Wednesday, May 11, 2005
THE MIGHTY THOR #362 Marvel Comics, 1985
There are two – only two – comic books that have made me cry, and this is one of them.
The other one? Daredevil #232, the penultimate chapter in Frank Miller’s Born Again storyline. There's a big shot of Matt Murdock at the end of the book, back in the Daredevil costume again, backlit by a raging inferno – man, that really gripped my shit. You know which one I’m talking about? I can still give myself goosebumps thinking about that page.
But we’re not here to talk about Daredevil, we’re here to talk about Thor. Specifically, The Mighty Thor #362, the last stand of Skurge the Executioner, which made Young Dave Campbell cry. I wasn't weeping uncontrollably or anything, like when I read Prince of Tides, but I misted up a little, sure.
I am a sucker for last stands; desperate, doomed battles against overwhelming odds, the ultimate expressions of valor and manly sacrifice. As a history geek, I have always been drawn to stories about warriors who gave their all, struggling against hopeless odds. The Spartans at Thermopylae. The defenders of The Alamo. The French Foreign Legion at Camerone. Rorke’s Drift. Spock at the end of Star Trek II.
And of course, Skurge at Gjallerbru in The Mighty Thor #362.
Written and drawn by comics legend Walt Simonson, with krak-a-doooom! sound effects and lettering provided by John Workman, this issue proves once again that the Eighties were the True Golden Age of Comics, when masters of the craft like Simonson were producing their best work every fucking month.
A little background: Skurge (aka The Executioner) is a Thor villain from back in the day. He first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #103 in 1964, and had bedevilled our Asgardian hero and The Avengers for decades. Despite being a complete bad-ass, Skurge could never catch a break. The bastard offspring of a Storm Giant and a goddess, Skurge was never welcome among the giants because of his relatively small size. He was held in thrall by Amora the Enchantress for years, doing the bidding of his cruel lover. Skurge got no respect.
In The Mighty Thor #362, Skurge is finally fed up. He just found out that he had been duped by a magical Asgardian vixen again, and he's tired of being everyone's patsy. So when the opportunity presents itself for Skurge to redeem himself, for Skurge to decide his own fate, for Skurge to get a little fucking dignity -- he goes for it.
In this issue, Thor has succesfully raided the Hel, the Norse underworld, to rescue a bunch of mortal souls the evil goddess Hela stole from the Mortal Realm. Now Thor, Balder the Brave, Skurge, and an army of mounted Asgardian warriors armed with swords and M-16s have to bust out of Hel - but it's not going to be easy.
Led by Thor on his kick-ass chariot (pulled by his giant goats Tooth-Gnasher and Tooth-Grinder), the Asgardian army breaks through Hela's undead horde and heads for the bridge Gjallerbru at the boundary of Hela's realm. The hordes of Hel are in hot pursuit, and Thor intends to buy the retreating army the time to escape by holding off the enemy at Gjallerbru. But Skurge knocks Thor out and takes his place - he wants to go out honorably.
Then - and man, I loved this - Skurge stands fast before the bridge as the undead army thunders towards him. He levels a pair of M-16s and grimly waits as his death, his destiny approaches.
Is that macho or what?
Now that is some classic Walt Simonson stuff right there.
Skurge holds the bridge, allowing Thor and Co. to escape, but at the cost of his life. He fades into legend, redeeming himself in one final act of bravery and selflessness. That really resonated with Young Dave Campbell. There was a sense of permanence and gravity to Skurge's death because it felt real to me, but at the same time it felt like a story from Norse mythology - only with M-16s.
Here's the page that made me all misty:
If you don't think that's cool then you are my enemy and I must crush you.
Skurge rules. End of story.