Superhero 101: Thor

Thor: Ragnorak

Ahead of ‘Thor: Ragnarok,’ take a look at the mythological superhero’s comic book origins.

If you keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, November 3 is likely circled on your calendar. The anticipation to see how Thor escapes from captivity on the planet of Sakaar in Thor: Ragnarok is mounting. Set almost directly after the events of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and four years after Thor: The Dark World, this new film will see our hero lose his trusty hammer, battle his good friend Hulk and take down the Goddess of Death, Hela, to save Asgard and its people from total destruction.

The 17th film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Thor: Ragnarok looks to up the stakes significantly from previous entries. I certainly recommend viewing 2011’s Thor and 2013’s Thor: The Dark World before getting in line for the third movie entry in the franchise. But beyond that, Thor has a rich, and often quite different, history that predates the Chris Hemsworth–led series. Let’s take a look at the origins of Thor from his comic book beginnings.

Unlike many popular superheroes, Thor wasn’t created from the ground up. Thor comes from Greek and Norse mythology, and references to the powerful hammer-wielding god date back to the Roman era, long before his first appearance in a comic book. We know Thor today as a Marvel superhero and a member of the Avengers. But the Thor of today is not the original from the comics.

In 1942 Jack Kirby created Thor for Marvel rival DC in Adventure Comics #75, “The Villain From Valhalla.” Thor was originally depicted by DC as a villain, not a hero. It only gets more interesting from there. In 1951 a version of Thor appeared as a supporting character in Marvel’s Venus #12, but this still wasn’t the Thor we know today. Jumping back to DC in 1957, Thor appeared in Tales of the Unexpected #16, “The Magic Hammer,” once again conceived by Kirby.

Just five years later, Thor’s depiction in his fourth appearance, and second from Marvel, would become the Thor we know today. The mythological god appeared in Journey into Mystery #83. Created by comic book legend Stan Lee along with Larry Lieber and, yes, Jack Kirby, this Thor would last. Kirby penciled Thor in a superhero costume this time around, but essentially Thor was still the same mythological god.

The Journey into Mystery series would continue to see Thor in its pages, and in 1964 with issue #104 its subtitle transitioned to the “The Mighty Thor.” Additionally, during those early years, The Avengers series was born. Thor appeared as founding member of the superhero squad in its inaugural issue in 1963. By 1966 Journey into Mystery was completely rebranded as Thor (or The Mighty Thor, at times), starting with issue #166.

Keeping with mythology, Thor Odinson is the Prince of Asgard in the comics. The son of Odin, one of two of the most powerful gods alongside Zeus, Thor was forced by his father to learn humility. See, Odin had to work his way to the top, unlike Zeus, and for that Odin also believed his son needed to be grounded, despite his status as the son of one of the most powerful gods ever known.

Thor: Ragnorak

‘Journey Into Mystery #83’ / Writing by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber / Pencils by Jack Kirby / Ink by Joe Sinnott / Letters by Artie Simek / Marvel Comics

To educate his son, Odin exiled Thor to Earth, stripping him of all his memories and powers and placing his consciousness inside the body of Donald Blake, a medical student with a disability. Thor effectively became Donald Blake. After earning his doctorate and spending 10 years as a human, Odin plants an idea in Blake’s mind to go on a vacation to Norway. There, he happens upon a preliminary alien invasion. Blake, conceivably not knowing he holds the dormant powers of a god, stumbles upon a walking stick inside a cave after evading the aliens. The walking stick is actually Thor’s hammer, Mjolnir. Upon slamming it against a rock, Blake becomes Thor, The Thunder God. From that moment on Thor, like many other superheroes, lives a double life.

Thor regains all his innate abilities — superhuman strength, speed and incredible endurance. And through his hammer, he has the power to take flight, manipulate electrical currents, change the weather and transport between dimensions. Even with these powers, the lesson his father taught him shines through as he retains his humility.

