Welcome to “Before You Go,” a new segment here at the Report in which I tell you everything you need to know — and then some — about whatever nerd film is opening the next day. And what better film to launch this new segment with than Marvel Studios’ latest release, “Thor.”
In the Beginning
The Mighty Thor was one of the few early Marvel superheroes not created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko. He was created by vikings several hundred years earlier as they sat by their campfires after a hard day of pillaging and tried to make sense of the world.
They came up with a complex and convoluted cosmology — especially for vikings — and I’m not about to go into all of it. Here’s all you need to know for now: The Norse Gods lived on a rock in space called Asgard which is connected to Earth — called Midgard — by Bifrost, the rainbow bridge. The bridge is watched over by all-seeing Heimdall, bouncer to the gods.
The King of the Gods was Odin, aka The All Father. Odin’s favorite son was Thor, the god of thunder and lightning. Thor’s wife is the golden-haired goddess Sif. The only other Norse God you need to concern yourself with now is Loki, the god of mischief and lies. Loki’s back story is a confusing mess from what I’ve read, so we’ll go with the origin that Marvel gave him — which is that Odin found him as a baby, the abandoned son of a Frost Giant (abandoned because of his puny human size), and adopted him. Thor and Loki grew up as brothers with Loki forever jealous because Everybody Loves Thor.
Make Mine Marvel
After launching The Fantastic Four, HULK and Spider-Man, Stan Lee was looking for something new. He settled for something old, instead. The Mighty Thor made his comic book debut in 1962 in the 83rd issue of “Journey Into Mystery.”
Written by Stan’s brother, Larry Lieber, and drawn by Jack Kirby, the story opens with American physician Dr. Donald Blake on vacation in Norway. He winds up trapped in a cave where he finds a stick. He strikes the stick on a rock and is transformed into a Fabio look-alike while the stick changes into a hammer. An inscription on the hammer explains everything:
Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of THOR
Blake quickly figures out his new abilities and makes quick work of an alien invasion from Saturn. He then discovers that by striking the hammer on the ground he can return to his human, frail self and the hammer goes back to being a walking stick.
By the next issue Blake has returned to his medical practice in the states, where we meet his nurse and love interest — Jane Foster. In typical Silver Age fashion, Blake loves Jane but won’t tell her because he doesn’t think she could ever love a man with a limp. Jane, of course, secretly loves Blake but is waiting for him to make the first move.
Stan and company played pretty fast and loose with the rules in the early days of Marvel. While Blake was initially just using Thor’s powers, in short order — and without explanation — Thor became an entirely different persona. This lead to the introduction of Loki, Odin and the rest of Norse myth. Loki would become Thor’s arch-enemy, leading to the world’s longest case of sibling rivalry.
Fandral is the dashing Errol Flynn type, Hogun the surly Charles Bronson type, and Volstagg was the fat, jolly comedy relief.
Apparently inspired by the King James version of the Bible, Thor and all the other gods introduced in the Marvel Universe started speaking with thees and thous and verilys and whatnot. Thor couldn’t just say “no.” It was always “I Say Thee Nay!” It made Thor simultaneously the coolest and corniest of superheroes.
When it finally came time to put together an all-star team of Marvel heroes, Thor was right there — teaming up with Iron Man, HULK, Ant Man and The Wasp to form The Avengers. In fact, the Avengers were formed as a result of one of Loki’s schemes. And it was Thor who first uttered the team’s battle cry — Avengers Assemble!
Needless to say, a lot has happened to Thor in almost a half-century of comics. He split off from Blake, he merged with a different human for a while, now he’s back with Blake. Jane is now a doctor. Loki is currently a small boy. Gods don’t speak in Olde English much anymore. Asgard was hovering over Oklahoma for a while, but I think that’s changing as you read this. Volstagg is fat. OK, some things don’t change.
“Thor” is the fourth movie in Marvel Studios’ grand plan that started with “Iron Man” and continued through “The Incredible Hulk” and “Iron Man 2.” If you sat through the end credits of “Iron Man 2” you know it ended with Thor’s hammer Mjolnir crash landing in New Mexico.
This all leads into next year’s release of “The Avengers,” which will unite Thor with all the other Marvel movie heroes that Marvel Studios has control over — namely Iron Man, HULK, Captain America (who makes his movie debut in July), Nick Fury, Black Widow and Hawkeye (who makes his movie debut in, well, I probably shouldn’t give out any spoilers).
If you haven’t seen any of the previous movies — and really, what’s wrong with you? — Nick Fury is the head of SHIELD, a government agency tasked with protecting the planet. His current project is gathering together all the super humans that have suddenly sprung up and enlist them in “The Avengers Project.” Agent Coulson, Fury’s right-hand man, has been sent to New Mexico to investigate the fallen hammer.
And that’s all you need to know — before you go.