Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Thor An Epic History of the Character Part 1: The Beginning

IN THE BEGINNING THERE WAS THOR!
In the early 1960's Stan Lee, the man behind many of Marvel's legendary characters, was approached by Martin Goodman to come out with another new character for the growing Marvel Stable of legends. By this point Stan Lee had collaborated with the likes of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and Don Heck to create many of Marvel's most famous characters. Characters like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk had already been brainchildren of this creative bunch. So what was next for them to do?

Stan Lee had come up with the idea of having a character that could rival the Hulk in sheer power. Trying to come up with a story without feeling like he was borrowing from Superman had left Lee struggling for a bit. When suddenly it him, how about a story about a god? What could have been more simple then that, surely a god would be easy to rival the Hulk and posses mythical powers that would not need much back story to explain.

The use of mythology in comics was nothing new. Captain Marvel's powers were based off the gifts of various Greek and Roman mythological figures. Superman himself had battled several gods already at this point. Wonder Woman was knee deep in Greek mythology and one of her recurring villains was the Greek god Ares.

Together with artist Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and him collaborated on a way to bring create a modern day hero from a mythological character. Looking around Lee had noticed that while Greek and Roman gods were almost common place in comics, nobody had touched the Norse gods. During the research process Lee and Kirby became fixated on the Norse god Thor. The reason being was besides being the most famous of the Norse pantheon he was also regarded as being a hero of the people in his mythology.

Stan Lee became fascinated with the mythology that surrounded not only Thor but the entire Norse pantheon. The characters were flawed and at times seemed to hold more human traits then the gods of other pantheons. Odin, Loki, and the like were a perfect cast for supporting characters in the world of comics and the soon to be hero Thor. Lee even loved the fact that Odin, the Norse king of the gods, had made a sacrifice of his eye in exchange for wisdom. Even more so Lee loved that all of the Norse gods were fated to die in a giant war known as Ragnarok.

BRINGING THE MYTH TO THE COMIC
As the custom of the time characters were not immediately published in their own books. The companies feared releasing characters prior to knowing rather or not they would be popular or well received. So Stan Lee's Thor would make his official debut in Journey Into Mystery #83. This was way back in August of 1962. Thor graced the cover whirling his famous hammer over his head facing down a strange stone creature. In great fashion Marvel introduced us to the “Mighty Thor.”

Trying to bring a more super hero like approach to the character, Jack Kirby redesigned the character of Thor to look more heroic then his mythological counterpart. Gone were the skins and fur, in their place now was a flowing red cape and simpler primary-colored uniform. Underneath his winged helmet Kirby opted to give Thor blonde locks and a clean shaven face as opposed to the bearded red head that was in Norse mythology. In the day and age that Thor debuted having long hair seemed almost absurd for a man.

Due to the fact that at the time Stan Lee was more or less responsible for writing most of Marvel, after outlining the plot of Thor's origin story, Lee left the remainder of the work for his brother Larry Leiber. The story was entitled “The Stone Men from Saturn.”

In the story we were introduced to an American physician with a crippled leg named Dr. Donald Blake. Blake was vacationing in Norway. Hearing the claims of an old man about monsters in the woods, Blake decided to investigate. Blake was shocked to find the man was not crazy and a group of stone men were actually in the woods.

The stone men spotted Blake spying on them and chasing him into a nearby cave. Once inside Blake thought himself to be trapped. Leaning against a wall in fear, Blake triggered a secret chamber. Inside the chamber Blake found a cane lying on the ground. Blake frustrated that he still could not budge the boulder blocking his escape hit the boulder in frustration.


To Blake's surprise there was a flash of lightning and Blake was transformed into a new man. The stick had transformed into a hammer with the inscription on the side that read:  
"Whosoever holds this hammer,
if he be worthy,
shall possess the power of ...
THOR"


Blake concluded that he had somehow been bestowed upon the powers of the legendary thunder god. Blake Discovered that he now possessed all of the powers of the mighty Thor. And that separation from his hammer for an extended period of time would revery him back to regular old Donald Blake.

The hammer was magical as well and possessed its own unique powers. Later, Blake would even discover that those that possessed superhuman strength were incapable of lifting the hammer from the ground. Only those deemed worthy could lift it (for instance, Captain America would show years later that he was quite capable of lifting the mighty hammer).


