In the Marvel Comics universe, the story of Thor begins with Dr. Donald Blake, a physician living in New York. Though excellent at his job, Don felt insecure about some aspects of his life due to one of his legs being practically useless, forcing him to walk with a cane at all times. One night, Don felt a strange urge to vacation in Norway. While exploring the countryside, he stumbled upon a plot by others to conquer the world and was spotted. Running into a nearby cave for safety, he lost his cane. Exploring the cavern, he found a strange, gnarled walking stick that seemed to be waiting for him. When he struck the walking stick against the ground, there was a lightning strike and Don Blake was transformed into Thor, the Norse god of thunder. The stick in his hand was turned into Mjolnir, the mystical uru hammer of Thor's that could command the weather, unleash lightning, allow flight, and would return whenever it was thrown. On its side were the words: “Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.”
Don initially concluded that Thor must have been a real person once and that somehow, by obtaining this hammer, he had been given the ancient warrior's strength and powers. He embarked on a double life as a superhero, becoming Thor whenever a super-villain or some otherworldly menace threatened innocent life. Later, he was brought to Asgard, home of the Norse gods, and eventually he learned the truth. The Asgardians were power, long-lived alien beings that used a form of cosmic science that was indistinguishable from magic and who had been worshiped as gods by humans for a time. Donald had originally been born as Thor, son of Odin, the All-Father and ruler of Asgard. But after many centuries of battles, he had grown arrogant and Odin eventually had enough. The All-Father then sent the thunderer to Earth, transforming him into the human named Donald Blake with no memory of his true identity, crippling one of his legs so he would have to learn humility and the strength of willpower over physical ability. After several years, Odin had been satisfied with how Don had dedicated his life to healing others and so he had mentally guided the doctor to Norway, leading him to his birthright. Mjolnir could only be lifted by someone it deemed worthy and the fact that Thor could now wield it was the final proof of how he had grown.
Considering himself as much a part of Earth as he was of Asgard, Thor continued his life as a hero, both on his own and as a founding member of the famous super-team the Avengers. He has fought aliens, cosmic forces, super-villains and, most often, his stepbrother Loki, god of lies and mischief. He’s a pretty epic hero and he can also be seen in the cartoon Super Hero Squad Show, in the animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, in the film Thor (and its upcoming sequel), and in next year's film The Avengers, where he'll team-up with Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk and others.
KIRBY’S CLASSIC LOOKThor first appeared in Journey into Mystery vol. 1. #83 (1962), the same month that Spider-Man debuted and almost a year after the first appearance of the Fantastic Four. This first Thor story was co-plotted by Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby and it was scripted by Lee's brother Larry Leiber. Kirby had a long fascination with bringing mythology into comics and over the course of his career he would design and create such god-like characters as Galactus, the Silver Surfer, the Eternals, and the New Gods. So it's quite fitting he would be the man to finally bring the Norse god of thunder into comics after years where it seemed as if the only pantheon worth talking about involved the Greek gods of Olympus.
This outfit is simply inspired. It says both “superhero” AND “viking warrior.” You have a standard superhero cape, but clasped onto shoulder pads rather than tucked into a shirt collar like Superman or tied around the neck like Captain Marvel. The circle designs on the shirt give an impression of the armor discs that some old warriors would wear to help deflect arrows and blades, causing the weapon to slide away from the body rather than pierce a flat armor plate.The boots have leather straps around them, giving a sense that this person is from centuries ago. The helmet, of course, furthers this impression and the wings on it give a sense of ancient gladiators. The fact that the helmet is polished and highly decorative also gives a sense of royalty, fitting for the son of wise Odin, All-Father of the Norse Gods. Along with all this, a man having such long hair was rather strange in the early 1960s when Thor was first introduced, another marker that Thor comes from a more primitive time.
But this outfit doesn’t only speak of the past and that's why it's effective. A sleeveless black tunic extending over the sleek blue trousers marks this as a very superhero style of dress. Notice also that this outfit is all primary colors, another classic comic book hero trait. In fact, Thor’s blonde hair acts in tandem with his golden belt and boot bandages, giving balance to the color.It's important to note that most of the characters Kirby worked on with Stan Lee did not wear capes. The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, these figures were all very powerful but noticeably cape-less. In the 1960s Marvel Universe, Kirby and Lee tended to reserve capes for those who needed to give off a sense of power and majesty. The villain Dr. Doom, a man who mastered both science and sorcery, wore a cape. Likewise, the mutant terrorist Magneto, who believed his people were destined to rule the world (with him in charge, of course), wore a cape.
