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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Looking forward to following your re-read John. The Thor comics from 1965-67 are some of my all time favorites.

Regarding Thor's long hair - as I recall, the Lancer paperback collection of reprints in 1966 made special note of the hair as being an indicator of how hip Marvel characters were.

Giving Thor long blonde hair was one way to distance himself from the far more conservative Superman. But he wasn't Kirby's first long haired blonde That was Angel from Boy's Ranch. Of course later he created Kamandi.

Obviously Kirby was intrigued by the concept of Thor which may be why he went from gaining the power of Thor to actually becoming Thor so fast.

I have been reading old Marvel comics almost exclusively for quite some time now. I’m usually in the middle of one Marvel Masterworks, one comic strip reprint, and perhaps something else. I recently finished reading Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy #15 through #168, the Roger Stern omnibus, the Michelinie/McFarlane omnibus, and some other Spider-related things as well. I just moved on to Iron Man (starting with issue #2) with the intention of reading through #53 (as reprinted in MMW), then moving on to the Michelinie/Layton omnibus).

There are (believe it or not) some Silver Age Marvel comics I own but have never read. My intention is to concentrate on those, but reading along with this Thor discussion is tempting… very, very tempting. The influence and importance of the early “Marvel Age of Comics” is indisputable, but for me, Marvel really hit its stride circa 1966 or so. A while ago (it might have been on the old board) I hosted a discussion of JiM/Thor starting with #113; I might join you when you get to that point because that (IMHO) is when Thor gets really, really good.

I have also re-read the entire “Tales of Asgard” series fairly recently, maybe twice in the last 10 years. A couple of years ago Marvel reprinted it as a mini-series with state-of-the art coloring. I always thought it was a little unfair to compare Kirby to more recent artists because the playing field isn’t level. Modern coloring techniques can make the work of even a mediocre artist look good, but when added to Kirby’s work the art is even more impressive.

Looking forward to the rest of your discussion.

John noted the similarity of Thor's transformations to Captain Marvel's. Another possible precursor is the "Thor" feature that ran in Fox's Weird Comics #1-#5 in 1940. I've written a post about this, but it was very long so I've put it here.

Kirby drew a Golden Age strip with a mythological basis himself, "Mercury in the 20th Century" in Red Raven Comics #1. The feature continued in Captain America Comics, but with the character renamed "Hurricane".

I din't know about Farrel-Thor, Luke, which adds to the (cough) mythology of Marvel Thor's roots, which are already pretty extensive.

A couple of last things I wanted to mention about JIM 83: Thor doesn't speak in the faux-Shakespearean dialect yet; no thees, thous, or verilys yet.  That surprised the first time I read it, maybe a decade ago.  Also, no supporting cast yet; no Jane Foster, no Asgardians, just the old fisherman who first sees the aliens exclaiming "By the beard of Odin!".  Blake becomes Thor, but Thor is a blank slate, with none of his own memories apart from Blake.

Same here. I started reading Thor with Journey into Mystery #107 or #108 (the second part of a Hyde-Cobra two-parter), and he got into the thees and thous soon after that, fast enough that I didn't remember that there was a time that he didn't. And then when I finally read the early issues it was sort of "what th-?"

But the early issues had some other surprises for me that I hope you'll talk about, like how Superman-y he was, and how his hammer kept demonstrating new powers every issue, and how pedestrian Asgard was originally, and how pedestrian his earliest foes were (again, very Superman-y for the time), and how I suspect that a lot of the writing was done by Larry Lieber before issue #100. It looked to me like Stan & Jack left the title to lesser lights, and then around issue #100 said "WTF is going on here? We'd better fix this." Then they -- Stan & Jack -- took the title back, and it got better and better with every issue. They used some of the more earth-bound villains, like Grey Gargoyle and Hyde & Cobra, but very quickly moved to more Asgard-oriented material, and then the title soared. Around about the time Thor was fighting Absorbing Man (which led into "Trial of the Gods," then into Destroyer then into Hercules then ... ) it had become an entirely different book than just a year or so earlier, when Thor was fighting magicians or something.

I'm eager to see if you agree with that assessment or see something different as you take the issues one by one. Also, I'm hoping you (or we) can figure out what JiM issues dovetail with what issues of Avengers, as I remember very clearly Thor returning from "Trial of the Gods" to discover Cap's Kookie Quartet and saying "You're not the Avengers! I see no reason to hang around here!" or words to that effect. I've always wondered if that issue (Avengers #16? #17?) dovetailed chronologically with the release of the cocommitent issues of Journey into Mystery, or if Stan was playing fast and loose, or what. I seem to remember Thor had been missing for an issue or two during "The Old Order Changeth!" which Iron Man or somebody commented on ("We don't know where Thor is, or if he's even coming back" or something like that.)

Can you tell I'm excited by your project yet?

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

A couple of last things I wanted to mention about JIM 83: Thor doesn't speak in the faux-Shakespearean dialect yet; no thees, thous, or verilys yet.  That surprised the first time I read it, maybe a decade ago.  Also, no supporting cast yet; no Jane Foster, no Asgardians, just the old fisherman who first sees the aliens exclaiming "By the beard of Odin!".  Blake becomes Thor, but Thor is a blank slate, with none of his own memories apart from Blake.

