Episode 10: Once Upon a Time

BEHOLD: Thor #367-369! King Balder is slain – or is he? Thor visits a fairy-tale castle that is not what it seems… And wicked magicks cannot stand against brotherhood and valor!

21 thoughts on “Episode 10: Once Upon a Time”

  1. As also seen in Loki: Agent of Asgard apparently Asgardian prisons are harder to get in than out. ^^;

    Kurse, the only person with the dubious honor of being thrown out of the land of the dead for being too destructive. And speaking of afterlife, as death is basically just moving to a different realm (it can literally be used as shortcut there) under a different ruler in mythological Marvel… is it even death as the readers understand it?

    Yep. Jane Foster is an awesome Thor… outside of her own book. Unfortunately Aaron’s Thor is too heavy on intrigue to be a good fit for such an old-school action hero Thor as she is. That book is oddly dissonant to me.

  2. You know who would make a great love interest for Beta Ray Bill? Dani Moonstar. She has Asgardian powers, a serious outlook and an interest in horses.

  3. For Beta Ray Bill? Gladiator. As alien-version analogues of better-known characters, they have so much in common, and that’s the foundation of a lasting relationship.

    But, having listened to the podcast, scattered thoughts:

    [Spoilers for Dan Jurgens’s run]

    – Thor’s superb beard may not be the result of trimming. Jurgens’s run establishes that Thor has special Asgardian beard-growing powers.

    OK, I’m not sure that Jurgens *meant* to establish that. But Thor goes from beardless to bearded in the space of one issue. And a later issue establishes that it has to happen very quickly – he’s beardless when Odin dies, and has the full beard in flashback to a scene set shortly after that event.

    So I think the sensible explanation is that among Thor’s many special abilities is the ability to grow his facial hair immediately to whatever length he wishes. If so, presumably he can keep it at that length without further grooming.

    – I don’t know that Thor and Balder’s encounter with the deadly women feels quite “fairy tale” for me. It’s a little too overtly sexual for the bowdlerized Victorian world of fairy tales.

    I think the model is older than that: medieval (e.g. Arthurian) romance. The whole set up with the four roads and each of the heroes taking a different one is appropriate to that. Also, the repetitive script-like quality of the conversations that you note. And, obviously, a castle with mysterious enchantresses who try to seduce passing knights (or Norse gods, in this case) would fit very well.

    The problematic depictions of women that this entails are a hazard of working with this sort of traditional premodern material. They’re marbled into mythic and folkloric material going back to figures such as Circe in the Odyssey, reflecting the larger social purposes that such stories were serving in the premodern patriarchal societies that created them. It’s easy to see how Simonson, in his attempt to create stories that felt “mythic,” fell into this particular trap – there just aren’t that many models of female behavior in premodern myth and folklore that aren’t problematic in some way.

    1. Oh yes, beards. I was a little surprised that Miles speaks of choosing to grow a beard. I’m currently choosing to shave and have done for some years, but despite how popular shaving is in our cultures, beards are the default setting for men over a certain age.

    2. Beard growing powers! I’m calling that canon.

      As for choosing to grow my own – I first did back in the late 90s, back when beards didn’t seem to be a default for anyone. But maybe now I’m over a certain age? Must I wrestle the concept of aging itself, as Thor did in Utgard-Loki’s castle?

      Agreed on Arthurian fantasy being a better parallel for this story than fairy tales, yeah. And also on Simonson’s tendency to write iffy women being more related to his source material than anything else – clearly, he can write awesome female characters other times!

  4. The opening with Karnilla and Balder reminded me of something I meant to comment on last time. There’s a strong compositional similarity between the last page of Balder the Brave and the last page of Conan the Barbarian #15. Sal Buscema inked Barry Smith (as was) for most of the issue, but didn’t ink that page. It’s probably only a coincidence of how you might reasonably solve that storytelling problem, but it had me pulling old comics out to check.
    The letters page of Thor #368 had this to say about Simonson stopping drawing the book: ‘Simply put, (Walter Simonson) feels he’d done a fair number of issues of a monthly comic book and he’d like to take some time off to work on other projects.’ This reveals to me that despite Simonson’s many strengths, his understanding of what it means ‘to take some time off’ is sadly imperfect. The letters page of #369 says one of those projects was a Havok mini-series co-starring Polaris. Um, Miles…did this happen? Did it morph into Meltdown?
    I love the splash of Volstagg and Gudrun. I love that she’s the only person we’ve seen, apart from giants, who’s taller than he is.
    I enjoyed Geoff Isherwood’s inking of #369. His rather more textured finish to Sal’s work emphasises the fairytale aspect for me.

    1. I suspect that Havok project did indeed turn into Meltdown, yeah – the first issue came out a couple of years after Thor #369, so that’d be plenty of time for the premise to change and the book to get made.

  5. Walter Simonson was meant to do a short run of Daredevil written by Frank Miller to appear immediately after the Miller/Mazzuchelli Born Again story. This was meant to be his project immediately after Thor but it fell apart seemingly because of how in demand Miller was and how much money DC were throwing at him to do Batman stuff.

    These comics were being published at the point when Shooter fired Denny O’Neil (Miller’s mentor) who went over to do Batman.

    This means that Walter got a few months off between leaving Thor and taking over X-Factor.

    Interestingly the lack of the Miller/Simonson DD story caused a bit of a headache for the editor Ralph Macchio (who also edited Thor) who had Steve Engelhart lined up to follow Frank and Walt.

    He needed to get a quick fill-in so he turned to another editor, Ann Nocenti. In her fill-in Ann had a scene where Black Widow is involved in shooting a guy in the head. They were both holding the gun and Ann left it ambiguous whether it was suicide or murder.

