Thor (1st series) #373

Issue Date: 
November 1986
Story Title: 
The Gift of Death

Walter Simonson (writer), Sal Buscema (penciler, inker), Max Scheele (colorist), John Workman (letters), Ralph Macchio (editor), Jim Shooter (editor-in-chief)

Brief Description: 

While returning from Asgard to Earth, Thor feels a brief spell of weakness, but thinks nothing of it. On Earth, he tries to reach Muspelheim to find his father but finds the ways to Muspelheim closed. He returns to his home as Sigurd Jarlsson, only to realize he never properly established that identity. The next day as Sigurd, he returns to the construction site he briefly worked on and foreman Jerry Sapristi invites him to dinner with his large family, who are instantly smitten with Sigurd. As a thank you, he babysits the kids in Central Park the next day and tells them a story about Thor and Odin. He is found by the frogs of Central Park, who tell him their friend Piper and his fellow Morlocks are under attack. The kids have already realized Sigurd is Thor and, after returning them home, he enters the Morlock Tunnels to find a massacre and a barely breathing Angel beset by Marauders. In Asgard, Balder begins a quest to restore Odin’s raven Hugin. Volstagg tries to comfort the homeless orphans Mick and Kevin, and Hela vows revenge on Thor…

Full Summary: 

Thor leaves Asgard to return to Earth. When in trans-dimensional space he is suddenly attacked by what seems a blast. He feels impossibly weakened, but the effect immediately passes and he sees nobody around. He decides it was his imagination and continues his journey, finally arriving in the New York sky. He lands in a back alley.

Some time ago, Odin and Surtur, locked in mortal combat, fell into a great crevasse. He has sought his father in Hel, on Earth and everywhere but Surtur’s own realm Muspelheim. In Asgard, Thor’s friends would try to prevent his going for fear of some rash act that might shatter the barriers between the worlds, but his heart tells him he must go.

He swirls his hammer, intending to breach the barrier to Muspelheim. A vortex engulfs him and disappears with him, only to reappear in exactly the same spot. Thor found the way to Muspelheim closed. He wonders if he shall never know the fate of his father.

Dejected, Thor returns to the apartment of his Sigurd Jarlsson identity, an apartment which includes a mattress and little more. He realizes that he never really established Sigurd Jarlsson’s identity on Midgard. This is but a skeleton of a home. He cannot remain here. He leaves, wondering where to go. The Avengers’ would welcome him with open arms but it is not companions he needs.

He sits down atop the Empire State Building to think. Hours pass until somewhere in Central Park a man is being mugged. Not satisfied with getting the money, the mugger intends to humiliate his victim. A big hammer under his nose, however, makes him reconsider. Soon, the police arrest the criminal and thank Thor. They’d been looking for the park prowler for some time.

Thor muses that these mortals risk their lives every day they walk the streets of their city. In the end, death is always the answer to every question. And mortals bear it because they must! But death is not the answer for a god! And he will not rest until he has found the answers he seeks.

Meanwhile in Asgard, under Heimdall’s guidance, a giant sheath is constructed for the sword of Surtur.

And in a great hall, some distance away, two human small boys, Mick and Kevin, awake, wondering where they are. Seeing the fat bearded man sitting in the chair, they wonder if it is Santa Claus. Volstagg introduces himself. He is not Santa Claus, but he is a friend of all children and a friend of Thor’s.

The boys recall Thor was visiting their mother. Volstagg explains Thor brought them here. He tells them this is a time for courage. Their mother was killed by an assassin. Thor slew him but was too late to save their mother. She cannot care for them any longer, so Thor brought them here to stay with Volstagg for a while until they are old enough. The children cry and accuse him of lying.

In his Sigurd Jarlsson identity, Thor walks out to the construction site where he briefly worked before the battle with Surtur carried him away to Asgard and beyond. He walks into the office of foreman Jerry Sapristi who is happy to see him. Is he looking for work again? They could use a good steeplejack. He sure went up the ladder in a hurry when that dragon knocked them back to square one!

