Legacy Characters have become a central (and vitally important) part of modern comic storytelling but Thor was doing it long before it was a trend. Many sets of hands have held Mjölnir over the years and this Thor’s Day (that’s right Thursday…we’re going back to your original purpose and honoring the Thunder God!) I thought it would be fun to look at some of my favorites and consider why they’ve resonated with me. (I also wanted to explore Mjölnir’s power set a bit, just for funzzies.) I returned to reading Thor comics when Jane Foster became the Goddess of Thunder but my original run with the title was from 1991 to 1997. Obviously there are more Thors than I’ll examine here, but these are my favorites :).
Not just anyone can wield the hammer of Thor. “Whosoever holds this hammer, if s/he be worthy, shall possess the power of…THOR.” This is the inscription/enchantment Odin left on Mjölnir, one of the most powerful weapons in the Marvel Universe. Given the fact that Thor is the Norse Thunder God, Mjölnir has always given it’s bearer power over the storm. However, in Jason Aaron’s current run on The Mighty Thor (specifically issues #11 and 12) we’ve learned Mjölnir is far more than just an enchanted hammer. In reality, Mjölnir contains the Mother Storm. This sentient cosmic storm (also called the God Tempest or the Mother of Thunder) has existed since the dawn of time and is the size of an entire galaxy. Its winds can blow comets off course, rip planets from orbit, and snuff out stars as though they were candles. It’s lightning is capable of turning moons to dust while it’s thunder can make a black hole tremble.
Eons ago, Odin engaged in battle with the Mother Storm when it reached Asgard. After days of trying unsuccessfully to defeat it, he used dark and primal magic to trap it inside a hunk of Uru metal the dwarves had given him. He asked them to fashion it into the ultimate weapon, a war hammer, which he named Mjölnir. However the Mother Storm would not obey him and after a disastrous attempt at using the hammer himself left Asgard in ruins, Odin enchanted Mjölnir so it would be all but impossible for anyone to lift. Over millennia of inactivity and captivity, the Mother Storm grew weaker and its sentience quieted. Thor Odinson would eventually prove himself worthy to lift Mjölnir from her resting place, claiming the power over the storm the hammer still had for himself. Centuries later, the Mother Storm would awaken once more when it called to Jane Foster, its ancient power slowly returning along with its consciousness.
But more than two sets of hands have held the hammer of Thor and, as promised above, here are some of my favorites!
Let’s start with Dargo Ktor. Anyone else remember him? No? Don’t feel too bad. I had to Google his name myself. What I remembered of Dargo (outside of the fact that his name started with a “D”) was his look. This is basically the heavy metal version of Thor. Also, he was great because he gave us (meaning me, David, and our cousins) another option of Thor-level heroing when we’d play superheroes. That’s great! Between the Odinson, Eric Masterson, and Dargo, there were three solid Thor options we could use if we were feeling it. I’m gonna level with you…there’s not much else I can say about this guy. The reason? I don’t remember much else about him. I guess I could Google his bio along with his name but since this post is about the Thors I loved and why they resonated with me, that sort of feels like cheating. Right? If I can’t remember anymore about Dargo Ktor than this, it seems like that’s where this part of the post should end. But I do remember loving the fact that he gave us another variation of Thor for our playing! And the importance of one more awesome (not to mention rock ‘n’ roll looking) Thor can’t be overstated. Any variation of the Thunder God was welcome in my comics and in my imagination. Yay!
Then there was Red Norvell. Thor Odinson was having another one of his “C’mon dad! I wanna be with my friends on Earth and you can’t tell me what to do! I’m not a child! I hate you! You’re such a dick! ” moments and, in his absence, Odin granted the power of Thor to Red Norvell. Obviously there was tension between Red and the Odinson but they eventually put their differences behind them and they each enjoyed their own adventures. They even fought together on a number of occasions! I appreciated Red Norvell particularly because, after the Onslaught event when all the heroes “died” (and were shifted over to the Heroes Reborn universe for a while), Red kept the Thor comic alive. Sure the title changed from Thor to Journey Into Mystery: Featuring the Lost Gods but I loved it all the same. In fact, I liked the fact that the spotlight had a chance to fall on some different characters in Thor’s world for a bit. Yes, it was a different sort of comic with Odinson presumed dead but I really appreciated still having my monthly Asgardian fix. Also, with so much action going on in the Heroes Reborn titles, I enjoyed any adventuring I could find back in the main Marvel Universe. AND this Thor actually had red hair and a beard!!! Marvel finally gave us a Thor who looked the way he was supposed to from Norse mythology! That’s pretty cool too.
