Nov 16, 2015

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story, Part 1

Karnilla: An Irrational Love Story
Part 1 – All Hail the Queen
Ben Smith

I have much love for the popular and more traditionally appealing characters, like Spider-Man and Captain America, but sometimes there’s just something about a lower tier character that makes them so interesting. (My opinion in short, creators are naturally given more latitude with the characters that don’t also have to sell bedsheets and pajamas.) I’ve gone on and on about my love of characters like Arcade and Iron Fist before, as well as my appreciation for the weirdly underrated original Stan Lee and Jack Kirby Thor comics. There was just so much energy bursting off of every page, and so many amazing new characters in nearly every issue. My favorite Thor character would make her debut right around the time when Stan and Jack were really rolling on the title, Karnilla the Norn Queen.

Karnilla is the powerful queen of Nornheim, one of the provinces of Asgard. She is often an adversary of Asgard, but has sometimes been an ally if the situation warrants. Because of her vast magical powers, Loki frequently comes calling for her assistance, with the two of them scheming against the heroes of Asgard. Karnilla eventually developed a fixation on the heroic warrior Balder, made all the more fun by his dedicated rebuttal of her advances. (Think of her as a sort of reverse pepe Le Pew.) I don’t know how I came to love Karnilla so much, maybe it’s because she gives Balder such a hard time. The simpler answer is that she’s an evil, powerful, confident witch (and I married one of those). Plus, she has a great name. Break it down and you get carnal and vanilla. So, I guess, she subconsciously represents bland sex? Which, if Balder is involved, is probably very accurate. Regardless, I plan to rediscover why I love her so much, and maybe along the way a few of you will join me in the merry Karnilla fan club.

For the purposes of this multi-part exploration of my love for Karnilla, I will be focusing mostly on her role in each of the stories, instead of covering each and every issue in full.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki, jealous that Odin granted Balder invulnerability (in the previous issue) plots to take out his father’s new favorite subject. He visits the Norn Queen, to give him any information he might be able to use to destroy Odin’s new prize pet. She is referred to simply as the Norn Queen, with no mention of the name Karnilla yet.

She tells Loki that Balder is vulnerable to mistletoe. Loki tracks down some mistletoe, and has one of his loyal trolls fashion a blow gun to go with it. (A lot of Karnilla’s appearances involve Loki, with the obvious magic connections.)

Loki sneaks up on Balder while he is sparring with another Asgardian. When Balder, get this, falls down to avoid STEPPING ON A CATERPILLAR, Loki prepares to strike.

But surprisingly, the Norn Queen herself intervenes, using her magic to cause Loki’s weapon to burst into flames. Loki didn’t consider that Odin had pledged for all living creatures to protect Balder at all times, and that includes the Norn Queen.

Loki vows revenge, and Balder stands confident and clueless, which was his style at the time. Balder is just the worst. I don’t think there could be a bigger gap between a character I love in Karnilla, and a character that I dislike in Balder, and yet, I inexplicably love the romance between them. My irrational love for Karnilla is almost as irrational as her love for Balder.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki used the magical Norn Stones to defeat Thor in a trial by combat (see previous issue). Before Thor can recover the stones to use as evidence of Loki’s betrayal, Loki magically teleports them away.

Later, while Thor looks for the stones on Midgard, the Norn Queen visits Loki to reclaim her stones. Having hidden them on Midgard, he does not have them. Before she leaves, she gives him a stern warning about inciting Odin’s wrath with his endless schemes against his half-brother.

The powerful Norn Stones would be a favorite weapon of Loki throughout the years.

Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Artie Simek

Loki, having unleashed the unstoppable Destroyer upon Thor, begins to second guess his actions when it looks like the Destroyer might succeed in killing Thor. Odin will likely blame him, and then his life will be forfeit as well.

Loki contacts the Norn Queen, and begs her to use her magic to awake Odin from his slumber, so that he may intervene and save Thor, thereby saving both of them. She agrees to help, and we get a cute caption about her spell-casting from Stan. (The Norn Queen still hasn’t gotten her name, Karnilla, but a version of her trademark headdress makes its first appearance in this short cameo.)

THOR #148
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Twenty-nine issues since the last Karnilla appearance, and the creative team is almost exactly the same. Except the letterer, but they don’t matter. They’ve been replaced by computers. I know Marvel only paid about 10 people back in those days, but that’s still an impressive level of creative continuity.

