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.

76 comments:

nshumate said...

Amen again.

Everyone wants to do a poignant last stand; few succeed. Simonson gives us a glimpse of how to do it RIGHT.

Anonymous said...

As far as I know they never brought Skurge back, which in my opinion makes you feel the gravity of his sacrifice. Whenever a hero dies and is reborn through convoluted means, I feel it makes their suffering into some prank the writers wanted to play at the readers expense to earn a couple more bucks.

Johnny Bacardi said...

I know I'll be hoisting a brew in Skurge's honor tonight!

I read all those Simonson Thors back in the day, but don't have them anymore...makes me think I should try to re-acquire them someday.

Anonymous said...

Plus, Skurge had cool head tattoos way before Wesley Snipes.

gorjus said...

(clapping).

Even Walt the Great knew that was a KILLER last page. He SIGNED IT, for the luvvapete.

What I always loved was that Skurge was using one of the M-16s as a CLUB. That's right. HE USED UP ALL THE BULLETS AND THEN WAS WHIPPIN' THEM WITH IT.

Anonymous said...

You know what gets me? What Skurge says to Balder.

"Everyone laughs as Skurge. Skurge die a little each time."

"But not Balder. Balder was kind."

I tear up even as I type that.

Anonymous said...

Damn, man.

I never read that issue but the panel with the M-16 changing hands gave me chills.

Simonson rules!

David Campbell said...

He's like a frickin' Steinbeck character, Skurge is. With a huge magic axe and head tattoos.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way, although the other issue that meade me cry was when Sue Richards lost the baby in FF (#265, I think). I am rereading all my old stuff and I read that Thor a few months ago. After 20 years it still made me misty! Walt rocked!

Bill D. said...

Dammit, Dave, now you've made me wanna go out and get me a whole string of Simonson Thors, too. Haven't read those in years. Simonson indeed rules, and he's a hell of a nice person to boot (Louise, too).

And anonymous was right about that FF issue, too. Reed puts himself through the wringer to get Doc Ock to help out Sue, and even after all that, it doesn't do a damn bit of good. Really heartwrenching stuff.

Ian said...

Simonson's Thor books are some of my favorite superhero comics ever and that, my friend, is one of the coolest issues ever. I'll be honest and say that the hairs on the back of my neck started to rise just a little looking at the pages you posted. Christ, it does not get better than that.

Scipio said...

It's one of the most inspiring stories in Roman history, "Horatio at the Bridge".

Anonymous said...

That FF issue is one of the strongest comics Byrne ever produced; the final page revelation- the way it's just a single panel surrounded by a black border, is incredible.

Of course, Carlos Pacheco retconned it out years later in one of the most ludicrous plot twists I've ever seen (IIRC, Valeria Von Doom was somehow sent back in time into Susan's womb?)

Woody! said...

See, this is why I like comic blogs. We can point to certain issues and break them down the same way you can talk about some historical game in a sports bar.

Hard to find places like that before.

David Campbell said...

I'm with you guys on that Byrne FF story; that's quality.

Anonymous said...

Simonson. THOR. When you want to show someone *THE* most perfect example of a match made in heaven (er...Asgard), this is it.

Anonymous said...

Along with Kirby, Simonson's Thor was the best, hands down. You can see how much passion and energy he put into the pages, from layouts to dialogue. While I like Simonson's Manhunter, FF, Orion, and various one-shots and mini-series, his Thor comics are on a whole 'nother level.

Hate Filled Poster said...

I got the entire run of Thor, including all the Simonson issues from the end of Kirby's run to the end of Frenz's for a quarter an issue at some antique store. Best comic book purchase I've ever made.

Benari said...

It's a comic like this one that reminds you of why you love comics in the first place.

Excellent site, by the way. I'm hoping you have an extensive collection about which to write...

Anonymous said...

It took ten minutes for the hair to go back down on the back of my head after reading those last panels.
I never was much of a FF fan but the end of Dark Knight Returns always gives me chills. Right before the heart attack hits and Batman is beating the crap out of Superman.
I think Dave is right when he says that the 80's were the second Golden age of comics.

