The start of 1962 was turning out to be a promising year for Marvel. With the unexpected success of The Fantastic Four and The Incredible Hulk, Stan and Jack were looking for their next big hit. They come together once again, but this time it’s a character that has a past. This time it’s a God turned superhero, and Thor is born as we know him today.
As with the other characters we’ve discussed in our write-ups, I also suspect Jack Kirby played a larger hand than Stan in bringing the Norse mythology books to the comic book world. Kirby treats this title as a close second to Fantastic Four, staying on from the beginning of issue #83 all the way to #177, before his departure from Marvel. It’s believed Kirby not only introduced Thor, but Loki, Odin and Asgard in his own adaptation and as we know it all today in comics and the MCU. The writer on Thor in the beginning is not credited to Stan Lee, but instead was his brother Larry Leiber, who in my opinion, deserved much more credit for his work and contributions to Marvel over the years.
Thor’s First Appearance is Journey into Mystery #83, the classic cover of Thor swinging the hammer on top of a building against the Stone Men. But we don’t start out with Thor right away, instead we start out with Dr. Donald Blake, who is vacationing in Norway and comes across the Stone Men who landed from Saturn to take over the world. Afraid to be seen, Dr. Blake scurries into a cave where he comes across an old stick, he attempts to move a rock with the stick, taps it and you guessed it, becomes the Mighty Thor! The stick of course becomes the hammer Mjolnir when he taps it and transforms. As Thor, he pummels the Stone Men and they eventually retreat realizing Earth is not as easy to conquer as they had thought. The rest is history, it’s a pretty quick read as the first story as most at this time is a mere 13 pages.
The most interesting thing to note is the inscription on the hammer, it reads “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of…Thor”. Thus, we must conclude Dr. Blake is worthy enough to possess the power to become Thor. Or is he? We’ll discuss this further shortly…
Thor’s second story (our subject art), continues from his first with a quick one page recap and the introduction of a nurse named Jane Foster. The major difference we’ll see in this issue other than introducing the love interest with Jane, is instead of aliens from Saturn, they use the classic go to for the Cold War era, a Communist Dictator villain with an army!
Pages of this rarity, cultural importance, and graphic perfection almost defy description. Suffice it to say, only Jack "King" Kirby and his inker supreme, Dick Ayers, could create a page of such intensity and majesty -- and as a result, one would be hard pressed to find a better early battle page of Thor by King Kirby. Arguably this is the best of Thor’s first three battle page scenes, only earlier pages are of the stone men in the tail end of issue #83 and the plane attack a few pages earlier in issue #84, but this is the first time the Mighty Thor takes on an army!
This sublime page hailing from the mighty Thor's second appearance and Jane Foster’s first appearance, who is now Lady Thor, The Goddess of Thunder is certainly one of the ultimate pieces of our collection. This museum-worthy Marvel milestone has a large (twice-up) image area of 12.5" x 18.5". Note: There is wear on the board resulting in minor creasing and small tears (a quarter of an inch) at the corners and bottom of the page and some tape staining. This key issue introduced Jane Foster, the nurse who became Thor's love interest. On this very battle page, we see Thor taking on an army to save Jane. He uses the power of his hammer, Mjolnir, to flip one of the army's tanks on top of another tank, and then goes on to actually dissolve the tank, exposing the soldiers inside of it. The final panel is actually Thor's first face to face encounter and first dialogue (as Thor and not Dr. Don Blake) with Jane Foster saying out loud, "They've captured Jane" and she replies "Don't listen to them, defeat them all!" The page is inked by Dick Ayers, one of Kirby's primary inking partners during the early years of the Marvel Silver Age.
During the past decade Jane Foster has become a major player in the Marvel comic book universe and she actually took over the role of Thor for a couple of years after the traditional male Thor was deemed "unworthy" by his father Odin, the ruler of Asgard. The Jane as a female Thor saga is now being brought into the mega-popular Marvel Cinematic Universe. Fan-favorite actress Natalie Portman, who played Jane Foster in the first two Thor movies, returns for Thor: Love and Thunder and taking over the Thor role from the male version played by Chris Hemsworth. The film was a huge success grossing over $750M+ worldwide and now Lady Thor, otherwise known as The Mighty Thor aka Jane Foster is a household name!
