Saturday, August 13, 2016

The First Time I Saw the Thunder God

The first time I saw Thor, he was hurtling through the incorporeal form of a gloating Tomorrow Man on the cover of Journey Into Mystery 86 (Nov. 1962), wondering aloud how he was ever going to catch the villain.
A flying, super-strong hero in a red cape? Clearly some kind of a Superman, just the sort of character I loved. Obviously worth a 10-cent investment, despite the fact that the long, blond hair puzzled me. This was pre-Beatles, remember, and I’d never met any Vikings.
As a matter of fact, at 8, I’d heard of the Greek gods, but never the Norse ones. So I was unaware that Thor predated Superman by a couple of thousand years.
However, reading the issue, I was very aware of Jack Kirby’s fascinatingly detailed, idea-rich art.
Here were time machines, futuristic flying scooters, villainous mirrored magnetic rooms underneath trap doors and giant robots that might have been inspired by the 1940s Fleischer Superman cartoons (although I didn’t know it then).
Here too was that joyful exercise of super powers that you only see in the early issues of superhero titles. Before the story really begins in Thor’s fourth comic-book adventure, the hero chases and catches a rocket and, as a military exercise, calmly prepares to expose himself to a C-bomb blast at ground zero.
And here (although I didn’t know it then) was our first glimpse of Odin, the All-Father, as a giant helmeted face in the sky summoned by Thor through a thunderstorm. With that, the paradox of the series became evident.
The character had been introduced in Journey Into Mystery 83 as Don Blake, a lame physician who merely acquired the powers of Thor from his hammer. How then could he actually be the son of Odin, or the brother of Loki (who was introduced in the previous issue)?
Indeed, Odin seemed a little surprised that Thor had forgotten the method by which he could use his hammer to travel through time. The conflict wouldn’t be resolved by Stan Lee until 1968, when he revealed that Blake was merely a personality conjured by Odin to teach Thor humility. 
Even in issue 86, I could see how Thor might have some trouble staying humble. After all, he could fly, shrug off nuclear blasts, create thunderstorms, smash giant robots, fell trees with a slap, spin through time and even deflect the rays of a delta-electron gun with his hurricane force super-breath. To do all that, even I’d wear shoulder-length hair.

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