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The Avengers: Spinning Thor’s mythological history, Marvel style

Journey Into Mystery #83“When Dr. Donald Blake strikes his wooden walking-stick upon the ground, it becomes the mystic hammer MJOLNIR – and the lame physician is transformed into the Norse God of Thunder, Master of the Storm, Lord of the Living Lightning – and heir to the throne of eternal Asgard…The Mighty Thor!” – Marvel Comics circa 1970s

Thor’s only connection to the aforementioned Donald Blake in the 2011 movie by director Kenneth Branagh was as an inside joke when Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) gives the Thunder God some of her former boyfriend’s clothes and a fake ID badge with the doctor’s name on it. But the good “lame” doctor played a huge part in Thor’s early history in the Marvel universe.

In 1962, while trying to come up with a hero that could be “stronger than the strongest person,” Stan Lee, his mostly unsung brother Larry (Lieber) and artist Jack Kirby created Thor, the God who is also a superhero. The creators tapped into Norse mythology to come up with their hammer-wielding hero, but they threw the Marvel spin on the character to make him more appealing and sympathetic to their comic book readers.

Journey Into Mystery #83Marvel Comics has created their own brand of modern mythology and their heroes have never easily fallen into the Joseph Campbell monomyth archetype role. Such is the case with Thor, whose mythology can be traced throughout recorded history, but Stan Lee flipped this “hero’s journey” on its head by making the God walk in a crippled man’s shoes and deal with mortal problems.

A character called Thor appeared initially in the comic Venus #12 (1951) and comic geeks debate as to whether this was his first official appearance, or if it was in Journey into Mystery #83 (1962). Most agree that the Thunder God we know and love first appeared in the latter book, when the vacationing Dr. Donald Blake comes across a walking stick hidden in a cave in Norway and finds himself transformed into Thor when he hits it to the ground.

The good doctor is partially disabled, so he finds the staff handy for hobbling around and when trouble shows he merely strikes it to the ground to change identities with the Asgardian God and the wooden walking stick becomes Thor’s mighty hammer called, Mjolnir (pronounced – myawl-nir). If the hammer is out of Thor’s hands for more than three-minutes, he reverts back to the mortal doctor. This premise made for some of the best edge-of-your-seat thrills in the early days of Marvel’s Thunder God.

Avengers #7Dr. Blake and Thor both fall in love with Nurse Jane Foster (she was somehow an astrophysicist in the Thor movie), but Thor is admonished by the all-father Odin for loving the mortal woman. It seems that the Adgardians (Asgard is the capital city of the Norse Gods) won’t leave the Thunder God alone while he is on his beloved Midgard (Earth), including his evil adopted brother Loki, whose shenanigans inadvertently bring about the creation of The Avengers. [Read about The Avengers’ origin HERE]

Donald Blake is not the only secret identity that Thor has taken in his long comic history, he has also appeared as a “Clark Kent-ish” looking construction worker, Sigurd Jarlson, in Thor #341 (1984) where the real Clark Kent makes a guest appearance. Odin merged Thor with mortal Eric Masterson in Thor #408 (1989) and when the comic series was completely rebooted in the “Heroes Reborn” series Thor #2 (Vol. 2 – 1998) the hero God was killed by the Destroyer (you saw the Destroyer in the Thor movie) and then reincarnated as EMT Jake Olson. He would eventually be reborn and reunited again with Dr. Donald Blake in a another series reboot (that the movie is closely based on) in Thor #1 (Vol. 3 – 2007).

The Thunder God has a long and sometimes convoluted history, but 50 years of stories by an untold number of authors and artists will do that to the best of characters. Nevertheless, Thor still reigns as one of Marvel’s greatest creations. He has died and been reborn; he’s become fed-up with the pettiness of the human race and took on the role of God of the Earth in Thor #68 (2003) and he’s even brought the floating city of Asgard to the New Mexico desert in Thor #2 (Vol. 3 – 2007).

Thor #207Thor has battled his adopted brother Loki dozens of times throughout his comic-book history and the upcoming The Avengers film pits the God of Mischief against Earth’s mightiest heroes in what is sure to be one of the greatest comic-book films ever. Get ready for The Avengers movie by visiting Marvel Comics online, where you’ll find a wonderful array of archived comics and wiki reference material. Most of the digital comics allow a sneak peak for at least the first few pages before you have to pay to see the whole thing, but some of the older issues are completely FREE to read.

Don’t miss Free Comic Book Day coming up this Saturday, May 5. It’s an excellent time to go to your local comic shop and get caught-up on the new story-lines involving the God of Thunder and to locate some of the books mentioned here.

Also, don’t miss the Ultimate Avengers Movie Marathon this Thursday, May 3. It includes back-to-back screenings of Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor in 3D, Captain America in 3D and then the premiere of The Avengers in 3D! It’s all starts at 11:30 a.m. at the AMC Westgate 20 in Glendale. [Get Tickets HERE]

Avengers #12

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.


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