From character retrospectives to a look at memorable storylines and interviews with key creators, the Essentials will act as the perfect guide for fans both old and new! Look for new Cap Essentials every Monday and Thor Essentials every Thursday as we head toward the release of each film!
By Matt Powell
Continuing our retrospective on writer/artist Walter Simonson's legendary THOR run, we pick up with issue #345 as events were put into motion for the impending "Surtur Saga." With arguably one of the most memorable stories in both the character and the creator's histories, Simonson tempered his action epic with beautifully humanized characterization. Near-omnipotent beings brought their emotions to the surface whether burning with rage in battle or blinded by passion.
Now come back with us as we examine perhaps one of the greatest periods in Thor's epic history, as he faced one of his most daunting battles yet in the form of the evil Surtur's invasion of Earth.
The Human Element
With the use of Thor's secret identity in the mortal world, Sigurd Jarlson, Simonson created a believable counterpoint to Thor's godly persona. Under Simonson's lead, Thor's confidence and commanding spirit contrasted to Sigurd's clumsiness and hesitation. Visually, Simonson even drafted both personas of the character differently to fully express their unique, diametric attitudes.
Emotions ran hot to the surface of the Asgardians, who shifted their behaviors from the stoic, self-assured figures of old, to characters readers could empathize with. From Thor's drug-influenced, blind passion for Lorelei causing him to react irrationally in battle in issue #347 to Balder's hopeless meandering through the desert in issue #345, Simonson humanized the Aesir, giving them stronger characterization which intensified the drama of his tale.
The Surtur Saga
While Simonson had laid the seeds for the "Surtur Saga" since his run begain in THOR #337, it kicked off in earnest with issue #345 and a hunt for Dr. Eric Willis, a mortal granted long life from the magical properties of the Casket of Ancient Winters. The casket, a box containing powerful storms that affect dimensions and hidden under Willis' care, proved an essential catalyst in bringing the fire-demon Surtur to Midgard through his servant, the dark faerie Malekith. Prophecy claimed that Surtur would be the villain to bring about world-ending Ragnarok on Asgard and the virtual universe to follow.
In issue #349, Simonson revealed the history behind the long-standing rivalry between Surtur and the Asgardian Lord, Odin. A young Odin and his older brothers, Vili and Ve, brazenly sought out the beast to defeat him, thereby preventing Ragnarok. Uniting to battle Surtur, the brothers destroyed his Twilight Sword and stole his Eternal Flame, the two weapons necessary for the foretold assault on Asgard. Issue by issue, readers get a closer look at Surtur's progress in recreating his deadly sword and his journey towards the destruction of Asgard.
When Surtur and his army of demons eventually crossed over into Migard and landed in Manhattan, battle ensued with the combined might of an Asgardian army, the Warriors Three, Sif, Thor, and Beta-Ray Bill all fighting alongside the Avengers and the Fantastic Four to save Earth. A high-yield of drama and action from Simonson had not only the characters fearing for their fate, but readers as well.
The Return of Loki
With New York buried in demons, the Rainbow Bridge destroyed, and Thor and Odin immobilized, Surtur stood steps away from the prize of reclaiming his Eternal Flame in Asgard until an unlikely savior intervened. The return of Loki to aid his fallen father, Odin, and his step-brother, Thor, caught fans off-guard and threw another wild card into the mix of an already unpredictable ride.
The aftermath of the final battle completely changed the landscape of Thor's world. The defeat of Surtur came at the price of the loss of a pivotal character, with the specter of the villainous Loki posturing to fill the void. Thor's disillusionment over the loss of one of his own sent him off on his own journey, leaving a crumbled Asgard behind him. Crisp and expressive art coupled with strong characterization made this chapter of Simonson's run epic and laid much of the groundwork for future tales.
The crux of the "Surtur Saga" in THOR #345-355 can be found collected in THOR VISIONARIES: WALTER SIMONSON VOL. 1 and 2.
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