For four years, from 1965 to 1969, the Mighty Thor was one of the greatest super-hero comics ever. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby accomplished this by infusing it with large doses of mythology, science fiction, and space opera. They took advantage of the 16-page format to turn almost every issue into a cliff hanger, packing it with sub-plots that led to the next mind-blowing storyline so that it felt like one long tale that never ended; a multi-year roller coaster ride filled with Kirby crackle and action and bigger than life characters. By the time the series arrives at this issue, it has given us Loki, the Absorbing Man, the Destroyer, Hercules, Pluto (not the dog), Balder, Sif, the Warriors Three, Tana Nile and the Colonizers, the Recorder, Ego the Living Planet, the High Evolutionary, the Man-Beast, Ulik, and, yes, more.
This issue begins right where the previous issue left off but, as usual, has roots that begin several issues before. After ending the multi-issue threat of the Enchanters in Thor #144, September 1967, the Thunder God asks Odin permission to stay on Earth (in Thor #145, October 1967). Angered by this, Odin strips Thor of all of his power except his natural godly strength and leaves him stranded on Earth. He ends up in the Circus of Crime, hypnotized by the Ringmaster (Thor #146, November 1967) and is arrested in Thor #147, December 1967. Loki learns that Odin has stripped Thor of his power. He bails him out of jail and battles him. Thor is still formidable but begins to tire. Balder and Sif, ordered to Asgard by Odin, watch as Loki prepares to inflict the killing blow. They disobey Odin and hurry to Earth to stop Loki. Furious, Odin fires an “all-powerful Odin-bolt” that strikes Thor, Loki, Balder, and Sif, which is where this issue begins.
Spidey, by the way, has no lines in this issue. He doesn’t appear with Thor. He has no effect on the storyline. But he does have a cameo, giving me the excuse to write this review.
How often does the main character have his back turned to the reader on the cover of his own book? Thor, Sif, and Balder all face away, as they look up to see the Wrecker who stands, in full figure, above them. We haven’t ever seen the Wrecker before but his stance, his snarl, the motion lines of his crowbar as he raises it above his head, the Kirby crackle that shoots off the crowbar, the tumbling of building bricks all around him, and the Asgardians giving ground (and face time) to him, all combine to make him look very formidable. A powerful Kirby cover.
On the splash page, Loki, Balder, and Sif are bathed in some great Kirby crackle that is awash with green, courtesy of an unnamed colorist. Thor fills the left half of the page, helplessly observing. When the blast fades, Odin appears to the group and tells them that he is very displeased with their visit to Earth. “If with mortals thou wouldst dwell…as powerless as they shalt thou be! I have spoken!” he says. Thor approaches Loki and tells him he is ready to continue the battle on equal terms this time but Loki chickens out. “Whoever first regains his enchanted power shall be the victor!” says Loki and he runs off. “Mayhap I should destroy thee now,” says Thor, “but I cannot attack one who flees like a spineless jackal!”
Elsewhere in Manhattan, a wealthy couple come home to find their penthouse has been ransacked and their butler, Mayhew, tied to a pillar. Once freed, Mayhew says the burglar was “powerful…merciless…mocking! He called himself…the Wrecker!” The husband calls the police and reports the burglary but the police know all about the Wrecker. He has committed a number of jobs and the police can’t capture him. The Commissioner (at least, I think it’s the Commissioner) says, “At least, he hasn’t any special super-human powers like some others who’ve plagued us in the past! Imagine how disastrous it would be if he did!” I believe this is called fore-shadowing.
