I’m back with another installment in this (clearly random in occurrence (but c’mon…the school year is back (and that means grading and lesson planning (so blogging itself becomes more random (to make room for other obligations))))) series saluting my love of Thor as I continue to get excited for Thor: Ragnarök. As makes total sense to yours truly, there’s really no better day of the week to celebrate Thor than on the day named in his honor. So let’s celebrate Thursday by remembering it literally means Thor’s Day and looking at why Thor comics captivated me as a kid!
Really, Thor was this perfect superhero for me, designed to hit everything I loved as a kid (and still do). As I’ve said before, Thor was my second favorite superhero after Spider-Man. For me it was the way his comics always managed to combine the rich collection of the myths within the Norse tradition alongside the classic superhero narrative. Here was this guy who talked like a Shakespeare character, dressed in armor, used ancient weapons all while travelling through space and doing battle with aliens, monsters, and super villains. His adversaries would just as readily be drawn out of Norse mythology itself as they would come from all corners of the Marvel Universe. Past Michael found so much to be enamored with in Thor comics.
For the comic nerd in me, Thor was a superhero through and through, doing everything I’d expect from someone who shared a world with Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the X-Men, and the New Warriors. For a lover of fantasy stories, there were swords and shields, bows and arrows, armor, dragons, monsters, great ships, rainbow bridges, aliens, foreign worlds, and other dimensions. And, for a budding theology scholar, it was all anchored in Norse mythology. Granted, there were obvious creative liberties taken. For example, in the comics Thor is blonde and often clean shaven whereas in the original myths he had dark red hair and was always bearded. But, creative liberties aside, this was still the world of Yggdrasil, the Æsir, Mjölnir, and the Bifröst. It shouldn’t really surprise me that I grew up to study and teach theology. As a kid I spent countless hours pouring over my collections of Greek, Norse, and Celtic myths. I loved those books. I was so excited when Mom and Dad got them for me. They still hold a place of honor on my theology book shelf today!
I loved the worlds they opened for me and I mined the stories of gods and goddesses, heroes, monsters, and demigods whenever I could. In the vast Lego world my brother and I had as kids, we would often create little Lego versions of the various pantheons to interact with our other characters across “Lego time” from the Medieval sets to the Islander sets to the Wild West sets to the Aquanaught sets to the Town sets. In The Mighty Thor I found all these stories I was already so interested in, reworked and set to the rules of a comic book narrative. It was perfect!
Were the Norse names a little more difficult to pronounce than the Greek or Celtic mythology I studied? Of course they were. But that’s part of the fun! As an adult I still have to pause when reading Norse mythology (or Thor comics books) to wonder if what I’m saying is correct :). Heck, that’s one of the best parts of the films! Hearing someone say “Yggdrasil” out loud (someone I hope was instructed by someone who really knows what they’re talking about) was pretty exciting. But I digress.
I loved Thor. I loved reading about Thor. I always wished they made a cool Thor action figure. I had built my own little Thor character out of Legos (remember, this was the 90’s…a time when “official” Lego versions of comic book and movie characters didn’t exist). I often pretended to be Thor when we’d play superheroes as kids too. If I could have had a toy hammer that looked half as cool as the Mjölnir I now have in my classroom (of course it’s there to bang on the filing cabinet when I want the kids to quiet down) to play with when I was a kid…ahhh that would have been brilliant! Of course pretending to be Thor as a kid required a bit of work. The hammer was always tricky to pull off. But thankfully my imagination has always been solid :).
When I first met Thor in the comics it was Eric Masterson who was holding Mjölnir. I loved his time as Thor. In fact, trying to gather every back issue where he was Thor so I could read the entire course of his story, was one of the earliest “comic collecting” missions I remember setting out on. With the Odinson, there was always this tension between his wanting to live on Midgard with humanity and his duty to Asgard, the All-Father, and the cosmos. However, with Eric as Thor, there was the tension of a human being who didn’t always know what he was doing trying to fill the shoes (or big yellow boots as the case may be) of the God of Thunder. I liked the tension between his two lives. I liked his struggle to be a responsible parent to his son Kevin while still being the protector the world needed. And I loved when the Odinson returned and Eric Masterson became Thunderstrike. I read that entire series too…and I was sad when he eventually died. (Also, while I’m thinking about it, how great was his costume? I mean c’mon. That is classic 90’s! He has the ponytail, the vest, the goatee, and even a little lightning bolt earring. I love it.)
