Friday, August 16, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #85

"Trapped by Loki, the God of Mischief" by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby & Dick Ayers
(October 1962)

Not the greatest of introductions for one of the greatest villains of the Marvel Universe, but that's okay, it's still early. Everyone's still feeling out the characters and the concept. I mean, to be fair, they don't even have a handle on Thor's character yet, other than being Superman.

(Roger pointed out to me in the comments of my last installment on Journey Into Mystery that the Donald Blake-Jane Foster-Thor love triangle was more or less the Clark Kent-Lois Lane-Superman love triangle, and after he pointed it out I was almost embarrassed not to have realized that. I think understanding that is pretty key to seeing the direction they take Thor in at first; he's very much like Superman.)

This issue does introduce to some of the Norse mythology as it will be used in the Marvel Universe, and that mythos is one of my favorite things about this comic. We see Asgard, and the rainbow bridge Bifrost, and when we meet Loki he's trapped inside a tree. He's been able to master the tree, and jostles it just enough to force a leaf into Heimdall's eye, causing him to shed a tear, which means he gets out of his woody prison on a technicality. (Loki's great at exploiting technicalities; he's like those internet commenters who think the best jokes are literalisms that start with the words "Well, technically...")

Loki seeks vengeance on Thor, which is always easy for him to do, even though it's always temporary. Here, he uses the sun to hypnotize Thor (clever in a silly Silver Age way) and tries to get him to hand over the hammer or throw it away. Of course, Thor is unable to give up the hammer to anyone (by the will of Odin), and if he throws the hammer away, it always returns. So Loki cleverly conjures up a double of Thor, and Thor hands his double the hammer, dropping it to the ground.

In the best tradition of villainy, it's here where Loki really defeats himself. He doesn't know about Donald Blake yet, so he doesn't know that when the hammer is out of Thor's hand for more than one minute, Thor reverts back to Blake, freeing him from Loki's hypnotic spell.

The rest of the issue is a fight between the brothers, with Loki just basically running amok and throwing a temper tantrum, knocking stuff over and getting angry like an errant child. I do like how Loki uses a flock of pigeons to fly away on, and then brings the Pegasus from the Mobil sign to life (Mobil isn't named, natch). Thor stops a subway train from being destroyed in a very Superman sort of fashion. And then he sends Loki back to Asgard on the magic hammer express, followed by the customary closer: Jane cooing over how wonderful Thor is while Blake winks at the camera.

It's a lot better than the previous issue of Journey Into Mystery. With the introduction of the Asgardian mythos and Loki, Thor's on much better footing as a character. I really prefer these kinds of stories to some of the other situations he'll wind up in.

Other stuff:

:: This is the first time we see Heimdall, the guardian of Bifrost. We'll see him with several looks before his most famous is settled on, so here's the first one:

:: Also, can I just say how hard it is to read Loki and take him seriously sometimes? I know he's really supposed to be more of a bratty child here than a cunning, evil devil, but it's hard to take him seriously, especially just given how much he's been parodied elsewhere over time. I keep imagining his voice as the voice of the Monarch from Venture Bros., which really cuts down on his ability to menace.

Panels like this one don't help.

"Nyaaah! Nyaaah! Swoooosh!"

That said, Roger's Superman comparison gives me a new way of looking at Loki as Superman's arch villain. As we've all read and said before, one of the keys to being a great, lasting villain is being not just the opposite of the hero, but being someone similar with similar opportunities whose way of thinking took them down a different path. Look at what we've seen so far in the Marvel Universe. Doctor Doom is the greatest villain because he and Reed Richards are two sides of the same coin. They're both geniuses who build a lot of technology. But where Reed has used it to better humankind, Doom wants to use it to enslave humankind. Reed may be highhanded occasionally and may come across as an arrogant jerk, but he doesn't demand worship and tribute like Doom does.

Loki and Thor, then, are also the same dual personality. They're both Asgardian gods, they both have powers that seem like magic, but where Thor uses his powers to protect the Earth, Loki uses his powers to create havoc and mischief. It does remind me a lot of some of Superman's villains. There's a lot that's been said about how Lex Luthor is the opposite side of Superman--the side that is mentally powerful rather than physically, the side that also looks down at humanity from a great height and reacts differently than Superman would. But he also has a lot of villains like, say, Toyman, who are meant to be the opposite of Superman's dignity and nobility. I mean, how do you fight Toyman when his goal really seems to just be the humiliation of Superman and the puncturing of his great dignity? Loki comes out of that Toyman tradition, at least until he really starts endangering people. It's an interesting motivation to think about. He wants to enslave Thor, but he also just really wants to humiliate Thor because their father loved Thor better.

:: Why does Loki need a human disguise like Donald Blake's while on Earth in order to fool Thor? First, would Blake even recognize Loki? What Loki really needed was just a cheap suit or something.

:: At one point, Loki turns some humans into living photo-negative versions of themselves. Thor returns them to normal by spinning his hammer fast enough to create antimatter particles. Didn't know he could do that one. Wonder if he ever does it again. Neat twist, though. Oy, no pun intended. (This is also the issue where we find out that Thor's hammer is made from enchanted, unbreakable Uru metal.)

:: The first time Jane Foster sees Loki, she says, out loud, how romantic and dashing he is. In this issue, the part of Jane Foster is played by Tumblr.

:: Thor defeats Loki by throwing him into the harbor, because, according to Norse mythology, Loki's powers don't work if he's wet. I wonder if this fact is ever used against him ever again. Of course, it would become pretty stale to just throw Loki in a river or have Thor whip up a rainstorm every time Loki comes causing trouble, but it is something to keep in mind, isn't it? Not having that as a backup is a bit like Lex Luthor deciding never to use kryptonite because it isn't sporting.

Like I said, there's some really good foundation being laid in this issue. Loki is an annoyance right now, but he's also Thor's first real threat. The problem with sending Thor against communist dictators or gangsters is going to be finding ways to separate him from his hammer or to have his nobility used against him. It's not always as interesting as putting him against a villain who either has an equal amount of power or who doesn't have the same regard for human life and has the power to back that up.

Fun stuff this issue.

On the next Marvels: the Human Torch's first solo adventure!


Roger Owen Green said...

Man, I'm going to have to read all these again. In fact, even though I have the Marvel Masterworks, I don't even recall this story. Did I read it?
Maybe it'll be my (LATE) summer reading when The Daughter's away next week.

randm said...

I enjoy your reviews of these comics. Your line "In this issue, the part of Jane Foster is played by Tumblr." made me smile. Best line of the day.