Like most seven-year-old boys growing up in the ’90s, I discovered comic books before I discovered girls. My favorite was probably Spider-Man, whose colorful villains and dazzling, sunlit world of towering skyscrapers gave me an exciting counterpoint to my mundane reality of being raised by a single mother in Northeast Philadelphia. She was seldom around, and I was an awkward kid, which meant I escaped into Spider-Man’s world often. Superheroes were amazing, escaping their human troubles to throw cars at villains who gleefully declared their sinister intentions and seemed to beg for retribution.
My love for superheroes took a turn when my uncle gave me a copy of a Spider-Man collection called Return of the Sinister Six. It was a throwback to an older story that I hadn’t read, but I loved it anyway.
The comic storyline featured a plot by the eight-armed Dr. Octopus to assemble a team of villains to hijack a satellite and make it spew a vomit-green poison into the atmosphere. It wasn’t my generation’s Moby Dick, but to my 11-year-old sensibilities, Return of the Sinister Six was a monumental work that nothing else could ever top.
However, the most shocking part of the book wasn’t the end, when Peter Parker comes home to a half-naked Mary Jane; it was the climax, when despite Spider-Man’s best efforts, Dr. Octopus launches a satellite, and just when all seems lost, help arrives in the form a gigantic, muscled man who falls into frame, spinning his massive hammer like a helicopter propeller.
“Thor?” asks an incredulous scientist, as if he doesn’t live in the Marvel Universe. “It pays to have Avengers for pals!” Says Spider-Man with a Bugs Bunny gesture. “You’re here to help us?” Asks one of the scientists. And Thor, gloriously absurd in his broad red cape, flared, knee-high yellow boots, flowing, butter-blonde hair, and gleaming, wide-winged helmet, declares, “Aye. Though I be of Asgardian blood, Earth is my home. Tell me what needs to be done!”
There was no other superhero like Thor. All the other superheroes wore a logo on their chests like they were active billboards for their own franchises. Spider-Man, Batman, even Superman were all people who were filling a void in their lives or answering a call to action while dressed in costumes.
Thor, on the other hand, wore his everyday Asgardian garb, which was apparently a leather muscle shirt and spiffy blue spandex pants. He was also weirdly out of place with his savagely long hair and wild exclamations of “By the bristling beard of Odin!” or “Have at thee, varlot, or suffer the wrath of Thor!” He was ferocious and uncompromising, and when compared to the clean-cut, self-righteous Superman or the sleek, polished menace of Batman, he was different and engaging in ways few other superheroes were. He stimulated my imagination with his passion and power.
More Than Just a Comic Book Thor
I didn’t think there was much more to Thor than his appearances in comic books. But when I saw Disney’s Hercules and discovered he was an actual mythological god that people worshiped, I was captivated and assumed that Marvel had based its boisterous thunder god off of the son of Zeus. It wasn’t until the internet became a thing that I discovered how wrong I was.
Thor, his father, Odin All-Father, and their wonderful city of Asgard were all motifs from a larger body of myths. These myths contained narratives as varied as the death of gods, heartbreak and sorrow, creation myths, and even the end of the physical universe. It was shocking to find out that elements that seemed a product of a monthly, action-based superhero comic had some link to stories people had once believed in.
Re-Discovering The Mighty Thor
Fast-forward to my 19th year. I was just starting college and hadn’t lived with my mother for nearly three years. One day, I found myself in a comic bookstore, and there on the rack was my old friend, Thor, standing solemnly before a surly purple backdrop lit by jagged bolts of lightning. There was none of the silliness of his ’90s comics about him. The leather muscle shirt was now a jerkin fastened over a suit of mail, he held his sacred hammer tight in his hands, and for once, the thunder god looked calm. Thor seemed to be beckoning for me to pick up his comic. Before I knew it, I was wearing a pendant in the shape of Thor’s hammer around my neck, the way the Norsemen of old had.
The central theme of Marvel’s The Mighty Thor comic has always has been about worthiness. Thor’s hammer—whose name, Mjolnir, means “Crusher”—is a weapon of tremendous power. But part of its magic is that in order to wield it, you must be worthy.
Thor is noble and strong but merciful to his foes; his love for mankind and the planet Earth temper him, forcing him to make difficult decisions that only he can carry. These themes resonate in a similar way that the ancient Norse sagas do. In the sagas, a hopeful Odin invites a foe into Asgard for a drink and is saddened when he must order his death, or a god surrenders his magic weapon out of love. Unlike their mythological cousins, the Olympian gods, the Norse gods suffer and die for their mistakes and seem to want a better world for mankind.
As an adult, I see much of myself in Thor’s struggles. When life’s troubles bear down on me, I close my eyes and visualize Thor lifting his hammer and remember to strive to be the best I can, even if I know I’ll fall short.