It is almost appropriate that Marvel’s version of Thor fist appeared in a comic book called Journey into Mystery. Most of the superheroes created during the 1950’s and 1960s like Spider-Man, Hulk, Fantastic Four, the X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil, and even the Silver Age versions of The Flash and Green Lantern at DC Comics had some sort of sci-fi aspect to them. Whether it was radioactive bugs, gamma radiation, genetic mutation, lab accidents, or a high-tech suit of armor with a fancy pacemaker, these characters were based in science and steeped in the fears of the atomic age. One hero however was drawn forth from the mists of time and legend, a time in which not all things were explained, and if they were there was some kind of higher power behind it. That hero was the Mighty Thor. There was no explanation for how his hammer worked aside from the simple fact it was the Mjolnir of legend.
It is not to say he was an exact duplicate of the Thor of the ancient Norse. Aside from his blonde hair ( the Thor of myth had red hair) Marvel’s Thor has a unique and rich comic book history. While that history may be similar to the old myths in some respects, the comic book Thor is his own separate entity. In the comics it is implied that Thor and the other Asgardians may not be gods at all, but are actually extra-dimensional beings that were perceived by the Norse peoples as gods because of their sufficiently advanced culture. Thus, the myths and legends that circulated were simply retellings of their exploits.
The one thing that makes the comic Thor different from the Thor of the Norse, is he learns humility, compassion, servant hood, sacrifice, and how to live among humans. He becomes in essence, much like the DC comics character Superman, a Christ-like figure.
Humility was a lesson that the prince of Asgard had to learn at a young age. As a youth on Asgard he tried day and night to lift the hammer Mjolnir. He knew he was destined to wield it, but he had to prove this. Nothing he did could make it budge, nothing that is, until the lady Sif was kidnapped by giants. He grabbed the hammer and embarked on a journey to the land of the frost giants, and then all the way to the throne of Hel herself to rescue Sif. He offered himself as a willing sacrifice to Hel to save Sif, the goddess of death was impressed and let Sif go and did not take Thor into her kingdom as it would not be fitting to kill some one so noble. Because his actions were motivated by love, compassion and humility he was allowed to wield the hammer.
From then on he was the God of Thunder. Then some time between youth and adult hood, he lost his way and forgot those lessons he learned as a child. Perhaps the honor of being a prince went to his head. Perhaps all his adventures and his victories in battle made him take for granted his gift. Or perhaps because of pain in his past, namely some villagers whom he’d grown close to died of the Black Plague made him close himself off to avoid pain. Odin even once confronted him on this, stating that Thor built a form of armor around his heart. He also had many victories in battle against Surtur the fire demon, giants and entire hosts of monsters.
Because of all of this he grew proud, boastful and arrogant. He was ready and willing to start a fight any time, anywhere for any reason. In the 2011 film, when a relic is stolen from the treasure chamber of Odin by Frost Giants that had managed to breach the city, Odin gathered Sif, Loki and the Warriors Three to Jotunheim, home of the frost giants to do battle with them in vengeance. The final outcome of the battle was unknown, as Odin intervened and took them back to Asgard . Once there, Thor insulted his father with words full of arrogance and condescension. In order to teach him a lesson, Odin stripped him of his power, his title, his rank and honor and cast him down to Earth.
In the comic book, Odin did even more then that. He had Thor assume the form of a mild-mannered, and physically handicapped physician by the name of Donald Blake. Dr. Blake needed the assistance of a cane to walk. It was the ultimate form of humiliation, for an arrogant son. The mighty god of thunder who rode the storm cloud couldn’t walk without some form of assistance.
However, it was also a lesson in servant-hood. As Thor was a god who could wield destruction with his hands, he learned how to heal, and how to care with those same hands. He would see people at their worst and help nurture them back to health. The reason for this is illustrated perfectly in the graphic novel Thor : First Thunder. The novel retells the origins of Thor within the Marvel universe and even recreates his earliest comic appearances. Tricked by Loki, Thor rages through New York City. Blake is forced to watch, until Odin at last speaks.
He tells him:
“ Thou alone, hast the power to stop the actions of Thor… my son, it is the pride that once cast a god from heaven, and now rages at anything that denies its desire .The arrogance that thunders without is but power consumed by the glory of itself. But thou, my son, art the soul. Thy heart tempered by grace, revealing strength within thy very weakness.”
The Blake plot was removed from the film, most likely for the sake of time constraints and possibly having to explain it to the audience. However, the lessons Thor learns in humility are clearly present in the film. We watch as he plows through SHEILD agents at a government complex built around his hammer without so much as breaking a sweat. When Thor comes to claim the hammer he can barely lift it and falls to his knees, devastated.
We see him sullen in the compound as Loki comes to talk to him. We can honestly sense his gratitude when he sees him and feel the beginnings of his remorse. It is beginning to dawn on him just how serious his father was when he sent him to Earth. He thought worthiness was all about brute strength but Odin wanted him to learn more.
It should be noted that through out the movie, many tried to pull the hammer but found that they could not. Even when hitched to the back of a pick-up truck, the hammer still won’t budge .All that happens is the little old man at the wheel looses his back bumper. Much like Arthur in the story of the Sword in the Stone, only he that is worthy can wield the hammer. Thor at this instance is not worthy.