Next was Beta Ray Bill. He certainly left an impression. Beta Ray Bill was the first “alien” I’d ever seen wield Mjölnir. He was also given his own enchanted hammer, Stormbreaker too. Stormbreaker was also crafted from enchanted Uru metal and contains a portion of Mjölnir’s power. Bill was able to transform back and forth from his Thunder God persona to his mortal Korbinite form (his natural species) by pounding the hammer on the ground. This is classic Thor – the transformation! When Marvel first introduced Thor in Journey Into Mystery #83 back in August of 1962, Thor was still connected to his earthly alter ego Dr. Don Blake. To become Thor, he tapped his walking stick on the ground and he became the Thunder God while his stick became Mjölnir. Often the transformation is tied to a time limit, if whoever is holding Mjölnir loses contact with her for over sixty seconds they revert back to their mortal form. Narrative tension! Yay! However, Beta Ray Bill never had that problem. He only turned when he’d pound the hammer on the ground, no matter how long it was away from him.
But I digress. Really, the great thing about Beta Ray Bill was that he was an alien. Thor’s adventures so regularly took him across the cosmos, it was brilliant to see an alien as the Thunder God. Looking at Beta Ray Bill now, as an adult, I think there’s an extra layer of awesome/importance to him. If the hammer can only be wielded by one who is worthy, the fact that Bill looks like an alien serves to extend the idea of worthiness out beyond an up-to-that-point entirely human-centric view. In fact, writing this and thinking about it kind of makes me want to go back to re-read some Beta Ray Bill stories with that in mind. Hmm, maybe that will be part of my weekend…
From Bill it’s time to move onto Eric Masterson. He was Thor in the main title from June of 1991 until February of 1993 and then became Thundestrike (with a brand new mace (also named Thunderstrike)) and his own title, running from April of 1993 until September of 1995. Eric Masterson was always David’s favorite incarnation of Thor. David has good taste because he was always a favorite of mine too :). In fact, until Jane Foster became Thor he was right up there with Odinson as my favorite incarnation. I know I talked a bit about this last week but I loved the “average guy” approach to superheroing that was always sort of his hallmark. Eric Masterson literally had the power of a god but he was awkward, had more than his fair share of cheesy jokes, and struggled to keep his life in order. I know that can be true for many a superhero but I think it was his power level that made it so interesting. Sure, Spidey has trouble balancing his superheroing with his day-to-day life, but this was Thor we’re talking about.
I also always respected the fact that Eric Masterson was a single father and how central his relationship with his son Kevin was in the comics. Far from a story gimmick or a one note character, Eric’s life revolved around Kevin, both during his time as Thor and his time as Thunderstrike. Seeing him balance his superheroing against his responsibilities as a single father and navigating how to make his life post-divorce work, especially in regard to his relationship with his son, was powerful. While it moved me then, I appreciate this infinitely more now as a thirty-five year old than I could have when I read it at fifteen. I also appreciate how unique he is in the comic set since, after his death in 1995, he never came back from the dead. (Okay technically there was one Avengers storyline where he (and some other deceased Avengers) were brought back from the dead but that was just for one story AND they returned to the afterlife once it was over so he never really came back from the dead.) Eventually his son Kevin would pick up the mace and mantle of Thunderstrike and carry on his father’s legacy after Steve Rogers gave him the mace.
OBVIOUSLY I have to include Thor Odinson here! The OG Thunder God! The man, the myth, and the legend…literally. The one who started it all! If it wasn’t for the moving, thought-provoking, exciting, and beyond brilliant stories I’ve read since Jane Foster became Thor, he would be Number One on my list (with Eric Masterson just a short step behind). But, even if Jane’s become my favorite Thor, it doesn’t mean I still don’t adore Thor Odinson. I kind of wrote alllllll about that last week so, instead of being overly repetitive, I’ll just give you the link down below should you like to go back and read a whole post about how Odinson captured my heart and mind as a child and has never relinquished them.
By way of adding something new (because I kind of feel like I should (otherwise I feel you’ve gotten nearly to the end of the post and find yourself being a little ripped off)) I can say that Thor was BY FAR the most exciting movie for me in Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I couldn’t wait to see how they’d bring one of my favorite characters to life! And I was not disappointed. Okay, so I totes love Thor Odinson. Shall we bring this thing to a close?
I’ve saved the best for last – Jane Foster’s Thor. I’ve said again and again (and again (and again and again and again)) how the fact that a woman wielding Mjölnir was one of the main driving forces in my return to active comic reading. I needed to know what these stories were like! This was something that was completely fresh, wildly original, and important too. I write a lot about the importance of Legacy Characters bringing diversity to the world of superheroes once almost entirely populated by white men. Jane Foster becoming Thor does just that. But this Thor is far from just a symbol. She brings a humanity to the character I’ve never seen in The Mighty Thor before. Rarely have I found such a rich, dynamic character in any comic for that matter. Not only has Jason Aaron created my all time favorite Thor with Jane but he’s also written a story with incredible theological depth as he’s explored just what makes a worthy god.
