Thor – How Marvel Turned A Stuffy Mythological God Into One Of The Most Unique Superheroes Of All Time

When you talk about the lifespan of most iconic comic book characters, it’s a matter of decades.

Thor? Try ages.

Thor, the comic book character, is of course based on Thor, the mythological Norse god. Records of the name used by Germanic peoples date back to the 7th century. But there is a big difference between the legendary Thor and the Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby.

“In the original Norse mythos, he was this kind of rude, drunken, fun-loving brawler who teamed up with Loki all the time, and Loki constantly had to bail him out with magic, wits, and clever thinking,” states Fred. Van Lente, author of the History of Comics comic book and the Marvel Incredible Hercules series. “When Marvel introduced him, he was much more noble.”

The beginnings of Marvel’s Thor

Journey into Mystery #83 cover

Journey into Mystery #83 cover (Image credit: Jack Kirby (Marvel Comics))

Marvel Comics’ Thor was first introduced in 1963’s Journey Into Mystery #83. Since then, the hammer-wielding hero has starred in hundreds of issues of his own solo title, becoming a regular fixture on the team. of Avengers superheroes, has inspired dozens of spinoffs and limited series, and has been featured in several animated series and live-action movies. .

Clearly, there’s something unique about Thor that’s made him last over the years, to the point where he’s placed in the top echelon of Marvel heroes like Spider-Man, Captain America, and the Hulk – which all have slightly more orderly beginnings.

“A big dude who likes to punch stuff is fun to watch,” says comic book editor and writer Nate Cosby, succinctly explaining the character’s Mjolnir-fueled appeal. “Visually, it’s Superman with a hammer. A strong, striking presence will buy a character a long life.”

Cosby, who oversaw one of the most critically acclaimed renditions of Thor in Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee’s 2010 series Thor: The Mighty Avenger, says there’s a simple central metaphor that keeps him working, going back causing the character to be driven out of Asgard by his father, Odin.

“Thor is a big, whiny baby on hiatus,” Cosby says. “His whole life has been great non-stop adventures and doing whatever he wanted, when he wanted to. Then he makes an unconscionable and incredibly stupid decision, so his dad has to teach him a lesson.”

Thor talks about family

Cover of Thor: The Avenger of Asgard #1

Cover of Thor: The Avenger of Asgard #1 (Image credit: Tom Raney (Marvel Comics))

Thor’s family conflicts aren’t limited to father and son. His adopted brother Loki has been both his best friend and, more commonly, his greatest enemy.

Bryan JL Glass, who wrote the limited series Thor: First Thunder, says Thor’s famous sibling rivalry and prominent “daddy issues” go a long way in making an otherworldly being feel human.

“As the superhero genre has been dominated for the past 50 years by a predominantly male fan base (and thankfully that’s changing), Marvel Comics’ incarnation of Thor embodies much of what his fans recognize in their own life,” Glass said. “Thor endures his trials, his triumphs and flourishes as a warrior prince should, and who can’t learn from that?”

Kieron Gillen, who wrote both Thor and Journey Into Mystery, says a big part of what makes the character unique is that unlike Batman, Spider-Man and so many other superheroes, the parents of Thor are not only still alive, but a major part of his life.

“He’s not an orphan,” Gillen said. “In fact, the main source of drama is his relationship with his father, and the pressures exerted by a current father figure are interesting and different from those of an idealized, missing parent figure.”

Thor as god AND superhero

Thor #1 variant cover

(Image credit: Jen Bartel (Marvel Comics))

Superheroes are often said to be modern myths, and the fact that Thor is both a superhero and a mythological figure creates what Glass calls an “intriguing irony.”

“The irony is that they took a hero god of an age and made him a hero god of our time, attributing to him the heroic virtues of the Marvel Universe just as his creators had applied to him the virtues of their own. culture,” says Glass, who wrote a promotional comic tie-in to the first Thor movie for Burger King, as well as a Thor mobile game.

For Ashley Miller, one of the screenwriters of the first Thor movie, the main character’s position as both god and superhero is a big part of why he’s been stuck for nearly 50 years.

