Thursday, August 8, 2013

True of False: Thor Is More Interesting When Written as a Cosmic Hero


Doug:  Was Moondragon right?  Should Thor forsake Earth and all mortals?

38 comments:

Fred W. Hill said...

In the Lee/Kirby era Thor certainly got much more interesting and fun to read when he started facing villains who could really challenge him, beginning with the Absorbing Man in Journey into Mystery #114, which also commenced the first real saga in the series, morphing into the Trial of the Gods, clash with Hercules and descent into Hades, before pausing and continuing onto the conflict with the Rigellians and Ego!
Throughout it all, though, the settings were mixed, going from New York, to Asgard, running through a jungle, tearing Hades apart, going into space, etc. I think that sort of mix works best for Thor. He should never leave Midgard behind altogther but shouldn't be stuck there tussling with the likes of Mr. Hyde & the Cobra over and over again either.

Colin Jones said...

Marvel always liked to integrate their non-Marvel created characters with the wider Marvel universe ( Dracula meeting Dr. Strange for example ) so if Thor rejected Earth completely there'd be no opportunity for a punch-up with the Hulk or Spidey .

Humanbelly said...

Hmm-- it's a good question, but I think it's actually a false choice. THOR is probably the book I've been most on & off with over the entire course of my collecting life, the problem being that- other than the great Simonson run- I would almost always get bored with the direction of the book when it anchored itself too firmly in one venue or the other. Remember that endless, endless, ENDLESS early arc where he and the Warriors Three were rowing across space in a viking longboat, or something? That was indeed BRILLIANT comics, I'm pretty sure, but it didn't hold this young reader's interest to its conclusion. And the Earthbound "Sigurd Jaarlson" (sp"?) era many years later? Trying to maintain a secret identity convention? Yeesh, Thor simply isn't a street-level superhero.

Nor is he actually very interesting personally. He's not a terribly complex individual-- which is fine. Really, his most interesting trait AND the source of his most interesting personal conflicts is his divided allegiance between Asgard and Midgard. Historically, he's a guy trying to hold down two full-time jobs, and inevitably has to choose one over the other in times of extreme circumstances (and has chosen or denied either one on a number of occasions, I'm pretty sure).

If he's all-cosmic, then he's just another warrior-leader on a bigger stage. If he's all earth-bound, then he's often just the biggest fish (by far) in a rather small pond. Going back & forth, trying to juggle the pressing demands of both realms, THAT'S when he's the most interesting.

So, technically, I guess that would make my answer "False"--?

HB

Colin Jones said...

I forgot to answer the question - yes , Thor probably is more interesting as a cosmic hero but I think readers would have got bored with it after a while and missed the interaction with the other Marvel characters.

Matt Celis said...

False. Just like when DC sends Green Lantern to space, I lose interest quickly as I really do not care very much what happens on Planet 10 in the Black Galaxy.

Anonymous said...

Öhh,jag förstår inte frågan.Tor, Odens son, är en av våra gudar och hans samspel med oss människor i Midgård är ju evigt. Jag hör gärna om hans kamp med jättar och andra i vårt träd, men hans föreahavande med oss får gärna återberättas.
Med vänliga hälsningar från
Nordbo

J.A. Morris said...

False, he's more interesting when he's interacting with us mere mortals. Which is why my primary exposure to Thor came from the Avengers.

When he spends more than an issue in Asgard, there's just too many "thous", "thees" and "forsooths" for my taste.

For that matter, other "cosmic" heroes are more interesting when they work with Earthborn heroes. One thing that makes Starlin's Mar-Vell & Warlock epics great is that they involved the Avengers, Spider-Man & the Thing.

William said...

Big False for me on this one. In fact, when a Thor story is based only in Asgard (or some other non-Earth place), I quickly get bored and lose interest. Just like Matt Celis, I don't care all that much about what happens in the realm of Firfenheim or the land of the Rock Trolls, etc.