A change from the mythological character was the ability of Thor to fly. Keeping in the tradition at the time in Marvel that characters with capes would fly. The addition of flight was said to be one of Stan Lee's personal favorite changes of the character. Thor could only fly by throwing the hammer and holding onto it and being pulled behind it. Stan Lee had often criticized characters that flew for no apparent reason. He wanted it to be explained how they were capable of flight, like his characters Iron Man and Angel.


A little known fact that in the first several years of Thor's comics his hammer was never refereed to by its name of Mjolnir. This was partially due to the fact that neither Stan Lee nor Larry Leiber could remember exactly what the hammer had been called in mythology. They referred to it instead simply as Thor's uru hammer. When Roy Thomas took over the comic years later, he tried to find the term uru in the Norse mythology and was unable to. Questioning Leiber over it he stunned to learn that they had simply used a made up word to call the hammer. From then on out Roy Thomas insisted that they use the proper name and referred to it as Mjolnir.


A TALE OF LOVE AND HIS JANE
Thor quickly dispatched of the alien invaders and Marvel had its newest hero. Over the next several issues the similar format of Lee writing out the basic plot and Leiber doing the script work continued. It was soon established that Blake had a crush on his nurse, Jane Foster. Blake as it turned out was quite shy and fearful that she could never love a man such as he and would leave if he ever made his feelings known. Unbeknown to Blake though, Jane had a crush on the doctor, but his attitude made it appear as if he was a bit of a jerk.
Eventually Jane's affection moved on from Blake to a more suitable suitor, Thor.
But that wasn't the only shock to come the doctor's way. Blake would find out that he was not the only man from Asgard walking around Midgard. No Loki, the god of mischief had shown up in New York to antagonize the hero. Unlike Blake though, he discovered that Loki was not a man bestowed with the gods power, he was genuinely an Asgardian god. Loki was there for revenge against Thor for having imprisoning him years before. Thor though had no idea what he was talking about, only knowing what little he knew about Loki from Norse mythology. Thor defeated Loki and using the hammer sent him back to Asgard.


While fighting Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, Thor summoned Odin for the first time. The next issue saw the return of Loki and the readers learned a little bit more about the characters. Asgard was shown in greater detail this time and Odin referred to Loki as his son. Stan Lee had come up with the idea to enhance the characters by making them two men that had been raised as brothers. Loki who was in actuality the son of a frost giant names Laufey, had always felt as an outsider. Loki looked upon Thor with hatred and jealousy because of his perceived more acceptance by the people.
Loki would go on to continue to be a thorn in Thor's side returning on many occasions to torment and wreck havoc. .

HERE COME THE BADDIES
:Loki continued to cause trouble for Thor and even helped to create several of Thor's rogues. By gibing former boxer, Crusher Creel the ability to mimic the properties of what ever he touched he transformed him into the Absorbing Man.
Other than the Absorbing Man, Loki also used a suit of enchanted armor known as the Destroyer (originally created by Odin) as his agent of destruction.
 
And there were other villains thanks to the god of mischief and evil. A mishap between Loki and the Norn Queen Karnilla led to the villain known as the Wrecker gaining his superhuman strength, stamina and invulnerability. The Wrecker later wound up transferring some of his power into three other villains who became his "Wrecking Crew."
Besides those that Loki was responsible for other Asgardians entered the fray. Like Ulik the troll, and Amora the Enchantress. Skurge the Executioner was often a collaborator of the Enchantress..
 
There was also Professor Zabo, who became the villain Mr. Hyde. Thor was even forced to fight an evil version of himself. .
This story of "The Demon Duplicators" was strangely reminiscent of the DC Comics story in which Superboy encountered a machine that could only make "imperfect" duplicates of living matter and then accidentally got caught in its path, creating the imperfect duplicate named Bizarro who in later years would become a twisted villain. But I’m sure that’s just a coincidence (hey, even Shakespeare stole plots, dammit).

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE
Thor you could say was indirectly responsible for the formation of the Avengers. In Avengers #1, Loki tricks Thor into fighting the Hulk. While Rick Jones tried to summon the Fantastic Four he instead contacted Donald Blake. Soon other heroes joined in the fight with the Hulk, the likes of Iron Man, Ant-Man, and the Wasp also answered the call. And thus the Avengers were born and the rest is history as they say.

