A little while back, I reviewed the animated feature Thor: Tales of Asgard, which I had been remarkably underwhelmed by when it first came out, and have continued to be underwhelmed by every time I’ve watched it since. My biggest issue with that story is that it does nothing new. It had the exact same plot as the first live-action movie, and as such, the animated feature just seemed pointless.
Before going into Tales of Asgard, I initially thought that the film would be based on the comic Son of Asgard. However, the only thing the two stories really have in common is that they take place during Thor’s youth. This is a shame, since Son of Asgard has a far stronger plot and more likeable characters.
Son of Asgard is a twelve issue series, divided into three parts, “The Warriors Teen”, “Enchanted”, and “Worthy”. It first came out back in 2004, and was written by Akira Yoshida and illustrated by Greg Tocchini. Initially, the first part, and the longest at six issues, was originally meant to be a limited series. However, due to popular demand, it became an ongoing series and lasted for another six issues. In some ways, I’m a little disappointed that the series is over, but on the other hand, there’s only so much of teenage-Thor and teenage-Thor drama that I can take before it gets annoying.
Though I found some of the characters very likeable—such as Sif and Balder—the exact opposite can be said for some of the others. Loki is the embodiment of evil, Odin is a horrible parent, and Thor is arrogant and not yet worthy. It has the standard setup for a lot of the earlier Thor comics. Its only real unique feature is that the characters are teenagers. But even then, it’s still a better story than Tales of Asgard.
Spoilers for Son of Asgard after the jump.
“The Warriors Teen” opens with Thor, Sif, and Balder hanging out in a trophy room of some kind. Thor tries desperately to lift Mjolnir from its pedestal while the other two laugh at him. As the three of them discuss the hammer’s enchantment, Sif makes a snide remark about Loki, but little do they know that Loki—snot-nosed, evil brat that he is in this version—is spying on them from the rafters. Wanting nothing more than to kill Thor and his friends, because he’s evil, Loki summons giant spiders to attack the trio.
Naturally, our heroes, unaware of Loki’s involvement, prevail in the following battle, and Odin and his guards arrive at the trophy room just in time to see them triumph. After witnessing their achievement, Odin decides that the three of them are ready to undertake a perilous journey to gather supplies needed to make an enchanted sword—because they are Asgardians, and in the universe, sending three teenagers out to fight dragons and the like is normal parenting.
Unbeknownst to our heroes, Loki uses an invisibility spell to follow them, and he attempts to sabotage their mission at every opportunity. Thankfully though, through teamwork, Thor, Sif, and Balder manage to overcome all obstacles. But something more sinister is going on. Loki discovers that the evil witch Karnilla has a plan to attack Asgard. Loki finally reveals himself to the other three to warn them about the danger, since even though he hates Thor, he still loves Odin, because Odin took him in and adopted him—to which I say, give it time, Loki, you’ll hate him too someday. Thor sends both Sif and Balder back to Asgard with Loki to tell Odin about the oncoming attack while he continues on with the journey to gather the last remaining ingredient: magical water from the Lake Liltha that has regenerative properties. But Karnilla had cast a spell on the lake beforehand, ensuring that all the water was dried up. Not to be deterred, however, Thor still bottles up some sand from the lake bed and heads on back to Asgard.
Unfortunately, Thor is too late and the battle has already started by the time he gets home. However, Sif, Balder, and Loki had returned soon enough to warn Odin about the attack, which gave Asgard just enough time to prepare. The Asgardian forces beat back the invading army, and though they come out victorious, Karnilla looses an arrow into Thor’s chest, killing him. As Odin cradles his son’s body, a crying Sif leans over to kiss Thor’s cheek. Her tears mingle with the sand from Lake Liltha, causing the sand to transform into water and restore Thor to life.
But Karnilla’s not done yet. Seizing an opportunity, she grabs Loki and threatens to kill him as well. She also reveals that it was Loki who tried to sabotage the quest that our heroes undertook and claims that all the other characters must secretly want him dead anyway—so now that I think about it, I’m not sure why she chose Loki to be her hostage. Balder agrees that, even though what Karnilla says is true, Loki was still the one who warned them of the attack and saved all of Asgard. He offers to take Loki’s place, because every life is worth saving, including Karnilla’s. Touched by Balder’s words, Karnilla lets Loki go and uses sorcery to teleport away.
Now the day is saved. Thor is alive. Loki is alive. Odin, being an uncharacteristically decent parent, hugs both his sons. The enchanted sword is made, and Balder is given it as a gift, since he proved himself worthy through his self-sacrifice.