An army of cops combs the rooftops of Manhattan looking for the Wrecker. They do a pretty dismal job of it because he eludes detection by hiding right under a ledge over which one of the cops looks. The cops leave so quickly, they allow the Wrecker to make his get-away. A nice close-up of the Wrecker appears on page 5 panel 1. Even though he is mostly masked, his dead eyes, broad nose, and wide, grimacing mouth make him look very threatening indeed. He has eluded the cops but he had to “drop all the loot I was carrying” to do it. “Now, all I gotta do is find another victim…”
Back at Dr. Blake’s office, a delivery boy arrives with food. Thor answers the door and pays using Don Blake’s wallet. (The delivery boy does not question why Dr. Blake would be absent but leave his wallet behind. The delivery boy is also a Jane Foster fan. “I sure used’ta dig that groovy nurse of his!” he thinks.) The food appears to be hamburgers and coffee. Balder and Sif dig in. Thor caresses Sif but tells her “Tis not now the moment to dwell upon such matters of the heart!” But Sif thinks, “The lips of Sif are ever ready to speak of love!”
Meanwhile, Loki has rented a “gloomy” room, concealing his identity by covering his outfit with a trench coat and hiding his horned helmet in a hatbox. He summons Karnilla, the Norn Queen, to grant him power “enow to vanquish all who oppose my will.” But Loki doesn’t realize that the Wrecker is right outside his window. Just as Loki finishes his summons, the Wrecker uses his crow bar to tear the window right out of the wall. He flings his crow bar at Loki, knocking him out. Thinking the hatbox contains something of value, the Wrecker opens it and finds Loki’s helmet. “I always wanted to try one of these things on,” he says. It all becomes rather convenient as the Wrecker puts on Loki’s helmet and Karnilla appears behind him. The crackle of her arrival obscures her view. She doesn’t stick around to talk to Loki or find out if it even is Loki. Instead, she imbues the Wrecker with power, thinking she is giving it to Loki. “Use thine evil powers well, cunning Loki! And now…my debt is paid!” I’m not sure what the debt is but I doubt it’s paid after this fiasco. And Karnilla leaves again without ever learning that she gave the power to the wrong guy.
Stan clearly has fun writing the Wrecker’s dialogue. Here’s some of what he says in the next five panels. “I dunno know what she did to me…but I like it!” When Loki wakes up and demands his helmet: “Don’t git your tonsils in an uproar, sonny! Here…take it! It didn’t fit me good anyway! All the Wrecker needs is his crowbar!” He plops the helmet on Loki’s head. When Loki tries to fight him, the Wrecker stops him in his tracks with a gesture: “I…I don’t know how it works…but I sure ain’t knockin’ it! It must have somethin’ to do with what that chick said!” “I order ya to get back where ya came from, fink!” whereupon Loki disappears. “It worked! The clown is gone! It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me! Instead’a just stealin’ a whole bunch of loot…I stole some kinda magic power! I latched onto somethin’ supernatural! And I like it!”
And what’s next? Spidey’s next! In the following panel (page 10 panel 3 to be precise), Thor, Balder, and Sif hang around watching television. It is a nice big console TV with some kind of plant on top of it so I suspect they are now in Don Blake’s apartment. “That which you call television doth resemble the cosmic viewer of thine own father,” says Sif to Thor; a foreshadowing of the mystic crystal that pops up in subsequent issues. And what is on TV? Spidey is on TV! At least until the Channel 10 News Bulletin interrupts the Spidey show. And that, friends, is our excuse for doing a review of this issue.
The news bulletin reports that, “A strangely-powerful, destructive being who calls himself the Wrecker has begun a one-man rampage here in the city! He is reported to possess the enchanted power of Asgard!” (How in the world would the media know that the Wrecker possesses the power of Asgard? Only Loki knows that! And Loki’s back in Asgard!) The Wrecker’s previous goal was to steal things. A little Asgardian power and he decides to tear up the city, which, you would think, will not help him steal things. Go figure. Thor, Balder, and Sif see this story and decide that Loki must be responsible. (There is a cool little panel where they confer in a huddle and Jack puts the “camera” in the middle and below them, creating an interesting perspective.) They decide they must join the battle, even though they are now without Asgardian power of their own.
