This issue has one of the absolute tiniest guest appearances of Spider-Man but it gives me an excuse to heap praise on the Kirby/Lee run of the Mighty Thor.
Can you see him back there on the splash page? That tiny little smudge hanging up at the newsstand? Thor stands around on the streets of New York reading about the "Unknown Demon" who is "Plundering Jungle Hordes" in Southeast Asia. The crowd looks on in awe, including the newsagent. There are three Marvel comics pinned up on his stand that are recognizable issues. Below him is Strange Tales #141, February 1966 with Nick Fury and "Operation: Brain Blast". Above and to his right is Fantastic Four #47, February 1966 with "Beware the Hidden Land". Above and to his left is ASM #33, February 1966 with Spidey's head (about the size of a microdot) looking out from under all that machinery. That's it. That's the cameo appearance. Now let's take a quick look at the doings in this issue and talk a bit about the Jack Kirby/Stan Lee run on Thor.
Thor is intrigued by the Demon but he is more interested in checking up on his love Jane Foster, who is in the hospital with smoke inhalation suffered in Journey Into Mystery #122, November 1965. Before Thor can swing his hammer and fly away, a cop orders him to "hold it". "Let's see your license to give a public demonstration in the street" he tells Thor. Without a license, the cop won't allow "any hammer-swingin' on my beat, Mister!" So, Thor is forced to go to a nearby building, ride an elevator to the roof and take off from there. He arrives at the hospital to discover that Jane does not seem to have improved.
On the other side of the world, the Demon, a witch doctor wearing a tribal mask who has gained super-human power by discovering one of the mystic Norn stones (in JIM #123, December 1965) which was accidentally left behind by Thor in JIM #120, September 1965, leads an ever-growing conquering army throughout Asia. Every display of his strength brings more followers as the Demon plans to eventually conquer the entire world.
Back at the hospital, Thor has turned into his alter ego of Dr. Donald Blake and approached Jane, only to discover that her trouble is depression. She is sure that Don is hiding some great secret from her and becomes convinced that he doesn't love her. Don realizes that she in on the verge of hysteria and seems to be losing her will to live so he does the one thing a super-hero would never do in 1966... he shows Jane that he is actually the Mighty Thor and swears his love to her. This puts Jane right on the road to recovery but it doesn't sit well with Odin who observes this scene from his throne room in Asgard. As far as he's concerned, Thor has broken the law and must pay the penalty.
Back at his practice, Dr. Blake hears so much about the Demon that he decides to investigate. As Thor flies east, the Greek god Hercules is indulging himself with one of his innumerable jousts in Olympus. In fact, Hercules has done so much of this that Zeus is tired of seeing it. He decides to send his powerful son on a mission to earth, just to get him out of his hair.
In Asia, the Demon is busy conquering when he is approached by the Mighty Thor who immediately recognizes the Norn stone on a rope around the Demon's neck. He tells the Demon to "lay down your arms or face the fury of Thor". The Demon tells Thor that "nothing that lives can defy the power of the magic stone!" And the battle is joined!
So much for the main story in the issue but the five page "Tales of Asgard" backup is just as much fun. Back in Journey Into Mystery #120, September 1965, Thor and a crew of gods (including Loki) set sail into the Sea of Fear in an effort to find the unknown enemy who has damaged the Odinsword (in JIM #117, June 1965). They sail into the maelstrom caused by the Pillars of Utgard and come face to face with the Utgard Dragon who is vanquished by Balder giving an "ear-piercing nerve-shattering" blast on his horn (in JIM #123, December 1965). In this issue, Balder collapses from the effort and is revived by Hogun the Grim's elixir of recovery. Meanwhile, the ship sails near the stone hive of Thryheim, ruled by Queen Ula (a clear ancestor in both looks and concept to Kirby's 1980s character the Lightning Lady, a foe of Captain Victory.) Ula sends out a swarm of her Flying Trolls which prepare to attack even as Thor and company celebrate Balder's recovery.
So what happens with all of these plotlines? Well, the Demon is bested in JIM #125, February 1966, Odin halves Thor's power as punishment in The Mighty Thor #126, March 1966, the Hercules story goes all the way to Thor #130, July 1966, and Jane Foster ultimately loses the test of Thor's love in Thor #136, January 1967. The cracked Odinsword proves to be a ruse by Odin to send his gods out for some battle training in anticipation of Ragnarok, which is dramatically presented by Kirby in the "Tales of Asgard" sections of Thor #127-128, April-May 1966. These chapters are often compared to Jack's opening pages of New Gods #1, February-March 1971 to form the persuasive argument that Kirby intended Orion, Lightray, Highfather, Darkseid and the others to be the generation that arises after the destruction of the Norse gods.
This synopsis should give a bit of a sense of the format for Journey Into Mystery/Thor in the Silver Age. It was a fast-paced soap opera of a book, filled with subplots and multiple storylines. This issue featuring Thor's revelation to Jane, Odin's anger, Hercules' arrival on earth and the rampages of the Demon is typical of the series. It is, in fact, fairly tame compared to many of the issues. This is, after all, the series that introduces the Absorbing Man, the Destroyer, Pluto, Tana Nile, the Colonizers of Rigel, Ego the Living Planet, the High Evolutionary, the Man-Beast, Ulik the Troll, the Wrecker, Karnilla the Norn Queen, Hela, Mangog and more. In order to fully appreciate the series, however, you have to read them in sequence. I realize it's not easy to collect all these issues and I don't know if they're offered in an Essential reprint edition (if they aren't, they should be) but they are absolutely worth tracking down. For me, the heart of the series is the nearly 50 issue run from JIM #114 (March 1965) with the introduction of the Absorbing Man to the Galactus sequence beginning in The Mighty Thor #160, January 1969 where it all falls apart. This last sequence is notorious for the disconnection between Kirby and Lee when Stan demanded that Jack's Galactus tale be radically changed... and their relationship was never quite the same after that. Forget about all the complaints concerning Vince Colletta as inker. Yes, they're mostly valid but nothing can ruin this great run of tales. Oh, and the Tales of Asgard sequences are pretty great, too.
Five webs. (For just about every issue from 1965 through 1968.)
Meanwhile...didn't we leave Spidey in big trouble? ASM #33 is next!