient furnaces that once fashioned the mighty hammer that Thor has long carried into battle. Only this time, the new weapon that's been commissioned will have another master, one who has proven equally worthy to wield it.








It's a solution that demonstrates Odin's wisdom involving a more subtle matter than deciding battlefield tactics or choosing warriors for a mission. Initially, Odin attempted to handle this problem in the same way that he once had Thor and Loki face off in a "trial of the gods"--by sending Thor and Bill off to duke it out. When things turned out to be more complicated, Odin proceeded more carefully, and took the time to be more informed--until finally, the choice of who would lay claim to Mjolnir was rendered moot, and honor was satisfied for both parties. In the process, a new hero has been born--and Thor has a new brother-in-arms.

And with the fate of Bill's race hanging in the balance, adventure beckons!







I don't know if the demons who plague Bill's people are going to be impressed at the approach of a wooden chariot drawn by two goats, but I know I'm psyched.

Mighty Thor #339

Script and Art: Walt Simonson
Letterer: John Workman

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