Out on the street, the Wrecker is using his crow bar to topple abandoned tenements and using his magic to repel police bullets with a force shield. “It’s like tryin’ to hit a ghost,” says one cop. The police pull back when Thor, Sif, and Balder arrive but they do little good. When Thor leaps, the Wrecker waves his hand and freezes him in mid-air. The Wrecker then fires a mystic bolt at Sif and Balder telling them to “Get back, both of ya, back where you came from!” Sif and Balder immediately disappear. Thor, no longer frozen in air, says, “Truly…thou do possess the power of Asgard!” and the Wrecker replies, “You know it, Goldilocks! That chick who called herself the Norn Queen was the real McCoy!” (The Wrecker must have used his Asgardian power to know that Karnilla calls herself the Norn Queen because all she said in his presence was “”God of Evil…thy summons is answered! That which you request shall be thine! So be it! Use thine evil powers well, cunning Loki! And now…my debt is paid!”)
The Wrecker allows Thor to move again so that he can kick the snot out of him. Jack gives us a full-page illustration of the Wrecker and Thor facing off but all of the motion and power comes from the Wrecker (Thor even has his back to us), which does not bode well for our hero. The fight releases lots of force lines and impact lines and big sound effects but soon the Wrecker has the upper hand. “All those muscles of yours ain’t gonna help you now, Longhair!” says the Wrecker, “’Cause they can’t do a thing against the enchantment I’m gonna use…right now!...in order to finish you off…forever!”
Back in Asgard, Sif and Balder try to get Odin to intervene but Odin disavows his son. Balder even goes so far as to threaten to renounce his sword forever. Odin gets cranky and calls out “let thee both begone!!” which either magically removes them as the Wrecker’s spell did or gets them to scurry out on their own. Odin turns his back to us in the final panel even as he turns his back on his son. “My son hath erred!” he says, “He must pay his penance! Whate’er the danger, I shall not intrude!”
Want to know what happens next? Not so fast! There is a second story in this issue. For nearly 50 issues (from Journey into Mystery #98, November 1963 to Thor #145, October 1967, the series Tales of Asgard appeared as a backup. But, the Origins of the Inhumans backup takes over in Thor #146, November 1967. It is an uncomfortable fit with Thor and ends in Thor #152, May 1968, after which the main story expands to 20 pages. This issue features …And Finally: Black Bolt!, by Stan and Jack, with inks by Joe Sinnott.
Black Bolt’s parents Agon (who is “Chief Geneticist of Attilan,” the Inhumans’ city) and Rynda go to visit their newborn son. Agon is interested to learn “the result of our altering basic genetic patterns!” (Agon has a very high forehead, making him look a bit like the Leader.) In the lab, the couple finds their son creating playthings by “mentally affect[ing] the electrons in the air about him.” They know, somehow, that this power will “slowly fade away as he attains manhood” but his power of levitation will not. The baby Bolt demonstrates that power by lifting himself and his “plasti-crib” into the air. Agon pulls a stun blaster on him. (A nice way to treat his baby.) Sensing the danger, baby Bolt emits a force blast from his forehead to destroy the blaster. Then, understandably upset at his parents’ actions, he begins to cry silently; “His voice…reaching into some nameless distant sonic range!” which causes a chain reaction of “vocal vibrations” that destroys the lab and then the entire building. Agon and Rynda escape but Bolt is buried underneath. The city uses “huge magnetic bulldozer-plows” to clear the debris. They discover Black Bolt safe in his crib, having created “an ultra-density protective force bubble” to protect himself. Agon takes his son in his arms and declares, “Never did man born of woman have such a son!! Though my heart rejoices that I have found him safe…a numbing fear for his future now chills my very soul!”