Sigurd observes they have made much progress since he was last here. Jerry jokes about the building being knocked down, then notes that Sigurd is looking a little peaked. Is he okay? Fine, Sigurd assures him. He just dropped by to say “hello.” Jerry points out they haven’t known each other that long and asks what’s going on. Sigurd admits his father passed away recently. Does he have any other family? Jerry asks. Nobody nearby. What about the girl he saved? Jerry asks. That didn’t exactly work out.

Since it’s after five, Jerry invites him to dinner and doesn’t take no for an answer. Jerry takes him home to his wife, Tina, and their half a dozen kids. Jerry jokes that even he doesn’t get all the names right.

Two daughters immediately admire Sigurd and Tina orders them to behave. After Jerry tells her Sigurd’s story, she makes him welcome and their youngest child Ernesto keeps him company.

At the stove, Tina wonders which single friends she could have him meet when she hears Ernesto screech. She and the others kids run to the living room to find he is screeching with joy, as Sigurd is tossing him in the air.

Later, at the dinner table, Tina asks if Sigurd wants to say grace. He wouldn’t presume and asks Ernesto, who complies. Enchanted by Sigurd, Ernsto does what he does, even eating his usually hated cauliflower. Sigurd compliments Tina’s cooking and afterwards helps the kids with the dishes.

The family invites him to stay the night and he accepts. When the kids demand a bedtime story, he claims he is too tired. But he will take them to Central Park tomorrow to visit the zoo and if they behave themselves he will tell them a story then.

Meanwhile, in Odin’s hall in Asgard, Odin’s raven Muninn brings Asgard’s new ruler, Balder the Brave, a black feather. Balder quickly realizes to whom it belongs. He praises the raven and asks him to summon Heimdall.

Balder orders the guardian to watch over Asgard. Muninn has set him a task that only Balder can achieve. And so, Balder rides away.

The next day, Sigurd has taken the kids to the park, leaving the parents with an afternoon off. Ernesto asks if he is still sad about his father. He admits he’s sad because his father vanished and he doesn’t know what happened to him. Maybe he will come back, Ernesto suggests. Maybe so, he still has hope, but doesn’t know what to do. It’s like a story without an end. Which reminds the kids of the story he promised. They look for a nice spot to sit down.

Sigurd begins this is a story of old gods who once roamed the earth and all the realms of enchantment that surrounded it. Their hero is a strapping young god who walked tall in the pride of his youth. His name was Thor…

Sigurd’s story:

Thor had been out killing giants and was heading home. It was dusk when he came to the river and, on the far side in the shadow, he could just make out the ferry and the ferryman. He called him and ordered him to carry him across the river. He’d pay him well.

Beggars’ rags, tatters, the ferryman scoffed. He doubts he has a place to call his own. The bearded old man, his one eye covered by his hat, continued that he only carried the deserving across the river. Who is he? Thor introduced himself as son of Odin, strongest of the gods. Mjolnir is his weapon and Thor, the thunderer his name. Who is he, some outlaw?

The ferryman called himself Harbard and boasted he could hold his own against a windbag like Thor. Angrily, Thor retorted he isn’t worth the trouble of wading and getting wet, but he’d repay him when he’s crossed. The ferryman replied he’d wait for him. Thor hasn’t fought anyone as strong as him since he met Hrungnir the Giant. Thor pointed out he laid the giant lifeless with a single blow; what has the ferryman done?

He has magicked women and set prince against prince, the old man replied. War is what he’s caused, and what has Thor done? He slew the giants’ women who would have slain mankind, Thor replied and again ordered him to row him across. Never! The old man replied. Who would trust Thor Oathbreaker? Thor blustered that his word is his bond. The ferry man suggested he swear to someone else. He’d not row him across today.

End of the story

Sigurd finishes that Thor was forced to walk the weary way round the river and long was he in homecoming. And when he reached his halls, he found the ferryman before him, his own father Odin who had been disguised as Harbard.