“I think he embodies a lot of qualities that you might associate with other heroes, but he embodies them in a unique way,” Miller said. “When you think of the man who was cast down to Earth and has the powers of a god, the first place you go is Superman – but you take Superman’s powers away, and he’s just the guy who kick ass in Superman II in a bar.

“But Thor? You take away Thor’s powers and put him in a cage with 50 guys – pick the 50 toughest guys you can find – Thor comes out alive. Those guys come out, or maybe not. He’s still cool, even if you take away his powers.”

Thor is more than a thing

1985 Thor Poster

1985 Thor Poster (Image credit: Walter Simonson (Marvel Comics))

Thor’s inherently varied nature helps him open up to working in many different types of stories. He can just as easily be seen in the field alongside Iron Man and Captain America, having cosmic adventures in space, battling Dracula or – in a notable case during Walt Simonson’s legendary run – transforming into frog.

Veteran Thor (and Loki) writer Robert Rodi once told Newsarama that “you can do so many different kinds of stories” with the character. Gillen agrees.

“As an extended cast, Thor has a huge range,” Gillen told Newsarama. “Spider-Man’s setting is mostly New York City. Thor can go to his past and lean into fantasy. He can go into space and lean into the cosmic. He can go into space, d a different way, and lean into more pure science fiction.”

Thor’s Breaks

Excerpt from Thor

(Image credit: Steve McNiven (Marvel Comics))

Walter Simonson’s stint as Thor’s writer and artist in the ’80s is widely considered the definitive version of the character. Van Lente said that both after Simonson’s run ended and after original artist Jack Kirby left around 1970, Thor had a bit of a hard time connecting with readers.

“Spider-Man has the ‘nerd gets superpowers,’ Batman has that eternal pulp avenger thing,” says Van Lente, who wrote the movie version of Thor for a story in Disney Publishing’s Thor: The Official Movie Magazine. “I can’t think of another superhero franchise that hasn’t struggled. I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with Thor, I think it has to do with the nature of fictional franchises in general.”

Unlike Spider-Man, there have been a few gaps since Thor’s inception when the God of Thunder didn’t star in a titular series published by Marvel Comics: during the ‘Heroes Reborn’ and ‘Heroes Return’ era between 1996 and 1998, and roughly three years from 2004 to 2007. During this latter period, Thor was mostly completely absent from Marvel stories.

“I think the three-year gap reminded people how much they really loved the guy,” Gillen said. “With some characters you can just get too comfortable with them. Speaking as someone who wasn’t writing for Marvel at the time, that gap was one of the bravest and smartest things that I’ve seen in the editorial decisions of 2000s comics. Gap a bit, and bring it back with a decidedly modern take on some of our best creators.”

Despite Thor’s recent successes, Gillen admits the Asgardian can sometimes be a harder sell than his superhero brethren.

“There are several reasons why Thor can be trickier,” says Gillen. “Thor’s basic metaphorical appeal is often less prominent than others, and some perfectly valid takes tend to drive Thor into genres that tend to be less popular in the mainstream of the strip. Thor may work as the closest to the mainstream of comics pure fantasy comic Hell, I wrote Thor as pure fantasy comic…but overdoing that tends to lose people.

“The more you do this, the more you can lose a wider audience. Thor also tends to drift into a face that’s a bit too porous for comfort if left to his own devices. The problem with both is that Thor should include both of these elements – in fact, these elements may be central to its appeal – but it must also include many more.”

Why Thor Is Worthy

Thor #13 variant cover

Thor #13 variant cover (Image credit: Michael Cho (Marvel Comics))

So, with decades of comic book history and centuries of mythological lore, Thor stands out, not just among superheroes, but also among his fellow Norse gods.

“The Norse pantheon is huge,” says Zack Stentz, Miller’s Thor screenwriter. “But when Christianity first came to Scandinavia, the competing god they set up against the rising power of Christianity was Thor. You either carried a cross or you carried a little hammer. ‘they put forward from the start.’

These comics are more than worthy of being called the best thor stories all time.

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