Posted January 1, 2011 | Updated : April 18, 2012 | August 20, 2015
Thor : The Eternals Saga Part 2 of 3
From a focus on Kirby's Eternals, the next story melds Lee and Kirby's Thor with another creative force, that of Richard Wagner. Wagner created The Ring Cycle, and now Marvel is adding it to the Thor mythos.
Here are the questions that Thor has been carrying around with him from previous events : (1) Why does he care so much for Midgard? (2) Why did Odin kneel before the Celestials? (3) Why did Odin say that he will not slay Thor again?
Having 'captured' the lost Eye of Odin, which, through unknown reasons has become both large and sentient, Thor is now in a position to ask. Coyly, the Eye has allowed him only one question and he chooses the third one listed above.
The eye responds by taking him back in time. Some interesting montages during this flashback. Here's one showing Thor's days as a superhero.
And another showing his adventures in Asgard.
I just realized that Thor has been wearing the same outfit for thousands of years (same design, not exactly one outfit for thousands of years, I hope). That's one of the secret reasons why Odin sent him to Earth (You'll notice that Odin has different wardrobes). But then again Balder and the Warrior's Three also have a singular outfit design through the centuries. The All-Father had Balder shot with an arrow during the false Ragnarok and sent the three to get their ass kicked by Fafnir. Hmmm. Getting back to Thor's outfit, colors aside, I'm surprised that Marvels version isn't too different from the Norse original.
At this point the Eye of Odin shows Thor an image of an apparently real Ragnarok that happened before he was born..
Here we see what Ragnarok is - an invasion of Asgard by outsiders like Giants and Trolls. A Notable invader is the giant Fenris Wolf. Not shown are the Midgard Serpent and the traitor Loki, formerly the God of Mischief, now fully the God of Evil.
The following scene shows Odin fighting on the ground. He is slain by the Fenris Wolf. Then Vidar, his son, slays the Wolf.
These commentaries really make me take a very close look at my comics. I just noticed that the Fenris Wolf above isn't depicted as a Wolf at all. Hmmm, maybe Keith Pollard used his dog as a model.
Here's Loki and Heimdall slaying each other on the Rainbow Bridge.
The death of Thor, poisoned by the Midgard Serpent.
You'll notice the different clothing worn by these gods? I wouldn't go so far as to say they're authentic Norse garb but they're certainly more archaic than the clothes worn by the Asgardians in current Marvel continuity. Even Asgard itself is depicted differently here. Here's the current Asgard.
And here's the older one.
I already mentioned that Marvel's Thor is Stan Lee's creativity inspired by the Norse myths. The Eternals and Celestials spring from the mind (and pencil) of Jack Kirby. We also have the Greek myths in this story arc. Here, we add Christianity.
Asgard has been destroyed and is burning.
From Earth, it shows up as a bright star in the sky.
The same star that shines above the manger where Jesus was born.
So now, the events of this Ragnarok can be placed as occurring two thousand years ago. Since Thor was born shortly after that time, he's about that age too. Thor is two thousand years old? That trumps Wolverine.
Only nine Asgardian gods survive Ragnarok. They are shown perched amidst a devastated Asgard.
From last issue, the Eye of Odin has revealed to Thor the occurrence of a true Ragnarok from before his birth two thousand years ago. In this Ragnarok, another Thor was killed by the Midgard Serpent and only nine gods where able to survive. It's understandably mind-boggling so Thor asks the Eye to explain and the Eye of Odin responds with this panel/diagram.
I've never seen anything like it since the early Dr. Strange tales when Steve Ditko was illustrating those otherworldly dimensions. But there's more than that, Roy Thomas backs this up with explanatory pages (yes, pages) in the letters section a part of which I'll show here.
Amazing! I never read it myself but it's nice to see this comic book taking itself so seriously. The Eye must have been making fun of Thor, who is not exactly renowned for smarts. Nonetheless, Thor summarizes the whole thing as proof that there is a link between Midgard and Earth. I'm pretty sure that there was more to this complicated diagram than that, but no one wants to argue with a guy with a hammer, so Eye wisely keeps mum. Moving on . . .
Aside from the stories from Norse mythology which inspired Stan the Man to create Thor Marvel-version, there are a lot of other non-Marvel tales related to the Northern gods of legend. Like the Ring cycle made famous by Richard Wagner. Delightfully, Roy Thomas is bringing that tale into Marvel continuity also. It all begins with the hammer of the Thor that perished in Ragnarok being thrown by his sons to Midgard where it morphs into the Rhinegold and becomes the responsibility of the Rhine Maidens, just like in Wagner.
