CBM PROFILE: Thor

Posted: October 16, 2014 in Avengers, Hulk, Marvel, Profile, Spider-Man, Thor

Marvel’s God of Thunder doesn’t have a whole lot in common with the original Asgardian hammer-wielder. Sure, the name and basics are the same but many of the specifics have been changed to create something almost entirely different that stands on its own. It’s a testament to the talent of the people involved with his creation (and marketing!) that saying the name “Thor” conjures images of the comic character rather than his mythical basis to just about everyone (experts in Norse culture notwithstanding). And yet, it seems that it’s only been recently that he’s been given a whole lot of attention outside of the page. Sure, he’s had many a guest-appearance but he rarely starred in anything.

Thor’s most enduring look.

Much like the Norse myth, Marvel’s Thor is the son of Odin and hails from Asgard. His brother, Loki is often his antagonist and the two have fought (and made up) multiple times throughout the decades. His adventures have featured a strong supporting cast such as The Warriors Three, Lady Sif, Baldur and Heimdall (many of which are also based upon Norse gods). It didn’t take him long to join the ranks of the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes (he debuted in Journey into Mystery in 1962 and was present with the Avengers for their first adventure in 1963), ever since he’s been closely associated with them. He has gone through various re-designs, re-interpretations and even a death or two. But what’s always been at the core of the character is the fact that he’s a hero in the most classical sense. He may not always be polite or humble, but he uses his godly strength to defend humanity from otherworldly threats. Since most people are at least passingly familiar with his role in the Marvel Universe (and since his history is so extensive), I’ll leave it at that. This ain’t Wikipedia.

“Duuuude.”

Thor’s first appearance outside of the printed page was in a cartoon from the 60’s called The Marvel Super Heroes. Debuting in 1966, this was an anthology series that put animation to Marvel’s most popular characters of the day. Thor featured prominently in 13 of the 65 segments, sharing space with characters like Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. The Thor-centric episodes typically involved him coming into conflict with a mythological foe or an enemy from the comic series. There was little in the way of overall story and it mostly focused on him performing feats of strength to thwart one-off villains. However, the series was very true to the character and these days would be described as a “motion comic” due to its crude animation style. Sadly, it would be quite some time before the God of Thunder saw anymore attention outside of a comic book.

“Remember me? Didn’t think so.”

It was over 15 years before Thor was adapted again. Throughout most of the 80’s and 90’s he primarily only showed up as a one-off, team-up hero for other characters’ animated series. He appeared in an episode of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (said friends being Iceman and Firestar) and had a few appearances on the updated Fantastic Four and Incredible Hulk cartoons. He also had a tiny cameo in an episode of X-Men while his alter-ego, Donald Blake, showed up on Spider-Man (before he added the Amazing Friends). All of these appearances kept him as a secondary protagonist and he never got a chance to dip into his rich comic-based history. However, the most interesting animated appearance to me is within the 90’s Avengers animated series, United They Stand. Thor never showed up in the series proper, although he is mentioned as being a founding member. That wouldn’t be so odd except that he appears in the opening credits. Every episode showcased the main cast members and a single character that never appeared. How weird is that? The toyline even made an action figure of him, even though he was never slated to show up on the actual cartoon.

Li’l Thor.
Cute Thor.

In modern animation, Thor has finally started to branch out of supporting roles. He’s been a member of the Avengers in both of the recent animated series, Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Avengers Assemble. In the former series, his backstory (and Asgard in general) played a major role in the first season’s overall story. He’s also featured as a regular cast member on The Super Hero Squad Show which is notable for adding humor and kid-friendliness to classic Marvel stories. In the realm of straight-to-video animation he’s played a supporting role in both Ultimate Avengers films and headlined a couple of others. The first of which was a short called Hulk Vs. Thor where he took on the jade-giant as he rampaged through Asgard while being mind-controlled by Loki (a plot that isn’t dissimilar to the Avengers’ first appearance). In 2011, a teenaged version of the character starred in Thor: Tales of Asgard, a Marvel Studios animated film that sent him on a quest to recover a powerful sword with younger versions of important Thor-related characters.

Cute Li’l Thor.
“Red capes are for wusses!”

In live action, Thor’s appearances have been more sparse but have helped to elevate his status as a beloved Marvel character. He was first seen in the1988 made-for-TV movie The Incredible Hulk Returns. This was a continuation of the series that starred Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno that had been cancelled in 1982. The movie finds Banner almost cured of his gamma-induced transformations when he meets Donald Blake, a former student who has discovered Mjolnir (Thor’s hammer) and is able to summon the Norse god. Thor’s goading causes the Hulk to emerge. The two start as enemies but, in true comic book fashion, become allies in order to stop a crime organization. With that, Thor became the first Marvel superhero to guest star on the series. The characterization by Eric Allan Kramer was warmly received and his performance continues to shine decades later. In adapting the look of the character, the show went with a more “authentic” Norse look with brown armor, wool and leather replacing the brightly-colored costume of the comics. Like much of the original television series, the movie keeps the action and stakes relatively low. That being said, this film is easily a high point for The Incredible Hulk and also served as a backdoor pilot for Thor. Sadly, an ongoing show never materialized. It really is a pity considering how much fun Kramer had with the role.

“Pardon?”

It wouldn’t be until 2011 that Thor was seen in live action again. Currently, Chris Hemsworth plays the role in Marvel’s Cinematic Universe. He has appeared in Thor, The Avengers and Thor: The Dark World. All three of those films focus primarily on his relationship with Loki (who’s become a standout in the film series) as well as his duel life on Asgard and Earth. The stand-alone films have largely been well received while The Avengers was a critical and financial power-house that made over a billion dollars and took 2012 by storm. It’s effects are still being felt on the landscape of comic book movies. Hemsworth’s interpretation of the character is very much in line with previous adaptations as well as the original source material.

The MCU iteration of Thor is also slated for at least one more appearance: the currently filming Avengers: Age of Ultron. A third Thor film hasn’t been officially announced, but it should only be a matter of time due to the popularity of the brand as a whole. I’m sure Marvel has the future of the character all mapped out but we’ll have to wait and see. He will also be seen in the upcoming Marvel anime series Disk Wars, a multi-hero team-up story that’s already aired in Japan. As for what else the future holds, who knows? There’s no shortage of the mighty avenger on television or movie screens at the moment (The Avengers Assembled version has shown up in many of Marvel’s other animated series’). and that doesn’t look to change any time soon. More than most of his compatriots, he’s benefitted considerably from the CBM “golden age” as he’s finally seen as a headliner rather than a perpetual guest-star.

More, please.
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