Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #92

"The Day Loki Stole Thor's Magic Hammer" by Stan Lee, Robert Bernstein & Joe Sinnott
(May 1963)

Although I enjoyed this one, I feel like it takes forever to just get to the story. That's probably not a good thing for a story that's just 13 pages long (12, if you don't count the splash page/teaser); the Thor stories themselves sometimes feel like filler as one-third of an anthology book, but to have pages inside that story that feel like filler within the filler makes me wonder why anyone's even telling this story.

For example, the first page, taking place in Asgard, is only there so that Neri (handmaiden of Queen Fricka) can ask Heimdall for permission to use the Bifrost, only so Heimdall can remind the audience that Loki is still a prisoner in Asgard after what happened last issue. Loki is currently chained to a rock with chains made of the same unbreakable uru metal that Thor's hammer is.

The next three pages are taken up with a little episode that has nothing at all to do with the story, and basically reuses an earlier plot (Donald Blake gets accosted by gangsters who force the doctor to take a bullet out of their boss, just like in "The Thunder God and the Thug!"). This time, Thor foils them by taping them to a gurney and tying it to his hammer, and then throwing the hammer towards the nearest jail. What it loses to dorkiness it makes up for with also being totally unnecessary. I mean, he could've done it himself. Why go to the effort of all that taping and throwing and then standing, waiting for the hammer to return? Didn't feel like walking or anything today? Lots of effort for that stunt of laziness.

Then, Thor heads to Norway to provide special effects for a film that's being shot there. Yeah, that's kind of silly, but hey, why not? It's not as silly as the gangster thing. Plus, the director's making a Viking picture, so it's cool to see Thor fight a dragon, even if the dragon is fake. It's also charming how naive Marvel's been about how films are made. I don't think they were making full-scale, operational dragons just to blow them up in 1963. That's the same year Jason and the Argonauts came out, so you do the math. But it's cute. The director also has a round underwater sub for underwater filming, and asks Thor to destroy a mountain just for a cool special effect, which seems like the kind of thing directors get sued by nearby communities for doing.

But finally, Loki acts and the story begins. He uses his sorcery to magnetize his uru chains, and when Thor throws his hammer, the hammer is drawn to Asgard and to the chains, shattering them and letting Loki loose. He just leaves the hammer in the pile of chains, too. I mean, he knows he can't lift it, and Thor's screwed if he doesn't get it back, so win-win for a change.

Thor prays to Odin for help, and Odin simply picks up Thor and carries him through space to Asgard.

That's just wonderfully goofy. Also: time stands still when Odin appears on Earth, so Thor doesn't change back to Blake. When he's in Asgard, he doesn't change at all.

This is the best part of this story, and I would've liked to have seen the story jettison the pages wasted with gangsters and instead shown us more of Asgard. One of the things I really want as a reader of these stories is more and more of Asgard and less and less of doctors, supervillains and Jane Foster.

Thor goes off in search of his hammer (alone, for as Odin says, the others are busy with "thousands of tasks of our own," which just made me kind of giggle with its grand self-importance). First, Thor fights the obedient trees of Loki's forest. He cuts a tree down with a single chop of his hand and makes a giant wooden hammer to smash them to pieces with. It's actually pretty bad ass. Loki, watching from the shadows, magically burns the hammer, which is unfortunate, because it's actually the first thing that makes Thor think Loki must be behind this whole episode. Which... really? I mean, it's always Loki, dude. Even last issue, when Sandu started getting all weird, the first thing he did was suspect Loki.

Loki next turns the clouds themselves into flying dragons and sets them on Thor, so Thor rigs himself another hammer, this time literally poking the outline of a hammer into the side of a rock with his finger and scooping out a hammer. It's goofy, but in a charming way. Silliness at its best.

It's not until he's beaten the dragons that he realizes the rock he used for his makeshift hammer was uru, which raises all kind of questions for my fanboy side. Uru is unbreakable, but Thor can gouge pieces of it out of a rock? Does it need to be tempered first? Enchanted first? Is that the difference? For as much as I appreciate this issue explaining why Thor doesn't turn into Donald Blake with the hammer missing, this is one I kind of wish they'd thrown in a stray line about. Still, this is the climax, so let's get it on.

Thor's makeshift rock hammer is also attracted to Loki's magnetized chains, and that's how Thor finds his own hammer. (They're still not using the name Mjolnir yet.) Then Odin steps in and recaptures Thor, and all's well that ends well, let's cut to the usual stinger where Jane makes a comment and Blake winks to the reader.

Stray note:

:: Odin's design never strays much in these early issues, but here we have yet another take on Heimdall.

I wonder where Neri's going? Hot date in Nidavellir? (Wow, I immediately want that to be the title of a weird mythological noir.)

:: One more note: after Loki is captured, Thor opines to his father, "If Loki ever really breaks free, all the hammers in the world might not stop him." You think so? Because usually all he does is make signs come to life and turn cars into candy and make bombs not explode and generally play pranks and make Thor look silly until he tires himself out. He's not a real villain yet. He's more like a fun foil.

I think that's one of the elements missing from Robert Bernstein's stories featuring Loki. In Larry Lieber's hands, Loki and his pranks were a great foil for the noble dignity of Thor. He really only wanted to humiliate Thor for a while. Bernstein is trying to make Loki more evil, but instead he kind of comes across as this frustrated sorcerer who isn't very good at what he does. I liked this one better than the last one (in particular due to its Asgard setting), but Loki still doesn't really qualify as a God of Evil. He's still the God of Mischief, and I'd like to see that continue for a bit longer, at least until the Thor stories get a little more gravity to them.

Loki and Thor both need to step up their games.

Next Marvels: WAH-HOO!

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