A Thor Primer

Names like Spider-Man, Batman and Superman echo easily in the minds of just about every man, woman and child on the planet. Naturally, Hollywood has tapped them for films time and time again to varying degrees of success, so it’s nice to see some fresh faces gracing the screen, but despite their popularity amongst comic book fans, characters like Iron Man remained largely new to the public before their blockbusters tore through theaters. Thor, and his association with the Avengers, I suspect is going to be pretty new to the average movie-goer. So let’s take a quick look at Marvel’s Norse god turned super-hero, just to get you acquainted, or get you refreshed.

Thor of Norse Mythology

When most people hear the name Thor, they probably think to the more familiar and obvious Norse mythologies. He is the hammer-wielding warrior god of thunder and lightning (also fertility, healing and protector of mankind). His hammer, Mjöllnir (pronounced myol-neer), became a commonly used symbol for family crests all throughout Europe. Even the day of the week, Thursday, is named after him (Thor’s Day).

That’s all ancient history (ba dum bum). A thousand or so years later, legendary comic book creator Stan Lee was seeing a slump in sales for his Journey into Mystery series and looked to those myths for inspiration. “[H]ow do you make someone stronger than the strongest person? It finally came to me: Don’t make him human — make him a god. I decided readers were already pretty familiar with the Greek and Roman gods. It might be fun to delve into the old Norse legends.” Lee handed the writing off to his brother Larry and assigned the artwork to master artist Jack Kirby.

Jack Kirby's Rendering

Kirby designed a musclebound warrior with flowing locks of blond hair, a winged viking helmet and a red cape. Thor hails from Asgard, a ‘realm’ that exists away from Earth, but presumably watching over it, like Mount Olympus from Greek mythology. There, the Asgardian gods rule the various realms including Earth (referred to as Midgard). Thor’s father, Odin, rules over all. Thor’s step-brother Loki, his arch-foe, constantly pits Thor at odds to decide between his life on Asgard and his loyalties to Earthlings when he’s not trying to outright destroy him.

Thor possesses super-human strength, speed and during heightened states, can enter “Warrior’s Madness” mode which temporarily increases his strength and stamina, though his ability to distinguish between friend and foe is severely diminished. He can track objects moving faster than light. He can travel through time, can regenerate body parts and resist magic with the help of his hammer. Naturally being the god of thunder, Thor controls earthly storm elements like rain, wind and lightning that is focused through Mjöllnir, which by the way can also deflect bullets. He excels in hand-to-hand combat as well as having mastery of the sword, war hammer and mace.

Oh, and according to Wikipedia…he’s a ventriloquist too.

A more modern look

His comic origins start when Odin banishes Thor to Earth in order to teach him a lesson in humility. His memories are stripped and he is forced to take the body of a disabled med student named Donald Blake. After becoming a doctor, Blake is witness to an alien landing while on vacation in Norway. He flees into a cave and discovers the legendary hammer. Slamming it against a rock to scare off the alien creatures pursuing him, he is transformed into God of Lightning and defeats the aliens. He continues to defend us lowly Midgardians against the forces of evil, all while juggling his alter ego as a private practice physician, treating the sick with his nurse (and true love) Jane Foster.

Thor has been going relatively strong since the 1960’s, often involving himself with super-hero groups, like the Avengers: a team he helped form with Iron Man, Ant-Man, Wasp, Captain America and the Hulk. In fact, comic lore has it that the team came together initially to fight Thor’s nemesis Loki.

Hemsworth as Thor

So there’s your basic primer on Thor. May 6th, 2011 marks the first motion picture featuring the character, starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by Kenneth Branagh. Based on the trailer, I suspect there have been some adjustments to the origin story, but hopefully this helps you get a little more acquainted before forking up your 10 bucks and donning your 3D glasses. For more Thor, there are plenty of video games (including Marvel Vs. Capcom 3) and a recent Avengers series airing on Disney XD to help whet your whistle. Hey, and don’t forget your local comic book store.

Thor, starring Chris Hemsworth and Natalie Portman, opens in theatres May 6, 2011.

Christopher Kirkman

Christopher is an old school nerd: designer, animator, code monkey, writer, gamer and Star Wars geek. As owner and Editor-In-Chief of Media Geeks, he takes playing games and watching movies very seriously. You know, in between naps.

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