Creations like Spider-Man, The X-Men and, of course, Thor, may be well established icons of popular culture these days, but they made their humble debut on the pages of Marvel comics.
Long before Thor made his debut in 1962, Marvel Comics had been in operation since 1939 after being set up by publisher Martin Goodman. Their first issue comic book was launched in October of that year with cover star The Human Torch. As the Second World War raged on, patriotic heroes such as Captain America were latched onto by the public and sales boomed.
A post-war sales slump followed until 1961, when Marvel Comics made a bold move by adopting a ‘superheroes in the real world’ strategy with the launch of The Fantastic Four that year. This proved to be a massive hit, showing the psychological frailties of the protagonists and allowing the reader to relate to their issues. That's not to say that the fights were relegated to the sidelines, just that they created more of an emotional impact when given such depth.
The decision to increase the characterisation in their comics was also notable in new title The Amazing Spider-Man, featuring the superhero’s alter ego Peter Parker ridden by self-doubts and anxiety alongside the magnificent action sequences.
In August 1962, The Mighty Thor made his first ever appearance as he graced the cover of the Journey into Mystery comic book. Thor was devised by comic book legend Stan Lee, artist Jack Kirby and writer Larry Lieber. The superhero’s origins lie in Norse Mythology, where Thor was the God of thunder and lightning – as his Marvel alter ego was too.
Thor also continued Marvel’s trend of creating a complex psyche for their new characters. As opposed to the usual superhero mould where the central character was graced with humility, Thor could be an arrogant figure at times and not afraid of boasting of his exploits mid-battle. But he also was able to show a great degree of humility too, having been temporarily placed into the body of a partially disable medical student by his concerned father Odin. This was conveyed to the reader via numerous flashbacks that provided a background to Thor’s character.
Striving to protect humans against all kinds of threats, no superhero is complete without an arch-nemesis. In Thor’s case it was his adopted brother Loki he had to lock horns with. However, the villain often avoided direct conflict and created monsters like the Absorbing Man and the Wrecker to carry out his dirty work, through fear of their father Odin discovering his malevolent ways.
Alongside having thunder and lighting at his disposal, Thor used a Norse mythology inspired ‘mjolnir’ – a mystical hammer – to fend off mortal foes such as the Wrecking Crew and the Grey Gargoyle. He was also able to deploy his ‘Belt of Strength’ to great effect. However, away from his tools, Thor possessed the kind of superhuman strength, stamina and reflexes that put him up there with other Marvel heroes like Hulk and Gladiator.
Despite hailing from Askard – kingdom of the Gods – Thor was not immortal as many believed. To maintain his existence he needs to take a bite from the Golden Apples of Idun every now and then. They certainly sound more appealing than your usual Granny Smiths.
Thor was also a founding member of the superhero team The Avengers alongside Ant-Man, Wasp, Iron Man and the Hulk, althoigh the latter was eventually replaced by Captain America.
From the beginning, readers lapped up Thor’s adventures and his features began to expand. His domination of Journey into Mystery prompted Marvel to retitle the comic The Mighty Thor in March 1966. After thirty years of success, the popular comic was eventually rebranded back to Journey into Mystery in late 1996, with the superhero starring in his own title Thor Vol. 2 from July 1998 until December 2004.
Plans are afoot for a new Thor-themed comic in 2007, reportedly written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski.
Away from the pages of the Marvel Comics, Thor’s powers have been transferred into a wide range of other media. A long-awaited feature film is rumoured to be in development, but the Norse superhero is no stranger to the small screen. He’s made several appearances in animated shows like SpiderMan and his Amazing Friends, alongside a role in a live-action Incredible Hulk tv movie.
But for now, Thor fans can gather round the screen and enjoy controlling a pixelated form of the mighty God in new video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance…