Script: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber
Pencils: Jack Kirby
Inks: Joe Sinnott
Letters: Art Simek
Journey into Mystery was a title that had been around for 82 issues before Thor makes his first appearance. Russ tells me that before Thor, Journey into Mystery mostly did some short stand-alone comic stories, often with an O’Henry type twist at the end. We also find some short prose stories. Oh, and lots of advertisements. Seems to me this comic-mag must have been a sort of hodge-podge, very episodic, no unifying force to hold it all together. I’m not a big fan of “episodic,” so I don’t think this magazine would have appealed to me without a continuing story about a character I could care about.
But now…behold! Thor! And in addition to being a different kind of story than what had previously been done in Journey into Mystery, Thor is also a different kind of hero than we have met thus far in the Marvel Silver Age of Comics. So far I’ve looked at the Fantastic Four, Ant-Man, and the Hulk, and in all those, super-powers were delivered by means of an accident, technology gone wrong. These almost read as cautionary tales about the dangers of being reckless with science in the modern world. But in the case of Thor, we aren’t looking into a future perhaps too powerful for our own good. Instead, we delve deep into the past, harnessing the power of legend, myth, and one particular larger-than-life figure.
On the title page, Thor exclaims “By the will of the gods, I am alive!” So, right off the bat, we see it is not science, but religion, that brings Thor into being. This is indeed a new kind of story!
The story begins with “frail” Dr. Don Blake, vacationing in Norway (Blake is young, but hampered by an injury or a condition which necessitates his using a cane). Blake enjoys the scenery…but does not notice the strange alien spaceship landing behind him. So! We’re not even off the first page of our story, and already we’ve encountered “the gods” and an alien spaceship. What a juxtaposition of elements!
The aliens emerge from their spaceship and, like all good villains, begin to brag about how powerful and wonderful they are. These are the Stone Men of Saturn. They look similar to Thing of the Fantastic Four, but not as handsome. For some reason, their “talk bubbles” are jagged around the edges. What does that indicate? Are they talking in another language, not English, as is depicted? (I’m just glad Stan was kind enough to translate for us!)
By the end of the first full page of the Stone Men, we learn that they have powerful weapons, and an invasion force is on its way. A local fisherman sees these creatures and exclaims, “By the beard of Odin, what have I stumbled onto?” (Well, he doesn’t actually exclaim this, because his talk bubble is cloud shaped, indicating that he is just thinking the words, not actually saying them.)
And a good thing too, because his silence gives him the opportunity to run to the village to warn everyone. But his tale is, of course, greeted with disbelief and disdain. Crazy old fisherman! What would you expect, anyway, from someone who swears by the beard of Odin?
But Dr. Blake overhears his story, and the next day goes out exploring, looking for these aliens…and finds them! Immediately he gets fearful and decides to leave, but steps on a twig, which alerts the stone men, and they chase him. Blake loses his cane, trips, falls, hides in a cave. He can’t find a way out, and sits on the ground, despondent, thinking the Stone Men will find him and kill him.
However, fate has something else in store for our Dr. Blake! Somehow a secret panel opens, leading him into a secret chamber, where he finds a stick, “like an ancient cane.” He thinks he’ll try to use it to move a boulder that is blocking his way, so he can get out of here!
But that doesn’t actually work too well. After much frustration, “in helpless anger” he strikes the cane on the ground and…and…well, you know what happens next. In a flash of light, he is transformed into Thor, “bursting with power!”
Now, here’s something that Dr. Blake knows, that I didn’t actually know until I started reading comics and Russ brought me up to speed on the legends. Apparently Thor is not a creation of Stan Lee’s imagination, like the heroes we have seen so far, but he is instead “the legendary god of thunder!! The mightiest warrior of all mythology!!”
In school I learned all about which state produced the most cotton, different kinds of triangles, and even a bit that I can’t really remember now about how laws and sausages are made. But I don’t remember ever learning about Thor. I think there’s something back there in my early education about Greek and Roman gods, but they didn’t really interest me too much until I saw the 1981 movie Clash of the Titans. Still, I’m quite certain I never knew anything about Norse mythology…until I began reading Marvel comics.