After Dr. Eric Selvig, a new and uneasy friend of his gets him cleared and released from SHEILD custody Thor begins to change. He manages to get back Dr. Jane Foster’s notes on the strange phenomenon in the sky prior to his arrival that was confiscated by SHEILD to thank her and in order to keep his promise to help retrieve the data. We see him cook breakfast for Jane, Selvig and their assistant Darcy. Then Loki unleashes the Destroyer on the small New Mexican town where the once mighty god landed, hoping to kill Thor.
Thor begins getting civilians out of the way. He even tells Sif and the Warriors Three, who have come to rescue him, to fall back. When Sif objects as she wishes to have stories of her bravery told, Thor tells her, “Live to tell them yourself.” Thor had discovered that true greatness is not achieved through dying in battle, but through living.
Finally amidst the chaos and destruction, Thor faced off against the destroyer without any weapon. Rather then fight it, he plead with his brother to spare them and offered himself to him. He apologized to him and to Odin for all he had done. The Destroyer backhanded him and as Thor no longer had power at this point it kills him. Odin, heard his plea and at last Thor has learned the lesson. Because he was willing to serve others, sought victory through living, and was willing to humble himself and give his life to save others he is now worthy of the power he once possessed.
True power does not come through great might, but in being willing to serve and help others and act as a sacrifice. In a way Thor the God of thunder is much like another comic book character, Superman. Both came from other worlds, live among humans, and humbly seek to save humanity from death and destruction, and die and rise again. In many ways they both function as Christ-like figures. Even one of the writers for the film’s story admitted that Thor becomes like, “A New Testament God.”
It is almost appropriate too, as early Viking converts to Christianity actually took their necklaces that had the hammer of Thor, and inverted it to make their early crosses. An important and fitting symbol, as a weapon of power, strength, judgment, and wrath, was inverted into a symbol of grace, humility, forgiveness and compassion. The ending of the Eddas of Norse myth speak of the coming of a Greater then All, one who would be mightier then even the gods of Asgard. So unknowingly by incorporating these aspects into the movie and comic books, they tied it into the actual history of the Norse people.
One may wonder what we are to make of characters like Superman and Thor being like Christ. In a review on the website Plugged-in, they even said such a thing could border on heresy. However to paraphrase CS Lewis, “Let us not be alarmed by the parallels in comic book characters like Superman and Thor. They ought to be there. They would be a stumbling block if they weren’t.”
Ripped form the pages of myth and legend, The Mighty Thor wields his powerful hammer alongside the rest of Earth’s mightiest heroes. However, like any one else, it takes humility and compassion to make him truly a hero, and genuinely worth of his power. Anyone can wield such a power to destroy and subjugate, but a wise person knows that to help, protect and serve is true power.
Bellows, Henry Adams ( Translator)The Poetic Edda: The Mythological Poems. Dover. 2004. (first Dover edition)
Film: Branagh, Kenneth (Dir.) Thor. Starring Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Tom Hiddleston, Idris Elba, Stellen Skarsgard, Rene Russo, and Anthony Hopkins. 2011 Paramount Pictures and Marvel Studios
Gage,Christos, Marco Toricelli, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby Thor: Whosoever Wields This Hammer. 2011 Marvel Comics.
Glass, Bryan J.L. Tan Eng Huat Thor: First Thunder 2011 Marvel Comics.
Film: Hartle, Gary Thor: Tales of Asgard. 2009 Lionsgate Entertainment and Marvel Studios
Immonen,Kathryn, and Al Barrionuevo. Avengers Origins: Thor (one-shot) January 2012, Marvel Comics. Lee, Stan and Jack Kirby. Thor: Tales of Asgard ( 6 issue mini-series ) 2009 Marvel Comics
Lee, Stan , Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. “ The Stone Men From Saturn!” Journey into Mystery #83.* August 1962
Lee, Stan, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby. “The Vengeance of Loki.” Journey into Mystery #88. January 1963
Lewis, CS “Myth Became Fact” God in the Dock.
Milligan,Peter and Cary Nord The Trial of Thor. (one-shot) August 2009 Marvel Comics
Milligan, Peter and Mico Suayan The Rage of Thor. (one-shot) October 2010 Marvel Comics
Review: “Thor” Plugged-In. May, 2011
Interview: Postovich, Mark and Dann Gire“ I Am Legend Screenwriter credits Comic Books, Horror Films and Pop Culture” The Guardian 2007.
Sturlusson, Snorri and Dr. Jane I. Young (Translator) The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology. 1992 University of California Press.
Yoshido, Akira and Greg Toccini. Thor: Son of Asgard : Volume 2: Worthy 2004-2005 Marvel Comics.
*First Appearance of Thor.
This blog post is not endorsed, approved, prepared, or affiliated by Walt Disney Pictures, Paramount Pictures, Marvel Comics, Marvel Studios or any other parties or persons involved in the creation of the Thor comic book character. The views and opinions are only those of the author and do not reflect the views or ownership of the Thor character.
Marvel’s Thor created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby.
2010 Marvel Comics, 2011 Paramount Pictures/Marvel Studios