Published April 15, 2019

Before the War of the Realms Was the Casket of Ancient Winters

A look back at Malekith the Accursed’s first Marvel event, “The Surtur Saga”!

This week, WAR OF THE REALMS #2 continues the conflict that Jason Aaron teased for years in his THOR run and finally made its debut in WAR OF THE REALMS #1 earlier this month. The other realms have fallen to Malekith the Accursed, and now the war has come to Earth. This isn’t the first time that Malekith has been at the heart of a disaster that threatened all of the realms. Malekith’s initial appearances in THOR actually set off “The Surtur Saga” in the 1980s and put an unexpected Marvel crossover in motion. In 1984, event series weren’t commonplace. But Malekith’s machinations were felt across several titles when he went after the Casket of Ancient Winters.

Malekith and the Casket of Ancient Winters
THOR (1966) #347

In Asgardian lore, the Casket of Ancient Winters is said to contain the fury of 1,000 winters and it can even rival or exceed the frigid temperatures of Niffelheim. Balder the Brave discovered that Malekith was conspiring with Loki in THOR (1966) #344. However, the Casket didn’t come into play until the following issue, when Malekith tracked down and murdered Dr. Eric Willis, the Casket’s guardian. Malekith stepped up his game in issue #346 when he kidnapped Thor’s lover, Lorelei, after Eric’s son, Roger Willis, became the new guardian.

Events came to a head in THOR (1966) #347 and #348 when Thor faced Malekith in battle. Despite the Odinson’s victory, Malekith was still able to destroy the Casket and unleash the endless winter on Earth. As a bonus, that also freed Surtur from his imprisonment in Muspelheim. That was bad news for every realm as Surtur had the power to bring about Ragnarok and the end of the universe.

This is where the rest of the Marvel heroes came in. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (1963) #258 was already eventful because Peter Parker was freed from his black costume Symbiote before it became Venom. In that issue, Peter also noted that the snow in New York was wildly out of season. That subtle crossover continued in PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN (1976) #96, as Peter, Black Cat, and Cloak tried to save Dagger from the Kingpin. The only nod to the Surtur Saga was the snow.

Surtur attacks NYC
AVENGERS (1963) #249

Incredibly, the X-Men and Rom were caught up in their events during their tie-in issues with the Dire Wraith War. UNCANNY X-MEN (1963) #187 featured snow in Dallas, Texas as the Dire Wraiths attempted to take out Forge. Meanwhile, ROM (1979) #60 dealt with the pending Dire Wraith invasion as the global snowstorm played out in the background. Even the KITTY PRYDE AND WOLVERINE miniseries touched on the unseasonably cold weather in Japan.

Only AVENGERS (1963) #249 directly addressed the events unfolding in THOR, as Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and the Fantastic Four joined forces to fight Surtur’s army. The events of that issue take place between THOR (1966) #349 and #350. The Casket of Ancient Winters wasn’t fixed until issue #351, but the assembled heroes still had to repel Surtur’s forces in #352. Finally, in issue #353, Thor and Odin were joined in battle by Loki, and the unlikely trio faced Surtur with the survival of the universe on the line. At the time, it was a particularly shocking conclusion that took Odin off the board and put Loki on a path to claim Asgard’s throne for himself. Both Odin and Surtur eventually returned, but their confrontation in this issue was one for the ages.

Odin, Thor and Loki
THOR (1966) #353

WAR OF THE REALMS couldn’t have happened without Malekith’s introduction in this story. That’s why this it is still one of the most important chapters in Thor’s history even 35 years after it was published.

WAR OF THE REALMS #2, written by Jason Aaron with art by Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson, goes on sale Wednesday, April 17. Reserve your copy today online or at your local comic shop! WAR OF THE REALMS #1 is available now!

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