John Dunbar re-reads Thor (Journey Into Mystery 83 and up)

Thor debuted in Journey Into Mystery 83, cover-dated August 1962.  This was, of course, the very early days of modern Marvel.  The Fantastic Four had only 5 issues under their belts, and the Incredible Hulk had just 2.  JIM was a monthly title (FF and Hulk were bi-monthlies), so Thor was actually the first super-hero headliner to appear every month, beating out Ant-Man by a month.  Spider-Man also debuted in Aug '62, but would have to wait 7 months to get his own magazine.

Of all the Silver Age Marvel books, JIM/Thor seems to get a lot less love and respect than other creations.  That may be because Thor is not really a creation of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee as it is their adaptation of the Thor of Norse myths.  There is one aspect of Marvel's Thor that is possibly borrowed from the Fawcett Captain Marvel, and in some of the early stories, Thor comes across as a poor man's Superman.

In the first year or so, Stan sometimes was credited as the writer, sometimes only the plotter.  It's debatable how much he did or didn't do - it always will be, I suppose - but one thing for sure, he very obviously didn't do the dialogue every issue.  Jack did the pencils on JIM 83-89, 93, and 97, and then was the regular penciller every month starting with 101.  Jack also did the backup feature, Tales of Asgard, starting in JIM 97, a very significant - and excellent - strip on its own.

Inspired by the Baron, I'm going to re-read the Thor stories starting with JIM 83 and give you my thoughts.  I may stop at Kirby's last issue, or I may keep going, I haven't really decided yet.  Like Bob, I'm going to try to be succinct, even though it's not my strong suit - I'm sure I'll be long winded from time to time.  I'm looking forward to what you guys think of these stories as well.

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Tales of Asgard from Thor #137, "The Tragedy of Hogun!"

On their way back to Asgard, Thor, Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg encounter a badly injured man with his arms and legs tied to posts so that he is suspended above the ground.  Hogun recognizes him as Saguta, a warrior and one of his fellow countrymen.  They cut him down but they can tell he is moments away from succumbing to his wounds.  Hogun asks who has caused his injuries and Saguta replies it was the tyrant Mogul.  Hogun is incensed by the mere mention of Mogul's name and demands to know where Mogul is, but before he can say anything more, Saguta dies.

Hogun continues to be enraged and his friends try to restrain and calm him.  He screams out for Mogul to show himself.  Suddenly, there is a surge of smoke and shadows, and a shape begins to form within it.  It is Mogul, answering Hogun's challenge.  But Thor tells him he commands the party, and it is Thor he must answer to first.  Behind Thor, Fandral and Volstagg are struggling to hold Hogun back, who is screaming at Thor that he, not Thor, must face Mogul.

Mogul warns Thor of his power, and turns his sword into a serpent.  Thor is unfazed and says trickery won't stay his wrath.  He is irate that Mogul committed murder on Asgardian soil and says retaliation will be swift.  Hogun warns Thor he won't be cheated out of his vengeance, even by him.  Suddenly, a voice cries out, saying "None may threaten Mogul!" and a large shadow can be seen on the ground.  Hogun says that Mogul has summoned his Jinni Devil and calls him a base coward for it.  A gigantic green hand scoops up Mogul as he tells Hogun and the others if they want a fight, to find him at the Mystic Mountain, as the Jinni flies off.

Hogun tells his fellows that Mogul's Jinni is the last of his species, and has powers beyond imagination.  Mogul enslaved Hogun's people, and drove him from his land; he has searched for years, but has never been able to find the Mystic Mountain.  He tells him he will now leave them and go to find the Mystic Mountain alone.  But Thor says they are all brothers, and they will stand beside him.  Hogun warns them his father and his brothers all died seeking the Mystic Mountain, but Fandral, Volstagg, and Thor all pledge to be by his side all the way.


Tales of Asgard from Thor #138, "The Quest for the Mystic Mountain!"

Thor, Hogun, Fandral, and Volstagg have journeyed to the land of Hindi, far from Asgard, seeking the Mystic Mountain of Mogul.  They go to the cave of Wazir the Prophet to ask him the location, but the cave is guarded by the monstrous, one-eyed Ogur.  They try to explain why they are there but Ogur ignores them and attacks.  Fandral states it is said that Ogur can fell one hundred warriors with one blow, but remarks he has never faced them before.  They try to reason with him but it is to no avail.  Thor states Mogul, not Ogur, is the enemy they seek, and does not fight back.  But when his life is in jeopardy, Fandral uses his sword to drive the monster back.  Hogun attacks next but Ogur catches him in a deadly grip.  Thor lets his hammer fly, and when it strikes, Ogur falls.

