In August 1962, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby introduced readers of Marvel Comics (specifically Journey into Mystery) to Thor Odinson, God of Thunder and mightiest of the Asgardian deities. Through associations with Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, and a number of cosmic, mythological adventures, Thor has gone on to become another of Marvel’s most successful and versatile characters, with appearances in cartoons, videogames, and a number of incredibly profitable live-action movies. Being as it’s the first Thursday (or “Thor’s Day”) of the month, what better way to celebrate the God of Thunder than to take a look back at his debut appearance!
Story Title: Thor the Mighty! and the Stone Men from Saturn! (also comprised of “Part 2: The Power of Thor!” and Part 3: Thor the Mighty Strikes Back!”)
Published: August 1962
Writers: Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby
Artist: Jack Kirby
Following the creation of Doctor Bruce Banner/The Incredible Hulk, legendary Marvel writer, editor, and creator Stan Lee was inspired by Norse mythology and legends to create an even more powerful superheroic character, one who was more than human…a literal God among men! In collaboration with Larry Lieber and the renowned Jack Kirby, Lee crafted a version of the character quite different from those that had appeared before, one who debuted in Journey into Mystery and effectively took over that title until eventually replacing it with a self-titled comic in 1970.
Thor would go on to become a founding member of Marvel’s premier super team, the Avengers, and his stories became increasingly elaborate and over the top, with the character undergoing numerous changes throughout the years whilst also taking on more of the mythological aspects of his inspiration. Adopting flamboyant, archaic speech patterns and wielding the indestructible, all-powerful, magical hammer Mjölnir, I’ve always enjoyed Thor’s aesthetic and unique qualities and he’s one of my favourite characters in the Marvel Cinematic Universe but his comics can be a little impenetrable for me due to their dense and complex nature.
“Thor the Mighty! and the Stone Men from Saturn!” introduces us to Doctor Donald Blake, a frail and lame figure who walks with a cane and is vacationing in Norway at exactly the same time as the titular Stone Men from Saturn arrive on Earth. Like Clark Kent/Superman, the Stone Men find that Earth’s vastly different atmosphere affords them incredible superhuman strength in addition to the relative invulnerability of their stone bodies. As if that wasn’t enough, the Stone Men are also packing advanced weaponry that can vaporise objects in a flash of light, as witnessed by a stunned old man.
Though the aged fisherman’s stories of stone creatures from outer space are met with ridicule and mockery by the local villagers, it catches the attention of the curious Blake, who heads out to the coastal region to investigate and soon stumbles upon the Stone Men! Unfortunately, Blake steps on a twig and gives away his presence and, thanks to his unexplained lame leg and losing his walking stick after a trip, has no hope of escaping from the aliens.
Blake finds refuge in a nearby cave but is disheartened to find that it’s a literal dead end; trapped, he begins to despair but is awestruck when a hidden stone wall suddenly opens and leads him to a secret chamber that houses a “gnarled wooden stick”. Ever the innovator, Blake attempts to use the cane as a lever but is unsuccessful and, in helpless anger, strikes the cane against the boulder which blocks his only viable exit. In a flash of blinding light, Blake and the cane are magically transformed into a heavily muscular, elaborately garbed form and an enchanted hammer, respectively. Overwhelmed by the power courses through his body, the figure observes the hammer’s iconic inscription (“Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of… Thor”) and quickly realises that the hammer is Mjölnir, the weapon of the mythological God of Thunder, and that he is now Thor!
Now possessing the power of a God, Thor easily lifts the boulder that was blocking his exit and, now safe and free from his prison, ponders the mystery of his newfound power. You’ll notice that, when he’s Thor, Blake retains his speech patterns and personality rather than switching places with the Norse God or having his personality fundamentally altered by the transformation; it’s basically a Billy Batson/Shazam situation where he magically transforms but retains his personality. Using what little he knows of Thor from Norse mythology, Thor walks us through the “rules” of the character’s early days: Blake transforms into Thor when he touches the hammer but, if he is separated from it for more than sixty seconds, he magically reverts back to Blake. In addition, Mjölnir is magically enchanted so that only he can wield it, it always returns to his hand after being thrown, and is functionally indestructible. Finally, by stamping the hammer on the ground twice, Thor can conjure storms or rain or snow and whip up a raging tornado, all of which can be dispelled with three hits of the hammer on the ground.