Now what happens next? In Thor #149, February 1968, Sif and Balder look into the mystic crystal to see that the Wrecker has injured Thor. They hurry back to Odin, hoping to convince him to look in the crystal but Loki steals it and takes it to the Forest of the Norns. Listening to Sif and Balder, Odin admits, “I do but seek to punish Thor! I have no wish to see him slain!” He joins them in the Chamber of Visions and discovers the crystal missing. Suspecting Loki, Sif and Balder receive Odin’s permission to enter the Norn Kingdom. Back on Earth, the Wrecker topples a building on Thor, apparently killing him. In Thor #150, March 1968, Hela, Goddess of Death, comes to claim Thor but finds a spark of life remains. Sif and Balder reach Karnilla who shows them an image of Thor’s body. Sif is convinced that Thor lives. Karnilla tells her “Only by slaying the Wrecker canst thou truly save him!” She convinces Sif to infuse the Destroyer with her spirit. Karnilla sends the Sif-controlled Destroyer to Earth where it attacks the Wrecker, breaking his crow bar and quickly defeating him. Thor recovers but attacks the Destroyer. In Thor #151, April 1968 Sif’s consciousness loses control of the Destroyer. Odin’s sorcerer mystically returns the crystal so that Odin can see Thor’s plight. Odin returns Thor’s godly power to him. But, meanwhile, Ulik attacks the Norn Kingdom. Balder offers to fight Ulik in exchange for his and Sif’s safety. Karnilla agrees. In Thor #152, May 1968, the Destroyer collapses before unleashing his disintegrator beam because Karnilla has returned Sif’s spirit to her own body. With Balder unable to defeat Ulik, Karnilla transports Thor to her kingdom. Thor does defeat Ulik but realizes afterwards that Loki has stolen his hammer Mjolnir. And so on. You get the idea.
Thor #149 also continues Black Bolt’s story. It is Bolt’s 19th birthday and he has been kept in a soundproof chamber ever since the events in this issue. Agon, now ruler of the Inhumans, tells Bolt, “you are now old enough to be trusted never to speak no matter what!” He lets Bolt out of the chamber. Medusa, Crystal, Gorgon, Karnak, and Maximus all greet him. Maximus attacks Bolt, however, hoping to force him to speak thereby proving he is not worthy of freedom. In this way, Maximus hopes to be the heir to the throne. Black Bolt does not fight back or speak, as the others defeat Maximus. Although Bolt has proven his worth, Crystal notes that he appears sad. Medusa says, “I think it may be because he realizes he will have to remain silent for the rest of his life!” It ends there as Thor #150 focuses on Triton.
The Lee-Kirby Thor issues are not perfect. There are two frequent complaints, both applicable here. One is Vince Colletta’s inking over Kirby’s pencils. Dyed-in-the-wool Kirby fans sometimes dismiss Thor outright because of Colletta. Compare Joe Sinnott’s inks on the backup Inhumans story with Colletta’s inks on Thor. Sinnott’s work fleshes out Kirby, making the art sharp and physical. Colletta’s work mutes Kirby, making the art soft and sketchy. But Colletta’s inks cannot dispel the power of Kirby’s pencils, the pacing of Stan’s dialogue or the roller coaster plots that carry you through multi-issue stories; stories that, far too often, require the hook of Odin repeatedly punishing his son so that Thor nearly perishes, which is the second frequent complaint. And, yes, Odin is so stubborn and vindictive here that he qualifies as one of the villains.
It does seem a bit much which is one reason why I cannot give this particular issue five webs. (Another reason is the scenes in Blake’s office and apartment that, charming as they are, bog the story down a bit.) But still…Kirby’s powerful pencils, Lee’s Shakespearean-ish dialogue, the introduction of a new awesome villain with an origin that flows from the elements of the story (even if it is a bit of a coincidence), a grand battle between hero and villain ending with the hero’s apparent defeat, plus a five page story of Black Bolt as a baby! I’m giving it four and a half webs.
We've left poor Spidey lost in New York without his memory but not for much longer. Amazing Spider-Man #57 is next.