Wazir emerges from the cave and demands to know who they are and what they want.  Thor states they are Asgardians, in the service of Odin, and they seek only one thing: the Mystic Mountain.  Wazir warns them that no one that has sought the Mystic Mountain has lived to return from it.  He holds a staff and tells them to clutch it; in this way, his knowledge will flow to them.  He tells them a mist will form, and when it fades, they will have the answers they seek.  When it does fade, Wazir is gone, but they have learned the location as he said they would.  The Mystic Mountain rises from within the crater of the dreaded Jinni Slave of Mogul.

Thor, Hogun, and Fandral go to collect Volstagg, who had been guarding their steeds, but to no one's surprise has fallen asleep.  Fandral says Volstagg will say he wasn't sleeping; it was a pose to lure an unsuspecting foe.  He knows his friend well - Volstagg says as much before dozing off again!


NEXT: "The Secret of the Mystic Mountain!"


Tales of Asgard (Thor 139 - April 1967)


Mogul is "weary of yon revels" and sends away the entertainers in his court.  He orders one of his subjects to repeat the news he has brought to him, which is that four strangers (Thor and company) are approaching.  Mogul is outraged and uses an enchanted crystal to view who it is - Asgardians led there by his old enemy Hogun.  Mogul summons his slave, the Jinni Devil, who is eager to have new victims.

Meanwhile, Thor is counselling Hogun to be cautious, but the Grim One will have none of it; he is only concerned with vengeance for his brethren slain by Mogul.  Volstagg points out that while they are where Wazir informed them the Mystic Mountain is located, the land around them is barren and flat.  The Asgardians are stumped momentarily until Thor figure it out.  He slams his hammer to the ground and the earth tears away, revealing that the Mystic Mountain is an underground city, which they can see through a crystal barrier at their feet.  They all agree this is Zanadu, the land they had sought.

Hogun begins slamming his mace on the crystal barrier above Zanadu, but Thor tells him to conserve his strength.  He points out that if all those that came before them were killed, someone will soon come looking for them.  Hogun agrees but can barely control his rage.  Just then, the barrier begins to open, and Thor is proven right, as the Asgardians are confronted by the Jinni Devil!


My rating: 8/10

This chapter moves the story along nicely here.  You can feel that a big confrontation is coming between Mogul and Hogun, and every panel each of them is in is loaded with tension.  Kirby did a great job depicting Hogun as completely obsessed with avenging his family and countrymen killed by Mogul, frothing with rage that he truly doesn't want to suppress.  Clever to have Thor try to be the voice of reason, when he has been the hothead on many occasions.  Fandral and Volstagg play minor supporting roles here but I suspect they may get a chance to shine in future chapters.

The reference to "Zanadu" on page 4 confused me.  Up to now, we've been told Mogul's home is "The Mystic Mountain", including the title of this chapter; now it is a mystic mountain, containing a city, with a previously unrevealed name.  Maybe I'm nitpicking here, but I found this needlessly complicated.

Very interesting but notice how nothing here resembles anything Scandinavian. Clearly everything on our Earth can be found in and around Asgard. I only ever saw the first chapter of this story so most of it is new to me.

I see what you are saying about "everything on our Earth can be found in and around Asgard", but I never looked at it that way. I've always viewed the Asgardian realm as other-wordly. Your perspective is interesting.
I checked and this tale is an eight part story. Sadly this story was also the end of the Tales of Asgard back-up; it was replaced in Thor #145 with an Inhumans backup.

Some depictions of Asgard show it as looking like a giant asteroid isolated in space aside from the rainbow bridge, but those images make it appear too small to contain the various other realms depicted as surrounding Asgard in these stories and which Thor & his pals journey to by ship or horses..  The confusion, I suppose, goes back to the myths in which Asgard seems to be an island in the sky which reputedly can only be reached through the rainbow bridge but is also linked with the other nine worlds of Norse mythology, which include Midgard, aka Earth, via Yggdrasil, the cosmic or world tree.  In Tales of Asgard and the main series, it often seems Asgard was once surrounded by enemies, most vanquished by Odin.  Maybe once Asgard and the other realms were once part of one planet but Odin or some other force separated them so that it is only through magic that anyone can travel from one realm to another.

