Monday, August 2, 2021

"To Die Like A God!"


There's certainly no shortage of wars in the realm of Asgard, home of a race of Norse warriors who rally to the call of steel-clashing war in the same way that you and I would to news of the next Avengers film. As readers, we've been lucky enough to have our pick of Asgardian wars from which to choose, whether the aggressor was the Egyptian god Seth, or Surtur (to say nothing of his bringing along his forces), or the granddaddy of all life-or-death conflicts, Ragnarok. To put it mildly, the Asgardians gird themselves for rebuilding their demolished realm as often as they sharpen their swords to meet an invader.

With all the formidable, overwhelming threats the Asgardians face in their immortal lives, then, you would think the trolls who toil in the depths of the realm wouldn't pose much of a challenge for warriors who have faced these creatures with relish, either in isolated instances or when they've joined with like-minded aggressors such as Pluto or Loki in attacks against the realm. But Asgard's warriors have learned never to underestimate the resourcefulness of trolls, a lesson that came during an all-out attack on their city and their liege which nearly led to defeat for the realm's defenders--thanks to cunning planning, a brutal mass of muscle, and a powerful, albeit unwilling, ally.

As we make our way to the beginning of this conflict, war with the trolls has already broken out by the time Thor at last brings the mortal Jane Foster to Asgard to be wed--not the best of times to be introduced to your new home, where such bloody clashes are a way of life, nor the ideal time for Jane to meet her beloved's father, who also happens to be the king of the gods and is understandably attending to the situation at hand. And yet her reception speaks well of Odin as a father, and a prospective father-in-law.

Artist Jack Kirby's talent for storytelling is no doubt apparent to Marvel readers by this point in time--but with only a small adjustment to this scene, consider how powerful a moment he and inker Vince Colletta provide for the writer to script a meeting between an awed, mortal woman and the imposing figure of Odin.

Unfortunately, things didn't turn out well for Jane, as Odin practically thrust godhood upon her rather than taking the time to advise her on what was expected of her--to say nothing of demonstrating his expectations of her as a goddess by directing her into a chamber to face the horror of a creature known only as the Unknown. Hysterical after Thor rescued her, she refused to stay in Asgard, and, over Thor's objections, Odin granted her wish and returned her to Earth.

Thor, as it turned out, spent all of an hour grieving his loss before turning his attention to the stunning goddess Sif, both of whom are ambushed by a band of trolls who are keen on capturing Thor's hammer--a task that falls to the brutish troll called Ulik, when Thor descends to the caves of the troll kingdom to rescue the captured Sif.

Yet with the troll attack on Asgard imminent, the troll king, Geirrodur, aborts the battle between the two powerful figures and sends Ulik with a contingent of trolls to Earth along with their hostage, Sif--and Thor is made aware of the aspect of the troll plan which will deprive Asgard of his might as the city defends against the onrush of Geirrodur's forces, armed with alien weapons which all but assure their victory.

All things considered, given its page allotment, this four-part story--each part limited to sixteen pages, constrained by the book sharing its space with a Tales of Asgard feature--has done a fair job of holding reader interest thus far while providing long overdue attention to Asgard's kingdom of rock trolls, who have been literally beneath the Asgardians' notice as a viable threat to the realm but have apparently been preparing their assault on Asgard for hundreds of years and are now ready to go all in, thanks to the aid of a hidden ally which has all but assured their victory. Ordinarily, as trolls go, the Asgardians might look forward to a "war" with such beings while expecting the odds to be within their favor--yet as we've seen (but unknown to the Asgardians), this conflict has heated up significantly beyond border skirmishes, and things look to have shifted substantially to Geirrodur's advantage. Kirby and writer Stan Lee have meshed their talents well in terms of pacing, progression, and action as we reach this story's midway point.

We only learn more of this third party who is aiding the trolls when Thor returns to Earth and, attempting to draw less attention to himself in his search for Sif, changes his form to his human persona of Dr. Donald Blake. Yet Geirrodur, privy to this particular secret, was aware of this possibility and has had his forces on Earth prepare for it--and as a result, Blake falls into a trap which his ingenuity, combined with troll greed, offers an escape from.

The scene sets up another clash with Ulik--while, in Asgard, Odin's forces are learning the extent of the trolls' intelligence on their enemy, though it has not come to the trolls through conventional means. (Given the hordes of trolls set against them, it's also come as a shock to the Asgardians that the trolls have been procreating like rabbits--and as a warrior race, surely the Asgardians realize the advantage of strength of numbers.) As Asgard's forces meet resistance which is now a clear threat, this story is finally ready to unveil the one whom Geirrodur has in his thrall, whose technology and precognition are turning the tide strongly in the troll king's favor.