After this incident, the nine gods combine into a new Odin who then creates all the other gods (the ones familiar to Thor), and the giants and trolls too and raises up a new Asgard. Only the comics can deliver this kind of fun and crazy writing.
All the other gods are created except Thor who is a true bloodson of Odin. His mother, though, still remains unrevealed.
In the meantime, we go back to the Wagner inspired part of the story. Alberich the Nibelung has stolen the Rhinegold and crafts a giant ring with it - an all-powerful one.
We leave that for a while and go back to Asgard where Odin has commissioned two Storm Giants to create the great Hall of Valhalla. From his actions in Olympia, I pointed out Odin's extremely bad behavior. Well, he hasn't changed. In payment for the Giants' services, he promised them Idunn, one of the Asgardian goddesses. This is bad. In truth, he never really plans on honoring his deal with the giants. It gets worse. Because he is counting on Loki to find a way to cheat them out of the deal. Ladies and gentlemen, Odin, in 'Gods Behaving Badly Part II'.
Here I want to lament the outfit of the Storm Giants. Nay, as Thor would say, not just the outfit, but the very look of the Storm Giants. This is how they are rendered by the usually brilliant Keith Pollard.
These guys are fifty-footers but they look like a pair of oversized oafs. I wouldn't complain but I've seen other renditions of Storm Giants.
This is from Jason Engle.
Here's one from http://chaostouched.deviantart.com/.
Compare these to Pollard's rendition to understand why I'm disappointed.
Big surprise, Loki does not have any plan to save Idunn. So it's up to Thor to fight for her. Poor Thor, he's stuck in the wrong side of the law here but he can't help it. Based on the agreement, Fafnir and his brother have every right to Idunn. It is Odin who is the villain here. But what's Thor to do? He can't let them have Idunn.
Now right after criticizing Pollard, it's time to complement him. This is a wonderful panel. beautiful layout and the action really jumps out at the reader.
I've always wondered how Thor could punch a storm giant with those comparatively tiny fists of his, here's the answer:
More feats of strength from the Mighty Thor.
Any further carnage is stopped by Odin who realizes he has to honor his vow to give Idunn to the giants in exchange for Valhalla. It's a huge problem for the Asgardians because Idunn supplies the golden apples that the Asgardian gods have to consume in order to remain immortal - without Idunn they will lose their immortality.
Here is were Loki's cleverness and subtlety come into play. He talks about Alberich's theft of the the Rhinegold and fashioning of the ring of power - all within earshot of the two giants. Right off, they are willing to trade Idunn for the ring. Loki did come through for Odin after all.
The three gods sent to steal the Rhinegold from the thief Alberich are Odin, Thor and Loki. I doubt anyone could come up with a trio of more powerful Asgardians. They have no problem wresting the Ring and a horde of gold from the hapless Alberich and the exchange for Idunn is made. With that, the gods look to their new property - the great hall of Valhalla.
Once again we see mystical Mjolnir do something wondrous.
Mjolnir is able to create another Rainbow bridge from Valhalla to the Rainbow Bridge to Midgard.
The setting of the story is somewhere in the tenth century in Northern Europe. A feudal period, it was also a time when the gods of Asgard oftimes walked the earth in the guise of men.
It was also the age when the Vikings travelled widely to trade or pillage.
Here it is explained that Odin - actively worshipped at the time - encouraged the warlike ways of the Vikings, culling the best of those who perished from the fields of battle in order to populate Valhalla. These will be the warrriors who will fight for the gods during Ragnarok. It was in Odin's interest to build a strong army. Valkyries, the Choosers of the Slain, would sweep down in their winged steeds to bring the warriors to Valhalla.
Although he willingly gave up the Ring of the Nibelung to Fafnir, Odin continues to obsess about it. An object possessing both power over gods and men and a curse from Alberich, the gnome or dwarf who created it. Odin's is an unhealthy obsession, borne from the curse and it will bring great sorrow on his House.
Odin cannot go after the ring himself for he swore not to - and the oaths of Odin are not to be broken. This is the classic 'a man's word is his bond'; an ancient and honored principle that must have been necessary for old societies to survive and thrive. Today it seems quaint and no longer universally practiced among us.
