Many movie fan are familiar with Marvel’s Thor thanks to the success of the first Thor film and the imminent release of the second film tonight, but Thor Odinson is not the only hero to wield the mighty mjolner over the years as there have been many awesome and sometimes weird incarnations. Some of them were created in the spirit of the Silver Age, which is to say they were care-free experimentation. Others are modern re-imaginings designed to update the character for contemporary audiences. However, each one presents a fascinating interpretation of the Asgardian warrior. Here are three of the most memorable.
One of the pillars of Marvel’s Thor is his connection to the magical weapon, mjolnir. The hammer bears the magical inscription “Who So Ever Holds This Hammer, If He Be Worthy, shall possess the power of Thor.” Spider-man can’t lift the hammer. The magically powered Juggernaut can’t lift the hammer nor can the Incredible Hulk. The inscription isn’t fool proof though; there’s a loophole. You have to be worthy. Enter: Beta-Ray Bill. Bill is an alien, a horse alien, a cybernetic horse alien. In what is best as summarized as the old misunderstand-between-heroes storyline, Thor and Bill have a fight. In the course of the fight Bill commits two exceptional acts. One, he bests Thor. Two, he picks up Thor’s hammer. Pow! Boom! Alien horsey cyber-Thor. Suffice to say, this unexpected twist grabs the attention of Asgard’s big pappa, Odin. What transpires next depends on the version of the story. However, the result is the same. Odin forges a new hammer for Beta-Ray Bill, Stormbreaker, chock full of Asgardian weather mojo. While many superhero variations appear weak and derivative, Beta Ray Bill stands out as both ludicrous and inspired, long standing trademarks of Marvel’s cosmic adventures. If the universe is just (and Guardians of the Galaxy is a hit), we just might see Bill makes it into Marvel movie continuity.
Roughly twenty years after the appearance of Beta-Ray Bill, Marvel began created the Ultimate imprint. The idea was simple. By creating a blank slate universe, Marvel creators like Mark Millar were free to update characters that had become, especially in the case of Thor, antiquated. Although Millar takes guff from a portion of comic book fandom for being all violence and no substance, his alterations to Thor’s mythology are at times inspired, one even made it into Thor’s film incarnation. For the longest time, Thor spoke as if an understudy at the Globe Theater. His Shakespearean ticks were tiresome. Millar promptly did away with that. He also injected some ambiguity into the character. Was Thor truly a god, or was he some super-powered nut-job with disillusions of grandeur? My favorite alteration though was the injection of political consciousness into the hero. Instead of just bashing baddies indiscriminately, this Thor was an avowed environmentalist, aligning the thunder god with a tradition of politically minded heroes like The Question and Green Arrow.
Not all of Thor’s incarnations have been men of virtue. In fact, some of them have been evil, which brings us to Thor-Venom or Venom-Thor. Look, the name isn’t important. In the second volume of Marvel’s anthology series “Everyone Dies a Slow Excruciating Death So We Can Justify Our Original Editorial Decision,” also known as What If, an alternate reality Venom symbiote sucks Peter Parker bone dry, leaving a burned out 80 year old man (which would make it a parasite not a symbiote). It then turns its attention to The Hulk. Having consumed the powers of both heroes the symbiote takes aim for Thor, possessing the hero. Only the intervention of Black Bolt, the Pavarotti of superheros, stops the onslaught. Sure a mountain is destroyed in the process, but Thor is liberated. By What If standards, the immeasurable environmental damage constitutes a happy ending. Unfortunately, there’s only one official appearance of Thor-Venom, so you’ll have to make due with this bit of fan fic, co-staring Captain Uni-Spidey.
There are many, many more variations of Marvel’s Thor: Fem-Thors, Frog-Thors, and Future-Thors. Why does the hero inspire so many permutations? Partially, it’s because of the hammer. Someone out there can wield it, if only he or she is of sufficient mettle. It’s also a way of dissecting the character of seeing what changes can be made creatively, while providing creators and readers a chance to learn something new about the character: to rediscover him. As the cliche says, “variety is the spice of life.” When it comes to superheroes the same holds true. So what does this say about the thunderer specifically? Thor is a god, an environmentalist, a lonely warrior on an odyssey, but always a being of incredible virtue.
By David Arroyo