The kids react surprised and demand why his father would do such a mean thing. Sigurd admits he never understood himself. Partly it was a game. Odin loved to roam about the nine worlds and he loved to put on disguises and fool people. But perhaps he also wanted his son to know that in the end you only have yourself to rely on. No matter who you are, no one can carry you across the river. Not your father, not your mother, not your girl or boyfriend. You have to walk through the shadows on your own.

The kids demand another story. Suddenly, Sigurd notices some small frogs. One of the girls, Rosa, is disgusted but Sigurd tells her he recognizes his old friend. Puddleguld has recognized him, despite the beard. Ernesto asks if he can take the frogs to school. They wouldn’t like it outside the reservoir, Sigurd tells him gently.

The frogs jump into his hands and talk in their language to him. When did this happen? Sigurd asks agitated. He tells the frogs to get the others and stay undercover for a while, while he tries to discover the truth of the matter.

He tells the children they have to go home. Something terrible is happening and he must look into it. He is a sort of undercover policeman. Who talks to frogs? the kids ask doubtfully. Sigurd begins there are many kinds of policemen… Addressing him as “Thor,” the kids tell him his secret is safe. Their father once thought he was Spider-Man, but he’s too big. And with his hair, Thor seemed like a good guess. And Pietro snuck a look into his bag last night.

Is he really the only one who can lift the hammer? Almost, Thor replies and tells them he must send them home. He takes out his hammer to transport them home magically. The kids ask him to promise to return. Pietro, who has read a lot of Norse mythology, asks if he is really going to die when he fights the Midgard Serpent. Thor replies that not every old story is true, to calm the boy. He whirls his hammer to create a dimensional vortex that sends the kids home. Then he strikes his hammer to the ground and changes into his costume.

Thor knows of the Morlock tunnels beneath Manhattan, having met the Morlock Piper. He finds the hidden entrance in the park and enters the tunnels. Puddleguld had told him that the alligators had begun to die and terrible screaming has been heard. Something deadly stalks the tunnels…

Far away from Earth, the death goddess Hela observes Thor in her scrying glass, musing that Thor still has hope. She will cure that… The gift of momentary weakness when he returned was a gift from her and soon that spell will begin to take effect. Then he will learn what hopelessness really is…

In the tunnels, Thor has found Morlock corpses when suddenly he hears a scream as, some distance away, the Marauders Blockbuster, Vertigo and Harpoon are torturing the captive Angel. Hearing that someone is still alive, Thor hurries towards the source of the scream. The Marauders hear his steps and hide in the shadows.

When Thor enters, the three attack him. Thor swings his hammer, getting them off him. He strikes his hammer to the ground and creates lightning so bright that the Marauders are momentarily blinded and withdraw into the shadows.

Thor vows that the tunnels are not large enough to hide them from the wrath of Thor. He turns around to see the Angel, breifly wondering if it is the angel of death himself. Then he sees the state of poor Warren, who is pinned to the wall with his wings. Angel moans and Thor realizes he still lives. Gently, he tries to remove the spikes, but hears footsteps coming from behind. He figures the Marauders are returning. Angrily, he challenges them. They will find the son of Odin waiting for them in the dark!

Characters Involved: 

Thor / Sigurd Jarlson




Mick and Kevin, two boys from Earth

Hela, goddess of death

Jerry and Tina Sapristi, friends of Sigurd

Ernesto, Gabriella, Giovanni, Maria, Pietro and Rosa Sapristi

Puddlegulp, a frog

Angel (X-Factor)

Blockbuster, Harpoon, Vertigo II (all Marauders)

in the story:

Odin / Harbard

Story Notes: 

This is part ofthe Mutant Massacre crossover.
Odin and Surtur fell, locked in battle, in issue #353.

Jerry refers to events in #341.

Mjolnir can be lifted by those who are worthy, most recently the alien Beta Ray Bill.

Thor was a frog in issues #364-365.

Thor met the Morlock Piper in issue #365.

Hela’s revenge will be detailed next issue.

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