We won’t get into too much more of the early stories of Thor’s tales, but we will say after the first few issues it does seem to get better as time goes on. Kirby will introduce Loki and Odin in issue #85, and soon enough we’ll soon learn Dr. Donald Blake was created by Odin to be the host for his son Thor. Odin decided that it was time Thor learned humility, an interesting twist.
Now to the Comics Code Authority date stamps and the job #’s. Since we don’t have an issue #83 page as reference for the back stamp, there are only a handful of pages from this issue known to exist and only one has crossed the auction block in recent years. Fischler, owner of Metropolis, owns 3 pages, which I flew into New York last year and viewed the pages in their gallery and they were spectacular to see in the flesh. I do know one other person who has a page, so again, rumor is some but not all of the pages from the first story exist or at least have not surfaced.
The same would go for issue #84, as there is our page and two others on Comic Art Fans, and two others that crossed the auction block, one of which was the iconic splash page in 2009. Case and point, we don’t have much to work off of from the first two issues of Thor in examining the original art. Needless to say these early pages are exceedingly rare and extremely desirable. In the Comics Journal Marvel Inventory, which was catalogued beginning in 1975 didn’t have issue #83 or #84 present.
Next, let’s get into some of the math and some interesting facts early on. The first is “Coke And Comics” blog discovered this is the first time Marvel refers to the term “Superhero” in a comic at the tail end of issue #83. The second and more technical fact is this is the first time the hero format is used as a 13 page lead story, then followed with a backup (usually sci-fi) story. We see this first here with the introduction with Thor and will later see it in Tales of Suspense months later with Iron Man. We suspect this format would’ve continued with Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy if it weren’t canceled the following month of his release, only to be given his dedicated title in March ‘63. The cover date of Journey Into Mystery #83 is August 1962, same release date as Amazing Fantasy #15, which is crazy to think both of these characters came out at the same time!
We were able to find a scan of the page 1 splash of issue #83 which reads May ‘62 job # V786 and #84 splash reads the following month June ‘62 with a close job # of V831.
Our above issue #84 page has a CCA date stamp of April 3rd 1962, seeing how close the job #’s are I would suspect a #83 page would have a March 1962 date stamp. After doing our investigative work, there’s no discrepancy, it seems to be pretty cut and dry as far as the timeline of the early art is concerned.
After doing much research and becoming versed again with Norse mythology after years if not decades of lapse history lessons, we will look at two relevant articles. The first will give a precise timeline of Kirby’s Thor work dating back to the dawn of the Golden Age leading up to the Marvel version as we know him released in 1962. One thing we do know is Kirby had a deep lifelong fascination with mythology and was a brilliant storyteller. Sourced from the Norse Mythology Blog / NorseMyth.org By Dr.Karl E. H. Seigfried-
“In 1942, Kirby (with Captain America co-creator Joe Simon) published a story called “The Villain from Valhalla” in issue #75 of DC’s Adventure Comics. It features the first Kirby-designed version of the Norse god thunder god, portrayed as a villain with a red beard and horned helmet who fights the heroic Sandman. Although this “Thor” is really just a mobster using futuristic technology to imitate the god, Kirby's first vision of the character is much closer in appearance to the bearded Thor of the sagas than it is to the later Marvel character.
In 1957, Kirby drew a story called “The Magic Hammer” in DC Comics’ Tales of the Unexpected #16. This bearded Thor is almost identical to Kirby’s 1942 version, but his hammer now has the same design that Kirby would use five years later for the Marvel superhero. Also notable is the design of Thor's tunic, which features the same stylized circular bosses that are prominent on the costume of the subsequent Marvel character. Unlike the 1942 story, this tale portrays Thor as an actual Norse god, complete with a foil in the villainous Loki – who would, of course, become the main villain in the Marvel series.
