Well, as I said in my last post. I intended to buy this and so I have.
I’ve also read it and what a hard read it is. Hahaha. Seriously, during the Silver Age comics were still largely for kids and the writing reflects that. If you’re used to modern comics it’s going to be a bit of a trudge going through these vintage issues.
Then why do it you ask? Do it for the same reason that I do it: to get a glimpse of how today’s most popular comics began. And to get the entire backstory of your favorite character or team. As you know, knowing the entire history of a comicbook character makes reading the modern stories all that much more pleasurable because writers reference and build on the history.
In the case of Thor Epic Collection vol. 1 included here is the very first Thor issue Journey Into Mystery No. 83, the former monster comic which would eventually become The Mighty Thor. This first volume is all Journey Into Mystery, it includes issues 83 to 109. This is the very beginning of Marvel’s Thor and for that alone it is should be part of a Thor collection.
Stan Lee was brilliant to choose Thor as a Marvel character because with the conscription of this character, Marvel gets to dip into the rich well of Norse Mythology. In fact, halfway through the collection, the issues become a two-parter. The first part is the Thor story and the second part being Tales of Asgard – tales inspired by Norse mythology. From Stan’s notes in the issues and the blurb on the back cover of the book, these Tales of Asgard were a big hit with fans of the time; and they are a good read. It was also a great way to make Thor a fully realized character by referencing the myths.
As I read through the comics I began to realize that this is not just the introduction of Thor. It is also the introduction of another major Marvel character: Loki. I don’t consider Loki just another member of Thor’s rogue’s gallery. He is a major Marvel character, who, of late, has merited his own title. Many of these early stories have Loki as an antagonist.
Loki’s power is staggering. We all know that he famously created the uber-powerful Absorbing Man but that was not the only time he could do that. Loki can create foes to go up against his half-brother and does so in this collection. Loki is sorcery juxtaposed against Thor’s brute strength. He is cunning and subtlety against the backdrop of Thor’s straightforward ways. In many ways he is more complex then his simpler half brother.
Not that I don’t like Thor. I love Thor. Thor is Marvel’s more interesting version of Superman. He is a powerhouse among the other superheroes and it shows even in this early issues.
Another thing I noticed is Thor’s dependency on Mjolnir. Again and again we are reminded in these tales that Thor without the hammer is simply not Thor – a notion that today’s writers are challenging.
In these early issues we are also made aware of a great mystery at the heart of the Thor story. Namely , the Dr. Donald Blake identity. Is Thor Blake and is Blake Thor? If somebody else that is worthy lifts the hammer will they become Thor? If Thor isn’t Blake then where does Blake go when Thor is present? And where has Thor been all the time before Blake found Mjolnir in the cave? We won’t get any answers in this early issues but the tantalizing question looms.
Another thing I was on the lookout for was the introduction of key Thor villains. Here’s the shortlist: Cobra, Mr. Hyde, the Enchantress, the Executioner, the Tomorrow Man, and the Grey Gargoyle. There are other lesser villains here. It was quite entertaining to see Thor go up against a common thug in one issue. Really? A mob boss going up against the Thunder God? Evidently, Marvel was still trying to find the right story ‘angle’ for Thor.
My favorite villain save Loki in these early stories is Skurge the Executioner. The 7’2″ half-giant with his Bloodaxe is a great match for the Thunder God and Mjolnir. I also like the Executioner sporting a wonderful bull’s head helmet that we don’t see him wearing in later stories. For second place as favorite villain it’s a dead heat between Mr. Hyde and the Gray Gargoyle. I have to go with Hyde though. Drunk on his own super-strength, Mr. Hyde is fun to watch as he gambols on the page and causes all kinds of mayhem.
Hitting Its Stride
I also noticed that as the collection reached issue 100 the quality of every aspect of the stories goes up noticeably. Stan Lee’s writing is tighter and Jack Kirby’s art finds me dwelling his panels. This points to better things in store for the second volume. Something which I will definitely find out since I remain committed to completing all the Thor issues until no. 502. Whew! It’s a long road ahead composed of some amazing stories. I can’t wait!
Here’s an old Thor cartoon that reminds me of these early Thor tales