Don't get me wrong, I love Sci-Fi and Fantasy like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, but that's different because it's about "regular" people battling superior forces of magic and technology. When it comes to my superheroes, I like them based on Earth in the present.

For me, Thor works best as the Avenger's muscle. I especially like him when the chips are down and all looks hopeless, then the God of Thunder shows up, and it's like "Ohhh yeah, now it's on!"

Colin Jones said...

J.A. you're right about the stupid pseudo-Shakespearean language but that was Stan Lee's fault for trying to make them sound noble and godly - there was no need for it .

Anonymous said...

Another excellent topic. I tend to agree with some of thoughts expressed that Thor works best as a mix of cosmic/earthbound. And I liked Humanbelly's insight about his divided allegiance being a source of conflict.

I remember buying Thor and the Marvel Spectacular reprints in the early to mid 70s and thinking that I "should" be more into the old Lee/Kirby cosmic stuff, but preferring earthbound and Avenger Thor. My favorite hero at that time was Spiderman. I much preferred the series with the human/soap opera elements.

So I guess my answer is "false". I don't think he's "more interesting" as a cosmic hero. Yet, at the same time, the cosmic aspect is vital to making him who he is.

Tom

Karen said...

I think my partner has posited two questions here: the first being is Thor more interesting when written as a cosmic hero? if that means are his cosmic adventures more interesting, I would say yes.Thor is a character that can operate on a grand scale and I enjoy seeing him on a big stage, whether it's Asgard and the threats of the Nine Realms, or the depths of space, facing Ego, Galactus,and similar beings. Not to say I don't enjoy him on Earth too -particularly when he's with the Avengers. But being a god of thunder means he needs to deal with big problems, not the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, as Doug has so charmingly posted here.

The second question, "Was Moondragon right? Should Thor forsake Earth and all mortals?" I say, no. Like I just said, I enjoy seeing the thunderer with the Avengers and there's also the tension to be found between human and immortal that makes things interesting. Yes, Thor outclasses the vast majority of his team-mates, but there are ways to use him (as William noted). And to be sure, there are certain earth-bound opponents that can give Thor a run for his money. As long as he's challenged, I'm OK with it.

However I would agree with HB that Thor himself has never been a very interesting character - it's the stories around him that have been interesting. I think at least Silver and early Bronze Age Thor was a very plot-driven book rather than character driven (unlike, say, Spider-Man). The Thor we get in the movies has much more personality -and I think they borrowed it from Hercules!

themiddlespaces said...

I too thinks he works best as a mix.

I don't have too much to say about that.

However, I will recommend the current Thor, God of Thunder series - which (so far) has been more cosmic, but through stories including the "young Thor" from before his exile on Midgard has done a lot to develop his character without bothering with the secret identity, which I never liked when it came to "god" characters.

Humanbelly said...

Oddly enough, I think the storyline that may have been the most endearing and inspiring illustration of Thor's nature was the LEAST cosmic one ever: "SIR!"-- when he was transformed into a bullfrog in Central Park. With absolutely everything stripped away, he was still Thor-- compassionate, self-less, decisive, and unfathomably resolute. Similarly when he was cursed down the road w/ brittle bones (yet still immortal), and kept soldiering on into a fatal battle w/ the Destroyer, one found oneself flinching with every blow he took, which is rare with the usual run-of-the-mill fight scene. He clearly is defined best (and most clearly) when his circumstances are at their worst.

I do like the cinematic Thor quite a lot-- he's an awful lot like what we used to think of as the "Pre-Don Blake" Thor. . . undeniably heroic, but certainly could use a tutorial or two on humility. . .

HB

Humanbelly said...

Somewhat OT/tangential-- but still a Thor question--

Does he still have Don Blake's medical skills/prowess? Many, many times in the past, Thor was able to subtly draw on that knowledge whilst in his true Thor form. I mean, ol' Don was pretty much the "surgeon to the superheroes" while he existed (sort of like Matt Murdock being everybody's lawyer), and MANY a life was saved simply through his surgical brilliance. Any Thor-philes out there have a canonical answer to that? It would be awfully cool to have Thor save the day by doing emergency surgery on, like, Ulik or someone. . .

