Last time, we continued our journey through Jack Kirby’s historic bibliography with Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth #1. This time, we’re treading grounds that are a bit more familiar to me with Thor #150, as Kirby is joined by the man himself: Stan Lee. The issue, titled Even in Death… picks up in the middle of a story with a lot going on, letting the first page catch us up. All we need to know is that Thor has been stripped of his power by Odin, and subsequently got his ass handed to him by the Wrecker, who has come up on some enchanted powers intended for Loki. This dire situation isn’t what makes this issue special, though… it’s one of the first major appearances of Hela (preceded only by Journey into Mystery #102 and Thor #133) that makes this a landmark issue of Thor.
Just in time to get us pumped for her role in Thor: Ragnarok, let’s look back at this classic issue of Thor to see how Jack Kirby and Stan lee handle the goddess of death… the ruler of Hel herself… Hela!
So… this issue was insane. It begins with the Wrecker walking away from a defeated Thor, who is confirmed to have no pulse. Hela shows up, seemingly to collect the thunder god’s soul, at which point I was pretty sure I had a general idea of where the story would go. Thor’s spirit would be at a crossroads, and at the end, he would fight for his life so he could come back and triumph over the Wrecker before the newly empowered villain can cause real damage.
That’s not quite how it went down.
After Hela first shows up and Thor’s spirit rises from his body, we cut to Loki, who is hanging out with the witch queen Karnilla. The two of them are excited about Thor being dead, so they plan to take out Balder and Sif next. Karnilla sends her giant Barbaric after them, and Balder fights him off. It seems to be going well, until the dust clears and Sif is gone. Back on Earth, Hela tries to bring Thor’s soul to the “shining vales of Valhalla,” but Thor is like, “What? No, I’m totally fine” and proves it by running in ghost form after the Wrecker, whose rampage he can’t stop because he’s all incorporeal. We then cut back to Karnilla to learn that she has captured Sif, who she tricks into… sending her spirit into the Destroyer so she can control it and save Thor? I’ll bite my tongue if that plan works in the next issue, but it does not seem wise for Sif to trust a lady like Karnilla. Even her headdress looks evil. So back on earth, Astral-Thor decides that death isn’t quite his thing, and hops back in his body with the ease of someone getting into their car. At this point, Hela has gotten tired of this whole thing and has left sans-the immortal soul of Thor. While Thor attempts to get to the scene of the crime(s) before anybody else gets hurt, Sif-Destroyer arrives on Earth and kicks the hell out of the Wrecker. Thor shows up, sees the Destroyer, and, not knowing it’s piloted by Sif’s spirit, prepares to destroy it before it can destroy him.
I mean… whoa.
That’s a lot to ingest, and it was fun as heck – but let’s be real, the reason that I’m guessing Blastoff’s own Scott Tipton asked me to cover this issue specifically is right there on the cover.
If Karnilla has a headpiece that Sif should’ve known was indicative of evil, Hela’s headpiece is beyond even that. It’s beyond even the concept of good and evil. Her headpiece is goddamn everything. She’s the original Asgardian diva, walking around like some sort of otherworldly half-tree, half-goddess. It’s badass, and I was impressed to see that it’s very nearly matched in the movies. When the “They should just match the costumes in the comics” argument comes up, I’m generally on the side of wanting the movies to be more realistic and understated… but by far the best argument against my take is Hela’s headpiece in Thor: Ragnarok, because it takes Jack Kirby’s brilliant, nightmarish design and translates it into reality with grace, power, and style. More of that, please.
Now, I’m realizing that a great deal of this chapter of Journey with Jack has been focused on Hela’s head – for good reason, I’d contend, but let’s get to another big thing I noticed before we wrap up. Kirby’s square-chinned, sure-faced Thor is the thunder god that was in my consciousness before I even read comics, because Kirby’s Thor is part of the culture. Not just comics culture, not just nerd culture – think bigger. Marvel heroes, with the exception of Captain America and Spider-Man, don’t have the simple, lasting iconography of DC heroes, with Batman and Superman’s easily recognizable logos… but the closest that Marvel has to that iconic S or that sleek bat logo is, if you ask me, Thor’s face as drawn by Kirby. I never really realized that or put any thought to it until reading this issue, but it’s true. Kirby’s artwork, I’m discovering the more I read, isn’t only deeply embedded into the DNA of modern comics – it’s part of American culture. Jack Kirby is all around us, even for those who don’t read comics…
NEXT TIME: Things get weird with the New Gods!