"Marvel's The Avengers" hits theaters on May 4, and in anticipation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes assembling on the big screen for the first time we're bringing you the Essential Avengers. From accounts of the characters' epic stories from the original comics to looks back at the character with some of their most prominent creators both past and present and interviews with the designers of the heroes cinematic costumes, the Essential Avengers give you everything you wanted to know about the team, its allies and its enemies.
By Chris Arrant
Some people have called super hero comics the mythology of the modern world, but for a Marvel icon like Thor his mythological roots go back much further than that. Inspired by Norse mythology going back over a thousand years, Marvel’s Thor broke the mold of the heroes that came before by showing a hero stepping out of history books and into action every month in comics. Over the years and up to his film debut in 2011’s "Thor" film, the character has been deftly portrayed as both grandiose and humble, making this hammer-wielding hero stand out and add a new dimension to Marvel comics and his membership in the Avengers.
|Cover art to Thor #604, writer Kieron Gillen's first issue|
“What fascinates me about Thor is the culture-clash elements and his fundamental duality--the mortal and divine in a single character,” explains writer Kieron Gillen, who has written Thor and Asgard extensively for Marvel. "I also like hammers."
Hammer in hand, Marvel’s Thor made his debut in 1962’s JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY #83. Originally created as a new type of super hero ‘strongman’ after the success of the Hulk, the final form Thor took when he debuted in that classic story was something much more.
“The creation of Thor came out of wanting to create a super hero that stood apart from the others. And taking cues from classic mythology was the answer,” said Larry Lieber, who wrote Thor’s debut based on a plot by Stan Lee. “As you can see it turned out to be a great idea, especially when you contrast him with the other Marvel heroes like Captain America and Iron Man.”
When Thor made his debut in comics in 1962, he also entered the larger tapestry of characters present in the Marvel Universe. And although he stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the other heroes, he’s very unlike those he calls his allies, teammates and friends.
|Journey Into Mystery #83, the first appearance of Thor|
“I don't think of Thor or any of the Asgardians as just another sort of super human,” Gillen explains. “Thor is strong in a fundamentally ‘different’ way to, say, the Hulk. The Hulk is a creature of science. Thor is a creature of the supernatural.”
Standing apart from the mutants and science-based super heroes that Marvel is built on, Thor strikes an imposing presence in Marvel comics yet has remained relatable due to his surprising humanity.
“What makes him unique in comics is his humanity and attachment to the human race,” explains Chris Samnee, who illustrated THOR: THE MIGHTY AVENGER. “He’s not an arrogant, bulky giant that you can’t relate to. If you remember, he was exiled from Asgard and left to live among us on Earth.”
|Thor by artist Chris Samnee|
And as he began to call Earth his second home, he was enlisted early on to serve as one of the founding members of Marvel’s flagship super hero team the Avengers. Over the years, Thor’s become one part of an unofficial trinity of heroes with Captain America and Iron Man that’s become a keystone for the larger Marvel Universe. And as someone who’s written Thor on several occasions, Kieron Gillen came up with a unique theory that could explain the larger relevance of the key Avengers and Thor’s place in that.
“I've got a vague rambling theory that the Avengers’ central trinity is a little like America's three traditional pillars--government, business and faith,” Gillen posits. “Thor does provide an ever-present sense of a higher purpose, as well as being a planetary-scale head-cracker. There's a moral authority there, but of a different kind than, say, Captain America. When writing THOR, I had him march across Hell for an issue. And he didn't say a word until the final panel. Why? Because what in Midgard's sake would Thor have to say to a bunch of demons?”
When it comes to Thor’s role as a hero and as an Avenger, Gillen is resolute in the integral role the son of Odin plays.
“Cap is the leader, but Thor is the backbone of the Avengers,” says the writer. “He'll carry the weight and never bend.”