So it's natural and significant that Thor, god of thunder, wears a cape as well. This makes him seem a bit grander when standing next to other Marvel heroes and it gives a great sense of wind and motion when he’s summoning a storm or hurling his mighty uru hammer Mjolnir. It's also a subtle reminder that he is technically a prince of Asgard.In a few tales of the past, Thor would be seen wearing a more primitive version of his outfit. Instead of cloth, it often involved leather and furs that had been colorfully dyed. And literal metal discs would adorn his shirt. These showed how easily Thor's outfit could translate to a romantic version of what a Norse warrior might have worn in centuries past. Not bad outfits at all, but they also don't quite work for a modern day superhero. Close, but not quite there. During Walt Simonson's famous run as writer and artist for Thor during the 1980s, Thor lost his ability to turn into Don Blake and it would be decades before that character was truly seen again. Later on in Simonson's run, Thor decided for a time that he needed the aid of some heavy-duty armor. He wore this for a few issues and it's definitely eye-catching. But there are reasons it was only meant for a storyline and not intended to become the new standard look.
As snazzy as this design is, there are a couple of problems I have. First, we again have the issue of too much gold being used. Second, I question how much Thor can really move when he has such thick, golden plates covering his limbs. Even his skirt is metal. When you consider how much gold weighs and how thick all those plates are, it makes Thor seemed seriously weighed down (even though we know he has superhuman strength) and that’s not a great impression to leave when you’re dealing with a God of Thunder who’s supposed to be able to ride the winds.
THE ’90s STYLESOh, the 1990s. You brought so many awful redesigns to so many characters.
In some ways, this outfit puts Dargo’s to shame. Again, we have metal pants which indicate Thor isn’t too into mobility. We’ve got spiked kneepads that I’m guessing would slam into each other if Thor tried to run. We’ve got huge shoulder pads that seem to be attached to nothing since Thor forgot most of his shirt. What are the yellow octagons here meant to imply? “Slow down, red light is next”?
And let’s talk about this helmet. A widow’s peak cut worked for Beta Ray Bill but it does not work for Thor. This new helmet makes him look older and implies he has a receding hairline.Later on, Thor decided, “You know what? Screw it. Why do I keep trying to wear only parts of a shirt when I can just forget the shirt all together?” So we got a new outfit that consisted of trousers, bracers, and boots decorated by leather straps. In a couple of comics, Thor further added to this look by wearing a headband, as if he were going to lead a jazzercise class after fighting evil.
This is just a lazy look. There's nothing to imply that Thor belongs to a world of superheroes or of mythological gods and warriors. The only thing you can take from this is that Thor may be trying to start a new hair metal group or a Bon Jovi cover band that only plays 1980s songs.Now, during the 1990s, a general "street warrior" style became popular among comic book vigilantes and heroes. Belts, shoulder pads and unnecessary pouches were all the rage. After ditching his funky armor, Thor apparently decided that he liked wearing a not-quite-a-mask headpiece and decorating his whole body with lots of leather belts. Interestingly, he somehow forgot the bottom half of his shirt in the process. Bizarre.
And why is there a protective jockstrap on the outside of his pants? Did the clerk at the Sports Authority deliberately lie to the thunder god about how you’re supposed to wear that? The jerk! And let's not forget my favorite useless addition. There’s now a huge chain attached to the hammer Mjolnir. Because, you know, chains are cool!
This outfit doesn’t say “superhero” or “Viking warrior” to me. What it does say is: “Man, I can’t wait for Mel Gibson to remake Mad Max.”
ALTERNATE EARTHSIn the Marvel Comics event known as Heroes Reborn, Thor and several other superheroes were sent to Counter-Earth where they were basically reincarnated and fated to live similar lives to the ones they'd known before. This soft attempt at a Marvel Universe relaunch gave a new origin and introduction to Thor that would be largely dismissed just a year later. And on the Heroes Reborn Earth, Thor also got a new set of threads.
Immediately, my mind says “too fancy.” Thor is a warrior. This gold trim everywhere and the design on the skirt-let makes this seem like something he would wear for a formal event. This isn’t battle-gear. The design of the trousers is also just odd. It seems to be cloth or leather but is implying metal and I find it a bit odd that they form directly into boots. Thor later adopted a slightly suit during his time on Counter-Earth. Most of the same problems occur. The overly busy style is just not as effective as the classic Kirby design.Thor and the other heroes returned to their normal Earth after a year, regaining their true memories and lives. Thor returned to his classic costume, though now often wearing literal metal discs on his shirt. A few years afterward, Marvel created the new Ultimate Marvel line of comics. This comics were completely separate from the mainstream Marvel Universe, taking place in a parallel reality that was intended to be more modern and edgy, revising several character origins and placing them in a darker world. In Ultimate Marvel, certain chances could be taken that would not fly in the mainstream comics.
In this world, Thor appeared and was a mystery. Even the readers were not sure if he was truly a seemingly magical alien who had once been worshiped as a Norse god or if he were an environmentalist who gained superhuman abilities through his suit and simply had delusions of grandeur. It's not a bad take on the character and the outfit does imply that the latter may be true.