How did Kirby’s later conception (beardless, blond) change so radically from these two similar designs, separated from each other by fifteen years? A possible “missing link” can be found in a 1959 story illustrated by Steve Ditko, who was known to Stan Lee since the early 1950s and who began working in 1955 for Atlas Comics, another Marvel precursor that featured writing by Lee. Ditko drew “The Hammer of Thor” in issue #11 of Charlton Comics’ Out of This World. It features a young Viking – initially blond and beardless – who discovers Thor’s mystic hammer in a cave and uses its magic power to drive invading Huns out of Scandinavia. In a strange echo of Snorri’s euhemerism, the final panel implies that this human hero was remembered as a god by later generations.
Finally, in 1962, issue #83 of Marvel’s Journey into Mystery featured the first appearance of Lee and Kirby’s thunder god in “Thor the Mighty and the Stone Men from Saturn.” The influence of Ditko’s version is clear. Dr. Don Blake finds a wooden cane in a Scandinavian cave; when he strikes it against a boulder, it becomes Thor's magic hammer. Kirby’s visual storytelling of a human character's discovery of Thor's hammer in a cave is quite similar to Ditko’s:
As in the Ditko tale, the hero uses the newly-found weapon to repel an invasion of Scandinavia. In this case, which takes place in contemporary times, the invaders are space aliens rather than Huns. Did Lee know Ditko’s tale and instruct Kirby to replicate its plot and imagery? The murky nature of Lee and Kirby’s collaboration – and who created what elements – has led to recent court battles, so there is no clear answer to be found. However, we do know that Lee insisted later Marvel artists study and imitate Kirby's work, so it's not outside the realm of possibility that, in this instance, he asked Kirby to emulate the earlier Ditko story.” There you have it, The Beginnings of Thor in a nutshell. The stories, the art and the mythology all wrapped into one legendary hero. With his entry into comics in 1962, shortly after a founding and reoccurring member of The Avengers and his own dedicated title in 1966, Thor’s relevance in comics continues to this day. Furthermore, he’s the only MCU character to be given 4 solo film titles and quite possibly his 5th is coming with the recent post credit scene of Hercules. Thus, Thor in comics and movies is a multi-billion dollar franchise and is here to stay!
Our next article, sourced from The Kirby Collector #14 will show us a brief history lesson of the Norse mythology as well as the characters we know from the mythical Marvel world, but the Norse world will show us many differences.
The Jack Kirby Collector #14 by Jon B. Cooke- “Real” Tales of Asgard or “Gimme That Old Norse Religion"
“It took some time for Kirby & Lee to fully exploit the mythologic aspects of Thor in the pages of Journey Into Mystery. Initially, the god of thunder's chief concern seemed to be magicians and Communists, but it was the repeated appearance of his greatest adversary, Loki, that signaled the team's increasing interest in exploring the Viking myths. Let's examine a few of the Norse myths that Jack and Stan "Marvelized"; the "true" Tales of Asgard, found in ancients tomes called the Eddas, dating back to the first millennium. [Most of the following quotes are from "Gods of the North" by Brian Branston (1956, Vanguard Press) including his translations of the Prose and Poetic Eddas, and from Nicole Cherry's great Norse mythology web page.]