Odin lived in Midgard and had two children with a mortal woman. His mortal wife is unintroduced and soon to perish at the start of the story. Of his two children, the boy, Siegmund, he filled with the essence of his bloodson Thor. It was Odin's plan to use Siegmund to obtain the ring from Fafnir. At some point, raider's came and killed Odin's wife and kidnapped his daughter, Sieglinda. This is Odin remember? How could his wife be killed and his daughter kidnapped? The only plausible explanation is that he allowed it, the god seemed to enjoy not being in total control of things.
It was also not in Odin's control that Siegmund would find his sister and have incestuous relations with her. This bit, obviously from Wagner, is a bit strong compared to the usual Marvel fare. Mark Gruenwald - who takes over from Roy Thomas - justifies it in one panel.
Understandably the book doesn't dwell on this too much, not when there are other interesting details.
Here's one: Sieglinda, as mentioned, was kidnapped. Then she was forced to wed one of her kidnappers. As also mentioned, she had slept with Siegmund, her brother. This apparently is a violation of her marriage vow to her kidnapper, nevermind that such vow was obtained by force. Once again, something from the ancient mythology that Wagner sourced from. Evidently, during those days, a marriage was a marriage irregardless of how it came about.
And who is the Norse god who protects marriage? It's Frigga, wife of Odin, who demands the death of Seigmund for breaking the marriage vow. She's really mad about it too, which is strange seeing that Odin himself violated his marriage with her by siring Thor with Gaea. Anyway . . .
Odin submits to Frigga's will and orders Brunnhilda, the Valkyrie - and later on a member of The Defenders - to slay Siegmund. And here we encounter the willfulness of the Defender we have come to know: Brunnhilda disobeys Odin and spares Siegmund, forcing Odin, with great sorrow, to slay his own son. And this answers Thor's own question about why Odin said he will not slay Thor again.
Later on, we'd simply refer to Brunnhilda as Valkyrie or Val, since she would be the only active Valkyrie in Marvel continuity. But here she is Brunnhilda, one among many Valkyries - Odin's vaunted Choosers of the Slain.
I, for one, would like to see more of Hildegard who seems to both be adventurous and resourceful.
Brunnhilda's punishment for forcing Odin to slay his own son is to be stripped of her immortality and remain in a magical sleep surrounded by flames until such time a worthy man can get to her.
Thus does Odin close his first attempt to wrest the Rhinegold Ring from Fafnir. His second attempt involves Siegfried, son of Sieglinda and Sigmund, which he once again imbues with the essence of Thor. Maybe because of his twin demigod parentage or because of the will of Odin, Siegfried is stronger than his father, allowing for a better chance of obtaining the ring from Fafnir, who has been transformed by the power of the ring into a fearsome dragon. Here Siegfried wrestles and knocks out a full grown bear.
The first part of this issue is taken up with the titanic battle between Siegfried and Fafnir - a battle which results in the death of Fafnir; and Siegfried as the new owner of the accursed Rhinegold Ring.
This is a great shot of how strong Siegfried is. He pushes the dead Fafnir, now reverted back to storm giant form, to block the entrance of the cave full of treasures.
The next thing Siegfried does is to win Brunnhilda for his own. For this he has to climb a rock spire and go through flames. Below is shown the spire where Brunnhilda lies sleeping.
This quest for Brunnhilda is rife with symbolism both for the ancients and ourselves. The stories of Siegmund and Siegfried where adapted by Wagner, and now by Marvel, from another time and I've noted some antique aspects of it against the backdrop of our modern sensibilities. But this one is neither antique or quaint: That a person still has to strive before being rewarded. The reward in this case is Brunnhilda and no greater symbol for the effort of striving than the unforgiving flames.
The issue ends as Siegfried wins his prize and gives her his recently-won Rhinegold Ring.
Then we are witness to a strange thing - another incidence of that antique quaintness that I referred to before. After the winning of Brunnhilda the two should just have gone on and built a life together. But Brunnhilda sees it differently and Siegfried agrees. I'll let the twin panels speak for themselves.
Intriguing isn't it? The prevalent logic seems to be like Spidey's 'With great power comes great responsibility' concept.
On his first outing, Siegfried gets taken out by a combination love potion and potion of forgetfulness. The potion causes him to marry someone other than Brunnhilda and to fetch Brunnhilda so she can wed somebody else. In the course of all this Siegfried gets back the Rhinegold Ring.