Can you tell I'm excited by your project yet?

Just a bit!  A lot of great points there, and as for me agreeing ... wait and see!

Journey Into Mystery 84 (9/62)

"The Mighty Thor vs. the Executioner"

Plot-Stan Lee, Script-Larry Lieber, Pencils-Jack Kirby, Inks-Dick Ayers

Cover - Kirby & Joe Sinnott

(I should have mentioned in my previous entry that there are no credits listed yet in the Thor series.  I obtained my information from the Grand Comics Database.  The splash page of this issue has Kirby and Ayers' names in a small caption type box.)

The story starts off with a recap of the previous issue, then opens at Dr. Blake's office.  This serves to show us Dr. Blake is a successful family doctor, and to introduce his nurse, Jane Foster.  Jane and Don both secretly love the other, but neither say so.  He is convinced she would never love a man who has a bad heart is blind is lame; she wants him to make the first move.  Ah, romance!

Jane brings Don up to speed on the civil war that broke out in San Diablo while he was in Europe.  The pro-Communist forces are led by a warlord dubbed the Executioner (no, not the Asgardian one, we'll meet him later) because of "the many victims he's sent to the firing squad!".  Don and Jane are part of a volunteer group that head to San Diablo to provide badly needed medical aid.  The ruthless Executioner orders his men to sink the ship of mercy the doctors are on, to keep the peasants weak!  Blake changes to Thor, and destroys a jet with one swing of his hammer, swings the hammer to create an air pocket that destroys two more jets, and smashes the final jet with another hammer strike.  He then dives in the water and changes back to Blake to cover his secret identity, claiming he fell overboard during the attack.  He asks what happened to the jets, and the others explain how "out of nowhere there appeared a figure like a legendary flying god" who "wielded a mighty hammer -- just like Thor, the mythical god of thunder" and Jane adds: "And he was so -- so handsome!"

The Executioner orders the death of the man who commanded the jet pilots for failing to kill the medical volunteers.  Then he orders that the "Yankee doctors" must be stopped from helping the sick or there will be more executions.  The snipers find the doctors and start shooting.  Blake, without changing to Thor, uses his cane to create a thunderstorm and the doctors escape.  Later, several tanks approach the Americans, Blake changes to Thor and smashes the tanks.  The Communists take Jane hostage, and Thor stands down.  Jane is taken to the Executioner, who finds her lovely.  Thor has changed back to Blake and allows himself to be captured; his cane is taken from him.  He mouths off to the Executioner and is about to face the firing squad.  Jane pleads for his life, and agrees to an offer of marriage from the Communist leader to spare Don.  Blake calls out the Executioner for a coward and challenges him to a man to man fight.  Blake tricks him and grabs back his cane, changes to Thor, and beats the Commies in short order.  The pro-democracy army approaches, not that Thor needs help.  Thor uses his hammer to generate lightning bolts, causing a volcano to erupt and blocking the Communists from fleeing.  The Executioner tries to escape with a suitcase full of money and several more bags of it, and his own followers turn on him and execute him.  Later, while tending to the ill, Jane asks Don where he was during the fight.  He explains he hid behind the execution wall.  She wishes to herself that Don could be brave and adventurous like Thor!


My rating: 5/10.

Again, I can't complain about Kirby, and Ayers' inks compliment his pencils nicely.  The story is typical of early Marvel Cold War tales.  The Commies aren't just bad, they are vile; it's too bad the bearded Executioner doesn't have a moustache to twirl, because that's all that is missing from him.  I wonder if it's a coincidence he looks like Fidel Castro, as this comic comes out the year after the Bay of Pigs invasion.

The interesting thing here is the set-up of the love triangle.  Don loves Jane, but won't say so because he doesn't think she would love a lame man.  Jane loves Don, but won't say so because Women's Lib is a long way off, I guess.  And Jane is smitten with Thor, ignoring how much danger her life is in to gush about him.  So we have that old chestnut - a triangle that really only has two people in it!  I thought Jane was rough on Don at the end, being disappointed that he sought safety from all of the flying bullets (as far as she knew) over being brave like Thor.  We're talking about an unarmed man who uses a cane because he is lame.  Jane is cold, people.

The first time Blake changes to Thor, on the ship, he makes sure he is out of sight.  The next time, the other medical people are a few feet from him.  At the Executioner's base, he changes in front of everybody, including Jane - although the narrator tells us everyone was blinded.  That feels inconsistent.

I think my jaw actually dropped when Blake generated the thunderstorm with his cane, without changing to Thor.  You really have to go with the flow when it comes to this stuff.  It's all over the place in the early issues, what the hammer - or the cane in this case - can do.

Awesome.  I'll keep up best that I can.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Jane adds: "And he was so -- so handsome!"

Jane, you ignorant slut!

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Jane is taken to the Executioner, who finds her lovely.

Executioner, you ignorant slut!

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