Like all things, this comic does have some issues. I don’t find Karnilla an especially compelling villain, since she pretty much existed for the sake of causing drama. Additionally, at the end of “The Warriors Teen”, she seems rather romantically inclined toward Balder, even though she is an adult and he is still a teenager. Though I assume that the age difference is something that’s not particularly frowned upon in Asgardian culture, it still kind of freaked me out a little bit. In other comics, Balder and Karnilla do share a mutual attraction to each other, so this was also a little expected. I think the ending of this arc was supposed to show the foundation of their relationship, and Karnilla does leave after only giving Balder a hug, meaning that nothing really happens between the two. It’s also said that Karnilla will probably not come back for quite some time, so any romantic relationship between them will thankfully take place when Balder’s older.
That said, what I really like about this comic is that Thor’s not the one who’s proven worthy; it’s Balder. After rewatching Tales of Asgard and the first live-action movie, I was a little sick of the Thor-must-prove-himself-worthy story arcs, especially because in neither story is Thor a truly likeable character. Yes, he grows into becoming a decent person, but he is rather detestable at the beginning of both those films. At the beginning of the animated feature, he’s an annoying spoiled brat who runs away from home and nearly starts a war. At the beginning of the live-action film, he’s an annoying spoiled brat who runs away from home and nearly starts a war. And in both films, he’s only proven worthy after he fixes the mess he started in the first place. As such, I didn’t find him endearing, especially in Tales of Asgard.
In Son of Asgard, Thor may not yet be worthy, but he’s still a character that you can like more easily. Yes, he’s still arrogant and brash, and this does cause some problems between him and Sif and Balder, but the plot doesn’t come about from his own selfishness and egotism. It’s something that would have happened despite his personality and regardless of whether or not he succeeded in his quest. He didn’t antagonize Karnilla into attacking Asgard.
As such, the plot is allowed to focus a lot more on the other characters. I can’t say that I’ve ever been a huge fan of Balder in the comics—and he doesn’t really appear in any of the movies, either, except for maybe Hulk vs Thor—but he is also a lot more likeable in this, and I actually found him endearing for once. That’s probably because this story takes time to introduce his character to us and develop him more.
I also really enjoyed how Sif is developed as well. I’m quite certain that she was written here from a more feminist mindset—for instance, she takes issue that the legend of Mjolnir says “if he be worthy”, when the enchantment on the hammer doesn’t discriminate between genders—but it’s not something that’s overbearing or presented in a negative light. She makes some legitimate points, and the narrative doesn’t treat her as overreacting or man-hating, like the Tales of Asgard movie does. Most of Sif’s story takes place in the next arc, “Enchanted”, which does go out of its way to talk more about the issues Sif faces as a female warrior in a male-dominated society, so we’ll talk more about that later.
All that said, I definitely could have gone without seeing Thor die and be brought back to life via Sif’s tears. All I could think about during that scene was Pokémon: The First Movie. At one point Ash dies, but then all the Pokémon cry for him and their tears bring him back to life, making any sacrifice on Ash’s part void while also being a really stupid plot point. In Son of Asgard, it’s not even a sacrifice on Thor’s part; it just happens, and then it un-happens with no real consequences.
I would also be remiss if I didn’t talk about what a terrible parent Odin is. Odin’s biggest issue is that, despite being the All-Father, he knows nothing about being an actual father. He is abusive to both his sons. Any abuse he puts Thor through tends to be much more subtle than what he puts Loki through. That said, in “The Warriors Teen”, other than sending Thor out to fight dragons—which seems to be socially acceptable for some reason—he actually doesn’t abuse Thor. Additionally, in this series, Loki has already been driven to evilness, so I can’t really blame Odin for getting on Loki’s case about summoning spiders to kill Thor. And it was also nice to see him worry over and hug both his sons at the end of the arc.
However, he’s still a terrible parent and horrifically neglectful. He is aware that Loki is the one who summoned the spiders, so he makes Loki clean up the mess in the trophy room and doesn’t send him on Thor’s quest with the others. But when Loki follows anyway, on this journey which lasts for days, Odin doesn’t even notice. You would think he’d pay more attention to Loki’s whereabouts, especially after Loki just attempted to murder Thor.
This is a really serious issue, and one that Odin desperately needed to handle better. By not helping Loki with his emotional issues and addressing what he’s done wrong outside of “clean the trophy room” and “get out of my sight”, Loki’s only going to get worse. Furthermore, by ignoring this problem, Odin’s is also refusing to acknowledge the danger Loki presents to Thor and the others. They could have been killed numerous times because of Loki.
Regardless, I still found this story to be very enjoyable, and as I said earlier, it was nice that Balder was the one proven worthy and not Thor. We’ll talk more about characters like Sif and Loki next week, when I review “Enchanted”, which also introduces two new female characters into the narrative. Until then!