Welcome back to another post in the series that looks at old Thor comics from Marvel and sees how they stack up against the Norse myths that inspired them…
Journey Into Mystery issue 101 starts off with Thor in a bad mood, stomping through town as bystanders look on in awe (“Did you see that? His foot clipped a piece out of that lamppost as he passed by!”). After he expresses a complete lack of interest in the “puny, petty lives” of mortals, he smashes the front off some guy’s truck and cold-shoulders his fellow Avengers when they try to intervene.
The source of his ire? He’s still smarting about the end of the previous issue, when Odin doubled-down on forbidding his relationship with Jane Foster. Meanwhile, Odin and Loki watch from Asgard. “You have ordered him to forget her.. but still he broods! Is this not rank disobedience?” says the trickster. “Yes, Loki”, replies Odin. “It is! And by thunder, it shall be punished!” And so Odin halves Thor’s powers until he stops troubling himself with thoughts of Jane.
While Thor is barred from Asgard, Loki takes the opportunity to plot against his depowered foe. Using his magic to gaze through time, he finds a foe from an earlier issue: Zarrko, the Tomorrow Man!
The time-travelling Zarrko’s previous appearance ended with him having his memories erased. But Loki returns his knowledge to him and he returns to his evil ways, commandeering “an indestructible mining robot” and taking it to the 1960s. “It’s some kinda nutty space ship with a robot that can melt guns!!” explains a police officer.
But Thor, his powers having been reduced, is no match for the robot. He agrees to head back to the future and become Zarrko’s servant, purely to prevent 1960s from being destroyed by the rampaging machine. “This is too much to bear!” exclaims Odin as he watches from above. “My son has given up to a mortal!”
The saga of Zarrko will be concluded next issue. Until then, we have the backup feature: “Tales of Asgard, Home of the Mighty Norse Gods! The Boyhood of Thor! The Invasion of Asgard!”
Unlike previous Tales of Asgard, this isn’t adapted from any particular Norse myth – not even loosely. However, it does fold a few more mythological figures into the Marvel canon. The story opens with Asgard on the brink of attack from “the forces of evil” (a footnote explains that these ae “all the sinister, powerful menaces which would destroy noble Asgad”). Young Thor offers to hlep Heimdall guard the rainbow bridge, only to be rebuffed (“Leave me, young Thor! There is man’s work to be done here! Go!”)
Loki, watching, hatches a scheme. He points Thor to a hole in Asgard’s defences and suggests that Thor guard it instead; in fact, Loki made the hole in the first place in an effort to get Thor killed by the invaders, so he can claim Odin’s hammer for himself (the plot device that the two are competing for the hammer was introduced in the previous issue).
Then we meet the invaders:
Let’s take a closer look at these beings…
The Norn Hag: The norns are curiously ambiguous figures in Norse myth, with the Poetic Edda giving two conflicting descriptions of them. The Völuspá lists three norns named Urd, Verdandi and Skuld (past, presemt and future) who are tasked with deciding the destinies of mortals (obvious shades of the Fates in Greek myth). But in another poem, Fáfnismál, the antagonist Fafnir declares that norns” “don’t share a common family” and that “some are born of the Aesir, some of the elves, some are the daughters of Dawdler” (translation by Andy Orchard; the “Dawdler” referred to is Dvalinn, a dwarf) which implies more than three norns. Meanwhile, the Prose Edda introduces the idea of good and evil norns, with Har stating that “Good norns and of good descent shape good lives, and when some men are weighed down with misfortune, the evil norns are the cause of it.”
Ulfrin the Dragon: The Poetic Edda (specifically, the Grímnismál) provides a list of dragons or serpents that lie beneath the world-tree Yggdrasil biting on its branches: Goin and Moin (identified as the sons of Grafvitnir), Grey-back, Grafvollud, Ofnir and Svafnir. Elsewhere, the poem identifies a dragon named Nidhogg (or “Spite-striker”) as biting the tree from below. Instead of picking from these names, Lee and/or Kirby appear to have invented their own dragon – although “Ulfrin” does have a vague similarity to Ofnir, I suppose.
Skoll and Hati, the Wolf Gods: These two lupine beings, whose names translate as Spite and Hate, are described as chasing the Sun and Moon through the heavens in the Poetic Edda’s Grímnismál:
Spite’s the name of the wolf who chases the fair-faced god
To the protection of the woods;
A second is Hate, Famed Wolf’s son,
Who is after the bright bride of heaven. (Translation by Andy Orchard.)
“Famed Wolf” is generally taken to refer to Fenrir.
Last of the Ice Giants: He’s not identified by name but this is presumably Ymir, since an earlier issue had established that he is the last surviving ice giant. (This conflicts with the actual mythology, in which Ymir was the first frost giant and survived by a number of others after he was slain to create the Earth). In the comics, Ymir was last seen trapped in a fiery prison by Odin; how he escaped is not explained here. Something I didn’t pick up on before: in his first Marvel appearance Ymir was identified as a frost giant, but in later issues he became an ice giant – I’m pointing this out, because the change helps to distinguish him from…
The Merciless Rime Giants: “rime giant” is simply an alternate translation of the Norse word usually rendered into English as “frost giant”: hrimthurs (hrim meaning frost or rime). As with the storm giants seen in the previous issue, this appears to be an attempt on Lee and Kirby’s part to incorporate more traditional giants into Marvel’s Thor mythos after depicting the frost giants, contrary to mythology, as beings of walking ice.
Geirrodur the Troll: Geirrodur, or Geirrod, turns up in the Prose Edda. The story, which is told in response to the question “Has Thor accomplished any other great deeds in his intercourse with trolls?” details how Thor travelled to the land of Geirrod after losing his hammer and belt through the machinations of Loki. The battle between Thor and Geirrod takes some bizarre turns – as when the thunder-god breaks the backs of Geirrod’s daughters Gjalp and Greip after they try to lift him up from under his chair – but Thor is victorious. Note that the trolls of Norse myth were an extremely varied bunch; Marvel’s portrayal of them as squat humanoids (also seen in Avengers #1) is a simplification.
Of these rogues, the only ones to actually play a part in the story are the dragon (who traps Thor with his “enchanted breath”) and one of the rime giants (who casts a spell turning Thor into a tree). But then the other Asgardians – namely Odin and a band of anonymous gods – turn up to save our hero in the nick of time. For his role in staving off the attack, Thor is rewarded additional strength and is one step closer to earning his hammer.