DHuber said...

The Ish That Always Brings A Tear To My Eye: Iron Man vol. 1 #78.

RTO Trainer said...

It was this one htat made me a Simonson fan. It was his work on Thor that lead me to Fantastic Four when he started there.

Even the Thunder Frog issue was great.

Brian Cronin said...

I HATE when writers kill off old characters.

Hate it.

Except for when they totally earn it.

Simonson definitely earned it there.

Great issue.

thekelvingreen said...

I love that panel! It's like some Frazetta thing, but with the butt of an M16 instead of a honking big axe. Nice.

Magical M16s...I think you may be right about the True Golden Age...

Anonymous said...

No one wants to use sound effects anymore, which makes me think Walt Simonson should be allowed to punch everyone in the arm, hard enough to make one of his sound effects. His Thor run had to grow on me at the time, and I love it more every year.

JG said...

I haven't read that issue of Thor, but those few panels really piss me off and I'll tell you why. This is an excellent example of the heroic last stand. Underdog character making the ultimate sacrifice. Why does it piss me off? Because it doesn't happen anymore. The most recent last stands I can think of are Superboy in Infinite Crisis #7 and the Blue Beetle in Countdown to Infinite Crisis. There's no real build up and very little emotional impact with these recent deaths. They just die. It makes me mad that creators now are so lazy that they can't take the time and effort like people such as Walt Simopnson obviously did, to craft emotional stories like this one.

Anonymous said...

I must say that that was a fantastic way to kill a character. Skurge went out with dignity and respect he truly desired. I read this post early today and kept thinking about and had to comment.

Anonymous said...

This was my fav series of all time too bad had to end in skurges death u missed an important part where he sacrificed his axe on the destruction of helas ship..would make a great movie thank you for posting it
SKURGE!

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THOR – 1ST SIGN DOIN THE ZODIAC RAG # 496 MAR 1996



THE MIGHTY THOR – LAST STAND ON EARTH # 327 JAN 1983
VS ANNIHILUS EPIC TALES # 405 JULY 1989
INTO THE LIVING BIO VERSE # 407 SEP 89
WHO IS NOBILUS? # 422 SEP 1990
THE DAY OF THEIR RETURN # 423 SEP 1990
ENDLESS CIRCLE OF EPIC # 425 OCT 1990
WRATH OF THE WRECKER # 426 NOV 1990
VS JUGGAERNUT # 429 FEB 1991
THE GOD THE GHOST # 430 MAR 1991
UNCANNY ABSORBING MAN # 436 SEP 91
WHEN HAMMER CLASH # 439 NOV 1991
THOR CROPS # 440 DEC 1992
LOKI’S BACK OR IS HE # 441 DEC 1991
# 444 FEB 1992
WAR OF THE WARRIOR # 445 MAR 1992
AVENGERS STUCK IN THE MIDDLE # 446 92
SERCH FOR THOR CONTINUES # 448 JU 92
ODIN AWAKE # 449 JULY 1992
NOT EVEN THOR WILL STOP # 452 OCT 92
VS SAVAGE SIF # 453 NOV 1992
WARRIORS 3 DIE AT DAWN # 454 NOV 92
ODIO AMOK # 455 DEC 1992
CHOICE AND CHALLENGE # 456 DEC 1992
WHO SHALL HOLD THIS HAMMER # 459 93
THOR RETURNS TO EARTH # 472 MAR 1994

Anonymous said...

No Allison they can NEVER be sold. Ever. Executioner wins the 2005 Most-Kick-Ass name award. Not only does his name ensue that he will kill you with a large axe, his real name is Skurge. That's two letters from Scourge!

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Agreed with the original poster that the other great moment was from Born Again, but I pick a different Born Again moment to make me tear up in a manly way. When Daredevil is confused about why Captain America cares so much (I'm paraphrasing here, haven't read it in a while), and Captain America just replies "he wears the flag." Damn, the level of caring that implies...

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