Odin has stripped Thor, Balder, Sif, and Loki of their Asgardian powers, for breaking his orders not to visit Midgard.

Loki contacts the Norn Queen, hoping she can restore some of his power back to him. Before she arrives, a colorfully costumed criminal named The Wrecker is on the run from the cops, and happens to spot Loki. Wrecker figures Loki to be a fellow garishly clad criminal, and that he might be in possession of some loot.

The Wrecker easily knocks out the mortal Loki, and begins going through his things, even putting on the infamous horned helmet. At that same moment, the Norn Queen arrives, sees the figure wearing that familiar helmet, and grants the wearer awesome power. Thus, longtime Marvel supervillain the Wrecker is born. (I never was that big a fan of the Wrecking Crew, but I definitely developed an appreciation of the Wrecker from these early Thor comics. He’s fun.)

THOR #150
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

The Wrecker has nearly slain the mortal Thor, and Hela hovers over his body, waiting to finally claim his soul.

Meanwhile, Loki and Karnilla (finally she gets her name) celebrate their fortune at having accidentally orchestrated the death of their most hated foe. However, Sif and Balder have entered Nornheim, seeking to claim the crystal globe in her possession, so they can convince Odin how much peril Thor is currently in.

Balder fights valiantly but is eventually captured by trolls. Sif is also captured and brought before Karnilla.

Karnilla plays upon Sif’s emotions, pretending to relate to her on a woman-to-woman level. 

Karnilla’s headdress has continued to evolve and become more elaborate. She’s still not drawn as hot as she should be though. Not really Kirby’s strong suit.

Unfortunately, it’s all a plot by Karnilla and Loki to coerce Sif into merging with the Destroyer armor. She agrees, and Karnilla sends her straight to Midgard, hoping that she will finish off a now-recovered Thor once and for all.

This was definitely Karnilla’s most significant appearance so far. From my recollection, she’s not usually as bloodthirsty for the death of Thor as she is here, but that’s what makes comics so unique. The characters continue to evolve and become more complex.

THOR #151
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Karnilla taunts the unconscious body of Sif, as her and Loki view the titanic battle between Thor and the Destroyer down on Midgard.

They bring in their other prisoner, Balder. Karnilla offers to free Sif, if Balder will agree to serve her. This will be the first hint that Karnilla has a thing for Balder. Poor, clueless Balder. What does she see in him?

They are interrupted by Ulik and a battalion of trolls, looking to end Karnilla’s reign in Nornheim permanently.

With no other options, Karnilla promises to free Balder and Sif, if he will promise to protect her from Ulik. Balder engages Ulik in furious battle (in the King Kirby manner).

THOR #152
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Karnilla makes good on the other half of her deal, and Sif is pulled from the Destroyer and restored to her own body. They stand and watch as Balder battles the mighty Ulik.

Help him out, Sif, jeez.
With the threat of the Destroyer ended by Sif returning to her body, Thor stands triumphant, himself having already been restored to full power by Odin in the previous issue. Karnilla magically snatches Thor away, so that he may assist Balder against Ulik.

When Thor is sent hurtling away from Midgard, he even remarks that “a power which rivals mine own hath summoned me to Asgard.” It’s clear she’s supposed to be supremely powerful, and yet for some reason she was scared of Ulik.

THOR #153
Writer/Editor: Stan Lee; Penciler: Jack Kirby; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Lettering: Sam Rosen

Thor has defeated Ulik by tossing him into the endless abyss of shadows, but Loki was able to somehow steal Mjolnir and escape without notice during the melee. Thor pleads with Karnilla to send him wherever his evil step-brother might be. Karnilla agrees, as it will repay the debt she now owes him, as well as send him to his almost certain doom.

The drama continues on Midgard between Loki, Thor, and Sif. Back in the Norns, Balder prepares to leave, much to the dismay of Karnilla. Balder heroically fighting Ulik to save her life has done little to quell the burning she has in her loins for him. This is definitely the most overt reference to her crush on him.

That’s enough Karnilla for this week, I don’t want you to overdose on the greatness, like a former child actor trying to chase the rush of fame through the end of a needle. So far, Karnilla has been portrayed as a frequent ally of the evil Loki, and an incredibly powerful foe in her own right. Her fixation on Balder was established very early on. It’s clear that Stan and Jack liked the character, with her evolving from a minor unnamed supporting character, to getting her own name and a more elaborate design. I still don’t feel like they’ve nailed down her look or characterization, so I look forward to exploring her development further.

Next week, vanilla sex!

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