    Apparently Englehart felt this ruined his plans so stormed off the book only producing one issue under his pseudonym John Harkness.

    Ralph then had to find a replacement really quickly and got Ann Nocenti to come back and produce one of the greatest DD runs of all time which wouldn’t have happened if Simonson hadn’t stopped pencilling Thor.

    And the reason why Sal Buscema is inked by Geof Isherwood and Albret Blevinson (Al Williamson & Bret Blevins) on a couple of issues of Thor is because Ralph got Sal to pencil some of Ann’s early DD.

    I love those behind the scenes stories that show the interconnectedness of the medium and how accidents and emergencies can lead to great work.

  6. Just listened to the end of the podcast and Miles’s appreciation of Thor’s beard on the 25th anniversary cover.

    Those covers coincided with my second month of buying US Marvel comics rather than Marvel UK and hold a special place in my heart. That particular issue was my first US Thor comic.

    My first superhero comic was Marvel UK’s Thor and the X-Men weekly. Sadly my Mother determined that if I changed my weekly comic I had to get rid of my back issues so I have very faint memories of that one. I think I was reading it around 1979.

    It was very exciting to see Thor again and he was interacting with the X-Men (even if Marvel Girl had given up her green mini). I am super-excited for next episode. Bring on Ernesto!

    1. My first US Thor comic is also coming up – the Fall of the Mutants issue. I was in my rabid X-book reader phase, and bought every part of the crossover, even books that I wasn’t reading. I remember liking the beard an awful lot, but I didn’t have the cash to add Thor as a regular purchase.

      (And that was back then, before comics were luxury objects, acquired, like all luxury objects, in order to display status and power. Wait, there’s something wrong there…)

  7. Simonson on Miller’s Daredevil?

    It would be fascinating to see how Simonson approached that sort of noir-inflected material. Obviously, he’s done just about everything over the course of his career, but has he ever done anything with that sensibility?

    I know he hit big with Manhunter in the ’70s. But, although I haven’t ever read any of that, my impression is that it was more towards the globetrotting James-Bondesque end of the thriller spectrum.

  8. You’re right, Manhunter is a pulpy adventure story more than noir. As I recall the plan was for them to do a pretty straight, superheroic DD. Miller is bright enough to give Simonson what he was good at. When they finally worked together on RoboCop/Terminator the story felt more Simonson than Miller even though Walt didn’t co-plot.

    1. While Manhunter has very few of the trappings of noir fiction it has some of the underlying qualities of the genre. The protagonist, Paul Kirk is very much an existential victim, in a sense everything that is his is taken from him. He’s so very literally self destructive, it’s pretty much what he spends the whole story doing. The incident which gives us the transition from the Simon/Kirby character to this one is triggered by post-war disillusionment. So, while this looks like a Bond movie with great martial arts action it’s got a darker heart. I’m re-reading it at the moment. I think this podcast is leading me to read a lot of Simonson again…

  9. I’ve been ruminating about the Kurse design and I’m pretty sure it was by Simonson. Even though Algrim is first shown to become Kurse in Secret Wars II he is clearly designed as a Thor/Power Pack villain which makes Simonson the likely candidate. I’m sure the Secret Wars bit was just Shooter trying to incorporate some of the critical acclaim of Thor into his series. I suppose there is an outside possibility that the Secret Wars artist Al Milgrom could have thrown a tantrum and insisted that he get to design Kurse as he was drawing his first appearance but this seems out of character for Milgrom who is always referenced as a nice guy and a good collaborator. He is also a long-term friend of the Simonsons. He shared an apartment with Walt in the seventies and got him to pencil some Legion back when he was a DC editor.

  10. I’m not sure how this stands with spoilers, it’s all over the comics news sites, but I’ll be careful. Given the love from this podcast for Volstagg, I’m interested in hearing what people think about recent events in regards to everyone’s favourite dad-god.

    1. I think it’s an interesting idea, but terribly iffy in practice. Also yet another “important” character added to a cast Aaron already has trouble juggling.

      But at the very least, unlike most things in this run, this reveal wasn’t delayed until I totally lost interest so that’s something.

    2. HERE BE SPOILERS

      It really, really worked for me. My favorite thing about Volstagg – well, one of my top five favorite things since I have so many – is the rock-solid core of intensity beneath all his bluster. We usually only get glimpses – his compassion toward Mick and Kevin in next episode’s issues, his genuine valor when battles get serious – but Thor #20’s way of cutting to his horror and sheer fury after innocent children (in his charge!) were senselessly killed rang true for me.

      The last-page reveal of War Thor was great, but it was the page before – the page where Aaron’s words and Dauterman’s images so beautifully conveyed how shattered Volstagg was and how determined he was to make sure nothing like that ever happened again – that gave me chills.

      1. ALSO SPOILERS
        As a father of nearly as many kids (or so it feels), his motivation is spot-on. And Volstagg often seemed to be far more capable than he usually acted, so that’s all good.

        I think I’m a bit wary of power-ups of perfectly decent after living through the EXTREME 90s though. Also I’m still not sure how I feel about “Thor” being a job description rather than an individual. I suppose there are people named Major …

  11. I fear Miles and Elisabeth may soon have to face the Lion of Asgard himself for not bestowing the Hel’s Haberdashery award upon Gudrun…

    (Also can we talk about how Volstagg’s hat had a little glint on it for the rest of his appearance in the story because he shined it so darn hard?)

    As far as beards and scars go, I wonder if Simonson was inspired by Henry Longfellow…he actually grew a beard to hide facial scars he got in a fire, so if a mortal like Longfellow can grow hair from near damaged skin to cover his face, so could the mighty Thor!

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