But I eagerly followed the Odinson’s exploits once the original Thor returned too. As I was thinking about writing this piece, I sat down to re-read one of my favorite stories from my youth reading The Mighty Thor or Thor or Journey Into Mystery: Featuring The Lost Gods or whatever the title was called at the time. In this vein, I picked up Thor #491-494. This story arc saw Thor – who had willingly left Asgard behind for Midgard while Odin made Red Norvell Thor in his place – slowly dying on earth. Someone had tricked Yggdrasil into believing Ragnarök had occurred so that meant the gods should be dead. As a result, Yggdrasil was slowly killing Thor. The Enchantress finds Thor and shields him from the World Tree as they attempt to set things right. More significant than that, Amora says, since they are both banished from their homeland, perhaps they should put aside the animosity between them and give themselves over to the potential for real feelings that’s always burned between them.
These four issues began a larger story arc where Thor and Amora begin a romantic relationship, finding both love and solace in each other, and take part in adventures together on Earth. For all my love of the cosmic side of Thor, I would read and re-read these comics again and again as a kid. Returning to them tonight, and reading them for the first time in over twenty years, I found all the fun and excitement I remembered loving about Thor.
Incidentally, I also appreciated the nature of his relationship with Amora a lot more than I did when I first read these stories as a fourteen year old. At that age I could get the, uh…obvious appeal of the Enchantress (I mean she was drawn in the height of the ridiculous 90’s excess and objectification (as Nancy talked about so well in her post on Image’s Wild C.A.T.S.)) but I still struggled with why Thor would so willingly throw his lot in with one of his “greatest enemies.” But now, reading these stories as a thirty-five year old, I see a whole other layer of complexity and emotional vulnerability in Thor being willing to trust and coming to love Amora. First, we’ve all met those people that we know are trouble but we’re still drawn to them anyway. We can’t help it. There’s something that pulls us in and we willingly abandon ourselves to it (whether or not we have much control over that to begin with is a discussion for another day) even though we know it will ultimately bring heartache and pain. Second, we all have those “What if…?” people. These are the people from our past who we ponder what life would have been like if things had played out a bit differently. That can be an enticing draw as well. Lastly, and most importantly, love isn’t rational. We’ve all wished it was. I spent soooo much of my twenties pining after and pursuing the wrong women. Haha, oh the emotional wreckage! It’s all become funny anecdotes now but at the time it hurt. But I couldn’t control my heart! Sometimes it was the wrong woman. Sometimes it was the right woman at the wrong time. And sometimes life…well, sometimes life just seemed to have funny little plans all it’s own.
In Amora, Thor finds a partner who represents all of this. He sees a woman who he’s known his entire life, who shares his experiences and unique situation (being exiled on Earth, forever away from Asgard), with whom he’s always shared a little spark of passion, and she’s asking for a fresh start. Alone, simultaneously curious and a little reckless, who wouldn’t give it a shot? Forgiveness is powerful. Compassion is powerful. Understanding is powerful. And when love begins to grow in and around those emotions – even if it’s ultimately doomed to fail – who could (or would) stop it? It no longer surprises me that Thor would willingly try a life with Amora. In fact it makes all the sense in the world.
It was fun to see a brand new side to this story I’ve read dozens of times. Seeing these stories in a different light is a testament to how well written they were. I believe the most powerful stories are the ones that can grow with you, speaking to you in different ways at different points in your life based on what your lived experience and emotional awareness enables you to understand. I didn’t see any of this complex emotional tapestry at the heart of this story when I first read these comics at fourteen. How could I? I completely lacked the experience that would allow me to get where either Thor or Amora were coming from. But now with a bit more living under my belt, I can. That awareness allows me to appreciate what Warren Ellis and Mike Deodato Jr. (ridiculously excessive 90’s art aside) created all the more because of it.
For a kid who loved Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess and who devoured books on ancient mythology as rabidly as he read comic books, finding Thor was always going to be a match made in heaven…or Valhalla as the case may be. I found so many of my passions woven together in Thor’s adventures and I’ve always loved him because of that. It’s nice to see that love can and has grown with me. And there’s great comfort and joy in opening up these old Thor comics to find both that pure childhood joy again as well as brand new layers of nuance and complexity I’d missed as a kid.
For more Thor fun, why not take a look at some of my other Thor posts?!? Sounds like a great idea right??