Marvel-Loki’s been the topic of discussion lately because of a series on a streaming service I don’t subscribe to, so now seems an appropriate time to take a trip back to the sixties and see another one of his four-colour battles against Thor. This time, I’ve dug up Journey into Mystery #108…
The main story “At the Mercy of Loki, Prince of Evil!” opens with bystanders panicking as Thor prepares to smash up a chunk of the city with his hammer, but he turns out to have legitimate reasons: the vibrations from his destruction lead to a traffic accident being averted. “I shall reimburse the city for the damage I’ve done by using the emergency fund which the Avengers keep for such a purpose”, he reassures the reader.
Then the real plot comes into play. Thor gets a telepathic message from Dr. Strange, who need medical attention after an encounter with his enemy Mordo.
Thor’s alter-ego, surgeon Don Blake, is so bent on treating Dr. Strange that he ignores a call from his father Odin, who’s preparing the Asgardians for battle against an unspecified foe. The allfather is not pleased at being ghosted. “By all the Furies,” exclaims Odin, so irate that he’s forgotten which pantheon he belongs to; “I’ll hold him accountable for this!!”
While Odin and his warriors head off fo their conflict, Loki takes the opportunity to sneak past Heimdall but turning himself into a bee. He then meets Dr. Blake in the guise of an elderly man, allowing a switcheroo with Blake’s walking stick (actually Mjolnir).
The revelation that Loki (and presumably anyone else) can pick up Thor’s hammer when it’s disguised as a walking stick raises an array of plot holes – to start with, why on earth does Loki just chuck the thing out the window when he’s spent multiple issues trying to steal it? – but the kids reading the comic in 1964 would have been too engrossed in the story to be concerned with such matters.
Blake manages to get his stick back (a hobo was using it as a fishing rod) and partners with a still-recovering Dr. Strange to rescue Jane Foster, who Loki had kidnapped. Iron Man, Ant-Man and the Wasp put in cameos, as does a still-angry Odin, but eventually the day is saved. The story ends with Odin arriving by cloud Monkey-style and apprehending Loki before forgiving Thor.
The back-up story “Trapped by the Trolls!” marks the return of Sindri, king of the dwarfs, who previously appeared in issue #103. That issue cast him as a benevolent character who gives Thor a magic ship; but as we shall soon see, he is a more ambiguous character this time around.
Sindri’s court receives a visitor in the form of a fur-clad traveller. “The unsuspecting stranger has arrived at the right time”, thinks Sindri to himself. “I promised to send another slave to the trolls today – as part of the price I pay to keep them from attacking my kingdom!” While this narrative s not based on any particular myth, it could be argued that the story captures something of the mythological dwarfs’ multifaceted nature: they had a creative role as blacksmiths, but were also associated with death and the underworld.
The visitor plunges down a trapdoor and into the realm of the trolls, where various Asgardians are forced to toil. But the fur-clad man turns out to be Thor, complete with hammer, and so he is able to fight back against his captors and free his fellow slaves.
The story ends with Thor hammering the entrance to the troll caves shut. “Nevermore shall men make slaves of others”, he proclaims. “Not in Asgard – not on Earth – not any place where the hammer of Thor can be swung – or where men of good faith hold freedom dear!” This, of course, raises unhappy questions about Thor’s absence throughout much of human history.