As a bit of a lark I’ve decided to do a series with a running comparison between Marvel’s Thor comics and the Norse mythology that inspired them, starting with the character’s first appearance in Journey Into Mystery #83 (1962).
Not that the story in this debut issue, “The Stone Men of Saturn” has much to do with mythology. It takes perhaps the most readily-recognisable image from the Eddas – that is, a hammer-wielding thunder god – and repackages him for what is otherwise a routine superhero story. It’s easy to imagine “The Stone Men of Saturn” rewritten as a first outing for Iron Man or Hulk, for example.
While the Norse myths offered a wide range of potential bad guys for the Mighty Thor’s first battle (Loki, Surtr, frost giants) “The Stone Men of Saturn” falls back on the stock comic book threat of alien invaders. Admittedly, the comic gives the Saturnians a mythological motif of sorts – they look like Easter Island statues, and scare off some fighter pilots by conjuring up a holographic dragon – but this is pretty tenuous. At this point, Journey Into Mystery has no pretensions of being a comic about Norse mythology: it is merely a comic starring a Norse mythology-themed superhero.
When the aliens land on the coast of Norway, they are witnessed by an elderly fisherman. “By the beard of Odin”, exclaims the man, in the comic’s only reference to a Norse deity besides Thor. The locals dismiss the fisherman’s story, but he is overheard by American holiday-maker Don Blake.
Investigating, Don sees the aliens and runs for the cliffs once they spot him. Our gammy-legged protagonist loses his walking stick along the way and is forced to hide out in a cave. Inside, he accidentally opens a hidden chamber containing a gnarled length of wood… which, in his hands, becomes a hammer!
A hammer with an inscription: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… THOR”!
Once mild-mannered Don Blake becomes the muscle-bound, flowing-locked Thor, the main concern of the story is explaining how the hammer works. First, we learn that if it leaves his hand for a minute, he turns back into a mere mortal. Next, we are shown its boomerang-like property: “The legends also say that the hammer is enchanted1 Whenever Thor hurls it from him, it must return!” Continuing to experiment, Don-Thor finds that the hammer causes raging storms when tapped twice on the ground. A single tap, meanwhile, will turn him back into a mortal, with the hammer handily disguised as a lumpen walking stick.
With his newfound power, our hero confronts the aliens and sends them packing after he destroys their “Mechano-Monster”. Earth is saved, but Don Blake decides to keep his role in the incident a secret for now.
To be continued…