I’m sure that Jane’s days with us are numbered. She picked up Mjölnir while battling cancer and each time she uses the hammer the healing properties it has purges the chemo from her body when she transforms (why it doesn’t affect the cancerous cells too is anyone’s guess…). The cancer has been progressing more and more over but Jane refuses to stop being Thor. If the tone of the last few months of comics have made me worried for Thor, the tone of Marvel Legacy and The Mighty Thor #700 have made me all the more certain she’ll be passing away soon (also the fact that the current storyline is called “The Death of the Mighty Thor” seems to be pretty on the nose with it). It will be a heartbreaking story for me to read and it will certainly make me rethink reading the title on a monthly basis afterwards. I wouldn’t drop it because I’m angry she’s no longer Thor. Look at everyone on this list. Every Thor has their time. And to every Thor’s time there is a season… Odinson always returns to the role. But it will be hard to read after losing the emotional power of Jane and her stories.
Alright, this post now runs the risk of becoming a melancholic reflection on losing a character I’ve come to love so much (a character who has come to symbolize my return to comic reading). So let’s end it here. We’re a week away from Thor: Ragnarök people! WOO HOO!!! I say grab yourself a glass of fine Asgardian mead (or, in my case right now, a Diet Snapple) and a pile of your favorite Thor comics with your favorite hammer wielder and celebrate Thor’s Day in style as we countdown to the big premiere!
What’s that?? You’d like MORE Thor?!? Well who can blame you? Feel free to check out these other Thor pieces I’ve written to get you thunder and lightning on.
So here are my thoughts on what the MCU should do on the sad day Chris Hemsworth decides he wants to retire.
Here’s the promised link to the post on how I feel in love with Thor Odinson as a kid.
Here’s the post about how Jane Foster has become my all time favorite Thor.
And here’s the post about the theological brilliance Jason Aaron’s creating as he explores the nature of God in The Mighty Thor.
12 thoughts on “Thor’s Day Salutes: “Whosoever Holds This Hammer…””
Beta Ray Bill was always my favorite!!
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Yes! He was our one cousin’s favorite as well. He’d almost always call dibs on Beta Ray Bill when we’d play. I think he looks the coolest of all the Thors too, by far. No other Thor comes close!
Yeah, growing up I identified more with the skeletal horse head guy than the long blond haired god. 😁
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I always felt Beta Ray Bill deserved more action. He’s SO COOL. He was the reason I had to read ‘The Unworthy Thor’ last year. I was so-so about what the Odinson was up to but I knew Beta Ray Bill featured so, once the trade was out, I had to check it out.
I have never really been interested in Thor. He always seemed like a side character to me and I feel like whenever I see him he is portrayed as a weak character. But after reading this I think i might read some comics on Thor sometime soon. Also have you seen the fight scene between Beta Ray Bill and Hulk in Plant Hulk? Its epic so I guess Beta Ray Bill would be my favorite because i don’t know much about Thor.
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I’ve actually never read the Planet Hulk run. (I KNOW!) But that sounds incredible. I read ‘The Unworthy Thor’ in large part for Beta Ray Bill so I think I need to check out Planet Hulk too, if for no other reason than more Beta Ray Bill. Woo!
I’ve never, ever been a Thor gal (sorry)…not even the movies could do it for me. So as I’m reading this, and I’m looking at those pictures – omg the muscles on Thor!!! And I don’t really mean that in a good way. Like, I’ve seen other comics and I know the muscles are always super exaggerated but OMG. On Thor, they’re, just, horse muscles.
Other than that, great post. Still can’t get me interested in Thor though. Now Black Widow is another story…
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The 90’s were the absolute WORST for that. As a kid I didn’t realize it but, looking back now, the male characters were all rippling, vein-riddled, male power fantasies and the women were all blatantly sexually objectified. The Thor comics were some of the worst offenders too. When I go back and re-read those comics now it’s this weird mix of digging the story and having this great nostalgic moment…while also being sort of pulled out of the stories at times with the art. So, even as a Thor fan, I’m with you. It looks ridiculous.
I’ve always loved Black Widow too. As a kid, she was always one of my favorite Avengers. I loved how she had no super powers to speak of but still stood toe-to-toe with these crazy big threats. I haven’t read any of her modern comics but I love Scarlett Johansson’s portrayal of her. We NEED a Black Widow solo movie.
I got really into black widow in high school. Middle school was my x-men days. I’d love to have a black widow movie… I think it would be really good if they played their cards right. It’s just a fine line between making the woman independent but if she has a love interest, not defining her by that love interest. And it seems like Hollywood has trouble getting that right. Oh and with superheroes and their scantily clad outfits, you also throw in the objectifying layer which is a whole different issue as well
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Yeah, the writing is key. Marvel Studios’ line has been they’re waiting to do a female led superhero movie because they “want to get it right.” Now we’ll be ten years into the MCU before Captain Marvel shows up… I hope they are seriously working and it’s not just an excuse to minimize their female characters. Black Widow, going back to ‘Iron Man 2,’ is the perfect candidate for a solo film…as long as the MCU can do it justice.
Oh, and I loved the X-Men too! I haven’t been able to get super into their recent comics but they were a HUGE part of my youth!