Maybe someone else explained it all in the comics long ago but I don't recall ever reading it and I think it would be hard to come up with something that resolves all the various inconsistancies, such as the realm of the trolls being below the ground of both Midgard and Asgard when those two realms are supposed to be entirely separate.  Ok, magic and artistic license involving fantasy worlds!

So even back then, Marvel was trying to shove the Inhumans down everyone's throats at the expense of more popular properties?

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Sadly this story was also the end of the Tales of Asgard back-up; it was replaced in Thor #145 with an Inhumans backup.

"Plunder in lands beyond number." Was the idea that all of the world's pantheons except the Norse and the Greco/Roman had been conquered? None of the others had all powerful rulers like Odin or Zeus to protect them?

What was especially jarring to me was the artwork - going from a Thor story inked by either Coletta or Everett to a Sinnott inked Inhumans story. The back up would have made much more sense in the FF.  With Marvel's big expansion on the horizon you have to wonder if this was intended as a set up for an Inhumans title in 1968.

Randy Jackson said:

So even back then, Marvel was trying to shove the Inhumans down everyone's throats at the expense of more popular properties?

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Sadly this story was also the end of the Tales of Asgard back-up; it was replaced in Thor #145 with an Inhumans backup.

Back then Fantastic Four sold too well to put a back up in it, a fact it's impossible to convince newer readers of, they're convinced it was always bad because they only remember how weird it got at the end.

That story was clearly Jack's idea. Notice as he's leaving he makes a few Inhumans stories that turn up in Amazing Adventures and contributes exactly one issue of the Silver Surfer (a character he created but otherwise never worked on), which featured the Inhumans. He really wanted them to be successful, which they never were and probably never will be. By this point I think Fox is just holding onto the FF rights because they can see it ticks off Marvel.

Why exactly didn't Sinnott ink Thor? Why does he only work on the title when an unrelated series turns up? Did he dislike Thor for some reason?

Thor 140 (May 1967)

"The Growing Man!"

Conceived and created by the noblest collaborative combo in comicdom: Stan (The Man) Lee and Jack (King) Kirby / Inking by: Vince Colletta / Lettering by: Sam Rosen

Cover by Kirby and Colletta


Odin addresses the warriors of Asgard after their victory in the Troll War.  He salutes their valor and devotion, and notes that whatever dangers lie ahead, they will face it together, and the warriors salute their liege.  Afterwards, Thor asks for permission to return to Earth, as he has an intuition there is danger on the world he has come to love.

On Earth, two men are examining a strange being, and a uniformed guard is with them.  The previous night it was the size of a doll, now it is the size of a man.  They wonder if he could be from the past or the future.  One man touches the creature and says he is warm to the touch, and must be alive.  The other says the creature is wearing some sort of armor.  Suddenly, the creature grabs the man.  The guard fires his gun at it and all this does is cause the creature to grow.  He tosses the man aside, saying they all mean nothing to him.  He says he must find his master.  One of the men states each attack on the creature "stimulates his cells, causing them to divide and multiply at an impossible rate".  The creature crashes through the wall and then goes on a destructive rampage, as he is unable to find his master.

Back on Asgard, Sif asks to accompany Thor to Earth, but Thor states he must go alone.  He thinks about Jane Foster and how memories on Earth must be laid to rest.  Sif points out they have battled side by side and she acquitted herself well.  Thor tells her he will return and she "must duly wait", as that is how it works between warriors and maidens.  Sif tells him to leave then, as she will not beg.  Odin states Thor still has much to learn in the matters of maids and men as he transports him to Earth.

Thor flies to Dr. Donald Blake's office.  He feels it will be strange to not have Jane Foster there, and feels grateful Odin wiped her memory.  He wonders if Odin also affected his brain as well, as he notes how calm he is about losing his love - or perhaps Sif has already filled the void in his heart.  He transforms to his mortal identity and as Blake he says that other doctors filled in for him while he was gone and his files are all in order.  Meanwhile, the creature continues his rampage with the police on his trail.  He is still looking for his master, and is now he size of a mountain.  Suddenly, from behind a boulder, a beam of light is fired from a futuristic weapon, striking the creature and reducing to doll size again.  The master is revealed - Kang the Conqueror!  Kang hid the creature in the 20th century, thinking it would never be found.