In the beginning there was the Ginnun-gagap, the Yawning Gulf. In the Gulf was a land of fire, Muspellheim, and a land of ice, Niflheim. From the icy waves rose the first living creature, Ymir the Frost Giant, who "was no god but a creature of evil." Auoumla, the cow, sustained the Giant, and licked the rocks of ice to create Buri, a god who "begat a son called Bur who took to wife Bestla and they had three sons called Odin, Villi and Vi." The boys killed Ymir, and threw his carcass into the Yawning Gulf and made the earth out of it. From his blood they created the lakes and seas; the earth was made from his flesh and the mountain crags from his bones. Towards the center of the earth they built a fortress encircling the region against their giant enemies; they made it from the brows of Ymir, and called it Midgard. (The brothers also created humanity from two logs of driftwood, but that's another story.) So were created the nine worlds of Norse myth-ology, three of which concern us: the outer world Jotunheim (Land of the Giants), Mid-gard (the human world), and Asgard, Home of the Gods, connected to Man by Bifrost, the Rainbow Bridge
Contrary to the interests of comics fans, much of Norse religion lacks a cohesive continuity. As stated above, there was a void at the beginning of time and suddenly a giant, divine bovine appeared with no explanation. These tales didn't appeal to logic; apparently it was also a religion in constant flux. Tyr, the Norse God of War who demanded sacrifices from his followers, was wildly popular until Thor - who apparently desired no such bloody compensation - usurped his position over the years and surpassed even Odin in popularity. What is recounted about the immortals - at least what would interest a fan of the Kirby & Lee Thor - is briefly summarized below.
Odin: The chief god of the Norse pantheon, Odin is called Alfadir (All-father), for he is indeed father of the gods Balder, Hermod, Hod, Thor, and Vidar. Odin is a god of war and death, but also the god of poetry and wisdom. From his throne he observes all that happens in the nine worlds; tidings are brought to him by his two ravens, Huginn and Muninn. He also resides in Valhalla, where slain warriors are taken. Odin has only one eye, which shines like the sun; his other eye he traded for a drink from the Well of Wisdom, and gained immense knowledge.
Thor: The son of Odin and Jord, he's one of the most powerful gods, the Norse god of thunder. He is married to Sif, a fertility goddess, and is usually portrayed as a large, powerful man with a red beard and eyes of lightning. Despite his ferocious appearance, he was very popular as the protector of both gods and humans against the forces of evil. Thursday is named after him. The Norse believed that during a thunderstorm, Thor rode through the heavens on his chariot pulled by goats. Thor wears the belt Megingjard which doubles his already considerable strength. His greatest enemy is Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, and his greatest weapon, Mjollnir, the hammer ("that smashes") made for him by dwarfs. Every time Thor threw Mjollnir, lightning flashed, after which the hammer returned to his right hand, on which he wore an iron glove. Mjollnir was greatly feared by the Frost Giants - the enemies of the gods - for Thor had killed a large number of them.
Loki: A son of giants (not a stepson of Odin, as modified by Kirby & Lee), Loki is connected with fire and magic, and can assume different shapes (horse, falcon, fly, etc.). Handsome and with a friendly appearance, the God of Mischief has an evil nature, crafty and malicious. He's directly responsible for the death of Balder. His wife is Sigyn, who stayed loyal to him, even when the gods punished him for Balder's murder. He was chained to three large boulders; one under his shoulders, one under his loins, and one under his knees. A poisonous snake was placed above his head. The snake's dripping venom was caught by Sigyn in a bowl, but whenever the bowl is filled to the brim, she has to leave to empty it. Then the poison that falls on Loki's face makes him twist in pain, causing earthquakes.
Ragnarok: Ragnarok is the Twilight of the Gods, the end of the cosmos, also called Gotterdammerung. Ragnarok will be preceded by Fimbulvetr, the winter of winters. Conflicts and feuds will break out, and all morals will disappear; this is the beginning of the end. The wolf Skoll will devour the sun, and his brother Hati will eat the moon, plunging the earth into darkness. Earthquakes will shudder the earth, freeing the terrible wolf Fenrir. The sea will rear up because Jormungand, the Midgard Serpent, is twisting and writhing in fury, making his way toward the land. With every breath, Jormungand will stain the soil and the sky with his poison. The waves caused by the serpent's emerging will set free the ship Naglfar, and with the giant Hymir as their commander, the giants sail toward the battlefield. From the realm of the dead a second ship will set sail, carrying the inhabitants of hell, with Loki as their helmsman. The fire giants, led by the giant Surt, will leave Muspell in the south to join against the gods. Surt, carrying a sword that blazes like the sun itself, will scorch the earth.