HB again

Rip Jagger said...

I'm of two minds.

Thor should not forsake the Earth. But that said, some of the most memorable Thor adventures for me were the ones when he effectively went on some vast quest, gathering up a gang of helpers, and defeating some remote cosmic menace, whether mythological or science fictional.

I love him on Earth, but he does seem sometimes like Superman, slumming and toning it down so he won't scare the natives.

Rip Off

themiddlespaces said...

Humanbelly,

I just got my hands on those frog-thor issues and found I still loved them.

I remember those brittle bones issues fondly, perhaps I should find those again as well.

Karen said...

If there's one thing you can say about Thor's personality, it's that from his very inception, he was written more like an Arthurian knight than a rampaging Viking. He was noble to a fault. Sure, not the most humble of guys, but always the first to put himself in harm's way and ready to bear any burden. Which he frequently did, since Odin was constantly testing and punishing him!

Edo Bosnar said...

Well, I certainly don't agree with Moondragon, so I don't think Thor should forsake Earth and all of us mortals. And I certainly liked Thor's appearances in Avengers.
But I'm not sure where I stand on this question. My favorite iteration of Thor was the Simonson run (which I have yet to read in its entirety), and I guess the stories were more cosmic or celestial there, i.e., he seemed to be tackling big problems as Karen put it.

Humanbelly said...

No, as soon as Moondragon expresses an opinion like that, you pretty much know that it's gonna be 180 degrees out of whack.

I've talked about it at length elsewhere, but the biggest character flaw in MU's immortal "god" races of beings is that they've individually been alive for-EVER, and yet they clearly are just about fundamentally incapable of personal growth. They make the same mistakes over and over again for thousands (tens of thousands?) of years on end. All of that lifespan, all of those experiences, and yet they are collectively- and for the most part individually- no wiser than the fleet-lived mortals of whom they hold themselves to be so superior. Although I think this is really just an accident of the writing over the years, it nevertheless becomes a salient point, because it suggests that these li'l mortals really ARE the superior race of beings, in a way. And Thor is one of the few Asgardians who seems to be able to recognize that, at least on an instinctual level. Even better, it's a lesson that he inadvertantly LEARNED and retained while going through one of his periodic banishments from "All Wise" Odin, which puts him a developmental notch above the rest of his Asgardian fellows.

Hunh. The more I talk about him, the more I like him. Maybe I'm a Thor fan, and just didn't realize it?

HB

Karen said...

Well the Greek gods of classical myth certainly never seemed to have learned anything -they had huge character flaws, but then, that was their thing, they were human nature writ large. So the Marvel gods are just following the historical example. Besides, if the Asgardians or Olympians or Eternals were perfect, they'd be boring! Although we did have that brief period of time during Gerry Conway's run on Thor when Odin actually turned into a decent father and started traveling with Thor, and the two had a much better relationship.

Anonymous said...

I'm probably going to end up straddling the fence, because I can agree with both sides. I don't think the character himself is more interesting in cosmic settings, but the cosmic stories are more plausible. Having Thor fight the Cobra and Mr. Hyde was like sending a SWAT team to arrest an unarmed shoplifter. And, as a member of the Avengers, he presents the same problem as Superman in the Justice League: he is so powerful that the other members are superfluous. (A common problem with team-ups in general is that they have heroes tripping over each other while fighting a threat that any one of them could have handled alone.) One solution was to un-super the hero (kryptonite for Superman, or having Thor turn back into Blake) but that was contrived and became monotonous, as did the reverse deus ex machina device of having Thor or Superman arrive at the last minute and save the day.

Anonymous said...

