Wednesday, April 27, 2016

This Battleground Earth!

If you're an Asgardian, you generally live under the threat of two main threats: Ragnarok, and those who wish to either conquer or destroy your realm. Enemies can strike at any time--and so when you get wind of an enemy that might be feeling confident enough to take on the forces of Asgard, you take it seriously and investigate. Consequently, we find the lady Sif and Balder the Brave galloping through the land of Ringsfjord, where the evil Enchanters are said to be girding for war. Unfortunately, the reports prove to be true--and Balder and Sif encounter the deadly trio as they prepare to strike on two fronts.

The Enchanters appear to be a core group of warriors who also have the advantage of a high level of sorcery. In addition, as we've seen, each wears an emblem of the Living Talisman, which can take powerful humanoid form to deal with enemies but which also serves in a strategic capacity. The Enchanters simply spring forth in the pages of Thor, without the reader learning of their origin or knowing how they can be so confident of victory--but the threat to Asgard is real enough for writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby to stretch their campaign into a 1967 two-part story.

Sif and Balder escape with their lives and head to Earth to warn the Thunder God, Thor, as well as to have his assistance in the coming battle with these three foes. You'd think they would have instead reported back to Odin, whose orders sent them on this mission, instead of detouring all the way to Earth; the Enchanters are clearly prepared to make their move, and the first duty of Sif and Balder, after all, is to warn Asgard. As it turns out, the two Asgardians have played right into the Enchanters' hands.

It takes most of this opening issue for us to get this far in the story; we spend a few pages with Thor as he stops in at a soda shoppe, while more pages have Balder and Sif struggling in battle with the humanoid Talisman as well as with another strike from the Enchanters themselves. (There's also a Tales Of Asgard segment competing for story space in the issue.) By the time Part One draws to a close, however, things are revving up: The Enchanters split their forces, with Brona and Magnir heading toward Earth to dispose of Thor and his two friends, while Forsung travels to Asgard to directly challenge Odin.

You would think the last thing Thor's team needs right now is a distraction, since an imminent threat from the Enchanters isn't to be taken lightly--but, good grief, Balder, where the heck is this coming from??

While Thor is fighting for his life against the Enchanters, is Balder going to be putting the moves on the lady Sif?

Before we're done with Part One, we shouldn't deprive ourselves of some of the story's lighter moments that occur before Thor and his party must prepare for war. For instance, how does an Asgardian go about looking for one of their own in a teeming city like New York? Where do you start, if you have no idea of where to locate his mortal identity? In this instance, at least, Balder's clear thinking provides the answer: you let the Thunder God find you, by making yourselves a very visible spectacle. Unfortunately, that brings the Asgardians to the attention of one of New York's finest, who doesn't really care for the disruption these two are causing.

Balder and Sif have struck paydirt in being directed to Blake, though they don't yet realize that Blake is the one they're seeking. It's easy enough for Blake to prove his bona fides, of course--but for those of us who have endured interminable lengths of time in the dreaded waiting room of a doctor's office, the scene at least demonstrates how you can have your doctor practically tripping over himself to usher you in, as long as you come waltzing in as a god.

And so in Part Two, the stages are set, both on Earth and in Asgard, for the attack of the Enchanters. In the case of Odin, who remains uninformed of the threat thanks to his two warriors who have a different sense of priorities, he's interrupted at a tournament by the Living Talisman, who heralds the arrival of the Enchanter who hopes to dethrone the omnipotent ruler of Asgard.

On Earth, a similar Talisman has thrown down the gauntlet to Thor and his comrades, who respond with typical flair and the thunder of their defiance.

Give the Enchanters credit for their tactics--isolating Thor from the aid of his friends in order to focus their might solely on him. It takes awhile for Thor to get it together, which seems shocking when you think of how often he's fought against hordes of warriors at once; yet the Enchanters presumably wouldn't have the rep they have with Asgardians if their power and prowess in battle weren't forces to be reckoned with. In short, Thor has his hands full with this dual threat--and thanks to Magnir, his mightiest weapon will also be turned against him through the sorcery of the Enchanters.

As for Odin, he and Forsung face off in a unique duel of power where the price of defeat will cost one of them their life. Forsung must indeed be confident, to forfeit the use of his Talisman--an advantage that would have allowed him to battle as two to the All-Father's one. How Odin is disadvantaged by agreeing to withdraw the power of his fellow Asgardians is unclear, since he draws no strength from them and their swords can still strike while Forsung is distracted. In any event, the battle is on!

Yet the Enchanters have miscalculated in their little power play--because Forsung's conditions for battle have levelled the playing field, depriving his comrades of their power while Odin's gesture has done the same for Thor and his comrades. Yet the balance of power shifts to Thor's side, since his friends can now rejoin him and shift the odds in the Asgardians' favor--though we have to wonder for an instant if Balder is still eager to rejoin the fray.

And so the threat of two of the Enchanters, at least, is dealt with. But after long moments awaiting some sign from Asgard as to who has prevailed in the battle between Odin and Forsung, Thor and his friends begin to fear the worst. Has Forsung emerged victorious? Shall they remain on Earth, deprived of their power, forever? And last but not least: will the proprietor of Thor's favorite soda shoppe still feel like giving V.I.P treatment to an ex-Thunder God?

The shocking epilogue! The fate of Odin! The fate of Thor!
(To say nothing of the real cliffhanger: The turmoil of Balder!)

Mighty Thor #s 143-144

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Bill Everett (Pt. 1) and Vince Colletta (Pt. 2)
Letterer: Sam Rosen


George Chambers said...

Am I wrong, or weren't Balder and Sif siblings? Or didn't Asgardians worry about that sort of thing?

(Or, maybe Stan just forgot that?)

Comicsfan said...

George, I believe you're thinking of Heimdall and Sif. (Let's hope Balder doesn't step out of bounds with Sif--Heimdall doesn't miss much with those eyes of his!)