As I continue my series looking at how Marvel’s Thor comics stack up against Norse mythology, I’m going to have to face the elephant in the room: at this point in their existence, these comics have very little to do with Norse mythology. Our hero’s bumped into a number of bad guys, but so far, only one has been mythological in origin.
Let’s take a look at how Thor’s gallery of rogues has been shaping up so far. Up until this point, we’ve seen five villains, or villainous groups: Loki, the only recurring antagonist and the only one drawn from mythology; the sci-fi villains, represented by the Stone Men of Saturn and the time-travelling inventor Zarrko; and the Red Menace embodied by the Executioner and various generic Soviets. Now it’s time to meet two more additions to the league of evil dudes — and again, if you showed them to Snorri Sturluson, he’d be scratching his head.
First we have Journey Into Mystery #89 with “The Thunder God and the Thug!” After another adventure, Thor heads back to his medical practice – but is spotted by some patients. To distract them while he changes back to his secret identity, he rigs up a manikin to look like himself and chucks it out a window. (Thor’s been getting quite a bit of mileage out of dummies lately, having used one to foil Loki the previous month).
This is followed by a recap of Thor’s origin story. The issue was clearly put together with an eye on attracting new readers previously unfamiliar with the character: not how the cover bigs Thor up more than previous instalments of Journey into Mystery, even though the comic is still an anthology with a few Thorless back-up strips.
As nurse Jane Foster daydreams about Thor (“although he’s big and strong, I’d love to look after him! He’d complain about my fussing, but I know that he’d secretly enjoy it”) a mob boss with the remarkable name of Thug Thatcher escapes from custody after being arrested for “selling sub-standard steel”. Thatcher gets injured in a shoot-out with the cops, so two of his henchmen kidnap Thor’s alter ego Dr. Blake to provide medical aid.
Dr. Blake successfully treats Thatcher (or “Thug”, as his moll Ruby lovingly refers to him). But the ungrateful criminal orders our hero silenced; having been separated from his cane-cum-hammer, Blake’s only option is to form mental contact with Odin.
Odin saves his son with a well-placed lightning bolt, allowing Blake to get his hammer back and become Thor. His powers restored, Thor is able to overcome the gangsters with such handy abilities as… ventriloquism.
The battle concludes on a scaffolding, where Thug Thatcher nearly falls to his death when a girder snaps (“Faulty steel! It’s probably the very stuff that Thatcher himself was forcing companies to buy!”) Thor, a most noble hero, saves the gangster before handing him to the police.
Thug Thatcher is a pretty generic villain; the one notable aspect of his character is his relationship with his girlfriend Ruby. She harbours a desperate love for him, despite his callous treatment of her; the story ends with Odin helping Thor to erase all memory of Thug from her mind, for her own good.
Ruby’s misguided love for Thug Thatcher contrasts with Jane Foster’s rather more wholesome attraction to Thor. Once again, the her chosen man refuses to return the love – but in Thor’s case he is motivated by a fear of rejection, a more sympathetic drive and one that plays a part in the next story…
Which brings us to “Trapped by the Carbon-Copy Man!” in Journey Into Mystery #90, where Al Hartley replaces Jack Kirby as artist. The story begins on “the warlike planet Xarta” where warlord Ugarth prepares to retire from warlording, handing the baton to his son Zano.
Meanwhile, Don Blake (whose weediness is now exaggerated to a considerable degree, making his head look massive) decides that it is finally time to confess his love for Jane. Unfortunately for him, Odin pops up to forbid him from ever revealing his identity to a mortal.
Blake then steps outside to find strange things happening: motorists are parking on the pavement, forcing pedestrians into the gutter; a billboard is being plastered over a building’s windows; a bridge is being painted with polka dots; and homeowners are banned from locking their doors – all due to orders from city hall.
Even Dr. Blake is caught up in it, as he receives a summons for treating charity patients. Jane agrees with this state of affairs: “You have no business treating people without charge! If they’re too poor to pay, you should let them remain sick! They deserve to be ill!” Well, we know where she stands on the matter of healthcare reform.
Thor goes to the mayor, who turns out to have similarly lost his mind. “I have an idea”, says the bemused Thor. “I’ll send my mind back in time and space, to Asgard on a day when Odin counseled his sons!” The sons would presumably be Thor and Loki – although, rather oddly, they are instead depicted as two identical Thor-alikes.
Odin’s homily leads Thor to the conclusion that people are behaving oddly because they’ve been replaced with imposters. Sure enough, he finds the aliens responsible, their ship hidden among some trees. The people of Xarta are shapeshifters, whose fake officials have been seeded through the city (“Their task is to make foolish laws… to cause confusion and panic! Then, once they throw your city into chaos, the rest of our waiting armada will land and repeat the same disruptive process in every corner on Earth!”
A battle ensues. The warlord’s son turns into “a frozen warrior” (is this the series’ first rendition of the mythological frost giants? Thor does refer to the monster as an “ice-giant” in the prologue) who traps our hero in a block of ice. After Thor smashes himself free, the alien turns into a giant gladiator into a giant gladiator (“I’ve heard that your ancestors used these weapons in ancient times!”) Thor defeats this guy with a thunderbolt from his “uru mallet” (as a footnote identifies his weapon; I believe this is the comic’s first reference to the fictional metal, for anyone who’s keeping track of such matters).
Finally, the elder warlord steps in, turning himself invisible. In a pretty inspired use of Thor’s weather-based powers, our hero causes a rain shower that exposes the villain’s outline. Thor then wraps Ugarth in the gladiator’s net and lobs him back into space, recalling the defeat of Loki a couple of months earlier. Thor: God of Nets.
That just leaves the remaining aliens. “We shall keep Ugarth’s son and his companions as hostages”, says Thor, “to make certain the Xartans never again invade us!” To ensure that they cause no mischief, Thor commands them to turn into trees.
The crafty aliens agree to do so, while plotting to turn back when nobody is looking. But Thor has outsmarted them: “when they impersonate something, they take on all its traits! And since trees cannot think, neither can the Xartans! Therefore, the idea of changing can never again occur to them!”
So, I guess Thor killed those dudes. Oh well, as executions go it was pretty humane.