In 2011, Marvel’s Thor was a box office smash! And actor Chris Hemsworth stepped into the role of superstar in the title role of a Norse god banished to Earth until he could prove himself worthy. But Thor started five decades earlier in the Marvel comic Journey into Mystery (a phrase used as an Easter Egg in the pilot episode of Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.). And what a journey it has been as the Thunder God made a very different debut than the one found in the Marvel cinematic universe.
Thor was introduced in Journey into Mystery #83 in August 1962. Thor, adapted from the Norse god, was created by three legends of comic books: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby. As the issue opens, Thor declares, “The legend has come true! By the will of the gods, I am alive! I am invincible! I am – Thor!” The origin story follows Doctor Don Blake. As a tribute to this origin, in the movie Thor Jane Foster loans Thor clothes from her old boyfriend Doctor Donald Blake. The frail Blake, who must use a cane to walk, is walking through Norway when invaders from Saturn invade the earth. The Saturnians appear to be green rock men with Easter Island heads. They chase Blake into a cave where the American discovers a branch in a secret chamber. He attempts to use the stick as a lever–but when he strikes it into a rock in anger, the stick transforms into a Viking battle hammer. Blake transforms into the Norse god Thor. The hammer is inscribed with, “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” This saying has a different significance here than in the movie with this statement having a literal meaning. For Blake to remain Thor, he must possess the hammer. Blake remains himself, but is in Thor’s body with Thor’s powers: strength and the ability to throw the hammer and have it return and control the weather. Despite his godly visage, this Thor is very much a normal man in an enchanted body. Needless to say, Thor is victorious in his initial Midgard (Earth) adventure.
Thor has significant history in Marvel comics. It is revealed to readers that Thor’s father Odin, to teach his son humility, has bonded the Thunder God with the disabled medical student Donald Blake. During his time on Earth, he would become a true hero and an Avenger. Eventually, Odin separates Blake from Thor, putting Blake into a void. Later, after Odin appears to have died and Thor was hibernating in that void, Blake would return Thor to Midgard by touching Thor’s hammer Mjolner. The two men would reunite. Then, a Thor clone would be made using Thor’s DNA. Thor would become greatly angered after the clone kills another hero in battle. Even later, Thor would have his own official comic book death, from which he would return at a later date. Thor today continues to be a hero and member of the Avengers. And, at this moment, Thor and Blake are separate personalities. However, as in all things comics, this is surely not to last.
Jane Foster debuted just a month later in Journey into Mystery #84. Unlike Natalie Portman’s Jane, the original Jane Foster is not a astrophysicist. She was a nurse who works for Doctor Don Blake. Blake is in love with his red-headed nurse, but fears she would never love a man with a physical disability. Foster has feelings for the feeble doctor, but believes him to be too stuffy to be romantic. Their love seems doomed. In issue #84, Blake and Porter volunteer to provide medical care in the war-torn country of San Diablo. While on their humanitarian mission, the country’s ruthless Communist ruler, the Executioner, tries to attack the medical volunteers but his plans are thwarted by Thor. The Executioner agrees to let Blake live if Foster will marry him; Blake decides to force the dictator to execute him. Thor saves the two American volunteers, with Blake transforming before he can be killed. When seeing Thor for the first time, Porter notices his handsome features and wishes Blake could act more like the Thunder God. For Jane Foster her comic book debut was a long way away from her theatrical debut.
Like Thor, Jane Foster would see many changes in her comic history. On the most basic level, Foster has been the love of Thor’s life, but that has not always been an easy journey. Thor eventually ended the Blake-Thor-Foster love triangle by revealing his alter ego to Foster. At one point, Thor took Foster to Asgard, granting her the power of a god. Foster would lose her power by failing Odin’s tests of courage. Banished from Asgard, Foster forgot Thor’s identity and married a mortal man. Later she became a doctor (of medicine, not astrophysics,) and started a practice with Doctor Blake. She would also divorce her husband upon hearing of Thor’s return from a comic book death. In the current Thor story lines, Foster has been diagnosed with breast cancer, from which Thor’s powers cannot save her. Thor and Foster are not currently romantic. The comic Foster is very different from the Natalie Portman version we see on the big screen.