As Blake, he runs a private practice to treat the sick and poor, with the help of nurse Jane Foster, whom Blake falls in love with over time. Not long after he becomes aware of his powers, his presence on Earth brings him problems. Thor’s adoptive brother Loki — a character with many magical abilities, including shapeshifting, telepathy and illusion casting — fashions himself as Thor’s archnemesis and secretly wants to take down the Asgard gods. Loki is a master manipulator, and this leads to a trio of foes for Thor to go to battle against: the Wrecker, the Destroyer and the Absorbing Man.

Loki performs numerous tricks on Thor, the most notable directly leading to the formation of The Avengers. Loki creates an illusion of Hulk, which baits Thor into battle, but after defeating the foes, Thor and Hulk form a supervillain-fighting team alongside Wasp, Iron Man, A-Bomb and Ant-Man.

Thor: Ragnorak

‘Thor #166’ / Writing by Stan Lee / Pencils by Jack Kirby / Ink by Vince Colletta / Letters by Sam Rosen / Marvel Comics

Eventually Odin beckons Thor to return home, perceiving his son’s mission on Earth to be complete. At this point, however, Thor has become accustomed to his life on Earth and refuses to obey his father’s wishes. It’s discovered that Thor has a subconscious reason for his adoration of Earth. His mother, as Thor learns, was the Elder Goddess Gaea, a spiritual goddess from Earth who imparts growth and renewal to all human beings.

Throughout Thor’s early comic book history, he begins to question his status as a superhero. He goes on hiatus from The Avengers after a pivotal issue titled “The Trial of the Gods!” To learn which son has been deceitful to him, Odin sends Thor and Loki on an adventure through a dangerous land. They both must surrender their weapons, but Loki hides the Norn Stones, which can bestow powers upon people. Due to Loki’s trickery, Odin declares him the winner of the contest but gives Thor a day to show that Loki has been up to no good. After a series of misdirections, Thor proves to his father that he is the true, honest son. However, upon his return to Earth, Jane is gone and Loki has become even more of a threat after usurping a warlock named Ularic and stealing his powers.

Thor: Ragnorak

‘Journey into Mystery #116,’ Writing by Stan Lee / Pencils by Jack Kirby / Ink by Vince Colletta / Letters by Artie Simek / Marvel Comics

Thor links up with the Greek god Hercules soon after and, with his help, saves Jane from a villain called the High Evolutionary. Odin, however, is still not convinced Thor should be with a regular human. But Odin gives Jane the chance to prove her love to Thor through a dangerous trial. Foster, not ready for it, has to be saved by Thor, causing her to fail the challenge. Afterward Jane is brought back to Earth, in a moment Thor thinks will be his last seeing her.

In a bit of matchmaking, Thor meets the Asgardian warrior Sif and starts going on adventures with his new lover. Additionally, no longer needing Donald Blake as a host, he separates from the man’s consciousness, allowing Blake to have a life of his own. Thor later goes on to become one with Eric Masterson, a New York architect, for a time.

Thor’s 1960s origins are undoubtedly the most interesting for the character. From Thor’s being sequestered on Earth, to his finding and losing love and power, to his discovering himself as both a god with ties to humanity and his homeland, early Thor is one of the most dynamic superheroes in Marvel history.

As Thor progressed throughout the 1970s to today, the series became increasingly connected to the Marvel Universe, with battles against the X-Men and a partnership with the Fantastic Four. In the 1990s comic books, Thor finally kills his brother Loki but soon descends into madness. However, like many comic book series, Thor received another reboot. In the 2000s, the series is framed in an alternate future in which Odin has perished, Loki is alive, and Thor rules both Asgard and Earth.

Marvel writers recently decided to switch it up in a new cycle of The Mighty Thor. Thor loses his hammer, and it is picked up by a woman who we later learn is Jane Foster. Foster successfully wields the hammer, and as a result Thor gives up his name and role to Foster, allowing her to become Thor, while he begins going by Odinson.

Although Jane appears in the first two Marvel movies, it’s unclear if perhaps the Marvel Cinematic Universe could eventually segue into giving Natalie Portman the leading role as Thor. I hope so. end

Thor: Ragnarok arrives in theaters November 3.


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