Before Blake can warn the world of the presence of the Stone Men, the aliens unleash a “three-dimensional picture” (basically a holographic projection) of a fearsome dragon to scare off incoming armed aircraft and shield themselves and their ship from reprisals and attacks with their advanced forcefield. Blake observes this with horror and, resolved to oppose the invading alien forces, he showcases one of his most iconic abilities: by swinging around Mjölnir as fast as possible, he can fly through the air and cover vast distances by hurling the hammer but holding on to the handle. It’s not quite flying and not quite the Hulk’s massive leaps but it’s something unique that no other hero can replicate.
Astounded by Thor’s abilities, the Stone Men attempt to capture him but Thor is easily able to fend them off, break free of their prison, and use Mjölnir to disarm the aliens. In response, the Stone Men unleash their “Mechano-Monster”, a robot enforcer of theirs that is immediately and anti-climatically smashed to junk with one swing of Thor’s hammer. This is enough to scare off the Stone Men, who immediately flee alongside their entire fleet to avoid having to battle Thor and, possibly, more like him. The issue ends with the military dumbfounded as to what drove off the alien invaders and Blake resolving to head back to the United States with his newfound power.
“Thor the Mighty! and the Stone Men from Saturn!” is an absolutely bat-shit crazy story; much like the Hulk’s debut, Thor’s first appearance isn’t a typical superhero story, being more a tale of random alien invasion that just so happens to feature a guy stumbling upon a magical weapon. The Stone Men get a lot of time in the comic but we’re not really told much about them; they simply arrive as a superior alien force and prepare to use their advanced weaponry and augmented physical abilities to dominate the planet.
Yet, despite how formidable they seem to be, they’re actually some of the most ineffectual villains I’ve ever seen; they utilise holographic technology and laser weapons and have an entire fleet of ships ready to attack but they’re no match for Mjölnir, Thor tears through their weapons like they’re paper, and their ace in the hole, the Mechano-Monster is an absolute joke. Of course, the Stone Men would later be retconned into the Kronans and one of their race, Korg, would become an important ally of the Hulk many years later.
Perhaps because of the presence of the aliens, we don’t really get to learn anything about Donald Blake; it’s not said what kind of doctor he is, why he chose Norway for his vacation, or what caused his lame leg. All we really learn about him is that he appreciates the beauty and ambiance of Norway and that he’s curious enough to investigate the claims of aliens nearby. When he’s on the run and hiding from the Stone Men, Blake fall into despair and is all but ready to accept what he sees as his inevitable death until he stumbles upon the power of Thor. Once he becomes Thor, he immediately proves why the hammer deemed him so worthy as he leaps into action to oppose the aliens but, again, we don’t really get a sense of why Blake is so morally inclined towards using his awesome power for the benefit of mankind. Obviously, as with many debuts of superheroes, much of Thor’s backstory and motivation would be revealed in time but, even with that in mind, “Thor the Mighty! and the Stone Men from Saturn!” is surprisingly light on characterisation for its debuting protagonist; even Tony Stark/Iron Man got a brief mention of his carefree ways before his life-changing transformation but Blake, instead, is a bit of a blank slate compared to Lee’s previous heroes.
What are your thoughts on Thor’s debut appearance? Do you like that Marvel constantly tried to mix up all their new superheroes and characters with vastly different origins and backstories? What did you think to the Stone Men and the pacing of the story? What is your favourite character, arc, or era in Thor’s long publication history and where does Thor rank for you against Marvel’s other superheroes? How are you celebrating Thor’s debut this month, if at all? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Thor in the comments below so be sure to drop a line down there.