Chris’s Cosmic Treadmill – Thor (Vol. 1) #373

thor373cover(Marvel Comics / 1986): “The Gift of Death” Writer: Walter Simonson, Penciler/Inker: Sal Buscema, Colorist: Christie “Max” Scheele, Letterer: John Workman

Warning: Spoilers for Walter Simonson’s run on Thor.

 

Thor #373 continues plots from not only previous issues of the title but also ties into the “Mutant Massacre” crossover (it directly follows events of X-Factor #10 which was on sale the same day). As such, this story has a lot going on and may require new readers be willing to accept that some details will be lost on them. That said, there’s much to enjoy in this issue and perhaps tempt the curious into reading more Thor from this era.

Walter Simonson’s work on this title has been rightly championed, and this issue finds us deep into his four year tenure on the title. Sal Buscema handles the art, as he has since relieving Simonson from double duty with issue 368, maintaining the usual fidelity with his collaborator’s style. Consistency is the name of the game, as we jump into a rich tapestry already finely woven. As such, several references are made throughout “The Gift of Death” to past stories, dating back to Simonson’s first year on Thor.

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Thor is attacked on his way between Asgard and Earth by an unseen enemy, not revealed to be the goddess Hela until the end of the issue; not a bad bit of mystery… if you haven’t been reading. Avid followers of the title would have seen Hela sputtering her hate and plans for revenge against the son of Odin during the last couple issues. Indeed, fans would know that Hela sulks because Thor prevented her from claiming Odin’s soul after the epic “Surtur Saga” back in issue 354. What effect this assault, a magical spell, will have on Thor remains for future installments to reveal.

Another mystery that must wait for an answer arises when Thor is unable to use his hammer Mjolnir to travel to the realm Muspelheim. This too relates back to the “Surtur Saga” as its conclusion saw Odin and the titular demon fall into said realm’s fiery depths. Other goings-on involve the new ruler of Asgard, Thor’s half-brother Balder, receiving a black feather from Odin’s raven Munin, and Thor’s friend Volstagg beginning his care of two human boys, recently orphaned by the death of their mother (issue #371). Whew! If all that were not enough, there are troubles in the New York City sewers.

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Thor might not have been the first title one would expect to be involved in a X-Men crossover. There were only three “X-books” at the time (four if you count Power Pack), however — Uncanny X-Men, New Mutants, and X-Factor — and it may be worth noting that Walter Simonson was also the artist on X-Factor which was being written by his wife Louise. That she also was writing Power Pack and had a history as editor of Uncanny X-Men and New Mutants probably didn’t hurt either. Whatever the exact circumstances of the arrangement, the god of thunder finds himself drawn into the troubles of the mutants, but not before enjoying a home cooked meal.

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No longer able to transform into physician Donald Blake, Thor has taken on the more traditional method of disguise for his alter ego Sigurd Jarlson (with the help of Nick Fury in issue 341). Returning to his residence in Brooklyn after a prolonged absence, Thor tracks down construction boss Jerry Sapristi, hoping the offer of work still stands. Not only does Sapristi accept Thor’s half-truth that he disappeared due to the death of his father, the Brooklynite invites Thor back to his house for dinner. The visit turns into an overnight stay and a trip to the zoo and Central Park for Thor and Sapristi’s six children. These moments ground the issue and provide some nice character moments amidst so much plot. We see the thunder god encouraged and comforted by the love of this human family, a contrast to the regular strife in his own.

Respites never last long for superheroes, however, so story time in the park gets interrupted by Thor’s frog friends. The Sapristi kids are surprised to discover that Jarlson can talk to the little green amphibians, of course, but, again, avid Marvelites would know that Thor was a frog himself for issues 363 through 366. Puddlegulp, one of the frogs, informs Thor that death has come to the sewers. Before Thor can offer an excuse to his audience, the children reveal they had seen Mjolnir in his gym bag during the night and know he is Thor; clearly someone needs to work on having a secret identity.

Now readers of X-Factor have their chance to know what’s coming: Thor discovers Angel pinned through both of his wings to a sewer wall by members of the Marauders. Corpses of Morlocks (mutants with visual defects driven to hide below ground) show that the one-time X-man is not their first victim. Thor manages to drive away Angel’s torturers briefly but, as the issue ends, he prepares to face the returning Marauders.

Now twenty-eight years old, this issue might challenge some modern readers making their way through to the closing standoff. The density of “The Gift of Death” impresses this reader even as it might annoy others. Simonson references events of at least four other issues of Thor, then throws Odinson into a crossover already in progress. More wondrous than the amount of material is the fact that it all works. While Simonson and Buscema do not hold your hand, nor do they abandon you outright: both skilled craftsmen of stories, they offer enough so that even readers jumping in with this issue can grab ahold of something before drowning (even if they splash about a bit first). In other words: “The Gift of Death” rewards patient readers and just might draw you into the greater stories of which it forms a part. Were too much explained, we might be robbed the excitement of discovering the full tales ourselves.

You can check out more from Chris at Critical Masses and you can hear him on the Geek Brunch Retro-cast.

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