On Earth, things don't fare much better for the God of Thunder, who must still fend off Ulik even as he strives to locate Sif. But in achieving the latter, he carelessly makes it possible for the trolls to at last gain what they have sought to deprive him of--and in so doing, stranding him on Earth, unable to aid his fellow Asgardians as the trolls launch their main and most fierce assault on Asgard itself.

But unlike the situation in Asgard, Thor's predicament turns out to be not as desperate*, when Sif, by virtue of the fact that she is a goddess, uses her inborn ability to transport herself and Thor back to Asgard. Deus ex machina, anyone?

*Though you wouldn't know it from hearing the harebrained plan that Thor concocts to salvage his situation before Sif chimed in with her far less radical solution.  Frankly I'm amazed that Kirby inserted the scene as an option. On the other hand, it's diverting to wonder how many occasions a penciler might have intentionally injected something so preposterous, just to see how a scripter would account for it.

While Thor and Sif begin to investigate the evidence they're finding of advanced weaponry in the troll catacombs, that weaponry is being put to good use in Asgard, as the trolls rout the resistance mounted against them--weaponry, it turns out, that also proves to be effective against the up-until-now irresistible power of the lord of Asgard.

Odin's casual tossing aside of his "power scepter," a conduit for his power which he has made frequent use of in the past, is surely a morale boost for the troops he seeks to rally against the enemy. But unknown even to Odin, this war's deciding battle will be fought in the troll domain, where Ulik reveals yet another weapon which the alien, Orikal, has provided for those who keep him captive. Whether it will meet its match in Mjolnir remains to be seen; but perhaps the real mystery here is how the most unworthy Ulik is able to so easily lift and hold Thor's hammer without any apparent strain whatsoever. If another such provocative scene on Kirby's part, however, this time it's one which Lee ignores entirely.

With both Sif and Thor continuing to fight, however, and with the stakes this high, Geirrodur decides to enlist once more the aid of Orikal, who reaches out from his hidden chamber to seize the pair in a beam of force. That, in turn, leaves Thor no choice but to smash through the rockface against which they've been held--and both he and Sif meet at last the being who has been forced against his will to take part in this war. But Thor discovers that Orikal's departure from this universe holds the key to defeat for Geirrodur and his forces--and it's Ulik, the troll who seethes at Orikal for stealing his thunder in this conflict, who unknowingly points the way to victory for Asgard.

(Come on, Thor--you swung at Ulik when he raced past you, and missed. Who are you fooling?)

Odin learns later of the crucial part which Thor played in this war--and why the forces of Geirrodur, on the verge of victory, were suddenly forced to flee when their advanced weaponry suddenly failed them and they proved no match on their own against the legions of Asgard. As for Orikal, he inexplicably appears decades later in a 1999 story which sees him once again a prisoner of the trolls and a slave to Geirrodur's will. For a being with an "Infinite Eye" which allows him to be aware of so much yet to be, when it comes to his own well-being he seems remarkably short-sighted, eh?

Asgard goes to war against a billion, billion beings!

Better known to us as...
(Thanks a heap, Ulik! Why can't you ever mind your own business?)


Anonymous said...

Sadly, legions of screwballs on the Internet have given the ancient and honorable term "troll" a bad connotation, but the Asgardian trolls here are in rare form! I can't remember a comic where they are portrayed as interesting, devious, energetic and somewhat comical as they are here. Their far-out costumes and weaponry are classic Kirby. It looks like he was having as good a time drawing this as I did reading it. I'd like to think so!
I've got the reprint, in an issue of the old Marvel Spectacular, but I haven't looked at it in eons, so this seems almost new to me.
C.F.,I do remember Orikal and like you I remember wondering how an entity supposedly so wise and powerful got himself into that fix the first time!
Geirrodur ain't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed. But you say it happened again? I'm gonna hafta check out that link.
How many times does a guy gotta get captured by trolls before he gets wise?!
Great post.


Comicsfan said...

M.P., if you enjoy troll/Asgardian conflicts (and who doesn't?), you'll want to check out Gerry Conway's treatment of our irascible underground dwellers, as they again target Thor's hammer in a greater scheme. Geirrodur is a firm believer in the mortal phrase "If at first you don't succeed...", that's for sure.