Agree that the gods of ancient (especially Greek and Roman) mythology were often depicted with human character flaws, so Marvel was just following tradition. Still, it always annoyed me in some of the older stories when Odin (who, in Norse myth, had traded an eye for wisdom) was so easily duped. Loki would tell him that Thor had turned traitor or coward, and Odin would immediately strip Thor of half his strength or something, without first trying to verify. That was a necessary plot device when Thor was fighting mortal villains, though. Otherwise, the fight would have been over before the second page. BTW, Thor was portrayed as a swaggering, over-confident oaf in a 1988 Hulk made-for-TV movie. That version, too, may have borrowed from Hercules, who was portrayed that way both in ancient myths and in Marvel comics.

david_b said...

Not much to expand on here, but FALSE. As mentioned, it's Thor's interaction with mortals that's been his 'gist' all along. I actually LOVED Lee's silly Silver Age attempts at 'godspeak'.. It's what made the Bullpen cool. Frankly, it's a bunch of low-pay caucasian writers in New York trying to sound 'knowledgeable', much like Haney's teenbeat lingo for the young hip Titans, or the initial attempts at writing for Luke Cage. It's what made Marvel fun.

Yeeeah, the Hyde/Cobra fights were insipid, but the crux was integrating the Blake/hospital supporting cast, recalling back in the '60s, doctors shows were still brimming with doctor/nurse melodrama. I never read much of Thor's solo stories, but like Wanda and Iron Man, I was getting a bit annoyed when Thor would come waltzing in on the last page to fight Graviton in ish 165. Like mentioned earlier about him and Supes, it isn't easy to fit god-beings on teams.

Much like Vision or Supes, the only effective way non-superpowered opponents can drop 'em is by surprise, like Mantis in ish 114 gas like back in CA ish 113.

What does come through is his bestowing praise on other less-strong heroes, like Spidey, Cap, Hawkeye, you name it. Even with his Asgardian past, he recognizes true purity in heroics and spirit, to the point of falling in love with mortal Jane Foster.

As for Moondragon..? She was a piece of work, a whackjob. Was she purely hittin' on Thor, like Enchantress before her..? Frankly I wouldn't trust her any farther than I can throw her. I'd take Mantis and her 'this one's over Moonie any day.

Matt Celis said...

Funny thing... I like Thor as a character but there aren't a lot of Thor comics I would read again. After reading Horus in the "1963" series by Alan Moore, whenever I read Thor I just think how much more interesting an ongoing Horus series would have been.

Matt Celis said...

I think a more interesting story for Thor, rather than a punch-up (which is how nearly all his stories are resolved), would be to make him solve a mystery. Stick him in an old-school Batman story where how much you can lift and how hard you can punch is no help in resolving the situation.

Fred W. Hill said...

One of the both interesting and occiasionally irritating aspects of the early Thor tales was his recurring conflicts with his father. Yep, here he is the most powerful superhero on Midgard but he's routinely smacked down by his own dearly beloved dad! The Hulk never had to contend with that! And aside from when his bratty adopted kid brother (Lee could never remember that Loki was Thor's adopted brother, not his half or step-brother, sheesh) tricked Odin into getting ticked off at Thor, there were arguments over his choice of lady friends and wanting to hang out on Midgard rather than go home to Asgard. And rather than ground Thor, Odin would just take away a big chunk of his godly powers, like taking away his bike. In those aspects at least, readers could empathize and even identify a bit with Thor.

Humanbelly said...

I'm gonna backstop davidB and say that I, too, liked the Elizabethan English that the god-folks all used (no offense, J.A. & Colin). And, really, Stan did not handle it too badly at all-- was pretty good, in fact, at using "thee", "thy", "thou", and "you" in all of the right places with the right syntax. He generally gave it a natural, conversational flow and above all kept it clear. When other writers have used it incorrectly (Sweet Fancy Moses, Liefeld's AVENGERS anyone?), it simply unbearably obvious.

