Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Last Conquest of Harokin The Barbarian!

The character known as Harokin has received a fairly decent amount of exposure in the pages of Mighty Thor--for a dead man, that is. A barbarian who presumably operated outside of Odin's dictates and who led hordes of armed and armored men (the "Hordes of Harokin," in the tradition of Marvel's use of alliteration) and a warrior who had designs on conquering even Asgard, it makes sense that Harokin was presented as a formidable foe for Asgard's finest (in this case, Thor and the Warriors Three). Yet it's curious that, despite his ruthless attacks, his ambition, and his single-minded goal of conquest for the sake of conquest, Harokin exited as a noble and respected character whose passing was treated by Thor and the others as a rite of honor and who is given a hero's send-off. The "bigger picture," however, is that Harokin's story is folded into our first glimpse of the glorious afterlife of the Norse gods, in the land known as Valhalla--a haven for fallen Asgardians that holds the promise of an eternity of pageantry and battle, and which now opens its doors and welcomes a plunderer whose life of conquest was spent any way but honorably.

We first learn of Harokin indirectly, when Odin sends Thor and the others on a mission to confiscate an enchanted device from a temple in Muspelheim in order to keep it falling into the wrong hands. Yet the "Warlock's Eye" has already been seized--and its new owner doesn't hesitate to put it to use on the defenders of an Asgardian outpost near the city.

So Harokin really isn't that complicated of a character to understand. With his hordes, he's able to overwhelm vulnerable targets, collect and enjoy the spoils, and set his sights on more challenging and rewarding conquests that will allow him and his men to amass greater spoils. What we've seen of him thus far is all part of the Barbarian 101 handbook. Yet his latest acquisition brings him into conflict with Asgard a little sooner than he'd planned.

While the others are sent to free those garrison warriors imprisoned in the dungeons, Thor confronts Harokin directly. With the Eye secreted for safekeeping, the brief battle is strictly no contest; but in victory, Thor devises a quick path toward securing the eye and thereby having the means to force Harokin's hordes to quickly stand down.

(Since there are likely no wigs readily handy in Muspelheim, we'll have to look the other way and assume that the enchantment of Thor's hammer, Mjolnir, includes the power to make such cosmetic adjustments when the need arises.)

Thor's deception works as conceived--but he's reckoned without the involvement of Volstagg, who earlier adeptly excused himself from a battle that erupted between his comrades and Harokin's men (with an elaborate fabrication of helping Thor--"I must make the supreme sacrifice and turn my attention elsewhere! For another hath need of Volstagg's awesome might!"). But in seeking safety from the onrushing hordes, he accidentally finds himself on the verge of facilitating Thor's plan. Unfortunately, he's not aware of the plan's specifics, nor of Thor's ruse as the enemy; but somehow Volstagg, more often than not, manages to triumph however the circumstances unfold.

With Muspelheim liberated, there only remains the disposition of Harokin--but as Thor and his companions will discover, the matter has been taken out of their hands, with the arrival of a riderless stallion that heralds the imminent death of a warrior in their company. It's not difficult to guess the person's identity, given the extent to which this story has revolved around him--yet because he fell in battle to one who isn't a barbarian and who kills only when necessary, the fact that he's now marked for death comes as something of a surprise, though not to himself.

Harokin has practically written his own epitaph: "I, who have lived for war... who have savored the nectar of conquest... must now pay the final price!" How is it, then, that Thor--who barely knows this man and has exchanged only a few words with him while Harokin was trying to separate his head from his shoulders--laments his passing with words of reverence and honor?

I don't know, Thor, you might want to hold off on writing off Harokin--that stallion stopped right in front of you, in case you hadn't noticed.

Harokin, now resigned, makes preparations to meet his fate--nor is he kept waiting long, with the arrival of the Goddess of Death, Hela, and her Valkyrie guard.

(For whatever reason, I thought it was a nice touch to have Hela instruct the bystanders to turn their heads, in a mixture of respect as well as to acknowledge that Harokin's link to the living has for all intents and purposes already been severed.)

From there, only the final journey remains--to a destination which would surely welcome one of Harokin's character, a man for whom unprovoked battle was a way of life and who thought of little else. It's quite fitting for Hela to recognize that she has no place in Valhalla and that she must leave the souls there to their own existence, though that wouldn't always be the case; in time, Hela would annex Valhalla to her own domain, and the shining spires of that other-realm would be occluded with the gloom and shadows that are hallmarks of her own existence. But this moment is reserved for Harokin, who receives a hero's greeting and hurls himself into an eternity of glory and adventure. It's quite the reward for a life lived off the subjugation and displacement of others--but Thor and his friends aren't having any thoughts contrary to their admiration and respect for this brave warrior.

If this story from 1966 looks differently to you than it appeared when it was first published, the Tales Of Asgard series was given a fresh new release in 2009 with its artwork enhanced and reconstructed by copydot scanning facility Jerron Quality Color in Illinois, this story crediting Tom Ziuko specifically though reportedly others were contributors. The result is astonishing, and similar work has begun to appear in other digital offerings from Marvel.

We would later "check in" with Harokin when Hela attempts to coerce Thor to accept her touch by giving him a glimpse of what awaits him in death:

But despite declining, Thor would later find that Harokin wasn't taking "no" for an answer.



haydn said...

I think Thor used hair dye to look like Harokin. Note the panel where, helmet in hand, Thor is running his other hand through his hair, a little visual clue from Jack Kirby that Stan Lee didn't pick up on in the dialogue and captions.

Comicsfan said...

That's a fair observation, haydn. (Though I think hair dye in Muspelheim was probably as difficult to come by as wigs--maybe their brawl landed them in the shop of a henna proprietor?)

Rick said...

I agree with haydn. Thor is obviously rubbing ash in his hair. Kirby put a fireplace in the background and a bowl of ash right next to Thor. Jack knew his stuff, story-tellingwise.

Iain said...

This redone Story looks great I remember it in its old format and Marvel certainly has done a nice job enhancing this classic.

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