Meanwhile, Heimdall will sound his horn, calling Odin's sons and heroes to the battlefield. From all the corners of the world, gods, giants, dwarves, demons and elves will ride towards the huge plain of Vigrid ("battle shaker"), where the last battle will be fought. Odin will head straight for Fenrir, and Thor will attack Jormungand. Thor will be victorious, but shortly after he will die from the serpent's poison. Surt will seek out Freyr, who will succumb to the giant. The one-handed Tyr will fight the monstrous hound Garm and they will kill each other. Loki and Heimdall, age-old enemies, will meet for a final time, and neither will survive their encounter. The fight between Odin and Fenrir will rage for a long time, but finally Fenrir will seize Odin, and swallow him. Vidar will at once leap towards the wolf, and kill him with his own hands. Then Surt will fling fire in every direction. The nine worlds will burn, and friends and foes alike will perish. The earth will sink into the sea. After the destruction, a new idyllic world will arise from the sea and this new earth will be filled with abundant life. Some of the gods will survive, others will be reborn. Wickedness and misery will no longer exist, and gods and men will live happily ever after.
From these awesome spectacles, Stan and Jack contrived a modern mythology we still marvel at today. Whatever modifications the team made, the essence seemed to remain; essentially fatalistic, yet not without hope. Jack would twist the ending to Ragnarok and create his not-so-happy epilogue, the Fourth World, his magnum opus. Such is the stuff of legends.”
In conclusion, after closely researching more about Norse mythology and the history behind Kirby’s storytelling and art, we can summarize his Marvel version of Thor as follows; Kirby’s final version of Thor is blond, clean-shaven and wears a winged helmet, combining elements from both his earlier Mercury/Hurricane character (the headgear and blond hair) and his second Thor (the hammer design).
Ditko’s story looks heavily influenced by Kubert’s “Viking Prince”, which may be the earliest blonde version of Thor in comics, but something the article may have missed is “Thor’s War Against The Giants” by Marten Eskel Winge. This book was published in 1872 and the version of Thor is blonde and close-shaved, looking a bit like Chris Hemsworth! Yet another Golden Age Thor by Simon and Kirby Studios, courtesy of another “Jack Kirby Collector” magazine, found in Boy Commandos #7 a story titled “The Shadow of Valhalla”. In this story, Thor has a horned helmet, a red beard, with a tunic, but Odin looks closer to his Marvel version. It seems throughout the years Kirby was trying different variations, some closer to the original look from the Norse books and a more modified “appealing” version. One thing we can definitively say is when it was time for the Marvel version, it was the choice to appeal to audiences with a Thor that readers could identify with, which is where Lee and or Kirby pushed for the blonde haired blue eyed “in shape” Thor, and not the burly middle aged red bearded version.
Furthermore, it’s my belief that Kirby deserves most credit for developing the Marvel character as we know him today. After all we must remember Kirby’s art and plot from the “Marvel Method” came before the writing. When the time came in 1962, with the development of new characters with Marvel, Kirby’s obvious choice was Thor. He had so much knowledge of mythology and had already tested various stories leading up to the character's creation. We’ve seen little to no changes of Thor over the decades in comics. Kirby’s version of Thor from 1962 is now as real to our culture as the Thor of original sagas. The Marvel Comics Thor is a mix of the existing variations of the Norse myths spanning over a millennium, and the imagination of Jack Kirby, a mythologist in his own right.
There you have it, The Beginnings of Thor in a nutshell. The stories, the art and the mythology all wrapped into one legendary hero. With his entry into comics in 1962, shortly after a founding and reoccurring member of The Avengers and his own dedicated title in 1966, Thor’s relevance in comics continues to this day. Furthermore, he’s the only MCU character to be given 4 solo film titles and quite possibly his 5th is coming with the recent post credit scene of Hercules. Thus, Thor in comics and movies is a multi-billion dollar franchise and is here to stay!