Jan 25, 2016

Karnilla: Balder to the Rescue

Karnilla The Norn Queen: An Irrational Love Story
Part 8 – Balder to the Rescue
Ben Smith

Last week, we established that Walt Simonson was like unto Eternity, enveloping and encompassing all that we know as our reality. His run as the writer and artist on Thor is rightly considered the greatest in the history of the character. For those that have been onboard for the previous seven installments of this retrospective, I am attempting to explore each and every single appearance of Karnilla the Norn Queen, one of my favorite characters in all of comics. Focused through the lens of this one minor supporting character, it was easy to see why Simonson’s Thor was such a revelatory experience for so many readers. It was apparently popular enough to release a mini-series featuring one of Thor’s frequent allies, Balder the Brave. Wherever there is Balder, Karnilla is surely nearby, and thus we continue our journey.

Unlike previous installments of Back Issue Ben, I have no desire to attempt to analyze a genius like Walt Simonson over the course of an entire mini-series, so I’ll merely be offering a few meager observations on the Balder the Brave comics below. (An ant cannot accurately evaluate the talents of DaVinci, after all. Unless he’s a really talented ant, or maybe allies with Ant-Man.) Walt handled the writing duties for the series, with Sal Buscema handling art duties. I’m on record for loving Sal’s rendition of beautiful women (ROM: Spaceknight!) so he’s a good fit for depicting my beloved Karnilla. And we all know Walt is our God, so we can only begin to try to comprehend portions of his divine word.

Bow your heads in silent prayer, and let us begin the scripture.

Written By: Walter Simonson; Illustrated By: Sal Buscema; Lettered By: John Workman, Jr.; Edited By: Ralph Macchio

Balder and Karnilla are enjoying getting to know each other better, when an urgent mission from Asgard pulls Balder away yet again.

The early to mid-‘80s was a wonderous time at Marvel. Not only were there many legendary creative runs all happening at once, Frank’s Daredevil, Walt’s Thor, Stern’s Spider-Man, and the continued domination of the X-Men, but the establishment of the direct market led to some pretty surprising mini-series getting the green light when they probably never would have previously. Magik, Vision and Scarlet Witch, Hercules, Cloak and Dagger, and of course Balder, just to name a few.

I liked: That Karnilla predictably tried to delay Balder’s messenger, and that Balder basically shrugged it off as her being her. This is, I believe, Karnilla’s only substantial cover appearance, and it’s a great one. I absolutely loved the exchange between Balder and Karnilla as he prepares to leave. He says, “but you would love me less if I did not ride with Thor to a splendid doom,” to which she responds:

Last but not least, I loved that despite her disappointment and anger towards Balder, she will tolerate no one attempting to harm her beloved.

Favorite panel:

Written By: Walter Simonson; Illustrated By: Sal Buscema; Lettered By: John Workman, Jr.; Edited By: Ralph Macchio

Karnilla is heartbroken over Balder leaving, and worried for his safety. Using a fake Balder as a decoy, Utgard-Loki and his Frost Giants capture Karnilla, and turn everyone in her kingdom into stone.

I liked: I continue to enjoy Karnilla’s constant emotional struggle between her love for Balder and her hatred of nearly everything else. Buscema draws the Hel out of her in these opening pages.

I disliked: If I’m being honest, it was pretty rough to see Karnilla captured and humiliated like that. Yes, she’s unrepentantly evil, but it’s still tough to see her brought low. I suppose that’s probably the point though. I feel that I should emphasize that I still love this series, and that Walt Simonson is our God, but as a Karnilla fan it’s difficult to see her in the role of damsel in distress. Then again, it is Balder’s story, and she is his love interest, so I understand the why of it.

Favorite panel:

Written By: Walter Simonson; Illustrated By: Sal Buscema; Lettered By: John Workman, Jr.; Edited By: Ralph Macchio

Balder is captured by the Frost Giants in his attempt to save Karnilla, and forced to fight for their amusement.

I liked: Balder’s tender moments with the sparrow he doesn’t realize to be a transmogrified (that reference should be obvious, but I wonder how much so for those under the age of 30) Karnilla. Karnilla healing his wounds, even in bird form.
Favorite panel:

Hagen’s face go Thunkk!

Written By: Walter Simonson; Illustrated By: Sal Buscema; Lettered By: John Workman, Jr.; Edited By: Ralph Macchio

Balder uses his golden glow (sho ‘nuff!) to melt the realm of Jotunheim, reducing the Frost Giants to miniature size.

Yet, his reunion with Karnilla is short-lived, when he is called back to Asgard to serve as its ruler.

I liked: Karnilla’s uncharacteristic empathy for Rattusk, who gave his wretched life so that Balder might save her.

Balder and Karnilla’s intimate talk in the forest about the cruelty of mercy, and the power of love. (I understand that her ordeal was probably intended to make her a more compassionate person, but I still don’t like to see my dear Karnilla hurt so.)

Favorite panel:

Instead of attempting to hide the Asgardian summons from Balder again, she angrily hands it right over with an air of defiance and resignation.

THOR #367
Writing and Penciling: Walter Simonson; Inking: Wiacek/Milgrom/Simonson; Lettering: John Workman, Jr.; Editing: Ralph Macchio

Karnilla’s last appearance under the stewardship of Walt Simonson is a replay of the end of the Balder series, with her and Balder saying goodbye before he returns to Asgard to take the throne.

I still have many more comics to read that feature Karnilla the Norn Queen in some capacity, but I can say with the utmost certainty that nobody has written or drawn her as well as Walt Simonson did. It’s almost singularly his fault that my irrational love for her burns so blisteringly hot (with a bit of an assist from Stan and Jack). Looking ahead at the list of her remaining appearances, it isn’t all that long (I’m sure some of you waiting for this series of retrospectives to be over will appreciate that). It’s perplexing with the status that Simonson’s Thor holds in the hearts of fandom, that more creative teams haven’t wanted to use her more. Maybe they feel like Simonson’s version can’t be topped, which I can completely understand. All I can hope is that the comics left to read make her as fun, engaging, and interesting as she was here.

Only one way to find out!

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