Oct 21, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor

Ben continues to contribute to Thor Month with...

Thor in the 1960s
Ben Smith

Thor was never a character I was all that interested in, beyond his appearance in the classic film Adventures in Babysitting. All his adventures, his friends, his home, all seemed way too otherworldly and therefore uninteresting to me. Now that I’m an adult (in age if not in actions) I have branched out more from my early days as a Spider-Man and Wolverine addict. The excellent Thor motion picture, and Hiddleston’s brilliance as Loki in that and the even better Avengers movie, have made me interested in the four color adventures of Marvel’s resident Thunder God.

What better place than to start at the (somewhat) beginning. Reading Silver Age comics can be a gamble, to say the least. Having mostly only experienced the gold standard of Silver Age Marvel in Spider-Man, I’ve mostly been bored or unimpressed with any other forays into the early days of comic’s greatest universe. Thor would prove to be different. You can’t really go wrong with a sustained Stan Lee and Jack Kirby run, so I should have known.

My quest began at Journey Into Mystery #103, with the first appearance of the Enchantress. I felt this would be a good place to start, as I figured the early appearances of Thor would be as rough to read as they are for most other Marvel characters, and I like the Enchantress. The Tales of Asgard back-up stories were in place by this time as well, and they did not disappoint.

As of the writing of this, I made it all the way to Thor (renamed from Journey Into Mystery) #132, and the stunning arrival of Ego, the Living Planet. (If Ego had first appeared in the ‘70s, I would almost certainly chalk him up to heavy LSD use, but I don’t know that Stan and Jack were doing a whole lot of drugs, so I have no idea where Ego might have come from.)

There was a manic energy in the early Thor comics, a never-ending forward momentum to the stories. Thor never gets a chance to rest, moving from situation to situation without pause, sometimes getting sidetracked into other problems in the middle of whatever current struggle he is in.

It was throughout this run that we would be introduced to most of Thor’s cast of colorful supporting characters, if not in the main stories, then in the Tales of Asgard back-ups.

Here we see Balder putting forth maximum effort to help save the life of Jane, for his buddy Thor. I’m pretty sure I’ve never put this much effort into anything in my entire life, so for Balder to do it for the lady love of his comrade, it goes with his whole motif as Asgardian Jesus.

This particular Tales of Asgard tales sees Thor straight up launching a guy into space, mostly for just being annoying. (Thor calls him evil, but the guy was little more than an annoyance trying to carve out his own place in the world.)

Thor had a much more colorful cast of villains than I ever realized. Cobra and Mr Hyde hook up as a villainous duo during this stretch of stories. Here you see the worst of the bunch, the Grey Gargoyle, getting Krakk’d in the head with Thor’s hammer. I found it amusing (be prepared for more of the same as we continue).

One of the great things about Thor is that he really is just a noble person. Here he is sticking up for his step-brother Loki, even though all evidence points to Loki being no good for him or anyone. Thor, to me, is the kind of guy that has every reason to feel superior to almost anyone he meets, and yet he rarely treats anyone like he is. He’s like the star high school quarterback that is super nice to all the other kids, when he could totally be the stereotypical jock jerk of a guy.

The Absorbing Man is a formidable foe when first introduced, almost too formidable. Initially his power made him capable of absorbing anything instantly, so even if Thor tries to smash him with his hammer, Crusher will just absorb the properties of Mjolnir before it can do any damage to him. Made him a little tough to figure out ways to defeat. Here he is imagining lofty goals of himself as a dictator, or maybe even emperor of Earth.

I’m easily amused, so Stan was at his silliest with some of the creator credits he wrote up for Thor.

Odin was overbearing and manipulative to the point of downright villainy with his son Thor. Banishing him to Earth, getting mad at him for loving an Earth woman, taking away his power. Odin was a prime example of bad parenting (relatively I guess, he didn’t get drunk and beat him that we see). Duy really enjoys Odin in this ridiculously uncomfortable looking bathtub, but I really enjoyed the following panel of him in his robe and slippies.

Thor shattering this goblet on that guy’s head, and foiling Loki’s scheme, made me laugh.

Jane Foster was your typical Silver Age damsel in distress. I felt while reading these that Thor having a secret identity, Dr Donald Blake, was the least fitting superhero comic trope for the character. I know it kind of added a love triangle between the three characters, in a sense, it just didn’t seem to fit. Thor should just be Thor, much like they did in the movie.

Here they are making Jane forget yet another incident where she got involved with Asgardians. You would think she might come to suspect something was up with all the villains that take her hostage, and all the Asgardians she interacts with. (Also, I’m sorry, but Thor looks like he’s going to fall down in that bottom panel.)

Stan frequently took some good-natured shots at the letterer in his credit boxes.

An interesting thing about Silver Age comics, is that any time they actually used a splash page, it was so much more effective. Nowadays, you’ll have five or more in any single issue. This splash of the returned Absorbing Man was the first one I remember coming across, and it’s pretty fantastic.

Along with Balder and Heimdall, we would also eventually meet the Warriors Three of Volstagg, Hogun, and Fandral. Volstagg was instantly the stand out, with his boasts of competence often contradicted by his ineptness in battle. At the very least, he was accidentally effective in a fight, like in this sequence where he takes a “Bwaang” to the head.

Thor had an entertaining couple of issues fighting against, and then for, the Marvel version of Hercules. You would think it would be mentioned more often how Thor saved Hercules from an eternity of servitude as the caretaker of Olympian hell.

Thor, having already revealed his true identity to Jane (I wonder if that was the first instance of abandoning the love triangle is superhero comics), and finally getting Odin’s blessing to pursue his love, almost immediately gets non-commital with that last word balloon. (Also in the background was Tana Nile, a colonizer that I wracked my brain trying to remember why she seemed so familiar. It’s because she showed up in the Ronan tie-in mini-series to Annihilation, proving even more that those creators dug deep into the Marvel well when revitalizing the Marvel cosmic universe. I mean, who pulls Groot out of the ether?)

Here is a well-drawn and also amusing panel of Thor booking down the rainbow bridge to go see Jane.

Thor would briefly find himself captive of Tana Nile and the colonizers, leading to a humorous if clichéd scene with an old lady down the hall.

Here we get Volstagg being effective for once, but still always to comedic effect. Volstagg was basically an old-style slapstick character in comic form. I dread the day anyone ever tries to make him “realistic.”

And that all leads up to Thor travelling to Rigel to save the Earth, and Rigel employing him to save them from the approaching menace of Ego, the Living Planet.

Overall, these Thor comics have been highly entertaining to read. I usually approach Silver Age comics with a sense of dread, not knowing what to expect, but Thor combined the action and adventure of the era with a touch of silliness, all based around one of the truly great characters of the company in Thor. Never at any point did I regret my decision to read these books, or feel the need to admit defeat and quit. I plan to continue on and finish the Stan and Jack run, so maybe there might be a follow-up to this in the near future.

That’s it for this week. Always remember that Thor’s rank is Prince of Asgard, and that his heritage is God of Thunder.

You can buy Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Thor via the following methods (These will only take you to the first volumes of each edition. Feel free to surf Amazon for more afterwards.):

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