Thor’s brother and nemesis Loki premiered a month after Foster in Journey Into Mystery #85. After getting a glimpse of Asgard and the Bifrost, or rainbow road, we are introduced to Loki, the god of mischief, trapped in a tree by Thor. Loki uses trickery to get Heimdall, the keeper of the bifrost, to cry a single tear because of his entrapment, ending his tree imprisonment through the letter of the law. Loki immediately goes to Earth where he challenges Thor to a duel. Admittedly, it does not seem the Dr. Don Blake driven Thor remembers as much about their encounters with Loki. Loki uses magic and deceit, tools he uses throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe, to separate Thor from his hammer and source of power. Needless to say, Thor wins the day. But this first print encounter marks the beginning of a duel that would last decades in the Marvel Universe.
The history of Loki in Marvel Comics is like Thor and Foster–long and storied. In the comics, readers discover that Loki is Thor’s adopted brother, the son of the Ice Giant King Laufey, sharing background details with the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The young Loki would come to resent Thor, selected to be their father Odin’s successor. This resentment would lead the young Asgardian onto a path to supervillainy as the God of Mischief and Lies. A key moment for fans of the Avengers is September 1963’s Avengers #1 where Loki’s actions led to the assembling of the first Avengers’ team (Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Thor, and the Hulk). Many of Loki’s appearances in the comics focus upon him harming his brother Thor or taking the throne of Asgard for himself. Thor would eventually kill Loki, but being a comic book his death, it did not stick and he would die yet again. He would later be reincarnated as both a woman and as a child. Like many comic book characters with long histories, the story of Loki is convoluted and lacks the luxury of a short and straightforward Marvel Cinematic Universe back-story.
Malekith the Accursed, the villain for Thor: The Dark World, is really the first of the principals to make their debut outside of the title Journey into Mystery. Malekith did not appear until June 10, 1984, in Thor #344. Malekith is initially seen as an associate of Loki who has the control over a hoard of demons, which had challenged Baldar the Brave, Thor’s half brother. A story arc of five total issues featuring Malekith would follow this issue. Malekith would attempt to recover the Casket of Ancient Winters so he could free his master, the fire demon Surtur. Malekith recovers the Casket and frees a supernatural winter upon Midgard. Readers discover that Malekith is a formidable opponent. He is able to travel through shadows and go anywhere he wants, including the other end of the universe. Much like Loki, he can create illusions to confuse his enemies. Malekith is a dark elf and part of the kingdom of Faerie. He uses Faerie food to enslave humans to act within his will. Among the demons under his command are the Hounds of the Hunter, horrible looked supernatural demon dogs. And despite his many supernatural attributes, he can be hurt or killed by iron, be it bullets or knives. Only by a viewing of Thor: The Dark World will we know if any of these strengths and weaknesses will be retained.
Since 1984, Malekith has had a thin history compared to Thor, Loki and Jane Foster. He has emerged as a thorn in Thor’s side pretending to be both Loki and Balder at times. He was almost crowned the king of Asgard once disguised as Balder. Thor would later work with another god, Hercules, to defeat Malekith, yet again masquerading as Balder. Malekith lacks the comic deep history of a Loki or Red Skull, but he is sure to pose Thor a challenge in the next installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Of special interest to Disney fans is Thor’s history beyond print in live-action depictions. In 1988, actor Bill Bixby made his return to the role of the Incredible Hulk and Doctor David Banner in the television movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. Alongside Hulk, Thor made his live-action debut. The movie was a back door pilot for a Thor television show that was never made. In this tale, Doctor Donald Blake, while climbing a mountain, found Mjolnir in a cave and discovered that when he held the hammer and said Odin’s name Thor would appear. Thor was a Viking warrior spirit who would not be admitted into Asgard until he proved himself worthy, a theme similar to the 2011 movie. Blake does not himself become Thor and is able to interact and converse directly with him. In this movie, Thor liked to drink, have fun and was ill-tempered–which of course meant he and the Hulk would at one point battle. Banner works with Blake to help him learn to exert balance over the Norse warrior. And yes there is a Disney connection–over twenty years before Chris Hemsworth played Thor, the action hero was played by Eric Allan Kramer. Kramer played Bob Duncan on the Disney Channel’s Good Luck Charlie for four seasons. Now doesn’t that put a whole new spin on Bugs Be Gone!
For 51 years, Thor has been keeping the Marvel universe safe. Since that day he has starred in his own title and is amongst the Earth’s mightiest heroes. His supporting cast, especially Loki and Jane Foster, have joined him in that journey. From print, to television, and the big screen, the God of Thunder protects Midgard from all those who seek to harm us!