Dec 7, 2015

Karnilla: The Torment of Balder

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story
Part 3 – The Torment of Balder
Ben Smith

I was never that interested in Thor as a child. I preferred the exploits of Spider-Man, or the X-Men (Chris Claremont versions only, thanks). My first foray into the character of Thor was thanks to Wizard magazine, who did a feature on the best storylines ever per each major Marvel character. They picked the Surtur Saga by Walt Simonson, and in the interest of expanding my reading horizons, I eventually purchased the second volume collecting Simonson’s Thor run. As much as I enjoyed that trade (and it has arguably the best Thor stories ever created in it) I didn’t feel the need to explore further into the Thor universe.

In the excitement leading up to the second Thor movie, I did end up reading all of Walt Simonson’s Thor comics, as well as the original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby comics. It didn’t take long for me to become a full-fledged fan. The comics are full of so many great characters you probably will never see outside of the Thor universe. Sif, Hela, the Warriors Three, Lorelei, and Enchantress to name but a few. However, for some reason, one character stood out more to me than the rest. Karnilla, the Norn Queen. I’ve spent the past couple weeks highlighting every appearance of the character since the very beginning.

The journey continues.

THOR #187
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

All of existence is under threat from an entity named Infinity. Balder and Sif travel to Nornheim to request Karnilla use her powers to free the Warriors Three from Infinity’s spell. Her headdress is a little clunkier here than I remember it being, but Buscema was definitely the better illustrator of pretty comic book women. No more witch-hag for Karnilla.

She is unable to release them on her own, but combined with Loki’s power, they are able to break the spell on the Warriors Three.

THOR #188
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Jim Mooney; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Infinity seeks to claim the body of Odin, making himself invincible in the process. In the interest of self-preservation, Karnilla uses her magic to try and revive Odin.

It does not work, so she again tries to combine her powers with Loki, to see if that will get the job done.

Even their combined sorcerous might is still unable to wake Odin. Karnilla tells Loki to stop his crying, since she should be the one upset having to wait for the end next to him. I love Karnilla.

THOR #189
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Balder pleads with Karnilla to help Thor escape Hela’s grasp. She offers to help as long as he renounces Asgard.

Balder actually admits he loves her back, but as long as she is an enemy of Asgard, she is an enemy of his.

Balder fights off her troll warriors, until Karnilla has finally had enough. Either he swears loyalty to her, or Thor will die.

Take command, Karnilla! Don’t take any crap from this clown.
Balder finally relents, renounces Asgard, and pledges to serve the Norn Queen. (An interesting turn of events. I wouldn’t have expected him to give in this soon. I know he did eventually. Like most things in comics, his loyalty probably cycles back and forth a few times.)

To fulfill her end of the bargain, Karnilla reveals that Loki is plotting with Hela against Thor, and she sends Balder to the realm of death to help stop it.

THOR #190
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Balder fitfully dreams of his true heart’s desire, the evil (but oh so sexy) Karnilla.

Dream gives way to reality, when she arrives to warn Balder that Thor is still very much in danger from Hela. Balder pleads with Odin to intervene, but Odin refuses. Hela is the natural order of things. Balder has Karnilla cast another spell, so that Odin may see what transpires with his own eyes. It works, and the sight of his son in danger propels Odin into action.

But during the subsequent conflict between Odin, Thor, and Sif against Hela, Loki has used their absence to seize the Odin-Ring, and take control of Asgard. King Loki rules, with Karnilla and Balder by his side. (It never fails to amuse me that one ring can be used to rule them all. I wasn’t even planning on making a Lord of the Rings reference there, it just came out. Premature ring-ulation. It’s normal, happens to everyone sometimes.)

THOR #191
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Joe Sinnott; Lettering: Sam Rosen

The heroes of Asgard attack Loki, but fail, due to his now awesome power as ruler of Asgard. With Thor and friends on the ropes, Loki commands Karnilla to use her power to create a new warrior to finish off Thor once and for all.

Given form by Karnilla, and life by Loki, Durok the Demolisher is born.

THOR #192
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sam Grainger; Lettering: Artie Simek; Costumes: Forbush’s Funky Fashion Factory

Loki and Karnilla rejoice in watching Durok fight Thor on Midgard. Balder manipulates Karnilla on the side, in the hopes that she will help him reach Midgard. She agrees to help, out of curiosity.

While Loki is distracted by the Warriors Three, Karnilla and Balder disappear to Midgard.

 Once there, Balder uses his sword to send a signal far into the sky, to summon an ally to Thor’s side. Help in the form of the Silver Surfer!

Okay, you can’t tell me that doesn’t get you pumped.

THOR #193
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sal Buscema; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

(This is where Gerry Conway takes over as writer from Stan Lee. It would take until Walt Simonson’s run for the book to again reach the peaks of the Stan and Jack era. Walt would surpass it in my opinion, but that’s a debate for another time, another place.)

Balder pleads with the Silver Surfer to aid Thor against Durok. In the process, he claims he would give his own life to save Thor. This angers Karnilla greatly, as he has already pledged his life to her.

As punishment, she sends boulders tumbling down upon him.

Silver Surfer orders her to remove the stones, but she does not. After quickly realizing she cannot harm the Surfer, Karnilla relents and removes the stones.

Silver Surfer uses the power cosmic to revive Balder. Karnilla is instantly remorseful over having almost killed the man she loves so dearly.

Later, Loki catches them in their treachery, and brings them forward to explain (and accusing Balder of hiding behind a “female’s flowing skirt” in the process).

Side note: Sif shows up dressed like this, all dolled up to unwillingly become the bride of Loki. Mmmm, Lady Sif.

THOR #194
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Illustrator: John Buscema; Embellisher: Sal Buscema; Lettering: Artie Simek; Editor: Stan Lee

Thor and the Warriors Three make their way towards the throne room of Asgard, fighting off attackers, in the hopes of preventing Loki from marrying Sif. Balder laments his inability to assist them (impotence is something I’m sure he struggles with often).

Karnilla attempts to comfort him with a kiss, but Balder, being who he is, cannot even enjoy that (because he’s a clown, you see).

Incidentally, Odin finally steps up and reclaims the throne from Loki.

That’s a good place to stop. Karnilla was given much more to do over this run of comics. They finally broke out of the cycle of her trying to seduce Balder and failing, and it created a much more interesting dynamic. Now they can have Balder trying to convince her to help the heroes of Asgard, instead of Loki. I’ve always thought of Karnilla as more self-serving than she is evil, and this is a start in that direction. Balder also admits for the first time that he has feelings for her, except he is far more guilty about it, because he would be. She also gained a consistent design from issue to issue under Buscema. It’s interesting to consider that she was the resident evil witch of this time period, as the Enchantress hasn’t been seen for a long time. (I’m pretty sure she was regularly appearing over in Avengers instead.) As much as I also love the Enchantress, I’m fine with Karnilla getting the opportunity to play. (Of course I am, you’re reading part 3 of what might become a lengthy recap of her history.) You can never have enough Karnilla, as the saying goes.

On that note, next week, more Karnilla!

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