It’s that time again: to delve back into the age of Ymir (that is, the early 1960s) and see what Marvel’s Thor was up to!
Four-colour Thor first went up against Loki back in Journey Into Mystery #85, and every reader at the time must have known that the character would have been too good to use as a one-shot villain. And so, three months later, the two mythic figures had a rematch in “The Vengeance of Loki!”
The issue’s cover depicts Odin alongside the hero and villain: “Heed my words, Thor”, he says; “Though both of you are my sons, you must defeat the evil Loki… for the sake of mankind!” Oddly, despite this promise of a family feud, the issue itself makes only a single brief mention of Loki being a relative of Odin an Thor, when he refers to Odin as his father in the third panel.
The story begins with Loki being sent back to Asgard after his previous tussle with Thor. Instead of being trapped in a tree like last time, he’s allowed to walk freely around the domain of the gods so long as he doesn’t head back to Earth.
Naturally, though, he can’t resist getting up to mischief, and uses a bit of magic to spy on Thor. Conjuring up an image of his arch-enemy in smoke, He sees Thor turning back into Don Blake to escape captivity during the events of the previous issue, and realises the hero’s secret: when separated from his hammer for too long, he becomes a powerless mortal. “He is completely dependent on the hammer”, gloats Loki. “That is his weakness — his Achilles’ heel- through which I shall defeat him at last!!”
The notion that the Norse gods have adopted turns of phrase derived from Greek mythology raises intriguing questions. But hey — the Prose Edda does contain the Christianised theory that the Norse gods were, in real life, Trojan warriors. Perhaps Loki and Achilles knew each other…?
Loki sneaks out of Asgard by turning himself into a snake…
…and then infiltrates Dr. Blake’s laboratory through a combination of mind-control and what appears to be a rubber mask (this latter touch oddly lo-fi for a shapeshifting deity).
The ensuing battle sees Loki turning a tree into a tiger to menace the still-hypnotised nurse Jane Foster (who, as an aside, is granted a surname for the first time in this issue).
Thor is too distracted by killing the beast to catch his airborne hammer. He leaves it on the ground, and turns back into a mortal… ripe for Loki to seal the hammer in a forcefield.
His foe trapped in mortal form, Loki proceeds to cause mayhem. His first move is to turn a streetload of bystanders into “blank beings” – continuing his interest in op-art, previous demonstrated when he turned a group of people negative in his first appearance.
The hijinks continue as Loki transforms chunks of the surrounding city into dessert, consistent with his present characterisation as an overgrown, unruly child.
Not even the US army is safe: when a group of soldiers approach him, he gives lovely white wings to their firearms.
Lest we think that Loki has thrown his lot in with the Reds, he also sabotages a Soviet atomic test.
So, how can the powerless Dr. Blake prevent Loki from bringing the Cold War to a conclusion madder than any MAD? Why, by playing the old trickster at his own game…
Loki returns to the scene of his victory, and sees Thor standing with his hammer regained. How could he have done it? Desperate for answers, Loki dispels the forcefieldd to see the hammer below.
Cue sitcom WAH-WAH-WAH. That wasn’t really Thor, it was just a dummy that looked like him. And now the forcefield’s gone, Dr. Blake hiding behind the dummy the whole time) can get his hammer back.
Loki tries to escape by turning into a pigeon…
…but after snaffling a net from a nearby tennis match, Thor is able to apprehend him.Our hero sends Loki back to Asgard, and the world is safe once more!
The contrast between Thor and Loki is often taken as one between brawn and brains. Interestingly, though, this story takes a different tack by turning Thor into something of a trickster himself.