Thor's metal armor discs have been replaced by roundels that light up with energy whenever he summons the lightning. It's not a bad idea, but a bit to similar to Iron Man's repulsor discs. And what's more, since there is no sense of old world majesty or myth in this suit, it comes off too strongly on the side of implying that Thor gets his powers from technology. It's fine if you want readers to wonder, but Thor himself was aware of the truth and it seems like he would wear something that gave a nod to Asgard in some small way, especially when he was trying to convince others that he was indeed the thunder god of myth. If you had never seen Jack Kirby's version of Thor to compare this suit with, there's nothing about it that says thunder god or Viking warrior. It's just a suit with a large belt and glowing discs that may as well be CD players.
KING OF ASGARD AND MODERN STYLESBack to the mainstream Marvel Universe. After returning from Counter-Earth, Thor and many of his comrades adopted their classic looks (or something very similar) again. Avengers artist George Perez began drawing literal metal discs on Thor's shirt, as had usually been done during medieval-setting and flashback stories. This was a nice touch to Thor's costume, bringing it just a bit closer to the Viking warrior idea but keeping it true to the superhero look.
Since then, many artists have followed this idea, even placing metal discs on Thor's costume in stories that take place in the past or that modernize older comic book stories.A couple of years after Thor had left Counter-Earth behind, his father Odin died. Thor became the king of Asgard and changed his look yet again to reflect this new status. As you can see, it bears a resemblance to the classic Kirby design but with some changes. We’ve got chains attached to the metal discs, a more elaborate helmet, and the whole thing is now more metal armor rather than a cloth superhero costume.
This look isn’t bad. The helmet implies Thor’s new authority, as does the fur trim on the cape. And this still works as a superhero costume, I think. But the chains bother me. They honestly make the metal discs look like metal bras. And frankly, I think wearing chains around your torso is a danger if you go into battle. What’s to stop the other guy from just grabbing you by the chains and throwing you off balance?
During the events of the story Avengers Disassembled, Thor and Asgard vanished for a while, seemingly destroyed. After a few years of being absent from the Marvel Comics universe, the god of thunder came back from the void in a new series written by J. Michael Straczynski. Once more, the hero was dividing his existence between being an Asgardian warrior and living as the healer Don Blake (before this, he had not transformed into Don Blake since the early 1980s). In his warrior guise, he has been wearing this new take on his classic costume/armor.This is comes off much more strongly as battle armor than Thor’s classic Kirby look. The helmet is different from Kirby’s sloping down a bit, but avoids giving a widow’s peak impression. The chain mail reminds me of Simonson’s armored look, but they imply a lot more mobility than thick, golden-plated armor. And the fact that this is plain metal prevents us from seeing Thor as flaunting any royal birthright or higher authority. He knows what authority he holds, he doesn’t need to advertise with decoration.
It’s still a big change from Thor usually having bare arms, but let’s consider that Thor is older now and has faced not only new responsibilities as king of Asgard but has also now gone against many opponents over the years who are strong enough to kill him. It makes sense he’d take an extra precaution or two now that he’s no longer the young, sometimes reckless firebrand he used to be. And while the chain-mail may signify a centuries old warrior, the streamlined design of the entire outfit still gives us the impression of a superhero.
A couple of times, this armor has lit up similar to Ultimate Thor's power effect. But in this case, we don't mistake it for technology because the overall design reminds us that this is a warrior of old. So the effect works here, blending a sense of science and myth rather than choosing one or the other. A nice effect for what is essentially an alien who has been viewed as a god.
Another thing going for this style is that it keeps that great silhouette that the classic Kirby Thor design had. In fashion, people always talk about how important the silhouette is. It can apply for superheroes too. Look at Batman. And it works for Thor as well. Even in shadow, before he lifts Mjolnir into the air, you can tell exactly who this guy is.A very interesting design indeed, one that influenced the recent live-action movie directed by Kenneth Branagh and which will be appearing soon in the animated series Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes. Thor will be sporting a combination of this look and the Ultimate Thor design in the upcoming movie The Avengers. Time alone will tell what other suits he might be showing off in comics and films yet to come.
Hope you've enjoyed this look at Marvel's god of thunder. Be sure to pick up Avengers Origins: Thor next Wednesday for a crash course on the character's beginnings. This has been Alan Kistler, Agent of S.T.Y.L.E., signing off!
Alan Sizzler Kistler is an actor and freelance writer living in New York City. His work can be found on various websites and he has been recognized by publishers and news media outlets as a comic book historian and Doctor Who historian. He is a contributor to the book Star Trek and History, coming soon. He knows entirely too much about superheroes, time travel stories, Muppets, and vampires that don't sparkle. His website is AlanKistler.com and his twitterfeed is @SizzlerKistlerGot a comment? There's lots of conversation on Newsarama's FACEBOOK and TWITTER!
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