Although he may be a literal god in the Marvel Universe, Thor has limits, but the most R-rated fight in its long history has revealed that a surprising MCU ally is able to expand them to shocking new levels. Thor’s epic strength enhancement came against the Viking horde of Harald Jaekelsson – a millennium-old zombie warlord who first humbled the God of Thunder with his strength.
Cursed to sail for a thousand years by a misguided mystic, Jaekelsson spent years growing in power until he finally reached America, leading his men on a bloody raid on New York. All this happens in Thor: Vikings, which was published under the Marvel MAX imprint—a line that targeted adult readers with excessive violence and unfiltered language. This lack of restraint was key to Thor’s battle with Jaekelsson, as the viking hurt Marvel’s Odinsson in ways few have succeeded before or since.
In his first encounter with the Viking, Thor attacks with all his might, delivering a thunderclap with Mjolnir. Jaekelsson is so powerful that the blow does not even move him, but he Is breaking both of Thor’s wrists in a bloody show of force. After a shocking beating marked with similar graphic injuries, Jaekelsson throws Thor into the river, where he is fortunately discovered by Doctor Strange. In the 2003 series – by Garth Ennis and Glenn Fabry – the Sorcerer Supreme summons a group of descendants of the original mystic, using their connection to fate to empower them and Thor for a rematch with the Vikings.
While Doctor Strange is powerful, few would guess that he is capable of enhancing the abilities of a literal god. However, Strange doesn’t just give Thor a boost, but redefines his maximum strength. He confirms that the runic magic he uses will grant the team “appalling” the strength and ability to “Fight beyond the point where gods and mortals weary and fall.” Indeed, Strange gives strength to Thor beyond that of the gods, making him so powerful that when Thor finally lands a blow on Jaekelsson, he first demolishes the zombie’s face, then launches him into space, where the immortal killer remains in orbit, brooding forever on the loss epic that was inflicted on him.
What’s particularly interesting is that Rune Magic appears to be the only true key to Thor’s maximum potential. In the 2004 ‘Disassembled’ arc of Thor vol. 2 by Mike Avon Oeming and Andrea Di Vito, Thor achieves his ultimate and final form by sacrificing himself to unlock the secret of Rune Magic, becoming Rune King Thor. It seems Strange is fully aware that this is the way to improve Thor beyond all of his previous limitations, hinting at Rune Magic’s potential even before fans saw its importance in mainstream Marvel lore.
Thor has often claimed to be the “Strongest Avenger”, but when enhanced with Rune Magic, that claim is actually justified. Thor’s usual strength – enough to fight the Hulk one-on-one – was no match for Jaekelsson, resulting in a grisly injury. But when enhanced by Rune Magic, Thor not only stood a chance, but managed to send the zombie villain into orbit. Hopefully, as Thor continues to rule Asgard in his ongoing series, fans will get to see his potential return of Rune Magic, albeit assuredly with far less bloodshed than in Thor: Vikings‘ battle royale.
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