Over the following years Thor would often leave the team for extended periods of time, but always returned and remained a mainstay of the Avengers roster. Thor soon found a kinship with fellow Avenger member Captain America. Like Thor, Captain America was a warrior. Thor often found himself admiring and humbled by Cap's courage and leadership. As Frank Miller once put it, Cap was quite obviously "a soldier with a voice that can command a god."

As time went on, the friendship between Iron Man, Thor and Captain America grew and they were soon regarded by comic fans as being the "Big Three" of the Avengers. Furthermore, many fans came to believe that the Avengers line-up just felt wrong if the Big Three wasn't involved.

One story that further strengthened Thor's admiration for Captain America took place in the 80's. Thor had returned to earth after being gone for some time. During this time Iron Man had gone off and waged a war against any one wearing armor based off his technology and Captain America had been discharged from the army and forced to take on a new name. While the Captain and Thor talked they were attacked. In the heat of the battle Thor was separated from his hammer. Seeing Mjolnir lying on the ground and knowing that Thor could use it to stop the battle the Captain attempted to grab it and drag it to Thor. To his and Thor's amazement he was able to lift the hammer with little difficulty at all. But knowing Thor was the hammer's true mastered tossed it to his friend and used it to end the battle.
When the fight was over, Thor spoke to the Captain about how significant it was that he, a human being without super-powers, had been able to lift Mjolnir and that he would not have been able to do so if he'd lost his reason or his heart wasn't true. The two now shared a deeper bond than ever before and Thor considered Captain America a blood brother from then on.

STAN LEE FINALLY TAKES THE REIGNS
At last, Stan Lee took over the reigns of Journey Into Mystery, which a few years later was finally re-titled as The Mighty Thor. During Lee's time in charge he began to make several changes to the character. Not once during Leiber and Bern's reign had it ever been questioned about the duality of Blake and Thor. During this period Thor began to speak more regally. Using sayings such as, "Ho, enemy! Stop your rampage at once, lest you face the wrath of THOR, son of Odin!"

Stan Lee also began to use the Asgardians as more of a supporting cast of the character Thor. Some of the character were based on real mythological characters, such as Sif, Balder and Heimdall. Others became completely new characters created solely for the comics like the Warriors Three who were in actuality based on the Three Musketeers.

Lee continued to use Norse myths with his own modern comic book twists to them. Introducing characters such as Balder to the comic book. Stan Lee played more on the relationship between Thor and his father Odin.  Thor also dealt with the longing to tell his love Jane Foster about his secret life. But Odin forbid his son to become involved with a mortal woman.

Stan Lee even continued his love of cross overs with Thor. Thor found himself battling the likes of Magneto and other foes of various heroes.Stan Lee even took it upon himself to answer the fans questions of who was stronger Thor or the Hulk.In Journey Into Mystery #112, Thor overheard some kids discussing who would win. Not having anything more pressing to do, the thunder god sat down and told the kids about the time he and the Avengers had fought the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner back in Avengers #4.

Of course, several comic book fans had already read that battle and recalled that Thor and the Hulk scuffled for maybe a few moments before the jade giant and the Sub-Mariner then made their getaway. But here Stan Lee revealed that this had only been part of the battle. The fight had actually gone on much longer than anyone had realized and had been a terrible brawl. In order to combat the Hulk as an equal, with his fists instead of his hammer, Thor begged Odin to allow him a few extra minutes where he could retain his Asgardian form without reverting to Don Blake. Seeing that his son was about to face a worthy opponent, Odin agreed and did so.
Stan Lee though still had to ensure that the battle ended the same way it did in Avengers #4 … meaning that the fans were still left with no clear winner.

FROM STAND ALONES TO EPIC
Wanting to do more with the character, Stan Lee shifted away from the stand alone stories to try and present more story arcs. This included stories like the Trial of the gods and others. Thor returned to Earth after the trials to find that the Avengers were a different team, his apartment was gone, and Jane Foster had left to seek employment elsewhere. When Thor finally met back up with Jane he found her in a depressed state. Not wanting to hurt her further Thor finally revealed his duo identity to her. Upset over this Odin made Thor participate in the "Ritual of Steel" as punishment. Upon completing the task Thor returned to Earth only to find Jane talking to the debuting Hercules of the Greek Pantheon. A battle ensued in which Odin still pissed off took away half of Thor's power allowing him to lose to Herc.