Fred, your point about the parallels of a kid struggling w/ the yoke of parental authority is a very good one-- I think you're right on the money. Especially since Thor was surprisingly obedient to that authority, regardless of mitigating circumstances (a point that ol' Greatest Generation Stan would surely want to emphasize, right?).

Hmm- Thor as a detective? I dunno, I dunno. He just had never had that kind of canny, deeper way of looking at any situation, y'know? Head-on solutions are pretty much what he's hard-wired to look for. Now, the Warriors Three as a Detective TEAM-- oh man, I'd pay good money to see that! Geeze Louise-- that would be seventeen kinds of a hoot!

HB

Matt Celis said...

What you noted is exactly why it would make a good story: Thor way out of his element, Mjolnir of no use to him, no way to muscle his way to a solution.

Matt Celis said...

Thor hardly makes his teammates superfluous. Your rating them solely on brute force. Iron Man's technical facility, Vision's logic, and so on, fill areas where Thor is of little or no use. All it takes is a good writer. Stories where super heroes win due to sheer force I find exceedingly dull.

Doug said...

Wow -- I had no idea this topic would blow up as it has. Thanks to all for your impassioned participation this day!

Just to respond to a few of the points that have run through today's discussion --

Personally, I really like the faux-Shakespearean speech patterns of Marvel's mythological creatures. It's something that sets them apart and for money has really worked. I'd say that no one did it better than Stan, but along the way others did have success; of course, there were failures, too, but generally Thor and others sound like Stan's early imagining.

Not digging Thor as a detective at all. Nope, not at all necessary. We have Batman, Daredevil, etc. to fill that role. If all characters were of the same powerset or backstory, how boring would that be? Guys like Thor, Superman, and the Hulk fill an important part in these universes we love. And if you're looking for Thor to solve a problem with his head, how about the time he defeated the Absorbing Man by tricking ol' Crusher into taking on the properties of helium? How's that for sleuthing?

If Thor is going to be written street-level, something has to be done to make him interesting. I just received the latest Thor Bronze Age tpb, reprinting Annuals 5-6 and a few issues from #267-271. Good lord, he fought the Stilt-Man in one of those issues. The Stilt-Man! Give me Hela, Mephisto, Ares, or some other godlike or astral baddies.

Moondragon was a... sorry. But anyway, she was probably right to a degree. If you think of the best Avengers arcs featuring Thor, they are either cosmic (Kree/Skrull, Celestial Madonna, Korvac, Annual #7/MTIO Annual #2) or feature some unbeatable foe like Ultron ("Ultron, we would have words with thee!"). Now we're talking Thor territory. I just don't think he's really necessary if the Ringmaster shows up (although come to think of it, the Circus of Crime was a recurring foil in Journey Into Mystery).

Carry on.

Doug

Fred W. Hill said...

Rather funny how much the Ringmaster and his crew got around, Doug, especially when you know the orginal Ringmaster was one of Captain America's earliest foes in 1941 and Kirby resurrected him 21 years later to tangle with the Hulk! Of course, later it was retconned that Cap faced against the Silver Age Ringo's father -- now I suppose they'd have to make him grandfather Ringmaster. And Ringmaster did wait until after Big Daddy Odin took away all of Thor's extra-godly powers before messing with the Thunder God.

Anonymous said...

In a nutshell - false. I agree with all of the previous commentators in that Thor works best when he is torn between his role as prince of Asgard and protector of Midgard (Earth). This inner conflict makes him a more relatable and interesting character. I recall an issue I read many years ago where Thor himself questioned why he always felt such a strong connection to Midgard - I found out later that his mother was the Earth Goddess Gaea.

As for Thor being a sleuth in the traditional sense of Sherlock Holmes - nope! I can't picture the Thunder God solving a crime by examining minute details. It just ain't in his nature. However, he is a cunning warrior, and like Conan the barbarian, has defeated foes by tricking them rather than overpowering them as Doug illustrated when Thor defeated the Absorbing Man. I remember someone in a Conan comic book once said (paraphrasing): 'You are smarter than you look. I'm sure many a foe has learned that the hard way'. I think this applies to both Thor and Conan, two warriors not normally regarded as smart, but who have nevertheless on several occasions defeated villains using their brains rather than brawn.