Oh yes, wait. I did know one thing about Thor before I read comics. Once again, I reference a 1980’s movie, this one Adventures in Babysitting, where the babysittee is a little girl so obsessed with Thor that she spends the entire film sporting a helmet with wings. At the time I had a vague idea that this was a reference to…something…somewhere…but once again, don’t put me on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.
But getting back to our story, Dr. Blake, a far more educated person than I, apparently, knows immediately who Thor is and what power he possesses. But even more importantly, he recognizes that these powers are now his, and he moves the rock that so frustrated him just a moment ago, “as if it were cardboard!”
As Thor exits the cave and replaces the rock, he muses that “the stone creatures will never suspect that their frail quarry escaped through this rear exit!” Once again, it’s time for a vocabulary lesson. What is a “quarry”? First thing that comes to my mind is the rock quarry where Fred Flintstone worked. But apparently it can also mean “one that is sought or pursued. Prey.” Who knew? Well, now I do. Since I am reading Marvel Comics.
Thor ponders his new situation, and discovers that if he lets go of the hammer, he reverts to his original form, the frail Dr. Blake. Then he runs through the other characteristics of the hammer: it is enchanted, invincible, heavy, and will always return to Thor’s grasp when thrown. He also discovers that stamping the hammer TWICE on the ground can produce rain, snow, and a tornado! Then to end the storm, he stamps the hammer on the ground THREE times. But if he stamps it only ONCE, he reverts to Blake.
Wait a minute! Twice for storm, once for Blake, three times for…Does anyone have a pencil? I think I need to write this all down.
While Blake is playing around with the hammer, the alien invasion has begun, and the Earthly military is in full battle mode, but to no avail.
Blake turns into Thor and whirls the hammer “with the speed of lightning” to propel himself into the battle. He fights the Stone Men, but they capture him in a metal cage. From which he easily escapes. Fearing the might of this opponent, the Stone Men release “the mechano-monster.” Well, the mechano-monster survives for less than a page before Thor and his mighty hammer turn it to scrap metal.
The Stone Men rightly assume that Thor is “too mighty, too skilled in the art of battle,” but they wrongly assume that there might be more like him, so they flee in terror. The army arrives–a little late, wouldn’t you say?–and Thor decides it would be best if he doesn’t reveal himself. In his words, “They won’t rest till they’ve learned my secret. I’ll become an international curiosity.” And so Thor simply taps the hammer on the ground the appropriate number of times, and reverts to “that lame passer-by with a gnarled old cane,” a “skinny gent” who couldn’t possibly be earth’s secret weapon.
In the last panel of this comic story, there is an “Editor’s Note” advising that Thor will appear regularly in Journey into Mystery, and the reader best reserve their next issue because “It’s sure to be a sell-out!” Again, that wonderful sense of self-promotion.
But I imagine the audience of the day would have indeed been looking forward to the next story with “the greatest new super-hero of all time,” and didn’t actually need further coaxing to buy the next issue. Of course I haven’t seen any previous issues of Journey into Mystery, but in this issue I can see not only the Thor origin story, but also every other page. I have not actually taken the time to read the two other comic stories in Issue #83, but I can tell you that they are five pages each; one involves two guys wearing suits, and the other is about a cognizant lion. I don’t know what happens in these stories, but I do know they do not contain any characters anywhere near as fantastic and interesting as Thor!
I should also take a moment to mention that the balance of this Journey into Mystery is filled with a short story, and numerous ads for products like the “Magic Art Reproducer” that allows you to draw pictures of girls in bikinis, and the “Secret New Dynaflex Method,” guaranteed to turn you into a “he-man” in only ten minutes a day. (“If the girls laugh at you now when you take off your shirt, they’ll be breaking down doors to get dates with you once they’ve seen the rugged DYNAFLEX BODY I can give you!”) I don’t know which is more amazing…that these products are being marketed to little boys, or that “You pay only $1.98 complete, nothing else to buy.”
Oh! And check out the boa constrictor ad! What a hoot! All these ads are a step back in time, a look at a unique aspect of popular culture we are highly unlikely to see again.
But getting back to Thor, this first story is short and sweet, and I appreciate that Stan takes the time to explain (for the uninformed, like myself) who Thor is and what he can do. I wish we could have seen more of Dr. Blake in this first story, but there’ll be plenty of time for that in future issues.