Thor with a wounded walked away from Jane and contemplated renouncing his heritage. Thor again met with Odin and upon finally realizing that Jane was not some passing fancy agreed not to stand in Thor's way any further.
Shortly after this Thor was cast in to some space adventures. Thor went off and met Ego, the Living Planet and Galactus the planet-eater Upon his return to earth, Thor met the High Evolutionary.
After leaving Wundagore, Jane and Thor finally went to talk to Odin. The king of the Asgardians gave Jane a goddess-like nature and the ability to fly. But Jane faltered when she found herself doubting if this was real. Odin then tested her by putting her in a room with an entity called the Unknown. Jane was horrified by the experience and told Thor she refused to stay this insane place of chaos and magic. Odin decided that Earth was indeed the best place for her and sent Jane back home with no memory of having known Thor or Don Blake at all.

Soon a new interest was introduced to Thor. An old love named Sif. Thor spent some time on Asgard with the lady Sif. But eventually, he found himself drawn back to Earth. Sif would not return to Earth as she found herself with no connection to it nor desire to know its people.

THE TRUE ORIGIN OF THOR!
Eventually Stan Lee decided to shake things up. Donald Blake had failed to maintain interest and grow as a character, but the people loved Thor and the Asgardians. Something had to change. So, in Thor #158 and #159 Blake found himself questioning his real identity. For some time now, Blake had believed that he was a human being who'd somehow been bonded/merged with the essence of the legendary Thor. But he had begun to wonder why couldn't he remember his own human childhood clearly? Why couldn't he remember the accident that had taken away the use of one of his legs? Finally Odin decided to revel a hidden truth to him. Donald Blake was not the real man, Thor was.

Thor had been born centuries ago, raised in Asgard and making occasional journeys to Earth. But eventually, he grew arrogant and careless and aloof to the concerns of others. Believing his son needed to be taught humility, Odin transformed him into a human being and buried his true memories of who he was. To further humble Thor, Odin caused one of his legs to be lame. Then he left him at the medical school with the belief that his name was Donald Blake, a new student enrolled there. Odin had hoped to see his son learn what it meant to dedicate yourself to helping others and to overcome a handicap in order to live as an ordinary man rather than merely reveling in your own power and glory.

Odin further explained that it was he who implanted in Don's mind the desire to journey to Norway and it was he who had guided the physician to that special cave (the same cave where Thor had been born) so that he could reconnect with his birthright, now as a wiser man. Of course, it had taken time for Thor's true memories to return and re-assert themselves, which is why in his first few adventures our hero didn't recognize Loki nor spoke as a true Asgardian.

This retcon made a lot of sense to many readers. Since Blake was now seen as only an aspect of Thor, practically a non-entity, it also allowed the comic to go for several issues at a time just focusing on Thor and his adventures without even mentioning Blake at all, who seemed to have outstayed his welcome.
After the conclusion of this storyline, Thor would return to his more cosmic storylines. During them, Thor experienced many things including learning the origin of Galactus. He battled the likes of Adam Warlock and others.

Eventually, the storylines shifted finding Thor battling more mythical creatures and forces. Thor would do battle with Surtur, Mephisto, and Hades. Thor was often accompanied by Balder or the Warrior's Three in these days. And then, finally, Thor died. Well, almost. Odin who had defeated Infinity found himself within the grasps of Hela, the mistress of death for the Asgardians. Odin managed to escape, Hela then turned her attentions to the heroic and mighty Thor. But Odin rather then see his son die, slayed Hela. But with her gone the Earth soon was overwhelmed with life, as nothing could die. Odin after must pleading by Thor restored Hela to live and she restored the balance of life and death. But Hela staying true to her nature begin to drain the life force from Thor. Sif pleaded with Hela to spare Thor and in return she would take his place. Hela who was surprisingly moved by this act of love, restored Thor to his full health. Leaving him be for the time being.

About a year later, Thor was in a batter with the Roman god Pluto. As Pluto was about to finish Thor off and kill him, the Norns suddenly stepped in. The Norns knowing the prophecy of Ragnarok and that Thor was to die in battle against the Midgard Serpent could not allow for Pluto to slay Thor now.
This would be the last of the Stan Lee adventures for Thor. Afterward several different writes such as Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas would take their turns writing Thor.

And with that we conclude the first part of my history of Thor in anticipation of the upcoming Thor movie, check back as the second part should be done soon.

Check out Part 2 Here

Check out Part 3 Here

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