- Mike 'have at thee!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

J.V. said...

I think the book is more interesting with Thor as a cosmic hero but for the films, not so much.

One of the great things about the Simonson run was that although Thor & Beta Ray Bill's stories were cosmic in setting, they were also firmly rooted in Norse mythology characterization & conflict. The current God of Thunder run emulates that closely (how effectively is a separate argument).

The movies, OTOH need the Midgar driven set-pieces to make it relatable to a mainstream super-hero audience rather than an esoteric sci-fi/fantasy driven one. That said, I'm not rating the quality of the thor movies so far.

Humanbelly said...

Say-- a quick jump back to that cool mast-head picture:

The artist-- Marie Severin, you think? Yes? The Hulk looks to be pure Trimpe. . . except he tutored directly under Marie on the Hulk's book around '67/'68, and clearly reflected her style at that point. . . so it could actually be her. Round-head Subby would also be her. AND Capt.Marvel's Kree uniform (and inclusion as part of Marvel's perceived "mainstream") would also indicate a late '67/early '68 timeframe, yes?

Man, I wonder where this image originally came from. Clearly, the Torch and Iron Man are meant to be supporting something at the top of that wegde-shaped column they've created. A MARVEL logo would be my first guess. . .

(Sorry, I've obsessed about this image since I first saw it reprinted in black & white in the mid-70's)

HB

J.A. Morris said...

I'll clarify what I said about Thor's "Shakespearean" style of speech.

I don't mind it at all, I just think it works best when Thor is interacting with someone from Earth (whether it's the Avengers or Jane Foster) who doesn't talk like that. In fact, it's somewhat humorous to read.
When we get issues set in Asgard, we get the Shakespearean talk from all sides of the conversation. That gets old for me.

The first Thor solo tale I ever read was this one (273):

http://www.comics.org/issue/32441/

It featured the Midgard Serpent in New York, that's the perfect Thor story in my book. Down to Earth and Asgardian at the same time.

david_b said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
david_b said...

A final comment that seems to be overlooked fairly often, and an opinion on the new masthead.

I always remind myself that while Stan was surmising there'd be interest at higher levels when he wrote, he knew his audience was basically the adolescent reader, so as we've all read before, he took characters of old and turned 'em into heroes. The folks now that chide him for scripting sappy dialog need to be reminded who he thought he was writing for.. I love that a major part of Lee's beloved charm was the 'in-your-face-I-know-this-is-silly-but-let's-enjoy-this-nuttiness-together' Bullpen shtick.

Who knew it would be read/reread/reprinted/TPB'ed/Disney'ed/BAB'ed and used for multi-million dollar movie scripts 50yrs later..?

The whole advent of the college (and soldiers overseas) readership took a lot of the industry by surprise, but again was stimulated by the explosive popularity of the Bat-craze.

As for the masthead, agreeing with HB, it clearly looks like Marie. Perhaps Trimpe and Romita sketched their characters, but it looks 'Marie-centric' to these eyes.

Vintage Bob said...

Both true and false. I think Thor works best when alternating between cosmic/space/Asgard adventures and Earth-bound adventures.

But by far the former are the more enjoyable. Just about all the best Thor stories took place in Asgard or in some space setting - all my favorites. The Hercules team-up going to battle Pluto in the Underworld, the first Rigellian/Colonizers/Ego the Living Planet adventure, the Mangog stories, many of the battles with Ulik, the Galactus trilogy, the 5 issue Ssthgar/Mercurio/Xorr mega-story, the Firelord/Hercules/Galactus/Ego story, and so on.

I've always enjoyed Thor the most when he's in a larger setting, in Asgard or going through space. He needs Earth-bound adventures too, but I think the best ones were the ones in Asgard or other cosmic settings. He is a god after all!

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