So far all we know is that Blake is as weak and frail as Thor is mighty and powerful. We haven’t yet met Jane Foster, and for me, it’s her relationships with both Blake and Thor that makes this saga so compelling. We also have not yet been introduced to Thor’s family—father Odin and brother Loki. But when we do meet them, we will quickly discover that with Thor we don’t just get a superhero, we also get all the personal baggage of his dysfunctional family!
So the stage is set. Can’t wait to read more!
But first: what about these Stone Men from Saturn? Where do they fit in my villain valuation? Well, let’s see…when we meet them, they do seem quite an opponent for the human race. Great strength, powerful weapons, and an image inducer at their command, and let’s not forget “the mechano-monster.” Of course, when it comes right down to it, they don’t possess a tremendous amount of courage or intelligence, do they? At the first sign of an enemy who might be able to defeat them, they re-enact that scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail —“Run away!! Run away!!”
It’s just occurred to me that so far in my reading, alien races are not really that fearsome. If this is the best that outer space has to offer, I don’t think we earthlings have that much to worry about. Like the Skrulls, the Stone Men are all about conquering other planets and civilizations….until there is the slightest hint of resistance, then all of the sudden it’s “Oh, never mind. We had no idea it was going to be THIS difficult! Let’s pack up and go home.”
But I do have to give the Stone Men one advantage that puts them above the Skrulls. At least they did not say, “We hate being stone men. We would rather be anything other than stone men!” And they trump the Toad Men, because…well…Toad Men. ’nuff said. As they run away with their tail between their legs their self-respect is bruised, but not entirely obliterated. So I’ll place the Stone Men on my list just a notch above the Toad Men. But only a notch.
Now I have one more thing to say about Thor. Let’s talk about his appearance. Yes, we must talk about his appearance. How can the subject be avoided? Stan is fond of calling his heroes “colorful,” and in the case of Thor, there is no doubt. What’s going on with that outfit? I call it an “outfit,” but I guess the proper word is “costume.” Though “costume” has never sat quite right with me; it sounds like you’re going to a Halloween party, pretending to be a superhero, instead of actually being one. But the Marvel heroes don’t wear “uniforms,” do they? Well, maybe in the case of the Fantastic Four you could call their costumes a uniform, since they are all wearing basically the same thing. The costume “unifies” them.
But Thor’s get-up really does look more like a Halloween costume than anything. There are just too many colors! It’s just too BUSY! He’s got the cape and the belt and the wristbands and the…I guess they’re boots, and of course the helmet with the wings. I mean…what is the fashion statement here? I don’t know where to look first! And of course the huge buttons on his tunic (I’m assuming they’re buttons, I’m assuming it’s a “tunic”) are way too reminiscent of Mickey Mouse for my taste. All in all, there’s a bit of “clown” in what he’s wearing.
For my money, I’m extremely grateful that when Marvel Entertainment decided to personify Thor for the silver screen, they put actor Chris Hemsworth in an outfit that is a lot more…shall we say…subdued. I think the movie Thor looks a lot more impressive, commanding, compelling, and not to mention, just plain handsome. This is a good look for Thor.
But getting back to the Thor of the comics, I must say, I like the hair. Definitely digging the long blonde hair. And his body is fairly ripped. So that’s all good. But seriously, if he didn’t have the hair and the muscles, I doubt he could pull off the rest of this ensemble. At least not with people laughing their butts off whenever he appears on the scene.
But I guess that’s what the Thor story is all about, not judging a book by its cover. Look at frail weak thin little Dr. Blake. Who would guess that a Norse god dwells somewhere deep inside that humble exterior? Is Stan trying to say that somewhere deep inside all of us there is the potential for greatness?
And how is it, anyway, that a Norse god dwells inside such a humble little man? Was Thor always inside him, just waiting to get out? And why did Blake never know about this until he finds the stick? Where WAS Thor, before Blake finds the stick and releases him?
So many questions. This one is not simple, like the Fantastic Four: there was an accident, our molecules got mangled, now we have superpowers. No, there’s a lot more going on here, a meshing and merging of two completely different personalities, two completely different worlds. But I think I’m starting to get ahead of myself. I close up now, so that I can go read the next comic on my reading list, perhaps the most significant comic of Marvel’s Silver Age. Eventually I can get back to Thor, and learn more about him, and hopefully get some answers about him, as I continue to plod my way through this truly Marvelous Zone.
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