Don Blake arrives in a police car.  They reached out to him because he has been able contact Thor in the past and they feel he may be needed again, as they bring Blake up to speed on the creature and Kang.  Everyone gets out of the car and as the police head off, Blake hangs back and changes to Thor.  He catches up to the police who are being attacked by Kang's creature, who is again the size of a man.  Thor strikes the creature and notices it grows when he does.  They battle and the creature continues increasing in size.  Thor hurls his hammer and when it makes contact, the creature doubles in size.  Thor realizes the creature is a stimuloid, created by Kang's futuristic science.

Just then, Kang attacks Thor from behind.  He uses cobalt energy in his glove to subdue Thor, saying it is a force akin to the weight of half a planet bearing down on him.  Kang states that his stimuloid is a weapon to use against his enemies in his own time in the future, and reduces him to doll-size so that he fits in his time machine.  Kang says that after he conquers his own century, he will return to the 20th century and wipe out all human life.

Thor tells Kang his cobalt force did not actually restrain him, and he was just playing possum to learn Kang's intentions.  With his stimuloid in hand, Kang flees to his time machine, camouflaged as a cave, and says a cosmic force field surrounds him which nothing can penetrate.  Thor hurls his hammer and it whirls around the time machine faster than the speed of light.  Thor says this has placed the time machine in a universal infinity vortex, which causes a "cataclysmic displacement" and Kang "shall never reach the future ... for he is now beyond all time ... beyond all place."

My rating: 7/10

This was okay, but it could have been a lot better.  First of all, (as usual) a great cover.  I really like white backgrounds like the one used here.  As for the story itself, a lot of the dialogue felt repetitive.  In the first scene with the Growing Man, one of the men explains how he grows with each attack as his cells are stimulated by physical force blows.  Later, Thor reaches the same conclusion - calling the creature a stimuloid.  This is exposition the reader doesn't need - we've already been shown and told how the creature functions.  Likewise, Kang twice explains how he hid the stimuloid in the 20th century, never dreaming it would be found.

The ending felt abrupt - has Kang ever been defeated so easily?  For that matter, did Thor kill Kang?  That's left rather ambiguous, and personally I don't feel Thor should be slaying any of his mortal foes.  Plus, just last issue, Thor didn't slay any of the Trolls, saying   Speaking of ambiguous, it seems like Thor may have realized Odin played with not only Jane's brain but his own as well but doesn't really give it further thought.  I think it's obvious Odin would prefer Sif over Jane Foster for Thor and he's certainly not above manipulating things to get what he wants.  

A few things I found a bit odd:

- The repeated references to Jane Foster made me half-expect her to show up again in this story.
- Don Blake's monologue in his office, all of it, just strange.  Blake is such a cipher, even here.
- Thor saying the stimuloid reminds him of the Absorbing Man, but says nothing about Kang reminding him of his old foe Zarrko the Tomorrow Man.  I think Zarrko got a raw deal; he debuted first and Kang has the same background.

There are good things in the story.  A little bit of tension with Sif is not a bad thing and I like how she kept her dignity, telling Thor she won't beg.  It's kind of funny for Odin to point out Thor still has much to learn about women.  The battle with the stimuloid is awesome as per usual with Kirby.  It ended in a stalemate when Kang attacked Thor and I expected this story to have a second part, I guess that's why I found the ending abrupt.

Interesting historical note (maybe only to me) - this issue was on newsstands 50 years ago this month.

I was 4 years old that month and within another 2 weeks my family moved to Japan, where we stayed until December 1969.  After so many adventures featuring other gods, aliens, anthropomorphic planets and animals and trolls, this almost seems like a throwback to the earlier Lee/Kirby comeback era on the series, which of course featured another giant robot and time-traveling baddie.  I wonder if they initially planned a longer story but cut it short when, say, Kirby had another idea he was much more eager to work on.

As I am to be 50 this month.....I find it fascinating

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Interesting historical note (maybe only to me) - this issue was on newsstands 50 years ago this month.

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