Sunday, July 28, 2013

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #83

"The Power of Thor" by Stan Lee, Larry Leiber, Jack Kirby & Joe Sinnott
(August 1962)

I'm not sure if Thor makes the third superhero book or the fourth, officially. I still take "The Man in the Ant Hill" to be a science fiction thriller one-off that Stan Lee decided to go back to, but it could have been a concept test, too. So, officially, there's no Ant-Man yet, so I take this to be the third superhero book.

Anyway, we pick up here with Dr. Donald Blake, a frail, lame-legged doctor on vacation in Norway. (Not that anyone asked, but I've thought since fifth grade that I'd like to go to Norway. I had to do a report on Norway then--it was the country I was assigned--and those fjords and my love of Viking culture really have always made me want to just see that country.)

So Dr. Blake is just walking around when suddenly a spaceship lands and the Stone Men from Saturn walk out. So there's another alien race in the Marvel Universe already. I'm really curious--probably more so than Stan Lee and Larry Leiber are--about the biology of the Stone Men from Saturn. I mean, they look heavy. Cool Kirby design, by the way:

That the oxygen-rich atmosphere enhances their natural strength, I can accept. What I keep wondering about, though, is how these Stone Men live on Saturn. I mean, it's a gas giant, so... wouldn't these heavy guys just slowly sink until they were stuck? Granted, I'm no planetary scientist or anything, so I can't really say with authority that stone creatures can't survive on Saturn, but it's just kind of nagging at me... anyone know the answer here? And if not, can you ask Neil deGrasse Tyson for me? We already know he's a Thor fan!

Don Blake is another one of those guys in the Marvel Universe who is apparently supposed to be something of a coward (especially the way we see him regarded in future issues), yet the first thing he does is something that takes courage. It's a bit of a foolhardy courage, perhaps, but it comes from a kind of brave curiosity. See, Don is staying in a fishing village where someone has seen the Stone Men from Saturn land, and he decides to go check it out himself. Of course, the Stone Men nearly kill him. He can't flee because of his crippled leg, but he ducks into a cave where he finds an ancient wooden walking stick. Using it to try and dig away the rocks, he taps it and turns into Thor, the Norse God of Thunder!

This is Superheroes 101: you take a frail man and give him an opportunity to be powerful and then see how he wields it. There's a nice couple of pages that follow where we see what the hammer can really do: it's incredibly powerful, it always returns to Thor's hand after he throws it, and if he taps the handle on the ground twice, he can manipulate the weather. We also discover that if he goes more than sixty seconds without holding the hammer (which is not named here), he reverts back to Don Blake. And, of course, he can fly by throwing his hammer into the air and holding on to it. (Well, he doesn't really "fly," the hammer just pulls him along "like a rocket.")

When the Saturn fleet attacks, they use a projection of a monster to scare off the defending army. The soldiers give up pretty fast, too. I notice that soldiers in the Marvel Universe give up pretty easily every time something is a little too irrational or supernatural for them. It's... it's kind of embarrassing.

Anyway, Thor easily defeats them, of course. (He's super-strong, too.) And he fights a robot that the Stone Men of Saturn refer to as a "Mechano-Monster." I love it.

Other observations:

:: I've been remiss in this series by not mentioning the inker in the authorial credits. From now on, I'll be sure to do that. I'll fix the old ones, too.

:: Larry Lieber isn't quite the talented writer his brother Stan is. I assume the way the Marvel method works is that Stan does the plot, in this case Jack Kirby does the art, and then Larry Lieber writes the captions and dialogue. Stan is a master of hyperbole and knows how to draw you in and keep the story moving along; Larry Lieber can spin a yarn, sure, but his writing isn't quite as fun as Stan's and in some cases (and I'm sure I'll talk about it then), it can even be tedious. And nothing against Lieber personally, because I love the silliness of his run on the Human Torch stories in Strange Tales, but I don't love his Ant-Man stories in Tales to Astonish and I think his Thor stories are kind of on the lame side. Not as lame as Ant-Man. Nothing's as lame as Ant-Man.

But we'll definitely see less talented writers. I urge everyone who downplays Stan Lee's contributions to Marvel Comics (which is apparently a hip thing to do now) to read a few issues of Fantastic Four or Amazing Spider-Man and then check out something written by HE Huntley or R. Berns and try to have fun with that.

:: This is the first time aliens actually respond to a superpowered threat and run off. The Fantastic Four bluffed the Skrulls with pictures clipped from Marvel Comics, and it was Banner, not the Hulk, who defeated the Toad-Men. This time, Thor just shows up and fights them off until they retreat. It's more straightforward, but it's kind of fun to just see one of these heroes tear everything apart because it's not the norm at Marvel.

:: I once read an interview with Stan Lee where he said the editors had a list detailing the hierarchy of power among the characters. Thor, he said, was the most powerful, because he was a god. I want to say the Hulk was second, but Silver Surfer is pretty dang powerful...

:: Interestingly, in this issue, Thor is pretty much the alter ego of Don Blake; they both share the same mind, and Blake is the true identity. This will change in the future, where it's established that Thor is the actual Asgardian Thor. I actually find the whole thing a little bit awkward; it doesn't always work for me. And it's not like the Hulk, where it's another personality that alters Bruce Banner's body. It's a totally different person. Where does Blake go? Is that ever established?

:: The end-of-story announcement that Thor will be a regular feature in Journey Into Mystery proudly misspells his name in big bold letters as "Thorr."

This is pretty much a straightforward superhero origin, but it's fun and establishes the basics in a short amount of time--keep in mind that the Thor story is generally one-third of an issue of Journey Into Mystery. It's starting to get a little de rigueur to fight aliens, I think; all three of Marvel's heroes/super teams have done it now. It does come to seem like a little bit of a waste having a god hero like Thor and then having him fight aliens and (still to come) Communist armies, gangsters and thieves. Think bigger here!

Still, I like Thor. The dorkiness is part of the charm.

Next time: Look out! Here comes the Spider-Man!


Kal said...

I love the way they bring back the Stone Giants of Saturn in the Planet Hulk comic and animated movie. How they connect them to the origin of Beta Ray Bill is very cool.

SamuraiFrog said...

I haven't seen the Planet Hulk movie. I think it's on Netflix, I should really see it, because I LOVED the comic book. One of my favorite comics ever.