This story is from Walt Simonson’s legendary run on Thor and since I’ve talked about Walt before I’m going to just go into the story because that art is great as always. So for me, this is about the perfect comic book story. Now I’m trying to compare it to say a book like Maus, but that’s because Maus is in a whole different category and if you haven’t read it you really should. This story is so good because it does what a good super hero book should, it’s a mini-epic that hits notes that are as old as storytelling and for a good reason!
For a little background to set the stage this is a good way into Simonson’s run. Odin seems to have died stopping the destruction of Asgard, Thor has been dealing with plots from Asgard on earth and the latest one has let Hela steal the souls of mortals to boost the ranks of her army when she attacks Asgard. And then we have Skurge the Executioner, on paper this guy should be amazing but he just ends up getting his butt kicked by Thor. He is in love with The Enchantress and does whatever she wants, but she treats him like crap and abandons him whenever a plan goes bad only to have him come crawling back. He should be awesome because he’s a pissed, bald Thor with a giant double headed axe. Instead he just shows up when Thor needs an Asgardian to trade punches with, you know is going to be a good fight but he’s always going to fall.
The story starts with Thor and a band of warriors returning to Asgard from Earth and in a “why did nobody else EVER do this before?” moment the warriors are bringing an arsenal of machine guns back with them. It make so much sense, of course they would look at those and think “hey those are so much better than bows!” So Thor gathers a battle force to ride into Hel and recover the stolen mortals whether Hela likes it or not. As the force is gathering The Enchantress screws over Skurge yet again so he goes to Thor and asks to join the mission and Thor accepts him.
There are of course things that have to be done so the warriors can find a way into Hel but when they get there it’s a paradise with many of their loved ones waiting for them including “The Enchantress” who lures Skurge away. So of course this is a trap set by Hela to lead the warriors to their deaths but Thor sees through the enchantment in time to save most of the warriors. At this point Thor challenges Hela to a fight for the mortals, and Hela accepts. And while Thor wins she does some major damage to him, this becomes a large plot point of Simonson’s run – a lot of damage starts to add up on Thor.
They gather the stolen souls who have been put to work completing a long boat made from the finger nails of the dead. A boat that is almost done and that Hela will use to sail on Asgard to destroy the gods. As Thor is leaving she presents him with Skurge and “The Enchantress,” and Skurge is none too pleased to see he has played again this time by Hela. To pay her back in kind he uses his axe to destroy the boat at the cost of the axe, to be clear Skurge’s axe is as much a part of him as Thor’s hammer is to Thor. This makes Hela a tiny bit unhappy and, well, she unleashes Hel on the group.
The warriors fight a running battle up to a series of tunnels that lead back to Asgard where they will have to slow down to navigate through them. With all of Hel on their heels Thor decides to stay behind and buy the other time to escape even though it means he will not survive. And then Skurge sucker punches him and knocks him cold, but not as a betrayal but because everyone sees him as a joke and he wants to have the last laugh on all of them. He asks Balder raise a glass to him when he a Thor next have a drink. Then he takes a couple of guns and asks for a few spares and as much ammo as they think they can leave for him. And then Skurge becomes GREAT! I’ll put the pages of Skurge’s final battle at the very end of this in case you don’t to totally spoil it. But you can go to anyone who loves Simonson’s Thor run and say “He stood alone at Gjallerbru…” and odds are they will smile and agree that arc was great.
Skurge was a joke, a schmuck, he was the jobber of Thor’s rogues. He was big, powerful and someone who should have been Thor’s main foe. But instead of being on the level of A-listers like Magneto or Doctor Doom he was more on the level of the Trapster or Stilt-Man, guys who never had an appearance where you would think “Ooo, this is going to be good.” This arc is proof that a good writer can turn any character into a great one, well maybe not Frog-Man or 3-D Man but other than them it’s true. I wish Simonson would go back and do back stories with Skurge. You can get Simonson’s Thor run in various collected editions including an insanely huge omnibus and several trades. The also did a mini a few years ago where all this finally breaks The Enchantress, so that should give you an idea of how this arc is regarded if they will go back to 20+ years later. And now, the death of The Executioner.
And that ladies and gentlemen, is how you do it.